I am not a medical professional. This article represents my experience only.
Bumblefoot is basically an infection that can occur on your chickens’ feet. If you think about it, they walk around on poop all day, and any laceration to the foot pad can create an entryway for the many bacteria that the feet are exposed to. Failure to treat the infection can lead to loss of the foot, or even death.
Bumblefoot in domestic chickens is most commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus, which is also a common cause of skin infections in human. The bacteria is common and easily treated with antibiotics. While there are antibiotic resistant forms of Staph, the most well known being methicillin resistant (MRSA), this is unlikely to be found in your chicken coop. Take proper hygienic care while treating your bird, but don’t freak out about it.
The best treatment, of course, is to make sure it never happens. Keep sharp objects away from anywhere the chickens jump (down from roosts), and inspect your roosts regularly to check for splinters or broken ends. Roosts should be low enough to let the birds jump down easily – generally not more than a foot or so above a floor. Of course, keep your coop and pen clean to keep down the bacterial load in general.
Watch your chickens regularly to look for limping or continually standing on one foot (the way you would if you had a sore foot). If you’re suspicious that one of your birds is injured, you’ll need to examine the foot. If you can catch her without too much stress, that is, if your chickens are comfortable with you picking them up, then check immediately. If your birds are a bit more wild, wait until dark when they’ve settled on their roosts. Chickens are lethargic at night and can be easily taken out of the coop and examined. Try to avoid shining any lights in their eyes to keep them docile.
It looks like an infection. The area will be swollen, frequently red, although sometimes just hard and shiny. The center will have what looks like a callous, or a black, ugly scab and the rest of the area may be scaly. If you find that your bird has bumblefoot, the foot must be cleaned, and the infection removed.
To clean the foot, wrap your chicken gently in a towel if she’s at all restless, again, this depends on the temperament of your bird. Soak the foot in warm water with Epsom salts or a squirt of povidone-iodine. If her foot is really dirty you may need to wash well under running water before getting to the soak step. You want the foot to be as clean as possible.
You will want gauze, vet wrap, antibiotic ointment.
The best way to deal with this is to remove the plug of bacteria. After the foot has soaked and soften, try gently massaging the foot to loosen the plug. Your bird will not like this and she should be securely wrapped in a towel. If you can get the plug out by gently picking and squeezing, you should do this. You need to keep squeezing until there are no hard bits left in the wound area.
If the plug won’t come out with gentle squeezing, you have a couple options. Well, you have three options, the first being take your bird to an avian vet. Your two ‘at home’ options are as follows: surgery, or try an antibiotic bath.
Surgery is very involved and requires some special tools such as a scalpel and tweezers. A razor blade or utility knife might work, but they must be brand new, clean, and sharp. You need to cut out the infection and it is a tedious, painstaking procedure that normally involves multiple soakings and cuttings. A steady hand and a sturdy partner are good additions. If this is not for you, try the antibiotic soak below.
Tricide Neo powder is antibiotic used to treat skin infections on fish. It can be found in fish stores or ordered online. It’s about $25 for a packet of powder that makes up one gallon of soak, but you can weigh out a lesser amount to make a smaller amount of solution. Follow the directions on the packet to get the correct concentration/ratios and mix the powder up in distilled water. Note that the reconstituted solution is active for only one week. If your bird has a bad case of bumblefoot you may be soaking for many weeks.
You will need to soak your bird’s foot in the antibiotic solution for 5-10 minutes every day. If the infection is quite bad, consider a longer pre-soak with Epsom salts followed by a gentle massage to try to loosen the plug, followed by the antibiotic soak. Ideally you will keep your birds inside during the treatment, but some people return the birds to the coop.
Some things to keep in mind
You need to continue treatment until the foot is healed. If treatment was surgery, keep the foot wrapped in gauze that is changed at least daily. Examine the foot at every dressing change to see how well it’s healing and look for signs of returning infection.
In addition to treating the foot, you may want to give your chicken a shot of penicillin. Ask at your local feed store to find out if they carry it and at what concentration. You can probably get it online but shipping time required might be an issue. You’ll want to weigh your bird to calculate the dosage required and follow the instructions for injection carefully. Penicillin alone is not a recommended treatment; you will still need to treat the foot in one or more of the ways described above.
The longer a case of bumblefoot is left untreated, the more difficult it is to take care of, and the more damage will be done to the foot of your chicken. If you continue to put off treatment your bird may be left with permanent tendon damage, or treatment might require removing the foot entirely. Infection that has reached the bone and began to travel is extremely difficult to treat and will definitely require penicillin, or, ideally a vet’s care. Try to skip all of this nastiness entirely by maintaining a clean, safe environment for your girls, and regularly checking their feet for signs of damage.