Pododermatitis (bumblefoot) is a common concern in pet birds. Bumblefoot is an inflammation of the foot, leading to swelling and discomfort. It’s most regularly found in older or overweight budgies.
Usually, bumblefoot arises when a budgie stands still on a hard surface for too long. This surface could be the bottom of a cage or a tough, unforgiving perch. The pressure placed on the feet, especially if the budgie is overweight, leads to protective tissue dying.
Unsanitary living conditions can also lead to bumblefoot, as an unclean cage is a breeding ground for bacteria. As budgies poop regularly, it won’t take long for a cage to become filthy, leading to infection and ulceration in the feet.
Prevent your budgie from developing bumblefoot by feeding a healthy diet, encouraging exercise, getting “pedi perches” that protect the feet, and checking your budgie’s feet regularly.
If a budgie has bumblefoot, it’ll need assistance because the foot inflammation will be painful and, if left untreated, can lead to necrosis in the feet. In extreme cases, this can lead to amputation.
Signs of Bumblefoot in Budgies
Reviewing your budgie’s feet should be a regular part of your care regime.
You can tell a lot about a budgie’s health by its feet, especially if they are unusually hot or cold. These inspections will also reveal early warning signs of pododermatitis.
Bumblefoot is a distinct risk if you notice the following behaviors or physical symptoms:
- Hopping from foot to foot as though unable to get comfortable.
- Limping when walking.
- Refusing to walk or perch and prefers to sit on the bottom of the cage.
- Swelling of the feet and a thickening of the skin.
- Dark, round scabs, sores, or ulcers form on the base of the feet.
- Pus leaking from the feet.
These signs make bumblefoot more likely, but if you observe more than one symptom, it’s almost certain that your budgie has pododermatitis.
How To Prevent Bumblefoot in Budgies
You can reduce the chances of a budgie developing bumblefoot by:
- Feeding it a balanced diet that prevents excess weight gain or obesity.
- Encouraging exercise so that the budgie isn’t static for too long.
- Replacing hard perches with softer alternatives for enhanced foot comfort.
- Spot cleaning the cage daily, preventing bacteria from taking hold.
- Regularly checking the budgie’s feet for any early warning signs of bumblefoot.
Unfortunately, quality care may not be enough to prevent pododermatitis.
What Causes Bumblefoot in Budgies?
If you have reason to believe that your budgie has bumblefoot, you’ll need to take action to resolve the issue. It’s helpful to understand what causes the problem before you do so.
Sometimes, pododermatitis arises seemingly at random, especially in older budgies. Most of the time, one of these explanations clarifies why a budgie has bumblefoot:
Obesity and Unbalanced Diet
The more body weight a budgie carries, the more pressure will be placed on its feet.
That’ll increase the risk of bumblefoot while a budgie is perched or walking at the bottom of a cage, especially if it needs to traverse hard, metal wires.
Healthy budgies should weigh between 25 and 36 grams. You’ll also be able to tell if a budgie is overweight by sight. Avoid feeding a budgie too many fatty foods, most notably seeds and nuts, and ensure your budgie gets plenty of Vitamin A.
Avian Diseases lists a vitamin A deficiency as a major contributor to pododermatitis, while a lack of Vitamin E is also linked to the issue.
Unsanitary Living Conditions
Budgies flourish in a clean, sanitary living environment. Unfortunately, budgies can be messy birds. Due to their fast metabolism, budgies poop almost constantly, which means a budgie’s cage can be a hotbed of bacteria if not cleaned regularly.
If budgies walk on hard surfaces in a cage or land on tough perches, they can develop tiny wounds on their feet. A dirty cage welcomes the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus; bumblefoot will grow much more severe if a budgie develops a staph infection.
The International Journal of Livestock Research explains that Staphylococcus is a cause of bumblefoot in a vast majority of avian livestock. While a budgie’s cage is less populated than a chicken coop, the risk remains high without regular spot-cleaning.
Budgie claws never stop growing and need to be regularly trimmed and managed. If your bird’s claws become too long, they’ll curl over and puncture the foot pads. This will drastically increase the risk of bacterial infection and, by extension, pododermatitis.
One way to manage this is by trimming the claws manually, which carries risk. It’s easy to cut to the quick of a budgie’s claws, leading to significant bleeding. Lining the bottom of a cage with sandpaper will also trim the nails, but such a coarse surface also increases the risk of bumblefoot.
The best way to manage this concern is by getting a superior perch – often referred to as a “pedi perch.” Pedi perches are comfortable for a budgie to sit on and allow a bird to file its claws while relaxing.
The symptoms of pododermatitis could be linked to another health concern.
