Last Updated on: 3rd July 2023, 12:07 pm
All psittacine birds can be affected by bumblefoot, but large parrot species are most vulnerable.
Bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis) is a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction that causes painful sores and lesions on the surface of one or both feet.
Pet parrots are prone to bumblefoot because they spend more time perching than wild birds. There’s usually something wrong with the cage setup, which leads to infection.
Bumblefoot is commonly caused by hard plastic or sandpaper perches, wire flooring, insufficient vitamin A, weight gain, overgrown claws, and cuts from sharp and broken objects.
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 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, like 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, like newspaper or paper towels, to protect the feet from 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 pedi perch and abrasive items 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. Splinters caused by damaged wooden objects inside the cage can be culprits.
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.
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 will worsen, 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.
- Unhappy vocalizations.
- Refusal to let you near the foot.
- Overgrown nails.
Once 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 to recovery.
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 a better cage setup and the right foods are effective ways to prevent a parrot from injuring its feet and bacteria entering the wound. 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.
Parrots’ cages, toys, and dishes be cleaned 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, like wood. Avoid synthetic materials by removing all plastic perches and toys that can cut or penetrate the 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.
Pedi perches should never be positioned where parrots commonly perch because excessive usage can scrape the skin from the feet. Limit usage to 2-3 days per week, perhaps every second day.
Cut The Nails
Keep the parrot’s nails trimmed to a reasonable length. Some owners are comfortable doing this at home, but you can take the parrot to the vet to get it done. The signs a parrot needs a nail trim include:
- Long, misshapen 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.
If a parrot is prone to cuts and abrasions on its feet, trim its nails instead.