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.
Ducks: ungraceful land animals, prone to bumblefoot
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.
Each evening, we play babysitter to our ducks since we let them out of their fenced backyard to forage our full gardens. 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.”
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 hardened abscess then forms with a visible scab-like appearance on the surface.
Minor bumblefoot cases typically heal on their own if a duck is healthy. However, 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. Below are some pictures of bumblefoot in ducks to help you identify the condition in your own ducks:
While the bumblefoot infections shown in the above pictures might look bad, we effectively treated them at home using the methodology detailed below.
II. How to prevent bumblefoot in your ducks
The best, easiest, and least expensive 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 top up of bedding each night when we put our flock up. This is better for overall hygiene, but also helps prevent 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 the plants well-fertilized!)
3. Carefully plan and evaluate your duck run, coop, and living areas.
a. Soft fresh bedding in coop, not wire or hard flooring
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 or other soft bedding. We recommend large flake pine shavings. (See: What’s the best bedding for your duck coop or run?)
b. Hazard-free living and foraging areas
Remove any sharp objects from your ducks’ living area: broken glass or pot shards, sharp wires, etc.
c. Don’t let your ducks live like pigs
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.
If it’s in the budget, build them a self-cleaning pond rather than dumping baby pools of water in the yard, thereby creating swamp-like conditions. (See: How to build a backyard duck pond with DIY biofilter.)
Ducks (like ours) may still get bumblefoot
Our biggest challenge in preventing bumblefoot? Our ducks spend the day in a large fenced backyard, rather than a smaller run.
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.
However, even the triple ground wood chips we use 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.
Checklist: When to DIY treat bumblefoot at home OR take your duck to the vet
a. When should you take your ducks to the vet for bumblefoot?
- Is your duck limping or unable to walk due to a bumblefoot infection?
- 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 (like our avian vet) 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, but many over-the-counter pain meds for humans can kill ducks.
b. When should you treat bumblefoot at home?
- Is the bumblefoot infection confined to a specific spot?
- 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. Treating 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. What supplies and medications do you 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 to treat a single case of bumblefoot.)
*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.
Also, be sure to tape around or cut an opening in the vet wrap to allow the duck’s hallux to stick out. The hallux is the toe on the back of a bird’s foot, in case you’ve never heard the term before! (See picture below.)
Ideally, do this process at night right before putting the ducks in their coop so they can’t wash off the medication while swimming.
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. If you only have one duck shoe, wash it and dry it as best you can before re-applying.
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.
3. 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:
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We hope the information in this article helps you keep your flock healthy and bumblefoot-free while avoiding costly vet visits and duck surgeries.
Other duck articles you’ll want to splash into:
- How to orally medicate a duck with pills or syringes (with video)
- How to tube feed a duck or other poultry species (w/ video)
- How to make a self-cleaning backyard duck pond
- 17 tips to keep your ducks or chickens safe from predators
- Duck health guide: first aid kit, essentials, and other tips
- What to feed pet and backyard ducks to maximize their health and longevity
- Why and how to make a duck go broody
- How to diaper a duck (with video)