Could It Be Gout?
Gout is not a specific disease, but rather a sign of serious kidney dysfunction. It is a complex form of arthritis in which urate crystals accumulate in the joints, causing inflammation in the hock and foot joints. The resulting swelling, deformity, and sores may be mistaken for other chicken foot problems such as bumblefoot or a severe case of scaly leg mite.
Bumblefoot differs from gout in occurring as a single sore at the bottom of the foot (occasionally with lesser sores under or between toes) and usually affects only one foot, while gout typically affects both. Scaly leg differs from gout in resulting from deposits under individual scales, rather than around joints under the skin. Unlike both bumblefoot and scaly leg, gout has no sure cure. But you can take measures to prevent this chicken foot problem and to make an affected bird more comfortable.
Gout in chickens takes one of two forms — articular or visceral. Articular gout may result from a genetic defect that causes the kidneys to function improperly, but may also be triggered by a diet that is too high in protein. It is more common in cocks than in hens, generally doesn’t appear in birds until they are at least 4 months old, and usually affects individuals rather than an entire flock.
The usual sign is swollen joints of the feet and toes, resulting in lameness and shifting of the weight from leg to leg to relieve discomfort. Because of the swelling, the bird is unable to bend its toes. The feet may redden and blister, and the blisters may develop into sores. Because walking is painful, the bird may spend a lot of time sitting in one place, grooming excessively.
Since articular gout makes walking and perching uncomfortable, installing wide roosts and keeping the bird’s toenails clipped both help reduce discomfort. A chicken that doesn’t want to walk may need to be encouraged to spend time outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air.
Visceral gout is more common than articular gout and affects both hens and cocks. It has many causes including water deprivation; excess dietary protein; moldy feed; high-calcium layer ration fed to growing pullets; electrolyte excess or deficiency; prolonged use of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda in drinking water to relieve heat stress); kidney-affecting diseases, such as infectious bronchitis and intestinal cryptosporidiosis; exposure to toxic chemicals, including cleaning products; overuse of antibiotics, particularly gentamicin and related aminoglycosides, and sulfa drugs. Either tumors or kidney stones can obstruct the ureters, causing urates to accumulate in the kidneys and other organs.
Although visceral gout does not always cause swelling of the feet and toes, when it does, it can be difficult to distinguish from articular gout. However, unlike articular gout, which affects the joints, visceral gout involves internal organs and gradually progresses into kidney failure and death.
Neither form of gout has a known cure. A veterinarian may recommend a urine acidifier, such as ammonium chloride (commonly used to prevent urinary stones in male goats) or DL-methionine (a common ingredient in commercially prepared non-organic poultry feeds). Natural sources of the amino acid methionine include fish meal and oilseed meal such as safflower, sesame, or sunflower meal. Adding apple cider vinegar to drinking water is not helpful as an acidifier — because the chicken’s natural stomach acid is much more acidic than vinegar — but it does make the water taste better to chickens and thus encourages drinking.
Encouraging water intake flushes the bird’s system with moisture, increasing the amount of urates expelled and reducing the amount retained in the body. To encourage an affected bird to increase its moisture intake, change the drinking water often, furnish warm water in winter and cool water in summer, and offer moisture-laden fruit and vegetable treats such as fresh sprouts, bits of apple, or slices of watermelon.