All psittacines can get bumblefoot, including budgerigars and cockatiels, but larger parrot species are worse affected than smaller species.
Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction that causes painful sores and legions on the foot’s surface. The signs and symptoms include limping and lameness.
Bumblefoot is caused by excessive perching, a lack of vitamin A, and wounds that allow in bacteria.
Bumblefoot can be excruciating, and eventually, your parrot won’t be able to stand on the affected foot. The condition is treatable with antibiotics but can be fatal if ignored for too long.
What Is Bumblefoot?
Also known as ulcerative pododermatitis, bumblefoot is a bacterial infection that commonly affects parrots, especially larger, heavier parrots such as Amazon and hyacinth macaws.
Bumblefoot is an inflammatory condition that occurs on the surface of the soles; it can appear on one or both feet, affecting the joints and bones.
Captive parrots are prone to bumblefoot because they spend more time standing still. There’s usually something wrong with their cage setup, which increases their chance of developing this condition.
If bumblefoot is detected and treated early enough, parrots don’t usually experience long-term damage. However, if the infection is left to worsen, it can result in death.
Parrots that survive sometimes require leg or foot amputation.
What Does Bumblefoot Look Like?
Bumblefoot is characterized by hard, puffy scabs that look like small blisters. The scabs can be red, black, or brown. The foot may appear swollen, and the tissue can become inflamed.
Sometimes, bumblefoot manifests as a boil or welt on the skin’s surface. These are filled with pus and require draining to relieve the pressure and discomfort.
In the advanced stages of bumblefoot, painful abscesses appear as clusters on the skin. Your parrot’s health is in grave danger when the skin turns black.
According to the Hagen Avicultural Research Institute, bumblefoot has seven grades of infection:
|1:||The parrot develops a shiny, reddened surface on the foot and a small lesion appears.|
|2:||The infection comes into contact with the lesion, and tendons can be seen through the skin.|
|3:||Ulcers appear that are swollen, pus-filled, and rough around the edges.|
|4:||A painful necrotic plug forms in the ulcer’s center.|
|5:||Swelling and edema surround the area of necrosis. The foot and digits become filled with fluid, making them appear swollen. At this stage, tendons and metatarsal pads become infected.|
|6:||The digits are swollen, and the foot’s necrotic flexor tendons rupture, causing loss of feeling.|
|7:||Bone infection (osteomyelitis) occurs, eventually resulting in death.|
What Causes Bumblefoot In Parrots?
Bumblefoot occurs when bacteria, such as staphylococcus, enter the parrot’s foot. This could be due to an accident, injury, cut, or scrape.
According to MSD Veterinary Manual, poor husbandry, low-quality nutrition, and unsanitary environmental conditions are common causes of bacterial infections.
The other causes of ulcerative pododermatitis in parrots include:
As parrots spend most of their time standing on their feet, poor-quality perches are a problem.
Plastic perches with rough or sharp edges can cut the skin, allowing bumblefoot-causing bacteria to enter the wound.
Similarly, rough pedicure perches or perches covered with an abrasive coating can penetrate the skin when parrots use them to file their claws down.
Parrots need natural perches of various widths, allowing them to exercise their feet and improve their grip. Clean perches regularly to prevent harmful bacteria from growing on the surface.
Wire cages with sharp points can cause injury if a parrot steps on them. All hard, rough surfaces inside the enclosure should be covered with a softer material to protect the feet, such as newspaper or towels.
When a parrot’s nails grow too long, they can penetrate the skin, allowing bacteria to enter.
Most parrots take care of their claws with a pedicure perch. However, in the absence of a nail file or if parrots can’t file their claws down, they rely on their owners to keep them at a safe length.
Something as simple as a splinter can cause bumblefoot because bacteria only need a small access point to enter the skin and cause infection.
Splinters caused by poor-quality wooden objects inside the cage are just as harmful as cuts. So, choose wooden items made well and less likely to peel and splinter.
Vitamin A Deficiency
Veterinary Research Forum explains that some forms of bumblefoot are caused by a deficiency of vitamin A (retinol). Budgerigars are susceptible because the seeds they eat are low in vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiencies cause dry, flaky skin that lacks strength and elasticity. As a result, parrots lacking vitamin A have feet more prone to cuts and injuries.
Heavier parrots exert more pressure on their feet, resulting in broken skin, injuries, and pressure sores that erupt, leaving small holes for bacteria to penetrate.
Some owners provide their parrots with too many high-calorie treats. Niles Animal Hospital explains how parrots on all-seed diets are more likely to gain weight quickly.
Signs of Bumblefoot In Parrots
Bumblefoot requires immediate treatment. If owners don’t know the signs, the infection worsens rapidly, causing the parrot to deteriorate quickly and die. These are the symptoms:
- Standing on one leg
- Painful swelling on the foot
- Sores, legions, or abscesses
- Loss of appetite
- Vocalizations, such as screaming and hissing
- Refusal to let you near the foot
- Overgrown toenails
Once the more obvious signs of bumblefoot, such as limping and lameness, become evident, the condition has already progressed to a dangerous extent.
