Ducks

How to treat bumblefoot in ducks – safely, effectively, and humanely (with video!)

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Bumblefoot is a common and potentially life-threatening bacterial infection ducks and other poultry get on their feet. In this article, you’ll find out how to identify, prevent, and treat bumblefoot in ducks. 


As you may have noticed, ducks are shaped like a canoe with two oars sticking out of the base. While their shape makes them capable of impressive feats of mobility in water and air, they are not very graceful land animals. 

Our feathered family members are adorable to watch waddling and running around our yard. However, their clunky flippers take quite a beating as they go.

Objectively, these are not very attractive feet. However, as duck parents, we find duck flippers to be positively adorable.

Objectively, these are not very attractive feet. However, as duck parents, we find duck flippers to be positively adorable.

Each evening, we play babysitter to our ducks since we let them out of their fenced backyard to forage our full yarden. During this time, we also give them treats, pet them, and hold them.

This process helps make sure our ducks remain acclimated to being touched by humans while also allowing us to do quick nightly health checks to make sure everyone is doing well. As with people, prevention or early diagnosis of health problems in ducks is far easier to deal with than treatment of an established illness or disease.  

(Read our article How to get your ducks to like you.)

One health check we regularly do on our ducks is “flipper checks.” One person picks the duck up and turns her over while the other inspects the flippers for cuts, scrapes, or “bumblefoot.”  

Uh oh, a flipper check reveals a duck with bumblefoot.

Uh oh, a flipper check reveals a duck with bumblefoot.

What is bumblefoot and what causes bumblefoot in ducks? 

Bumblefoot is the common term used for the medical condition known as Plantar pododermatitis. It occurs in all avian species, including ducks and other poultry. 

Bumblefoot starts when a cut or scrape on a duck’s foot gets infected by common bacteria species such as Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, and Pseudomonas. A puss-filled abscess then forms with a visible scab-like appearance on the surface. 

While minor bumblefoot cases typically heal on their own if a duck is healthy, bumblefoot infections can spread to other tissue and bone, potentially becoming life-threatening. In short, if you’re a duck parent, bumblefoot is something you need to know how to identify, prevent, and treat in your ducks.   

I. How to identify bumblefoot in ducks

Bumblefoot looks like a round, swollen, scabby spot on your duck’s flippers. Here are some pictures of bumblefoot in ducks to help you identify the condition in your own ducks: 

This duck flipper has three distinct bumblefoot infections. These were treated at home and took about 3-4 weeks to heal.

This duck flipper has three distinct bumblefoot infections. 

The central flipper pad is a common spot for bumblefoot to occur in ducks.

The central flipper pad is a common spot for bumblefoot to occur in ducks.

*We effectively treated the bumblefoot incidences in these pictures using the methodology detailed below. 

II. How to prevent bumblefoot in your ducks 

The best treatment of bumblefoot is prevention. Here are some preventative measures we recommend using to reduce the likelihood of your ducks getting bumblefoot:

1. Put fresh, dry bedding in your duck’s coop each night.

We use a modified deep litter method and do a 1/2″ – 1″ top up of bedding each night when we put our flock up. This is better for overall hygiene, but also prevents any open wounds on the ducks’ feet from being in contact with old, soiled bedding.     

2. Remove thorny plants from your ducks’ area. 

We love roses, blackberries and other cane berries, but when the thorns/old canes fall off or when your ducks inevitably trample them, the thorns can cause serious damage to duck flippers.   

Either fence these thorny plants off from your ducks, don’t grow them, or grow only thornless varieties. In fact, our best blackberry patch is in the backyard where our ducks spend their days. However, they’re a thornless blackberry variety. (Our ducks keep them well-fertilized!) 

3. Carefully plan and evaluate your duck run, coop, and living areas. 

Your duck coop should not have an exposed concrete or wire mesh floor, both of which are bad for duck flippers. Instead, it should have wood shavings. We recommend large flake pine shavings. 

