Bumblefoot is one of the most common foot problems experienced by parrots. All psittacines are prone to this condition, including budgerigars and cockatiels, but it causes greater problems for larger parrots.
Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction that causes painful sores and legions on the foot’s surface. The signs of bumblefoot include limping and lameness.
It’s caused by long periods of perching, a diet lacking in vitamin A, and wounds that allow in bacteria. Bumblefoot can be treated with antibiotics.
Bumblefoot can be excruciating, and, eventually, your parrot won’t be able to stand on the affected foot at all. The condition is treatable, but it 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 and affects 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 bumblefoot.
Bumblefoot is a treatable condition. If detected and treated early enough, birds with the condition don’t usually experience long-lasting damage. However, if the infection is left to worsen, it can cause death.
Parrots that survive sometimes require leg or foot amputation. They may also experience persistent, chronic abscesses that are very painful. In the worst cases, their quality of life will be severely compromised.
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, painful abscesses appear – sometimes as clusters on the skin. When the skin turns black, your parrot is seriously unwell and in dangerous territory. As described by the Hagen Avicultural Research Institute, bumblefoot goes through seven grades of infection:
- Grade 1. The parrot develops a shiny, reddened surface on the foot and a small lesion appears.
- Grade 2. The infection comes into contact with the surface lesion, and tendons can be seen through the skin.
- Grade 3. Ulcerations appear on the footbed. The lesions are swollen, filled with pus, and are rough around the edges.
- Grade 4. A painful necrotic plug forms in the ulcer’s center.
- Grade 5. Swelling and edema surround the area of necrosis. The foot and digits also become filled with fluid, making them appear swollen. At this stage, tendons and metatarsal pads also become infected.
- Grade 6. The digits are swollen, and the foot’s necrotic flexor tendons rupture. Parrots may lose feeling in their digits.
- Grade 7. Bone infection (osteomyelitis) occurs, eventually resulting in death.
What Causes Bumblefoot In Parrots?
Bumblefoot occurs when bacteria, such as staphylococcus, get inside 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 factors are common causes of bacterial infections. Other causes include:
As parrots spend most of their time standing on their feet, poor-quality perches are a leading cause.
Plastic perches with rough or sharp edges can cut the skin, allowing bumblefoot-causing bacteria to enter through 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 in various widths, allowing parrots 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, towels, or bedding.
This is also the case when parrots are trying to heal from the effects of bumblefoot. A hard surface may be too painful for parrots to stand on, so cover it with something easier for the parrot to stand on.
When a parrot’s toenails grow too long, they can penetrate the skin, allowing bacteria to enter through the injury.
Most parrots take care of their toenails by using a pedicure perch. However, in the absence of a nail file or if parrots cannot file their claws down, they rely on their owners to keep their toenails at a safe length.
Something as simple as a splinter can cause bumblefoot as 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 larger cuts. While parrots enjoy wooden toys to chew on, choose wooden items that are made well and less likely to peel and splinter.
Vitamin A Deficiency
As described by Veterinary Research Forum, some forms of bumblefoot are caused by a vitamin A deficiency. Budgerigars are susceptible to this type of bumblefoot because the seeds they eat are naturally low in vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiencies cause dry, flaky skin that lacks strength and elasticity. As a result, parrots with a lack of vitamin A in their bodies have feet that are more prone to cuts and injuries, providing easy access for harmful bacteria to enter.
Obesity caused by poor nutrition and a lack of exercise makes developing bumblefoot more likely. 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, including fruit, popcorn, and fatty seeds. Niles Animal Hospital explains how parrots on an all-seed diet are more likely to gain weight quickly.
While seeds are fine in moderation, they should only form a small part of your parrot’s diet to prevent vitamin deficiencies.
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 the dangerous stages, and the parrot will have had the infection for quite some time.
Therefore, as soon as you suspect that your parrot has bumblefoot, you’ll need to treat it to remove all traces of the bacteria before it spreads to other parts of the body.
How Do You Treat Bumblefoot In Parrots?
Bumblefoot never gets better on its own – it only worsens and spreads to other parts of the body. Early diagnosis and treatment are the best ways of ensuring your parrot gets better.
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 the infection hasn’t set in, you can prevent it from starting by washing the foot in warm water and antiseptic.
The foot can then 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 even need to bandage it up while the wound heals. Your parrot may not like this, so ensure that it stays on. 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 commonly prescribe erythromycin or penicillin when the infection is severe. However, you’ll need to take your parrot to an avian vet, who can assess the severity of the condition and administer drugs to treat it.
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. Don’t 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, taking note of your parrot’s stress levels. If it still doesn’t come away, leave it and try again another day.
The objective of removing the plug is to separate the infected skin from the healthy tissue underneath, which speeds up the healing process and removes 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
Providing a nutritious diet that’s high in vitamin A is essential to your entire parrot’s health, not just as a treatment for bumblefoot. Foods that are high in vitamin A and suitable for parrots include:
- Red peppers
- Sweet potatoes
- Collard greens
How To Prevent Bumblefoot
Bumblefoot can be avoided with good husbandry. 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, which parrots stand in. 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 parrot cages be scrubbed down at least once a week with a non-toxic 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.
Food and water dishes should also be cleaned. All disinfectants must be removed from perches and toys before being used by your parrot; otherwise, these chemicals can get into open wounds and cause a different infection.
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 your parrot’s feet. If they’re too wide, the foot will stretch too much to wrap around them. Perches that are too narrow put excessive pressure onto 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 they 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 an avian vet. 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, or perches
- Nails getting stuck on clothes and fabric
- Scratches and scabs on your parrot’s skin where it 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, it might be safer to trim the nails yourself.
While many treatments are available, bacteria can easily spread to other parts of the body and cause secondary infections if you don’t act quickly. Left untreated, bumblefoot in parrots is fatal.