Avian Pathology Cases: 27

Last month, my mentor Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist and I got together twice and motored through 50 interesting health issues I brought her on a memory stick. Some I had found on the internet, some were sent to me. While some had detailed information, most did not and some had nothing at all, but “What’s wrong with my bird?” and a photo. She persevered and helped me narrow the options and in many cases was able to give an accurate diagnosis and advice to the owner about treatment options, if possible.

When I got home my desk and flash drive were full of notes as I pondered how to group the cases. Several months ago, the children’s song lyrics “head and shoulders, knees and toes” came into my head, which was the catalyst for several posts about the head, and legs and feet. It turns out that plenty can go wrong with chicken appendages so this is the fourth offering focused strictly on their legs and feet. (See previous cases 9, 14, 17)

Missing Toes

My almost 12 year old rooster is losing his toes. We’ve cleaned and cleaned his feet and treated with salve for weeks. It doesn’t appear to be bumblefoot or scaly leg mites. – Crystal Dawn Chaplain

Dr Bowes: I think when so many toes are dropping off you can rule out constriction due to strangulation (i.e. string). There is some kind of vascular disruption of the toes so they are self amputating. One possibility is feeding rye contaminated with ergot fungus which produces compounds that form toxins that when eaten by chickens is associated with lameness and gangrene.  Constricted blood flow results in decreased blood supply to the comb and feet leading to necrosis. 

Bumblefoot Hole

Dr Bowes: It appears the infection was encapsulated and came out in one piece leaving a hole. Because the tissue surrounding it has healed that hole will never fill in. Monitor it for soil and debris that might get impacted in there.


Dr Bowes: I would guess it’s a soft tissue swelling caused by edema. You’d need an X-ray to see whether the swelling is related to bone or fluid.


This hen has had a rough life. She got attacked last summer by a predator that killed eight of her siblings. She has had a crooked foot since then. Is this bumblefoot? How do I treat her safely? – Ashley Isabella

Dr Bowes: This is a severe case of bumblefoot that requires veterinary care to clean the foot. An X-ray would reveal if there was erosion of the bone. If that’s the case, amputation or euthanasia would be in order.

Webbed Toes

Dr Bowes: You can cut the webbing between the toes with newly hatched chicks, making sure you control blood flow. At this point, I would leave it. The bird will adapt.


My nine-week-old pullet is not progressing like her three sisters and her legs are thick. I was wondering if anyone else has experienced this. She eats and drinks fine but she doesn’t walk much. We took her to the vet and they couldn’t tell me what’s wrong with her and just gave me pain medicine for her. – Carol Lee Morefield

Bitchin’ Chickens: Osteoporosis is the loss of structural bone whereas osteopetrosis (literally meaning ‘bone stone’) is caused by the abnormal growth in young birds. This is a proliferative bone condition that causes thickening of the long bones making them brittle and vulnerable to fractures. It is often associated with concurrent infection with Leukosis.

Last fall I showed Dr Bowes a similar photo and she asked me if I knew what it was. I ruled out gout and bumblefoot and asked if I should know the answer because I’d seen it before. It turns out it was a bit of a trick question because she’s only come across this condition once in more than 30 years as a pathologist. When she told me that she got a little bit excited and suggested the photo should be on a veterinary exam. That turned out to be the 100th case we’d worked on. Wouldn’t you know it a few weeks later I found this photo in an online chicken group and Dr Bowes concurs that it looks like osteopetrosis has struck again.

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.

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.

Featured photo: Chicken Whisperer Magazine

1 comment on “Avian Pathology Cases: 27

  1. mrscraib

    Fascinating, as always!!

    Liked by 1 person

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