Chickens may need orthopedic shoes due to abscesses on feet
Restaurant critic Amy Pataki and her family decided to rent chickens this summer. This is the ninth in an occasional series on backyard livestock.
It’s 8 p.m. on a Sunday night when the veterinarian makes a house call.
We suspect our backyard flock has bumblefoot, or painful abscesses on their feet.
We discover the problem while bathing the chickens outside. The bath is our daughters’ idea, a “spa day,” they call it. The girls gather a basin of warm water, strawberry body wash and an old toothbrush to scrub the chickens’ feet. Everyone relaxes until we find troubling scabs on five of the birds’ six footpads.
If, as online research indicates, they are staphylococcus abscess, excision is often the only treatment. Janos, my physician husband, is handy with a scalpel but only on humans. Medical doctors shouldn’t treat animals. The lines are clear: The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario once suspended a doctor’s licence for, in part, prescribing drugs to a patient’s dog.
So we consult Dr. Tibor Toman, the veterinarian who keeps our 21-year-old cat, Rudi, in good health.
Toman leaps at the chance to include chickens in his practice again. But how to bring three chickens to his small-animal clinic? In a cat carrier? A pillowcase? On a leash? Our daughters volunteer to hold them in their laps in the car, as if that would work.
Thankfully, the veterinarian offers to come to us.
Toman adroitly grabs each chicken one-handed to pin their wings, using his free hand to examine their eyes, ears and abdomens. Zazu’s cloudy right eye points to an inflamed uvea; Toman says she may go blind. At the news, Zazu squirts him with a stream of liquid feces.
Then he turns to their feet.
It’s definitely bumblefoot, Toman says, likely due to sleeping on the wrong perch.
If we opt for antibiotics, “you can forget about the eggs for the rest of the season,” Toman says of the drug contamination.
Another option is surgery at the clinic, followed by chicken orthopedic shoes. This is no joke. When made from the same bouncy foam as pool noodles, the shoes help chickens land each step softly. I find a neoprene pair online for $20 (U.S.).
Toman trained in Belgrade, Serbia. He then worked five years as village vet dealing with pigs, cows — and chickens. In a situation like ours, “they would just go in the pot,” he says.
The best option is a new roosting bar. Rent The Chicken supplied one that is smooth and squared off, which has chafed the chickens’ feet as they try to grip it. The infection would have entered through the abrasions.
“Fruit tree branches are ideal. Before you use it, dip it in boiling water to kill any mites from wild birds,” Toman recommends.
We find what looks like a cherry branch on the street. Our friend Taras, an accomplished woodworker, swiftly mounts it on blocks. The birds immediately hop on. Let the healing begin.
The followup vet appointment is at the end of August.
Amy Pataki is a Toronto-based restaurant critic and reporter covering all things hospitality. Follow her on Twitter: @amypataki