During the Covid 19 lockdown, Rachel’s neighbour gave her a hen with a severe case of bumblefoot that he had considered culling. Good thing Rachel is a Registered Nurse. Together with her General Physician dad they offered to take the bird and remove the toe which was beyond saving.
Day 1: When Dotty arrived, her toe was badly infected and gangrenous so the procedure was more difficult than anticipated. They used a tight tourniquet above the foot to stop blood flow and administered Lidocaine, an injectible local anaesthetic, in a ring-block around the circumference of the toe to numb the whole digit.
A scalpel and scissors were used to remove the toe at the joint. They sutured the skin over the stump.
When the tourniquet was removed, the wound spurted blood as the foot is highly vascular. They reapplied the tourniquet and opened up the wound to try to tie off the vessel, but couldn’t find it.
Otravin nasal spray was put in the wound to try to constrict the vessels to slow the bleeding. It helped, but couldn’t stop the blood flow completely. They sutured up again and covered her foot with a tight compression bandage made of gauze pads and vet wrap.
Day 3: The first day the vet wrap was removed without copious bleeding from the wound. Bandages were then changed daily. Metacam (pain killer) was recommended, but Rachel was unsure of the dosage so she only gave 3 drops. She later learned that she was grossly under medicating Dotty and that chickens need about 1ml of Metacam per kilogram of their body weight. She increased the dosage (to almost the same dose as her 70 lb. dog), which made a huge difference.
Dotty was fed chick starter and scrambled eggs to boost her protein intake and given Poul-Vit vitamins.
Week 2: Unfortunately the wound became infected, so she was given Ampicillin from a prescription Rachel had on hand.
Around that time Rachel’s pony was put on Doxycycline and the vet told her this was also the best antibiotic for bone infections in chickens. She diluted the powdered medication in Dotty’s water. The vet also advised her to open the wound, irrigate it and start packing it.
Rachel got some expired human-grade wound packing and colloidal silver gel and began to irrigate with saline and debride (remove) the dead flesh with small scissors and medical tweezers.
She filled the wound with colloidal silver soaked packing tape (a fabric tape used in large wounds that need to heal slowly from the inside out). This was done daily for a week, then alternating days and then every three days during the final week. Healing could be gauged by the amount of pus, healthy flesh and the length of tape that was needed to fill the wound after each dressing change.
Week 5-6: Rachel credits the combination of Doxycycline, Metacam, good nutrition and wound packing for the hen’s full recovery. In a few weeks she was able to return to her original home where she became the nanny in the chick coop. She went broody and is now a great mum.
Many thanks to Rachel Conley for her story and photos documenting the great work that she and her dad performed to save Lotty’s life. All material used with permission.
Note: Needless to say, these were two medically trained professionals with all the right equipment and medications at their disposal. If you have a bird requiring an amputation please seek advice from your veterinarian. Barring that, if you are going to undertake DIY surgery be as prepared as you can be.
What is Bumblefoot?
Bumblefoot, or pododermatitis, is a broad term that includes any inflammatory or degenerative condition affecting chicken feet.
It is caused by consistent, uneven, or excessive pressure on the bottom of the bird’s foot, combined with conditions that lead to the breakdown in the outer skin of the foot. Scrapes or cuts in the footpads allow bacteria in the soil or coop to infect the inner tissues. Think of it like pressure ulcers or bedsores in people.