You have probably heard the saying, “you are what you eat”. When it comes to your bird’s feet, they are what they perch upon. In the wild our birds would perch on tiny 1/8th” branches all the way up to a foot diameter branches, this is what keeps their feet healthy. Imagine being on your feet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This should put into perspective how important it is that your bird’s feet needs be met with serious consideration. Imagine walking barefoot on the exact same surface for years, no support for your feet. Your feet would begin to have medical problems eventually and would be most uncomfortable after a few days. When your bird has only one size and texture of perch in its cage, it’s weight will be distributed to the exact same spots every day, all of the time except when it climbs the bars or comes out on a play stand, that is if the play stand has a different size perch.
Birds can develop sores on the bottoms of their feet from improper perching materials. Bumble foot can occur from improper perching materials, as well as diet. In the first stage of Bumble foot you will notice small reddish/pinkish areas to the sole of your birds foot and the scales will be gone leaving a smooth and shiny area. Sandpaper covered perches, hard plastic perches and dowel rod perches can lead to these areas. The second stage is characterized by broken skin lesions that become infected from contact with unclean perches or other areas of the cage such a bird walking on the grate. The loss of scaly protection makes the area a prime candidate for infection. If not treated by a vet with systemic antibiotics and perches changed to appropriate ones then your bird’s foot will progress to stage 3 characterized by open wounds and infection. If not treated properly your bird could end up having parts of its foot amputated or die from systemic infection. Sweet Feet & Beaks produces a perch that is called a Safety Perch. The area where the bird’s foot touches is smooth while its nails rest on a slightly rough area of the perch to groom the nails. Solid concrete perches and sandpaper covered perches should never be used as the main source of perching for your bird.
Another problem that can be caused by improper perches or lack of perches is arthritis and deformities to the feet. We have gotten birds into our rescue whose feet are gnarled and deformed due to hanging on the cage bars constantly because they were not provided with perches. These birds lose their ability to close their feet tightly enough on a perch to prevent falling. They should be provided with flat surface perches to encourage them to leave the bars of the cage. Rope perches that are a little oversized can also be used. When asking a bird to step up with feet that are deformed or missing toes can be made into a safe feeling for the bird when it’s provided with a flat and larger area to step onto such as the hand flattened, allowing the bird to sit in your palm or offering your forearm with your palm facing the floor.
Offering a variety of perches of different sizes, textures and diameters is the best way to help your bird maintain healthy feet. Setting up the cage to encourage your bird not to spend long periods of time hanging on the bars can also contribute to healthy feet. So, when setting up your bird’s cage, keep those feet in mind and keep them healthy.