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Staphylococcosis Infection

Other Names: Staph Infection, Staph Septicemia, Staph Arthritis, Bumblefoot .

Staphylococcosis infections are common in poultry worldwide. The genus Staphylococcus is composed of over 36 species and 21 subspecies that are normal inhabitants of the skin, mucous membranes and nares of healthy birds. However some species have the potential to cause disease if it enters the body of the bird, through a wound, inflammation, trimming of toe nails or beak, open naval of newly hatched chicks, minor surgical procedures, parenteral vaccinations, or concurrent chronic infection causing a defense impairment of the immune system.

Most infections are related to invasion with Staphylococcus aureus, which is considered the most pathogenic staphylococcal species. Recently, S. agnetis has emerged as the primary pathogen causing bacterial chondronecrosis with osteomyelitis (BCO) of the proximal tibiae and femora in broiler chickens. There are several disease manifestations in chickens associated with infection with Staphylococcus spp.

Staphylococcal-related infections
FormLocationTypical AgeUsual outcome
OsteomyelitisBoneUsually olderChronic lameness
Arthritis/SynovitisJointUsually olderChronic lameness
BumblefootFeetAdultsLameness, often chronic
OmphalitisYolk sacNewly hatched chicksDeath
Acute SepticemiaBloodAnyDeath
Gangrenous dermatitisSkinYoungDeath
A breakdown in the natural defense mechanism must occur for S. aureus to gain entry into chickens. This is usually through a skin wound, inflamed mucous membrane or hematogenous dissemination where a locus of infection is established. It can also occur due to a defense impairment following viral infections.

Incubation period
S. aureus infection has a short incubation period, with chicks showing signs usually within 48-72 hours.

Clinical Signs

Lameness in one or both legs
Ruffled feathers
Skin reddening
Reluctance to walk
Joint swelling


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Bacterial culture
  • Quantitative PCR

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Vegetative endocarditis caused by Staphylococcus aureus in a Cockatoo A 15-year-old, female cockatoo was presented with a history of intermittent cloacal prolapse of 1-year duration. After each prolapse, the owner would digitally reduce the distended cloacal tissue within approximately 12–24 hours, for short-term resolution. The cockatoo was examined 3 times over a 7-month period and received supportive care with leuprolide acetate, behavioral modification, and diet change. After the third examination, the owner decided to proceed with a surgical cloacopexy. Five days after the last examination and before the procedure was scheduled, the cockatoo was reexamined for acute onset of weakness, anorexia, lethargy, and right-leg paresis. Despite supportive treatment, the cockatoo's clinical condition declined, and it went into respiratory arrest. Resuscitative efforts, including manual ventilation and cardiovascular support, were unsuccessful, and the bird died. Results of postmortem examination revealed vegetative endocarditis with intralesional bacteria cultured as Staphylococcus aureus, right-hindlimb myonecrosis, hepatitis, and nephritis. Ref

  • Case 2: Breast blisters in a Turkeys Bursas were taken weekly as normal turkeys developed from 3 to 22 weeks of age, and no specific bacterial or viral infection was found. Bacterial cultures were also made of condemned bursas taken at processing. Of 144 collected, 91% were sterile; the others had staphylococci, streptococci, or coliform organisms. Experiments with turkeys measured the effect of strain, body conformation, completeness of breast-feather cover, protection of the keel with sheepskins, age when put on range, and type of range on the incidence of enlarged sternal bursas. The strain difference of 25.4% breast blisters against 11.5% was highly significant (99% confidence). In one experiment the effect of feather cover was significant at the 95% level of confidence (61.7% breast blisters with no feather cover, versus 40% with complete feather cover). The effect of protecting the breast with sheepskin was significant at the 95% level of confidence in reducing incidence of breast blisters. There was no significant difference in the incidence of breast blisters in relation to body conformation, age, or type of range. Ref

  • Case 3: Dermatitis in a Parrot A 2-year-old DNA-sexed female Congo African grey parrot was evaluated for self-trauma of the feathers and skin of the tail base for a duration of more than 1 year. All rectrices and tail coverts were missing, the skin of the tail base was thickened and ulcerated, and the uropygial gland was swollen. Results of a complete blood cell count revealed relative monocytosis and basophilia. Survey radiographs showed truncation and lysis of the caudal vertebrae and pygostyle. Results of biopsy and bacterial culture of the tail base lesions revealed an ulcerative bacterial dermatitis positive for staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec (SCCmec) type IV (community-acquired) methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The bird was treated with oral trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, meloxicam, fluoxetine, topical lidocaine gel, and hydrotherapy. One month later, tail feather regrowth was evident; however, follow-up over 2 years found continued self-trauma to the rectrices in spite of repeated skin biopsies negative for MRSA or other bacteria. It is unknown if the MRSA cultured from this bird was commensal or acquired from either the environment or humans to which the bird was exposed. Ref

