If you are squeamish about blood, and infectious drainage please do not continue reading this post. I will open with a picture of the chicken involved in the bumble foot surgery so those not wishing to look can click out now. The little white hen in the foreground is an Icelandic hen I call Barn Girl. I do so because she is obsessed with the barn and sneaks in wherever she can. One day she fell and got wedged between the workbench and the wall while trying to lay an egg in a paint roller tray. She is a sweet little hen with a serious barn obsession. For those looking for information about bumble foot and how to treat it keep reading. Everyone else, git while the gittin’s good.
There is a very good article about Bumblefoot written by Peter Brown, of First State Veterinary Supply. You can find his article HERE.
Now for a little history regarding Barn Girl and bumblefoot. She had an abscess on the outside of her foot in July which I opened up and drained and treated with antibiotic ointment and dressings. Here is a picture of the wound in July.
It healed nicely and she was walking normally until a few days ago I saw her limping. I took her down from the roost tonight, brought her to the house and this is what I saw.
After cleaning the foot with an antiseptic made for for animals, it was clearly a case of bumblefoot with the classic dark scab.
I gathered the supplies I thought I would need from my poultry first aid kit. Here’s what I used. A scalpel with a #11 blade:
I also laid out vet wrap, alcohol swabs, tweezers, cotton-tipped applicators, paper towels, a styptic pencil roller, a can of blood stop powder, triple antibiotic ointment, a syringe with a 20 gauge needle, vinyl gloves and towels.
I wrapped Barn Girl papoose style with one towel, covering her head with just the foot extended. It was snug but not too tight. This procedure was going to take awhile so I wanted her to be still but comfortable. Covering the head seems to keep them calm. Only a couple of times did she pull her foot away from me when I was cutting with the scalpel. Other than that, she was quiet. Her foot was so swollen that I imagine the release of the pressure caused her pain to improve immediately. You can see her foot sticking out in the next picture.
The second towel I used to cover my work surface. I used a small portable light to direct at the wound. I tried to pull the scab out with the tweezers but it would not come out. I used the scalpel to carefully excise the dark scab.
Once the scab was removed I used the tip of the scalpel to open a small area inside the wound. It began to bleed profusely. I used the styptic pencil but it didn’t work. I also tried using superglue to close the tiny cut that was oozing blood but it didn’t work either. I also tried using blood stop powder which did not stop the bleeding either. The grey/black stuff you will see in the next few pictures is blood stop powder.
I opened up the wound a bit more until the exudate (pus) began to come out. There was so much in there. I probably got this much out ten times by pressing on the swollen areas and pushing towards the opening. I also have a glove blow-out.
Eventually I got drainage out and was able to locate the solid plug and squeeze it out. That is the key in bumblefoot surgery. You need to get the cottage cheesy material out or it will just re-infect, which it could do anyway.
Once I had as much of the infected material out as I could get I went back to trying to stop the bleeding. Ultimately it required two sutures to close the little cut on the bottom of the wound and the bleeding stopped immediately. I did not have real sutures so I improvised with a sewing needle and nylon thread. You will see part of my sewing supplies in the next
With the bleeding under control, the drainage removed and the swelling gone, I cleaned the wound out, packed it with triple antibiotic ointment and fashioned a dressing out of vet wrap. I secured it with a safety pin.
Here is the patient immediately after surgery.
She looks better than the surgical suite does! It looked like a scene from a horror movie. Everything got cleaned up and scrubbed with antimicrobial cleaner.
I know she looks mad here but she is just hot. She had an elevated temp to begin with and wrapping her in the towel made it worse. Her wings are flared to cool her body and her beak is open to cool her via respirations.
She had a shot of penicillin and then drank a lot of water before being put to bed in a small cage in the garage. I will update tomorrow on her condition.
If you have a bird with bumblefoot you have three options. You can take the bird to a vet for the surgery, you can do it yourself, or you can do nothing and see what happens. This type of injury can kill a chicken and even after the surgery they can still die. I am a registered nurse and for many years was first surgical assistant in doing peritoneal dialysis cather surgeries on our patients. I am quite used to blood, guts and pus so I felt comfortable doing this. I read a lot of articles before attempting it myself though and recommend that to anyone considering doing bumblefoot surgery.
Please wear gloves, wash everything in antimicrobial solution afterwards or discard them. I have a first aid kit for chickens with supplies that are used only for them. I will post the contents of my kit soon if you want to put one together for yourself.
Very often the infection causing bumblefoot is staphylococcus aureus, which can and will infect humans. I cannot streess enough the importance of having the right supplies on hand, taking your time, and being extremely careful.
Updates to come!
Barn Girl is doing well this morning. I removed her dressing and the foot is still very swollen but I was not able to express anything out of the wound. I soaked her foot in warm water with disinfectant for about a half hour while she stood in my lap, repacked it with antibiotic ointment, and redressed. Here she is soaking her foot while soaking up some rays!