For example, your budgie may be living with polyomavirus (French moult), a respiratory infection, or sickness related to the internal organs. These can make the budgie sluggish and tired, leading to more time standing still, enhancing the risk of bumblefoot.
Is Bumblefoot Contagious?
Pododermatitis isn’t contagious, but the cause of the problem may be, though. Budgies won’t pass on bumblefoot by sharing an uncomfortable perch, but this perch may cause problems for various birds.
If the budgie has developed bumblefoot through bacterial infection, it’s more likely to be contagious. Staphylococcus is exceptionally infectious and will quickly spread to cagemates.
Separating and isolating a budgie with bumblefoot is advisable, as is sanitizing the cage before returning any conspecifics. Don’t reunite the diagnosed budgie until it has completely recovered.
Can Bumblefoot Heal on its Own?
Bumblefoot isn’t a condition to ignore in the hope that it resolves itself, as this won’t happen.
Left untreated, bumblefoot will spread throughout a budgie’s feet and legs. Pododermatitis will spread to the tendons, leading to increased pain and swelling.
If you respond to bumblefoot, the budgie will return to full health without any long-term consequences.
Bumblefoot Treatment for Budgies
As discussed, bumblefoot isn’t a concern that can or should be ignored.
One first aid action you can take is to soak your budgie’s feet in lukewarm water sprinkled with Epsom salts. The sulfur found within will begin countering any bacteria in the feet and reducing inflammation.
Beyond this, seek advice alongside making some lifestyle changes. It’s always advisable to get a formal diagnosis of bumblefoot in case your budgie needs a course of medication.
Soften or Replace Perches
Budgies naturally enjoy height and gravitate to the top of a cage, especially when you place perches in that location. These perches need to be soft and comfortable, or they’ll cause issues with your bird’s feet, including bumblefoot.
Avoid pure wooden perches, as these will be uncomfortable. Instead, get pedi perches that protect a budgie’s feet and help them keep claws trim. This will make the budgie considerably more comfortable, reducing the risk of pododermatitis arising or returning.
Consider if your budgie’s diet is to blame for the onset of bumblefoot. Review if your budgie is enjoying appropriately balanced nutrition, focusing on Vitamins A and E.
Medication and Supplements
If your budgie struggles with bumblefoot, it’ll likely need some prescription medications. These will help the budgie manage pain, which reduces distress and calms inflammation within the feet.
If required, a vet will prescribe penicillin or erythromycin for your budgie. Alternatively, you may be able to use an avian-specific over-the-counter remedy, such as Vetericyn.
Bandaging and Protection of Feet
If your budgie’s feet are bleeding due to bumblefoot, you’ll need to keep them bandaged and covered until the wounds heal. This will protect the feet from bacteria and reduce pain.
Use a very soft bandage and secure it with veterinary-standard tape. Deter the budgie from picking at the bandages, changing them daily to ensure the wounds remain clean.
In extreme cases of pododermatitis, surgical intervention may be required. If your budgie has severe ulcers or abscesses on the feet, this will be necessary. These will be removed by scalpel or laser.
Surgery is painful, invasive, and expensive, so it’ll only be used to manage bumblefoot if necessary.
Can Budgies Die from Bumblefoot?
Bumblefoot isn’t considered a fatal condition, but it can be this serious if you leave it untreated too long. The feet can become necrotic, which can eventually lead to osteomyelitis. This is a bacterial infection that leads to inflammation in the bone marrow.
The American Journal of Pathology warns that avian osteomyelitis is invariably fatal, sometimes in as little as six hours. Remain vigilant to prevent any case of bumblefoot from advancing to this stage.
How To Know if Bumblefoot is Healing
Bumblefoot should be observed daily to check on progress. The healing should be evident by sight. Open wounds close, and angry scabs will start to fall off, replaced by smaller, blacker alternatives.
You’ll also notice your budgie becoming happier to move around the cage. Limping and hopping should cease, and your bird will become happier and more cheerful.
How Long Does It Take for Bumblefoot To Heal?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule regarding how long it takes bumblefoot to heal in budgies. It depends on how quickly you discovered the issue and took action and how far along the pododermatitis was when treatment began.
Most budgies will recover from moderate cases of bumblefoot within 14 days. If the issue was mild and you took immediate action, it may be as little as a week.
If the pododermatitis was left untreated for a while, potentially spreading to the tendons and legs, the budgie may never fully recover. This doesn’t mean that your budgie will never walk again or anything so serious, but permanent damage may lead to an altered gait.
Never ignore bumblefoot in your budgie. Just because this concern is comparatively commonplace, it doesn’t make it OK. Seek veterinary advice to restore your budgie’s feet to health and take preventative measures to reduce the risk of pododermatitis returning.