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What is bumblefoot?

Does your hen look as if she is wearing overly large carpet slippers? If so, she might have bumblefoot. 

Ulcerative pododermatitis – or bumblefoot as it’s more regularly known – is a condition that occurs when a wound on the hen’s foot pad becomes infected. It earned its name from the hard, abscess-like kernel or ‘bumble’ that forms in the infected area. 

Early signs of bumblefoot can include a shiny, reddened dot; small black callous or raised rough patch on the bottom of the foot. Foot pads that appear swollen or are hot to touch can also be an indication of the presence of bumble foot. Use the back of your finger to gently check the temperature of your hen’s foot pad for elevated heat. 

In extreme cases, all the toes and even the lower part of the leg can blow up like a balloon, causing the hen to limp. The condition doesn’t seem to be painful, but this can vary from hen to hen, with some hens going lame if not properly looked after. 

In most instances, bumblefoot infections are caused by random injuries that happen whilst your hen goes about her daily activities. Cuts and grazes may be caused by the rough edge of a perch, for example, or an accidental landing on a sharp stone. 

It’s more common with barn or free-range hens where they’ve encountered rough or stony ground or an uneven perch, but any hen can contract bumblefoot in her lifetime. 

The biology of it all

When your hen gets a graze or puncture wound on her feet, bacteria that normally lives in her environment without issue can enter the wound, causing an infection. 

The tissue around the wound becomes inflamed and pockets of pus build-up. A single, hard abscess may appear. In severe cases, the entire foot and even the lower leg can become hard, swollen and pus-filled. In such circumstances, surgery is often the only way to resolve the condition.  

Some hens can improve with antibiotic therapy such as a spray or anti-microbial cream. Exercise will also help to get the blood flowing around the feet and ease the swelling. 

Soaking the feet in Epsom Salts or a calendula bath is the best first resort. Standing the hen in warm water for around ten minutes will help to soften the feet and relieve swelling. This may be beneficial if you are planning on removing the bumble yourself. Make sure to then keep the wound clean by applying bandages. Where there is an infection, it might be necessary to visit a hen-friendly vet.

What can I do to prevent bumblefoot?

During your weekly routines, check all perches for splintering or rough areas to reduce the risk of your hens puncturing their feet in the first place.  

Ensure toenails are not too long as this can also be a cause of dirty scratches and wounds. Hens will normally wear their nails down evenly so just make sure they are not too long. 

Keep an eye on your hens, picking them up and checking their feet and legs for anything unusual. Monitor them for abrasions, bruises, scabs and swelling. The more you do this the more you will become familiar with what is normal and what isn’t.  

The more you do this, the more likely you will be to notice bumblefoot at an early stage and prevent infection. 

You can also use our hen health page to help you identify bumblefoot in your hens.

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