Along with the fun of raising backyard chickens, there are times when care needs to be taken to assure the well being of our feathered friends. Last summer I had a few of my girls come down with a condition called bumble foot. I know its a funny sounding word, what it basically amounts to is an infection in the pad of their foot. Now, the chicken has an amazing ability to heal and recover from a variety of wounds and conditions. Often times I am most certain that an ailment will take the life of one of my girls and as it turns out they, make an amazing recovery.
So what is bumble foot exactly? Basically, it is caused by a very small puncture wound on the chicken’s foot. As the chickens body attempts to heal itself, a “corn” is formed in the soft tissue of the foot, creating an very painful condition called bumble foot. Although it is not inherently common in backyard flocks, it does happen from time to time.
My girls came down with the condition by injuring their feet by tree branches that fell into their outdoor run area after several severe spring storms ripped through our area. Some of the branches were sharp and a few of the girls obtained small wounds on their feet before I could get everything cleaned up. Even something as simple as digging in mulch can cause a splinter to get infected and cause bumble foot in a chicken. So there are a variety of things that can cause bumble foot to grow in the soft tissue of even pampered backyard divas.
Although the condition sounds severe, it is actually rather simple to treat. All it takes is some time and attention. There are many ways to treat the infection. Some chicken owners will actually cut the infection out of the foot. I would only do this is only in extreme conditions. Although this would remove the infection from the bird very quickly, I would hate to cause this much pain to one of my girls. This procedure honestly is much better handled by a vet who has the proper pain management to preform this method of addressing bumble foot. I take a bit more gentle approach, working with the chicken’s body to draw out the infection with as little pain as possible. I call it the salve method. I will detail below with pictures how to treat the infection using salve.
First, you will need to catch the patient that needs the bumble foot infection addressed. It is best to wrap the patient in a towel. This will keep the bird calm and make it easier for your assistant to hold. That is right, I forgot to mention that you will need a helper for this little project. My helper today is my Mom, Mary. She loves my girls and enjoyed holding and talking to our patient throughout the entire procedure.
Our patient today is Miss Pea. She is one of the last remaining girls that is still recovering from a bumble foot infection. Her infection is slow to heal, mainly because she is the largest of all my hens. She puts a lot of weight on her feet which does tend to make the healing process slower. Nonetheless, she takes her pedi days in stride.
Ok, now that you have your patient wrapped in a towel, give the patient to you assistant and let them hold the bird for you. This will make it easier for you to use both your hands to work on the bumble foot infection.
One very important note here: Make sure that you wear gloves!!! Bumble foot is a bacterial infection. Many bacterium live in the ground, it is possible that some bumble foot infection can actually contain the staph bacteria making them staph infections. So to protect yourself, make sure that you wear a good pair of quality medial exam gloves. Also, see that your assistant wears that same quality medical exam gloves.
Ok, Now for the procedure, make sure that you have a stocked medical kit. You will need: Gloves, Peroxide, rubbing Alcohol, cotton balls, scissors, rolled gauze, antibacterial cream such as triple antibiotic cream, salve, and vet wrap. Here are my supplies laid out and ready to use.
Ok, Now that you have your patient and your assistant holding your patient, it’s time to begin. Isolate the foot that has the infection and secure the other foot under the towel. A chicken will have the natural reaction to kick with the other foot, so that foot need to be secured. You don’t want the claws from the other foot to put holes in your gloves.
Take a cotton ball, dip it into some alcohol or peroxide and wipe the foot clean. Removing all debris and disinfecting the foot pad. Chickens feet can be ver dirty. Sometimes it helps to soak the foot in a tub of warm epsom salt water to further clean the feet and allow the skin to soften.
After you have cleaned the foot, inspect the wound. This is Miss Pea’s foot, she has a pretty large bumble foot infection. As you can see, they are usually circular in nature and can be very deep. After I cleaned her foot, I put a dab of Salve on her foot. Just enough to cover the wound, you don’t need to smear the whole foot in Salve.
Now is a good time to talk about Salve. I swear by this product. The purpose of Salve is to soften the skin allowing the body to expel the infection. It is often used for horses to pull pebbles and other objects out of their hoves. It is non-toxic and painless for the bird. It is a wonderful product. I would not keep chickens without this in my chicken first aid kit. It is found at Tractor Supply and costs about $20 a tub. It will last you literally for ever. It is black, smells awful, looks like tar but will works miracles on bumble foot infection. I also use it on my kids when they get splinters or other cut wounds.
Once you put the Salve on the patients cleaned and disinfected foot, place some gauze on top of it. The gauze will keep the salve next to the skin and offer some protection for the wound.
Now that you have the wound Salved and gauzed, it is time to wrap the foot. This keeps the gauze in place and prevents dirt and other things from contaminating the wound causing more infection to grow.
A chickens foot is a bit of a challenge to wrap, but once you get the hang of it its rather easy. First you will need to cut 2-3 strips of vet wrap about 10-12 inches long. Start several inches up the bird legs and wrap the vet wrap around her leg. Then, as you reach the toes just weave the vet wrap in-between the toes, making sure to cover the bottom of the foot completely. A note here, DO NOT make the vet wrap too tight. You are not trying to provide compression. You are simply holding the gauze in place and preventing dirt from infecting the wound further. Wrapping too tight will cut off circulation to the patient’s foot causing severe leg problems. Keep the wrap rather loose, vet wrap will stick to itself so there is no need to wrap the foot too tight. I would rather that you question whether it is too loose than too tight.
Once you have the patients foot wrapped. They are good to go, a free bird. You can allow your patient to roam with the rest of the flock. All I caution about is do not let their foot get wet. So if you are expecting rain in the forecast, make sure that they do not step in mud or puddles. Secure your patient to the pen for the day if the weather is going to be bad. If the foot does gets wet it could cause further infection and delay recovery. However, if their foot gets wet just remove the bandage, disinfect, apply more salve and rewrap. Its not a big deal, it happened to me several times when we would get a freak shower. So I just rewrapped her and called it a day.
Once they have their foot fashions on, return the patient to the flock and check the wound in a few days. I go no longer than a week, every 2-3 days is ideal. The Salve will work to pull the infection from the body bring with it puss and the corn. Simply remove the gauze, disinfect the foot with either alcohol or peroxide apply more salve, and wrap.
The Salve method takes a while to completely clear the infection. A bad bumble foot infection can take several months to completely clear up. This is the disadvantage of using the Salve vs cutting the infection out. However the Salve is painless and very effective. The surgical method requires an individual to have a tough stomach when it comes to blood and puss. Not only is it bloody but it is very painful unless numbing medication is properly administered. This procedure is best left to a vet. Additionally, when you cut into a bird you risk the very real possibility of severe life threatning infection. This is because if the bacteria in foot gets into the blood stream it could be life threatening for the bird. I would much rather use a method that takes a bit longer but is painless, and reduces the infection rather than possibly making it worse. The Salve will work, it is absolutely amazing, will save you hundreds on vet bills, and be painless for the patient.
Bumble foot, although sounding daunting is a very simple condition to treat. Using the right methods, it is painless for the bird and returns their quality of life once fully recovered.
I hope that this post has helped anyone who is struggling with how to address bumble foot in backyard chickens.
As always ,the girls and I thank you for stopping by. Remember to keep on crowing and we will see you next time.
~The Kuntry Klucker Crew~