What are Foot Problems?

Just like humans, birds suffer from a range of leg and foot conditions. Some of these problems are potentially serious in nature, such as nerve damage or a tumor, while other conditions may clear up with something as simple as a perch change or toenail clipping. Some concerns related to the legs and feet of birds are easily identifiable, while others – such as lameness – may be caused by stroke, nerve compression or toxicosis – among other possibilities. Having a consultation with an avian veterinarian provides a unique and invaluable opportunity to understand the legs and feet of your bird, and what best sustains their health. For example, a condition that is particular to birds is bumblefoot, an inflammatory condition of the soles of the feet. In some cases, birds suffering from a disorder like bumblefoot can develop serious, and possibly life-threatening, bacterial infections. If the owner of a pet bird does not pay careful enough attention to physical changes to the skin or structure of the feet, the bird may have to endure chronic pain or eventually experience something as serious as lameness. 

There is a range of unique conditions that may affect the feet, and physical stance, of a pet bird. Foot problems may be attributable to something serious, like nerve compression or trauma, or due to something simple, like a blister. Paying careful attention to how the bird stands on and interacts with its perches is highly recommended. When a bird has an injury or a condition affecting the legs or soles of the feet, the discomfort will often show in a constant shifting from foot to foot. Irritation from the surface of the perch may become a potentially genuine problem if small cuts in the soles of the feet allow for the entrance of bacteria or a fungus. Because they typically curl around the perch, one commonly overlooked problem in pet birds is overgrown toenails. Limping may be attributable to too-long nails, particularly if you notice the first joint of the toe is rising from the surface, or the nail is bent on its side. If your bird is resistant to toenail-clipping, a grooming perch is an excellent solution. The bird can use this perch at will, enabling proper nail length. Providing perches of different widths, diameters and surfaces enables the bird to stand and shift comfortably. If awkward or uneven, the bird can develop a painful arthritic condition that may worsen over time. Keep perches clean and sturdy. Sandpaper perch covers should always be avoided.

Nutritional status also contributes negatively or positively to every aspect of your bird’s health, including the feet. The most common nutritional deficiency in birds is a lack of Vitamin A, which affects the condition of the skin. Without sufficient Vitamin A, legs and feet may become rough and scaly, and lead to discomfort and possible infection. 

As always, if you are concerned about physical changes in your pet bird, or suspect that it is experiencing pain or discomfort, please schedule an appointment with an avian veterinarian.

Foot problems in birds can be attributed to a range of health conditions, nutritional deficiencies, or problems in the bird’s caging or living environment.

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Symptoms of Foot Problems in Birds

  • Curling of the toes
  • Shifting from foot to foot
  • Splayed legs
  • Weakness
  • Discomfort/pain
  • Paralysis
  • Swollen and “hot” feet
  • Chewing, stomping 
  • Gout

Types

Foot problems may be ascribed to everything from trauma to overgrown nails, or something more complex like vitamin deficiencies, bacterial infections and heavy metal toxicities. Short-term problems or injuries must be addressed so long-term, more serious problems like arthritis do not develop.

Causes of Foot Problems in Birds

Foot problems in birds can be attributed to a range of health conditions such as inflammatory disorders like bumblefoot or even blisters, nutritional deficiencies like a lack of Vitamin A, and problems in the bird’s caging or environment, including dirty or uneven perches.

Diagnosis of Foot Problems in Birds

In the case of painful feet, weakness or physical changes in your bird’s feet, it’s recommended that you seek out an avian veterinary specialist who is aware of a bird’s physiology and anatomy. 

An excellent tip is, if possible, to take your bird’s cage to the avian vet for evaluation. This will give the vet the opportunity to check the bird’s stance and any interaction with the perches. The vet will be able to suggest modifications geared specifically toward your bird. The veterinarian may suggest testing for conditions that can contribute to foot problems such as nutritional imbalances, infection, or disease.

Treatment of Foot Problems in Birds

Any treatment will depend upon the problem with the feet. A bacterial infection, for example, can be treated with antibiotics, and pain and inflammation can be treated with nonsteroidal medication and/or pain medication. Sores and roughness can be soothed with ointment or humectants.

Painful and scaly feet can also be alleviated with ongoing warm water soaks. If the feet have any type of scaling or sores, soaks may loosen rough matter and soften the skin.

Recovery of Foot Problems in Birds

There is nothing more important to a bird’s quality of life than the comfort of its legs and feet, its posture, and how it perches within the cage environment. Standing for extended periods of time on a wooden surface or a perch covered with a rough material like burlap or sandpaper may lead to sores and cracks on the soles of the feet, enabling open paths for bacterial or fungal infection.  A consultation with a veterinarian who specializes in the treatment of birds is an invaluable opportunity to change the quality of life of your bird.