Have you ever had to perform any sort of chicken surgery/procedure? How did you figure it out? How did it turn out?
When you raise animals, especially ones beyond the average pet variety, you quickly learn how to doctor your animals. At least to a small degree. The more animals you have, the more potential for large vet bills, so having a few skills is helpful.
This weekend I was performing the usual chores. Cleaning coops, cleaning out all the waterers. While I was puttering about, I noticed two birds limping. One, a guinea hen, has always had a limp due to an unfortunate interaction with a dog in its youth. The other, my favorite little chicken, has never had a limp. I noticed her first. Between two of her toes were two noticeable bumps. The guinea, who has always had a deformed foot, was the same only more swollen than usual. So, it was to the books and the internet for me. I quickly, and thankfully easily, was able to diagnose the two as having bumblefoot.
Bumblefoot, or plantar pododermatitis, is an infection on the bottom of a chicken’s foot. Usually noticeable by a bump and a dark scab on the pad of the foot. You may notice either the bump or the limping first. The infection is typically the result of an injury, cut or abrasian to the foot. Injury can also result from the roost (check for splinters), heavy landings from a roost that is too high, or poor litter management. Vitamin deficiencies can also be a cause. The injured area is then susceptible to infection, resulting in an abscess. Failure to treat can result in death.
Making sure your flock has a balanced diet and regular checking for injuries is a good starting point. Whether your flock is in a suburban backyard or free range in a pasture they can get into all manner of trouble.
If you find your chicken has bumblefoot, and can’t get to a chicken vet, there are plenty of tutorials and videos online to assist you. That is the course I took, not having an avian vet. ***Folks, I am not a vet or a professional, just a regular joe chicken wrangler, so as with anything on the internet take it with a grain of salt and when you can get to the professionals for treatment or advice do so.
These are some of the things you want in your chicken medicine cabinet in the event you need to provide care yourself, like on a mellow Sunday morning of chores.
> Epsom salt
> Vetericyn ( I also use Schreiner’s, a great anti-fungal anti-bacterial herbal solution. You can find it in the equestrian section)
> Triple antibiotic ointment like neosporin (do not use the variety with pain medication, it is toxic to the chicken)
> vet wrap
> scalpel (I found sterile disposable scalpels at Jax ranch and home store in the equestrian section. $1.50 each)
> sanitized bucket
> tweezers (optional)
> clean towel (that you don’t mind getting gross!) and some paper towels.
One person can perform the surgery, but two is definitely better. If you are weak of stomach, definitely have help. Or find someone who can perform the procedure. (This is Fort Collins folks, if you spit you can hit a vet student. Just sayin’, but don’t spit. It’s rude.)
First pick a clean and well lighted area. I chose a table outside, cleaning the table with bleach first. Cut strips of the vet wrap, about 1″ wide and 4-6″ long. Have everything you need ready. If your instruments (scalpel, tweezers) aren’t in sanitized packages clean them in a bleach solution before and after each use. Everything I read indicated the procedure would take about an hour.
Clean the affected foot (I did both to ensure more cleanliness) using the betadine solution. Then soak the affected foot in warm water and epsom salt. Spray with Vetericyn.
Wrap the chicken in the towel, making sure the bird can breathe freely. Don’t cover their head. Wrapping them keeps them from flapping and calms them to some degree.
You want to make sure you have gloves on. The procedure can be messy and infections can be passed to humans and other animals.
Take the scalpel and cut the pad in a circle around the scab at a slight angle to get under the infection. The pad will bleed, but should not be large amounts. Keep a paper towel close by to keep the area clean. Under the scab, or attached to it, will usually be a hard yellow kernel like substance. This is the infection. If it is not hardened it may be yellow and stringy. At this point, if there is a kernal remove it. You may want to gently work any swollen areas to see if any remaining pus can be removed. Soaking again in a betadine or epsom salt and water solution will assist. Once the removal is complete, clean and spray with Vetericyn again.
At this point get the gauze and coat the open wound area with the antibiotic ointment. Cover with gauze and secure in place with vet wrap. Vet wrap is amazing. It is self adhesive and stays in place well. Wrap around the gauze, between the toes and around the ankle until everything is covered and secure. Clean regularly (every 24 hours) and spray with Vetericyn each time.
If the infection is extensive, antibiotics may be necessary. The size of the swelling, if extreme, is a good indicator antibiotics may be needed in addition to the procedure and regular cleaning.
If you want to learn more there are a lot of great resources online. There are several comprehensive how to videos of the procedure and proper bandaging techniques if you google “bumblefoot in chickens”. Just don’t wait until you need them! And keep those supplies on hand. I need to head out and check on my girls now. Good luck keeping your flock happy and healthy.