How Do You Treat Bumblefoot In Parrots?
Bumblefoot never gets better on its own – it only worsens and spreads to other body parts. Early diagnosis and treatment are the best ways of ensuring your parrot recovers.
Once harmful bacteria get into the wound, bumblefoot develops quickly and causes pain and discomfort. To clean your parrot’s infection, do the following:
Clean The Wound
Before bumblefoot develops, your parrot will have a cut, graze, scrape, spot, or skin irritation on its foot. If so, you can prevent bumblefoot by washing the foot in warm water and antiseptic.
The foot can be dried and treated with an antibacterial cream. Ensure that your parrot’s environment is clean and dry to prevent bacteria from entering the wound.
You might need to bandage it while the wound heals. Your parrot may not like this, so ensure it stays in place. Repeat the cleaning process twice daily and monitor it for any signs of infection.
Oral antibiotics and ointments can control the infection and prevent it from worsening. Similarly, anti-inflammatory medications reduce foot pain and make the parrot feel more comfortable.
Vets prescribe erythromycin or penicillin when the infection is severe. However, you’ll need to take your parrot to a vet, who can assess and treat the condition.
Epsom salts are a natural and effective way to treat minor bumblefoot infections. Follow these steps:
- Fill a sink with warm water and add Epsom salt to create a salt bath.
- Wrap your parrot in a clean towel, keeping the wings secure and the feet out. Never hold the bird too tight, or you may stress it out.
- Soak the affected foot in the solution for 10 minutes to loosen the ulcer’s necrotic plug.
- Try to remove the necrotic plug, teasing it ever-so-gently. If it starts to bleed or refuses to loosen, soak the foot for another 10 minutes.
- Try to loosen the necrotic plug again, noting your parrot’s stress levels. If it doesn’t come away, leave it and try another day.
The objective of removing the necrotic plug is to separate the infected skin from the healthy tissue underneath, which speeds up the healing process and removes any traces of bacteria.
Nutritionally Balanced Diet
Vitamin A is essential for parrots to stay healthy. As well as bumblefoot, a vitamin A deficiency causes:
- White patches on the tongue
- Abscesses inside the mouth
- Labored breathing
- Excess oral mucus
- Nasal discharge
- Eye swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Secondary infections
- High hatching mortality
- Faded feather and skin coloration
Foods that are high in vitamin A and suitable for parrots include:
- Red peppers
- Sweet potatoes
- Collard greens
How To Prevent Bumblefoot
Providing the optimal cage setup and feeding the right foods are the most effective ways to prevent your parrot from coming into contact with bumblefoot-causing bacteria.
Effective bumblefoot prevention methods include:
Provide A Clean Cage
Your parrot’s cage must be kept clean and sanitary to prevent harmful bacteria from growing.
Feces and spoiled food cover the bottom of the cage. If a parrot has a small foot abrasion, they’re more likely to develop bumblefoot from a cage that hasn’t been sanitized.
VCA Hospitals recommends that parrots’ cages, toys, and dishes be scrubbed down at least once a week with a bird-safe disinfectant soap and hot water.
Disinfectants should be left to air dry for 15 minutes before being wiped off. Brush the cage and rinse it with fresh water afterward.
Remove Synthetic Perches
Parrots need perches that are made from natural materials, such as wood.
Avoid synthetic materials to prevent bumblefoot from developing, and remove all plastic perches and foot toys that can cut or penetrate your parrot’s skin.
Also, ensure that all perches inside the cage are the right diameter for the parrot’s feet.
If perches are too wide, the foot will stretch too much to wrap around them. Perches that are too narrow put excessive pressure on the sensitive parts of your parrot’s feet.
Your parrot should be able to wrap its feet comfortably around the perch, but the forward-facing toes shouldn’t overlap the backward-facing toes.
Pedicure perches should never be positioned where parrots commonly perch, as excessive usage can scrape the skin from your parrot’s feet.
Trim Your Parrot’s Nails
Keep your parrot’s nails trimmed down to a reasonable length. Some owners are comfortable enough to do it themselves at home, but you can take your parrot to a vet to get it done.
Signs your parrot needs a nail trim include:
- Long toenails
- Avoidance of perches
- More time spent on flat surfaces
- Difficulty walking
- Inability to grasp food, toys, and perches
- Nails getting stuck on clothes and fabric
- Scratches and scabs where your parrot itches itself
Pedicure perches allow parrots to keep their nails filed down, but they also cause foot injuries if they’re not positioned correctly. If your parrot is prone to cuts and abrasions on its feet, trim the nails yourself.