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Avian Cellulitis

Other Names: Cellulitis, Coliform Cellulitis, Clostridial Dermatitis

Avian cellulitis is a potentially serious bacterial skin infection involving the deep subcutaneous tissues and sometimes extending into the muscle. It is relatively common in chickens with poor mobility and/or living in unsanitary conditions. Fast growing breeds such as the Cornish chicken are particularly vulnerable.

The infection occurs in the breast, abdomen, sternum and upper legs---areas of the bird’s body which are most frequently in contact with the ground surface when the bird is laying down. The area will usually have little to no feather coverage remaining and the skin will be reddened, puffy and warm to the touch. It is usually accompanied with abscess formation.

Avian cellulitis is usually caused by Escherichia coli, but several other bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, Enterobacter agglomerans, Pasteurella multocida, Streptococcus spp, Aeromonas, Staphylococcus aureus and Actinomyces pyogenes may also be involved.

Chickens with avian cellulitis often have a history of recent skin trauma, since this provides a direct pathway for bacteria to enter the body and colonize the subcutaneous tissue. The reason why birds are more prone to developing cellulitis then mammals is because birds have a thinner skin epidermis in areas covered by feathers. All that is needed is a compromised skin barrier which can also occur in birds with ectoparasite infestations (mites, lice) or with nutritional deficiencies.

Clinical Signs

Reddened skin
Warmth present


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Lab testing

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Regional limb perfusion with intravenous antibiotics for Ten in a Rooster A 2-year-old Rhode Island red rooster was examined for lameness and progressive swelling of the right foot of several month's duration. Radiographs of the right foot demonstrated soft tissue swelling and a smoothly marginated periosteal reaction evident of inflammation affecting the bones. Results of a complete blood count showed a moderate leukocytosis and an elevated total protein concentration. Systemic antibiotic and anti-inflammatory therapy was started, but the bird had not improved at recheck examination. After intravenous catheterization of the medial metatarsal vein and placing a tourniquet at the femoral-tibiotarsal joint of the right leg, regional limb perfusion with amikacin and flunixin meglumine was performed. Dimensions of both feet were measured with digital calipers, and surface temperatures of the feet were measured with an infrared thermometer. The rooster had improved activity level with decrease in lameness and measurable decrease in swelling of the right foot. Regional limb perfusion with intravenous antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is a viable treatment modality in avian species for suspected distal limb infection and cellulitis. Ref

  • Case 2: Facial nodular cellulitis in a Chickens Twelve 11 and 12-week-old broiler breeder pullets from two farms were submitted to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) in Center, Texas for a diagnostic evaluation. The birds were submitted with a clinical history of having bumps on the face. Upon clinical examination, the birds exhibited nodular protuberances, approximately 1 cm in length, on the face, close to the beak commissure, above the upper eyelid, and wattles. Those nodules contained a moderate accumulation of either fluid or caseous yellow exudate that was sometimes hemorrhagic. Staphylococcus aureus in pure culture was isolated in moderate and large numbers from five of six nodules cultured. The histopathological examination revealed fibrinonecrotizing granulomatous cellulitis associated with large numbers of cocci-shaped bacteria, which is consistent with S. aureus infection. Ref


Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Wound care
AntibioticsPrescribed by your veterinarian.



  • Keep their environment clean
  • Don't overcrowd birds
  • Provide chickens with an enriched environment to decrease chances of feather pecking due to boredom.
  • Provide soft, clean surfaces for birds to rest on such as outdoor seat cushions and pillows, especially those with mobility issues and/or Cornish cross breeds.
  • Give regular health checks.
  • Provide a balanced diet.

Scientific References

Age Range

Risk Factors

  • History of recent skin trauma.
  • Birds with mobility issues.
  • Fast growing breeds such as the Cornish chicken (broilers)
  • Poor feather coverage
  • Overcrowded conditions
  • Living in an unsanitary environment
  • Increased relative humidity
  • Using straw for bedding
  • Infestation with ectoparasites (mites, lice)
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Exposure to constant moisture
  • Nutritional deficiencies