All psittacines are vulnerable to bumblefoot, including budgerigars and cockatiels, but larger parrot species are more likely to be affected than smaller species.
Bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis) is a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction that causes painful sores and legions on the foot’s surface. The symptoms include limping and lameness.
Bumblefoot in parrots is commonly caused by hard plastic or sandpaper perches, insufficient vitamin A (hypovitaminosis A), and sustaining wounds that allow in harmful bacteria.
Bumblefoot can be excruciating, and eventually, a parrot won’t be able to stand on the affected foot. The condition can be treated with antibiotics, but ongoing problems can occur if not identified early.
What Is Bumblefoot?
Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection commonly affecting psittacines, especially larger, significantly heavier birds, like Amazon parrots and hyacinth macaws.
Bumblefoot is an inflammatory condition that occurs on the surface of the soles; it can appear on one or both feet, eventually affecting the joints and bones.
Pet parrots are prone to bumblefoot because they spend more time standing. There’s usually something wrong with their cage setup, which increases the likelihood of developing this condition.
If bumblefoot is detected and treated early, parrots don’t usually experience long-term damage. However, if the infection is left untreated, it can lead to mobility issues, foot amputation, or even death.
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 also be swollen and the tissue inflamed.
Sometimes, bumblefoot manifests as a boil or welt on the skin’s surface. These are pus-filled, requiring drainage to relieve the pressure and discomfort.
In the advanced stages of bumblefoot, painful abscesses appear as clusters on the skin. A parrot’s health is in grave danger when the skin turns black.
According to the Hagen Avicultural Research Institute, bumblefoot has 7 grades of infection:
|1:||The parrot’s foot develops a shiny, reddened surface with a small lesion.|
|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 due to an accident, injury, cut, scrape, or wear and tear.
According to MSD Veterinary Manual, poor husbandry, low-quality nutrition, and unsanitary environmental conditions are common causes of bacterial infections in captive birds.
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 bacteria to enter the wound. Also, abrasive pedi perches or perches covered with sandpaper can penetrate the skin.
Parrots need natural perches of various widths to exercise their feet and improve their grip. Also, clean perches regularly to remove bacteria from the surface area.
Wire cages can cause injury. Hard, sharp, and rough surfaces should be covered with a softer material, such as newspaper or paper towels, to protect the feet from sustaining cuts and abrasions.
When a parrot’s nails grow too long, they can penetrate the skin, allowing bacteria to enter.
Most parrots control the length and sharpness of their claws with a pedicure perch or rely on their owners to keep them at the right 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 damaged wooden objects inside the cage can be culprits. So, choose wooden items constructed to a high standard and less likely to splinter.
Vitamin A Deficiency
Veterinary Research Forum explains that a vitamin A deficiency can cause bumblefoot. Budgerigars are particularly susceptible because seeds are low in vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiencies cause dry, flaky skin that lacks elasticity and strength. As a result, parrots lacking vitamin A have feet more prone to wear and tear, cuts, and trauma.
Obesity caused by poor nutrition and a lack of exercise makes bumblefoot more likely.
Heavier parrots exert more pressure on their feet, resulting in broken skin, injuries, and pressure sores, leaving small entry points for bacteria to penetrate.
Some owners provide parrots with the wrong foods or too many high-calorie treats. Niles Animal Hospital explains how parrots on all-seed diets are more likely to gain weight.
Signs of Bumblefoot in Parrots
Bumblefoot requires treatment. If owners don’t spot the warning signs, the infection worsens, causing life-inhibiting mobility problems or death. The symptoms of bumblefoot include the following:
- Standing on one leg.
- Painful foot swelling.
- Sores, legions, or abscesses.
- Loss of appetite.
- Vocalizations, such as screaming and hissing.
- Refusal to let you near the foot.
- Overgrown nails.
Once the more obvious signs of bumblefoot, such as limping and lameness, become evident, the condition has progressed.
How Do You Treat Bumblefoot In Parrots?
Bumblefoot is unlikely to go away without treatment, usually worsening and spreading to other body parts. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for a bird to fully recover.
Once bacteria get into the wound, bumblefoot develops quickly, so take the following steps:
Clean The Wound
Before bumblefoot develops, a parrot will have a cut, graze, scrape, spot, or skin irritation on its foot. At this stage, you may be able to prevent bumblefoot by washing the foot in warm water with antiseptic.
Then, the foot can be dried and treated with an antibacterial cream. Ensure the parrot’s cage is kept clean and dry to stop bacteria from entering the wound.
You may need to bandage it while the wound heals. The parrot won’t like this, so ensure the bandage stays in place. Repeat the cleaning process twice daily and check for signs of infection.
Oral antibiotics and creams 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 if the infection is severe.
Epsom salts are a natural and effective way to treat minor bumblefoot infections. Follow these steps:
- Partially fill a sink with warm water and add Epsom salt.
- Wrap the parrot in a clean towel, keeping the wings secure and the feet 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 the parrot’s stress levels.
Removing the necrotic plug separates the infected skin from the healthy tissue underneath, expediting healing and recovery.
Nutritionally Balanced Diet
A vitamin A deficiency has the following symptoms:
- 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 feathers and skin colors.
Foods high in vitamin A include:
Under vet advisement, you can give a parrot vitamin A supplements.
How To Prevent Bumblefoot
Providing an optimal cage setup and feeding the right foods are the most effective ways to prevent a parrot from coming into contact with bumblefoot-causing bacteria.
Effective bumblefoot prevention methods include the following:
A parrot’s cage must be kept clean and sanitary to keep bacteria at bay.
Feces and spoiled food may coat the bottom of the cage. A parrot with a small foot abrasion is likelier to develop bumblefoot because the cage is a breeding ground for bacteria.
VCA Hospitals recommends that parrots’ cages, toys, and dishes be cleaned and disinfected at least once weekly with a bird-safe disinfectant soap and warm water.
Disinfectants should be left to air dry for 15 minutes before being cleaned off.
No Synthetic Perches
Parrots need perches made from natural materials, such as wood. Avoid synthetic materials by removing all plastic perches and toys that can cut or penetrate the 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 to wrap around them, while too narrow perches exert pressure on the feet.
A 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 the parrot’s feet. Limit usage to 2-3 days per week.
Cut The Nails
Keep the parrot’s nails trimmed to a reasonable length. Some owners are comfortable doing it themselves at home, but you can take the parrot to a vet to get it done. Signs a parrot needs a nail trim include:
- Long and pointy nails.
- Avoidance of perches.
- More time is spent on flat surfaces.
- Difficulty walking comfortably.
- Inability to grasp food, toys, and perches.
- Nails getting stuck on clothes and fabric.
- Scratches and scabs where the parrot itches itself.
Pedicure perches allow parrots to keep their nails filed down, but they also cause foot injuries if not positioned correctly. If a parrot is prone to cuts and abrasions on its feet, trim its nails instead.