What is Toe Malposition?

Toe malposition is a condition in which your bird’s toes have not grown properly. This condition is thought to be relatively common for birds. There is no specific or identified cause of this condition, although it is thought to be the result of malabsorption of nutrients, genetics, or abnormalities while in utero. 

There is evidence to support that when a female bird does not have enough calcium or vitamin D3, their eggs are more fragile and at a higher risk of developing abnormalities of the bones. These abnormalities found in chicks can also be due to a loss of nutrients during the neonatal rearing period. When an adult bird suffers a loss of nutrients, chicks do not have the ability to compensate for that loss and may suffer deformities. The toe malposition may not be noticed right away and remain for a while before it is caught.

Toe malposition occurs when your bird’s 4th, or lateral toe, is pointing forward when it should be pointing backward. This can be fixed if caught early enough; however, if left untreated it can lead to problems with grip.

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Symptoms of Toe Malposition in Birds

You may notice that your bird’s fourth or lateral toe is facing the wrong way. This can be found early on in your bird’s life or later on as he gets older. 

  • Toe is abnormally positioned
  • Problem gripping perch
  • Possible balance issue
  • Other orthopedic abnormalities may be seen

Causes of Toe Malposition in Birds

  • Calcium deficiency – There is evidence to indicate that if a female bird is deficient in calcium, she will have a higher risk of having an egg that will have a soft shell or higher risk of developing abnormalities; the same can be said for a chick born with a calcium deficiency (that chick may develop any number of orthopedic deformities including to malposition)
  • Vitamin D3 deficiency – Vitamin D3 is in the same camp as calcium; in the event that a female bird is deficient in her vitamin D3, she has a higher risk of having an egg that may develop abnormalities (a chick born with a vitamin D3 deficiency will also have a higher risk of bone deformities including toe malposition)
  • Inbreeding – When birds are inbred excessively, genetic deformity risk increases greatly; this can result in a high rate of toe malposition in chicks
  • Genetic trait – This can be an inherited trait that a chick develops from his parents

Diagnosis of Toe Malposition in Birds

Toe malposition is relatively easy to identify and diagnose as your bird’s toes will be pointed in the wrong direction. You should involve your veterinarian if you notice there is a problem, in order to determine the exact nature of the deformity. It will be important to discuss with your veterinarian if you noticed the issue upon birth or if your bird is older and you just recently noticed the concern.

Your veterinarian may want to perform a physical exam to ensure there are no other underlying health or abnormalities. There will most likely not be a need for laboratory testing, rather a physical examination should be enough to determine the cause of your bird’s problems unless the veterinarian wants to investigate a possible deficiency, whereby blood tests may be ordered. A discussion of your bird’s diet and environment will be necessary; be sure to include the type of supplements or treats that you may be feeding your bird.

Treatment of Toe Malposition in Birds

Regardless of when your bird’s toe malposition is diagnosed, the treatment option will remain the same. Bandaging of the foot will be the primary option for correcting the toe malposition. In a young bird this can be done for several days and the deformity should be corrected. In an older bird the bandaging may need to go on for a prolonged period before the deformity is corrected completely. Proper bandaging techniques and the duration of therapy for your bird’s toe malposition will be discussed with you by your veterinarian.

Recovery of Toe Malposition in Birds

Depending on the age of your bird and how long it takes to correct his toe malposition, the recovery period can be a few days to several weeks. However, with proper treatment, he will make a full recovery. Without the treatment provided, your bird may have some problems with his grip but overall should be able to function. It should be noted that a condition like this must be checked due to the possibility of vitamin A or calcium deficiency. Your veterinarian will discuss any need for follow up treatment as well.