Remove any sharp objects from your ducks’ living area: broken glass or pot shards, sharp wires, etc. 

Don’t let your ducks turn their living area into a muddy, poopy pigpen which can make bumblefoot all the more likely. 

If you have a duck run where your flock spends their days, consider doing something akin to the deep litter method there as well. Use pine or aspen shavings that are soft, pliable, and easy on duck flippers.

Our biggest challenge in preventing bumblefoot? Our ducks spend the day in a large fenced backyard. Due to the size of the space, we use wood chip mulch rather than pine shavings to: a) build and protect the soil for the fruit trees and cane berries we grow there, and b) prevent our ducks from turning the area into a mud pit.   

The wood chip mulch in our backyard is great for soil and plant health, but not great for duck flipper health.

The wood chip mulch in our backyard is great for soil and plant health, but not great for duck flipper health.

However, wood chips can be rough with sharp pointy edges that abrade duck flippers. This means we have to be aggressive in utilizing prevention measure #4 below… 

4. Regularly inspect your ducks’ flippers and treat cuts immediately. 

Do you see a cut, scrape, or other injury on one of your duck’s flippers? Immediately clean the injury with soap and water, then apply Vetericyn spray to it.

Continue to clean the injury and apply Vetericyn at least once per day until the injury heals. Ideally, you can do this multiple times per day, but if you only have time for one round do it right before you coop your ducks for the night to minimize the likelihood they’ll re-injure or infect the wound.  

Nope, Vetericyn is not an antibiotic, it’s an acid-based cleaning/disinfecting agent that does NOT cause any pain to your ducks when applied. 

The girls gathering around the water bowl to gossip about who does and doesn't have bumblefoot.

The girls gathering around the water bowl to gossip about who does and doesn’t have bumblefoot. Once you’re finished reading this article, you’ll be able to tell! 

Checklist: when to DIY treat or not treat bumblefoot OR when to go to vet 

When should you take your ducks to the vet for bumblefoot? 

  1. Is your duck limping or unable to walk due to a bumblefoot infection?
  2. Are other areas (toes, ankles, entire legs) around the infection also swollen and/or hot to the touch?

If so, we recommend you take your duck to an avian-friendly vet immediately since the infection has likely spread and could now be life-threatening. Surgery and other medical interventions may be required as per your vet’s determination. 

We do NOT recommend you perform bumblefoot surgery at home. Pretty much any vet you talk to will tell you this is a bad idea and fairly cruel since the surgical procedure is painful. A vet will use avian-safe pain medication prior to surgery; many over-the-counter pain meds for humans can kill ducks. 

When can you treat bumblefoot at home? 

  1. Is the bumblefoot infection confined to a specific spot? 
  2. Is your duck still walking and behaving normally? 

If so, you can probably treat your duck’s bumblefoot yourself using the steps detailed below.  

III. Step-by-step: how to treat bumblefoot in ducks 

Sometimes we get lazy or busy, and weeks or months go by where we fail to inspect our ducks’ flippers and use bumblefoot prevention methods. (Having a human baby being the most recent cause for our duck negligence.) 

Thankfully, we’ve had a 100% success rate in treating countless cases of bumblefoot in our ducks using the methods and supplies detailed below.

1. Supplies and medications you’ll need to treat bumblefoot:

  • Vetericyn spray (a painless disinfectant spray mentioned above)
  • Neoprene duck shoes (yes, seriously – and we actually recommend you have at least two of these shoes on hand for each duck you have as part of your duck first aid kit
  • Aupcon vet wrap (ducks will stretch out, kick off, and lose their shoes if they’re not loosely taped on to their ankles)
  • Silvadene, aka silver sulfadiazine (more on this below)
  • q-tip to apply Silvadene 

Silvadene is a topical antibiotic cream. It’s applied to the wound, not administered orally. This means it’s not a systemic antibiotic and you can continue to eat your duck’s eggs without being concerned about ingesting trace amounts of antibiotics. 

