What are Pododermatitis?

This condition, also known as “bumblefoot”, is pretty common among older birds and can range from mild redness (a sign of inflammation) to more serious bony changes in the foot of the avian. Pododermatitis is found predominantly in birds of prey, waterfowl and other marine birds which are in captivity or some sort of rehabilitative care. This condition is frequently found in birds of the Psittacine family as well as heavy-bodied  birds like the Amazon and Hyacinth macaws.

Pododermatitis can include a number of changes to the avian foot such as lesions, redness, ulcerations, and abscesses. This condition is fairly common among older birds.

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Symptoms of Pododermatitis in Birds

Pododermatitis is also sometimes called “plantar pododermatitis” as it describes the location of the injury to the foot of the avian. Some of the symptoms you will most likely see if this condition exists in your bird:

  • Lameness
  • Swelling and redness
  • Heat
  • Reluctance to walk
  • Hard, pus-filled abscess located on the pad of the foot - will likely be coated with a black scab
  • Calluses on the bottom of the foot
  • Ulcerations (raw wounds) which may bleed and be open to infections
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Anorexia secondary to inflammation

These symptoms can also sometimes be seen on the toes and hocks as well as the pads of the feet.

Types 

There are four basic types of pododermatitis in birds:

  • Type 1 - Serious chronic infection with disseminated cellulitis (inflammation of connective tissue) in the metatarsal pads of one or more digits (pads near the toes)
  • Type 2 - Similar to type 1 but presents as a lesion on or near the digital or metatarsal pads
  • Type 3 -  Presents an independent lesion with thickened skin, localized swelling and redness
  • Type 4 - Characterized by significant swelling or enlargement of the distal (furthest point from where toe attaches to foot) digital (toes) pads resulting from a tendon rupture

Causes of Pododermatitis in Birds

There are multiple causes of pododermatitis or bumblefoot.  Below is a list of some which have been linked to development of the condition:

  • Occurs when birds are housed with inappropriate perching - this is the most common cause
  • Injury to one leg which causes the bird to shift weight to uninjured leg, creating increased pressure with resulting ulceration to the “good” foot
  • Ulceration creates opportunity for the ever-present bacteria, which normally lives in the common avian habitat, to get into the tissues to cause infection
  • Inappropriate substrate or bedding
  • Self-inflicted talon wounds, bite wounds, other wounds from fighting
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor environmental hygiene
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Any combination of these factors can put your bird at risk for systemic infections which can lead to tissue and ultimately bone damage.

Diagnosis of Pododermatitis in Birds

Diagnosis is going to be based on the combination of description of your history of the malady to your veterinary professional, his findings from a physical examination and laboratory culture reports from blood and tissue samples he will likely deem appropriate.  During his physical examination of your bird, he will be looking for calluses or nodules of hyperplastic epidermis (abnormal skin tissue) along the plantar surface of the feet of your bird.  

These are the earliest signs of the condition and are frequently not noticed until the condition worsens, progressing to ulceration, infection and ultimately leading to deeper infections in surrounding tissues which includes tendons and bones. Additionally, he will likely require radiographic (x-ray) imaging to add to his findings from the above mentioned diagnostic components.  As he collects all of this information, your veterinary professional will be examining and assessing your bird for any illnesses or injuries to which the bird may have been predisposed.

Treatment of Pododermatitis in Birds

Based on the findings by your veterinary professional, he will likely recommend:

  • Treatment of pododermatitis in your bird(s) which generally consists of correcting any of the perching issues, bedding issues and adjustment of nutrition as needed
  • Fixing potential husbandry issues as well as cleaning and disinfecting your bird’s enclosure will eliminate injuries and stresses associated with those things
  • Frequently, a bird’s diet is found to be lacking sufficient vitamin A and, if this is the case with your bird, recommendations will be made to supplement the diet to increase that vitamin  
  • Next, if bacterial type infections have been identified, he will need to address those, whether localized in the wound area or systemic, having spread through the body; cephalexin antibiotics have been used successfully in these cases  
  • For some birds, especially in the early stage cases, losing weight and increasing their exercise may be all that is required to remedy the problem 
  • Any wounds or ulcerations that are present will be treated and dressed according to their need to encourage healing  
  • Surgical treatments, natural healing products, therapeutic laser and even acupuncture may also be recommended, depending on the extent to which the pododermatitis has progressed

Recovery of Pododermatitis in Birds

It is important to note that many cases of pododermatitis in birds are mild and, when appropriate treatment is provided in a timely manner, the condition will resolve.  However, it is also very important to note that, in some cases, the disease doesn’t respond to any of the treatment modalities and the afflicted bird will not flourish.  The rate of morbidity is about 50 percent for those birds whose wounds are considered advanced as the opportunity for infection is significantly greater.  The prognosis for healing and resolving the condition is better when the lesion is soft and pliable than when the lesion becomes hard as a rock.  

After the appropriate treatment is recommended and initiated, it may be necessary, especially in the case of open wounds or ulcerations, that you may be required to administer supportive care at home while the healing takes place.  You should expect to separate the treated bird and allow it a rest in deep bedding, with recommended dressing changes and nutritional changes.  Be prepared for the healing process to take weeks or months of care and close monitoring. 

In terms of prevention, closely monitor the body of your pet bird with attention paid to any areas of injury, pay particular attention to perching issues especially as they apply to materials used and the height of the perch,  environmental hygiene issues involving manual litter removal and keeping the coop clean, providing deep bedding for your avian pets.