I should have gone into a career in science. I am fascinated by how organisms work and what can go wrong. If you keep chickens long enough you’ll come across a host of health issue ranging from the mundane to the bizarre.
I curated a whole collection of pathology cases called ‘Lumps and Bumps’. This one is about leg and foot issues. You’re probably aware of some of the things that affect those parts of avian anatomy: infections (bumblefoot), parasites (scaly leg mites), fractures, sprains, gout and sometimes internal issues that affect gait causing limping.
(Image credits: Poultry Extension and This NZ Life)
These cases are presented as part of my on-going collaboration with Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist. I collect unsolved cases and she helps with the diagnosis to the best of her ability given the limited information I present her with.
“I just got this 10 week old chick last week and it’s been limping since she got here. I thought she had hurt her foot or toe, but I felt around to this swollen and very hard, crusty, yellow place on her leg.” Michelle Marie Geske
Dr Bowes: The primary injury is a fractured leg. The yellow material is an indication of an infection. Without an x-ray you won’t know what kind of break is involved, but the leg can still be stabilized (splinted and wrapped) for @ 10 days with a good prognosis for it to heal. Treat for pain and treat the secondary infection.
“What’s wrong with this hen’s legs?” – Destiny Bowers
Dr Bowes: It appears to be a circumferential (all the way around) constriction. This can be caused by fine monofilament or binder twine wrapped tightly, strangulating the limbs and then become overgrown by the skin. This also happens with leg bands, but doesn’t appear to be so in this case. The resolution is a surgical intervention: with pain medication you can often make a small incision to free up the obstruction.
“My 2½ year old Australorp is reluctant to walk, unable to scratch the ground, and has become less social with her flock. The last egg she laid was shell-less about 2 months ago. She eats and poops normally. I am a vet tech and took these x-rays at my clinic but none of the vets I work with know much about chickens. This has been steadily getting worse over the last few months.” – Becky Brooks
Dr Bowes: The femur is obviously badly bowed and is too smooth for it to be a poorly healed fracture. Perhaps the hen had rickets when she was younger or has a metabolic bone disease. The positioning of the x-rays was not ideal (the bad leg is obscured in the last photo) and there was no labeling. It’s possible that there is a pelvic fracture that is not visible, but it’s impossible to assess by looking at the radiographs. The only thing you can offer at this point is pain management.
Lumps On Hock
“Fluffy is a 1½ year old Kauai Jungle Fowl x Silkie mix. About a month ago he was limping terribly and we thought he probably jumped and hurt his leg. We took him to our vet and they gave us antibiotics. He only uses one leg and will barely let his toes touch the ground. His appetite and everything else is good. Two nights ago we noticed some clear liquid (no odour) coming from his leg. Tonight we gave him a bath and he now has two lumps that came to surface on each side of one leg. We moved it around and they came to head.” – Amber Leach
Dr Bowes: This doesn’t look like an abscess at the surface of the skin, but something deeper like tendonitis. It should be cultured, flushed out and treated with a topical antibiotic ointment and a 7-10 day course of penicillin.
“What’s wrong with her foot?” – Melissa Gilmore
Dr Bowes: This kind of stippling or dimpling on the footpads is not uncommon in geese as a response to protecting their feet from ice. I would need more information on what substrate is in the coop and run? Is the bird lame? Is there an issue with scaly leg mites?
My silkie hen was seen by a vet for treatment of bumblefoot. We soak her feet and change her bandages daily. These yellow blisters have appeared since yesterday. – Mandy Lynn
Dr Bowes: I haven’t seen this before but it looks like dermatitis related to the moisture of the foot wraps. I would keep treating for bumblefoot, put an topical antibacterial cream on the legs and it should resolve itself.
Our free ranging hen came home looking like this so we don’t know what happened to her, but suspect she impaled herself on something. There has been no flystrike or infection but it hasn’t healed over in the month since it happened. – Shannon Murray
Dr Bowes: I’d like to see what is on the inside of the wound. It clearly didn’t hit bone but what else is affected? You can see that scar tissue is forming around the outside, which means that the opening won’t close without medical intervention. A vet could debride, cut the edges and stitch them together. If you are not going to see a vet, monitor for flystrike.
“My hen previously had a sore on her foot that took months to heal completely when this was just a small spot. Now she can barely walk.” – Tarah Kesel
Dr Bowes: My concern would be why did it take so long to heal? The area looks angry, red, swollen and necrotic on the outside. It needs to be debrided and treated as a wound. The infection is close to the joint and may be progressing on the inside. A vet would cut it open and flush it. The risk of not intervening is the infection can erode the bone.
Sometimes I find photos on the internet with no backstory and this is one of those cases. I think Dr Bowes let out a little WTF when she saw the photo. Not surprising, it is pretty dramatic.
Dr Bowes: At first I thought this was the worst case of pododermatitis (bumblefoot) I had ever seen, but then wondered if it was xanthomatosis. Without seeing the bird and culturing some of the infection I don’t have a diagnosis.
Abscess: a localized collection of pus in a cavity formed from tissues that have been broken down by infectious bacteria. An abscess is caused when bacteria such as staphylococci or streptococci gain access to solid tissue.
Debride: remove damaged tissue or foreign objects from a wound.
Dermatitis: a condition of the skin in which it becomes red, swollen, and sore, sometimes with small blisters, resulting from direct irritation of the skin by an external agent or an allergic reaction to it.
Necrotic: Necrosis is the death of body tissue, which occurs when too little blood flows to the tissue. Necrosis cannot be reversed. When large areas of tissue die due to a lack of blood supply, the condition is called gangrene.
Tendonitis: inflammation of a tendon
Well that wraps up another edition of Show & Tell With Bitchin’ Chickens and Dr Bowes. I hope that it’s been a learning experience for you, it was for me and even Dr Bowes learned a thing or two.
If you’d like help with a case drop me a line using the ‘contact’ button on my home page. Remember to wear gloves, take good close up photos from several angles and supply us with plenty of information (e.g. timelines, symptoms, medications, general flock health, etc) so we’re able to more accurately pinpoint what’s going on.
Thanks again to Dr Vicki Bowes for her willingness to share her wealth of knowledge and experience to build capacity and skills in small flock keepers.