Unfortunately, Silvadene is not available over-the-counter so you’ll need to get a prescription from your vet. Use Good Rx to buy it from your pharmacy to get a reduced price. (Silvadene costs about $11 for an 85 gram tube, which is more than you’ll need.)  

*Neosporin WITHOUT pain relief is a topical antibiotic you can get over-the-counter. It’s not as effective as Silvadene in treating bumblefoot, but if you’re in a pinch for time or money, it’s a good alternative. Just to be safe, do NOT get Neosporin with pain relief, since the substances used for pain relief in humans may be harmful to ducks/poultry. 

2. Step-by-step: how to treat bumblefoot in ducks

i. We recommend a two-person effort here: one person holds the duck with flippers exposed, the other person performs the treatment. 

ii. Spray Vetericyn on the infection/bumblefoot and surrounding area. Using a q-tip, apply a thick coat of Silvadene (or neosporin without pain relief). 

iii. Next, put the duck shoe on the flipper, and use vet wrap to attach the shoe to the ankle, ensuring the duck can not kick the shoe off. Do NOT make the tape too tight or you could cut off circulation to the foot. Ideally, do this process at night right before putting the ducks in their coop so they can’t wash off the medication while swimming. 

A closer look at the water bowl gossip reveals who is being treated for bumblefoot. The taped on duck shoe is a dead giveaway, but don't tell the girls.

A closer look at the water bowl gossip reveals who is being treated for bumblefoot. The taped on duck shoe is a dead giveaway, but don’t tell the girls.

After the first night, you’ll need to remove and wash the old duck shoe before reusing it, which is why we recommend having two shoes per duck. 

iv. Repeat process daily until signs of bumblefoot disappear. This usually takes 2-4 weeks, depending on the severity of the infection. 

Side risk: If you’re having a lot of rain, there is a risk that your duck’s flipper/leg can get too wet, potentially causing a whole different set of medical problems/injury. If we have several days of rain in a row, we’ll cease bumblefoot treatment until it dries out.  

Bumblefoot treatment video

Because it’s always easier to see something done in addition to reading about how it’s done, here’s a quick video showing you our step-by-step bumblefoot treatment.

 

Note: this video may not play if you have ad blocking software. 


We hope the information in this article helps you keep your flock healthy and bumblefoot-free while avoiding costly vet visits and duck surgeries. 

Quack on! 

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Mandee
    August 13, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    Hi there! Love your posts!!! So informative so thank you!
    My one little Cayuga lady has what I believe is bumblefoot – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10158980437535709&set=a.10150319453350709&type=3

    I have been soaking every other day with epson salt and a drawling salve. She hasn’t let me keep shoes on so I’m going to try doing it at end of day when they go back into pen. I think my hubby was prescribed silvadene for a burn so maybe I’ll switch to that. Her foot is warm but honestly their feet always are warm. It’s been three weeks. Hasn’t gotten bigger.
    I’m too scared to pull it out tho and risk more infection and an open wound. Will it fall out on its own?
    Thanks for any guidance

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      August 14, 2021 at 7:57 am

      Hi Mandee! Thanks for your kind words. Yes, that’s definitely bumblefoot in your Cayuga. Good news: it’s not a very bad case of bumblefoot. If your duck is otherwise healthy, she’ll almost certainly be able to push the infection out on her own, especially with your TLC. Be patient – it may take 3-6+ weeks for the infection to push out. Hopefully, it will be on the lower end of that spectrum given your care regimen. Regardless, you definitely don’t want to do at-home surgery under the circumstances. FYI: it looks like there’s at least one spot on her flipper where she’s had a previous bumblefoot infection that healed (the toe on the opposite side), so you know what that looks like. Best of luck!

  • Reply
    Sandra Madden
    August 10, 2021 at 3:49 pm

    Can bumblefoot resolve on its own?? This past weekend I discovered a large black spot on my duck’s heel pad and a small spot that I can’t tell if it’s bumblefoot or just scar tissue from losing the nail on small toe. I’ve been treating it with 2x daily epsom salt soaks and vetrimycin, with a gauze pad and vet wrap afterwards (shoes are on order). The big scab came off easily after the first soak with smooth scar tissue underneath, the little one just bleeds and re-forms (tried 3 times so far). The entire foot and lower leg are warm to the touch, compared the other one, even after soaking in cool water, but there’s no discoloration or any other sign of infection.

    Since her bandage isn’t waterproof, I’ve been keeping her separated but near her friends. However, she’s not really eating either (not even mealworm treats). I’m not sure if it’s because of her foot or because she’s upset/depressed about being isolated. If there are no open wounds, can she hang out with the others and swim in their pools? Or does she need to stay isolated and maybe even see the vet?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      August 11, 2021 at 12:32 pm

      Yes, bumblefoot *can* resolve on its own, as we know from personal experience – with caveats. For instance, since our ducks do a good bit of free-ranging, they’re more prone to bumblefoot, which happens when small cuts and scrapes get infected by certain strains of bacteria that are environmentally ubiquitous. 9 out of 10 times, we just monitor their “bumbles” and they resolve over the course of a month or so. However, sometimes they don’t resolve. It’s hard to say exactly when/why one case of bumblefoot will resolve and others won’t. Our guess is that it has to do with a combination of factors, namely:

      1) how bad the initial cut and infection are (deeper and larger cuts/infections will be harder to heal on their own);
      2) the overall health of the duck (healthier ducks will fight off bumblefoot more easily than less healthy ducks).

      Since your duck’s entire leg feels warm to the touch, that likely indicates a deeper, more pervasive infection that warrants an analysis by an avian vet. It may require a course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from continuing further and/or entering her bloodstream. Or there may be some other unrelated injury or infection causing her leg to be warm (example: septic arthritis).

      Since the bacteria that cause bumblefoot are literally everywhere, there’s no reason to isolate a duck with bumblefoot from others except immediately after topical antibiotics are first applied. Maybe try letting her back with her flock to see if that helps boost her spirits and appetite.

      Again, unfortunately it sounds like you’ll need to get her leg evaluated by an avian vet to determine exactly what’s going on and how to address it. The sooner you can get her in for a visit, the better. Best of luck and please check back to let us know what your vet finds!

  • Reply
    Kate
    May 28, 2021 at 10:40 am

    Follow up question – is it ok if they splash around in their water bowls with the silver ointment on their foot? Is there any risk if they drink it?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      May 28, 2021 at 1:57 pm

      Hi again, Kate! We like to give our girls about 30 minutes to let the medication/Silvadene sink in to the infected tissue prior to giving them access to a pool or any water source they could use to remove the medication. It’s generally not a great idea to administer oral antibiotics to animals or people unless they really need them (even in small doses) since it can kill beneficial bacteria in the GI system, cause dysbiosis, etc. If your ducks are splashing their treated feet in their water bowl shortly after the Silvadene is applied, it’s going to be really diluted down, but still not an ideal situation. So do try to keep them out of water until the cream has had time to absorb.

  • Reply
    Feliciana Mitchell
    January 13, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    Hello,
    I think my duck may have infected bumblefoot. How do I tell if it is infected? And do I treat it any different if it does?
    Thanks!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 14, 2021 at 10:42 am

      Hi Feliciana! All bumblefoot is technically an infection, even if it is only a small spot and has not spread to other tissue or bone. Are you saying that you think the bumblefoot infection in your duck has spread beyond an isolated spot? If so, you may need to get your duck to a vet asap, especially if the infection has reached the bone. Indications for that level of infection are: swollen joints, duck unable to walk and/or limping, and the area feeling hot to the touch. For bumblefoot infections that serious, immediate treatment with antibiotics are almost certainly going to be necessary to save the duck’s life. Best of luck and let us know if you have any questions.

  • Reply
    Feliciana Mitchell
    January 13, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    Thank you! I hope this works and helps for my duck who has bad bumblefoot that is infected

    • Reply
      Feliciana Mitchell
      January 13, 2021 at 7:11 pm

      P.s do you have any good suggestions for infected bumblefoot?

  • Reply
    Jayne
    October 15, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    Thank you so much! This was a very helpful and informative post! We have a chicken with bumble foot right now, and if I hadn’t read this post, I would’ve had no clue what it was or what to do! Thank you so much for this information, and hopefully it will help our chicken!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      October 15, 2020 at 10:19 pm

      Glad to hear this, Jayne! Hope your chicken’s bumblefoot clears up soon with proper care.

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    October 11, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Any idea how to treat a bad case of bumblefoot in a duck? Is Penicillin ok for ducks? Is their something else i should use?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      October 11, 2020 at 3:25 pm

      Hi Elizabeth! If you’re dealing with a bad infection, we highly recommend taking your duck to an avian vet for treatment as it can be life-threatening in severe cases. Since we’re not vets, we’re hesitant to suggest penicillin injections or dosage quantities. You also have to be extremely careful giving a duck injections since a novice could puncture an air sac, causing serious problems. Again, best left to a vet or someone who has been shown where/how to do it by their vet. Best of luck to you and your duck in getting over bumblefoot.

  • Reply
    Elaine
    October 3, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    Hello! Thank you for sharing so many great duck resources and recommendations. I’m building out my ducks first aid kit while also going through the first-time Bumblefoot issue. Do you have a secondary recommendation for the duck shoes? It looks like the Party Fowl site has a significant several week queue. I’ll likely order a pair through them, however trying to find something quicker as well. Thanks again!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      October 5, 2020 at 10:14 pm

      Hi Elaine! Sorry, we don’t know of another source for duck shoes. We ordered some new pairs from Party Fowl back in August and are still waiting. I think that’s pretty typical. In our case, we don’t need them, they’re just backup for when we do need them and our old ones are worn out or lost. In your case, here’s a possible backup solution (assuming you don’t want to try to stitch together your own neoprene duck shoes): apply the medication to the bumblefoot just before you coop them at night. A lot of the medication will come off in the bedding, but hopefully enough will absorb to be effective. Hope this helps and best of luck with your duck’s bumblefoot. Oh, and one thing we’ve noticed is that 9 out of 10 times our ducks are able to fend off bumblefoot untreated — especially so when they’re not laying eggs and their bodies can put more energy into the fight. So don’t be too stressed if you’re dealing with a mild case.

    • Reply
      Kate
      April 3, 2021 at 10:13 pm

      I wanted to share another source that we found in case it is helpful to others. https://crazy-k-farm.myshopify.com/collections/poultry/products/birdy-bootie-hand-made-in-the-usa
      We ordered these with rush shipping and got them within the week. Now, if anyone has advice about how to keep my duck from ripping hers off I would appreciate it! Duct tape didn’t work 🙂

      • Reply
        Aaron von Frank
        April 4, 2021 at 9:02 am

        Ha! Thanks for sharing your duck shoe source. We’ve found vet wrap to be excellent for keeping duck shoes on. You can wrap it over the top of the shoe and their ankles – not too tight so you don’t cut off circulation.

  • Reply
    Tristiane Masterson-Miller
    September 30, 2020 at 11:48 am

    Hi there, we are dealing with bumblefoot for the first time, thanks for the informative article! One question, do you let the ducks swim with the duck shoe on? We have been keeping ours out of of their pond but it limits their free range area quite a lot and I know swimming is good for their legs and feet. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      September 30, 2020 at 11:02 pm

      Yes, our ducks are able to swim (and walk) just fine with their shoes on. Do note that we apply medication + shoes to their feet at night just before putting them in their coop so that it has plenty of time to absorb in a dry environment and not get washed off. Best of luck treating your duck’s bumblefoot!

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