  • Case 4: Chronic ulcerative dermatitis in a Parrot A 23-year-old, 425-g male African grey parrot was evaluated for chronic ulcerative dermatitis of the axillary regions under both wings. Initial swab cultures of the sites had revealed a coagulase-positive methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (MRSA) with marked antibiotic resistance. A second swab culture obtained 8 weeks after the initial culture showed heavy growth of a coagulase-positive Staphylococcus species, which could not be speciated, but showed the same sensitivity as the previous culture. Previous treatment included systemic antibiotics and a topical antimicrobial cream, with variable response and only temporary resolution. On examination, full-thickness, ulcerative, necrotic dermatitis was present under both wings with intermittent bleeding and subdermal tissue exposure. Initial treatment included wound debridement, oral antibiotics, topical therapy, analgesics, and bandages. After a relapse, a poloxamer gel containing 2% doxycycline, 1% chloramphenicol, and 0.5% mupirocin was used in combination with oral antibiotics and analgesics. On follow-up examination, the skin lesions had completely resolved and the patient was doing well and remains normal 4 years later. This report emphasizes the importance of prompt, aggressive multi-modal therapy for MRSA and other dermal bacterial infections in pet birds that may represent zoonoses or have carrier-state zoonotic potential. Preparation by a compounding pharmacy of a transdermal poloxamer gel containing antibiotics shows promise for severe, infected, ulcerative skin lesions in birds when other therapies fail to achieve a cure. Ref

  • Case 5: Discospondylitis in a Penguin 22-year-old female African black-footed penguin, housed indoors with other African and rockhopper penguins, was presented acutely with lethargy, ataxia, and hind limb weakness after a molt. The penguin would assume a hunched position and, when resting, sat on its hocks or lay on its keel. Physical and neurologic examination revealed hind limb paraparesis, proprioceptive deficits, and tiptoe walking. Results of a complete blood cell count and biochemical analysis revealed mild heterophilic leukocytosis, anemia, mild hypoalbuminemia, hypokalemia, and hyperuricemia. Results of whole-body radiographs and coelioscopy were unremarkable. Two computed tomographies of the spine at a 3-month interval revealed a lesion at the mobile thoracic vertebra proximal to the synsacrum with associated spinal cord compression. The penguin was treated with itraconazole, doxycycline, and meloxicam, and it initially improved with return to near normal gait and behavior. However, 5 months after the onset of clinical signs, the penguin was euthanatized after a relapse with worsening of the neurologic signs. Postmortem and histopathologic examination revealed focal granulomatous discospondylitis at the penultimate mobile thoracic vertebra, with intralesional bacteria from which Staphylococcus aureus was cultured. Ref

  • Case 6: Hock joint infection in a Chickens Staphylococcus aureus was isolated from hock joint infections in 35-week-old broiler roosters in a flock of 10,000 hens and roosters. Clinical signs of two weeks duration included limping, unable to access feed and water and increased morbidity. Necropsy of six birds revealed mild to severely swollen hock joints and occasional foot pads which containing cloudy exudate. Ref

  • Case 7: Omphalitis in a Ducklings An outbreak of Omphalitis occurred in week old ducklings at a research duck farm. They exhibited clinical signs consisting of swollen abdomen containing cheesy, caseous content in yolk sac, oedema, redness, loss of appetite, dehydration, and septicemia. Staphylococcus aureus was isolated from all 20 ducklings. Ref

  • Case 8: Osteomyelitis in a Chickens Osteomyelitis was diagnosed in 9- and 10-week-old, brown feathered, meat type chickens. The birds were submitted with a history of ongoing mortality going up and down and limping. At necropsy, most of the birds had accumulation of exudate in the bone marrow of the tibiotarsus, from which Staphylococcus aureus was isolated. Additionally, the birds had small bursa of Fabricius and scratches on the skin, which may have predisposed the birds to osteomyelitis. Ref

  • Case 9: Neonatal osteomyelitis associated with Staphylococcus aureus in a Turkey poults A case of Staphylococcus aureus infection causing osteomyelitis in young turkey poults is described. Mortality during the first week after hatching was 12.6%. Poults showed leg weakness, inflammation of all four toes, swelling of feet and hock joints, and osteomyelitis of the proximal tibiotarsus. Staphylococcus aureus was isolated from exudate in the hock joints and footpads. Granulocytic infiltration and colonies of gram-positive coccoid bacteria compatible with S. aureus were found on microscopic examination of the lesions. Toe trimming after hatching is believed to have provided a portal of entry for S. aureus, which resulted in infection of the toes and spread along tendons to joints and bones of the leg. Neonatal staphylococcal osteomyelitis should be considered when recently placed turkey flocks experience increased mortality, especially if they develop severe swelling and inflammation of toes following trimming and have enlarged swollen feet, tendons, or joints. Ref

  • Case 10: Osteomyelitis in a Turkeys A farm of meat turkeys was affected by a condition, clinically characterized by unilateral inflammation of the orbital region and progressive crossing of the beak, observed in three successive flocks in 2010. While no toxic, genetic, technical, or diet causes could be found, pathologic and bacteriologic analyses were conducted to investigate the case. Pathologic analyses of the heads of affected birds showed blepharitis and exudative sinusitis as well as severe chronic osteomyelitis of all skull bones and mandibula. Staphylococcus aureus was consistently isolated from these lesions. It is supposed that the severe bacterial osteomyelitis induced deviation of some bones, thereby leading to deviation of the beak. Ref

  • Case 11: Osteomyelitis and septic arthritis in a Duck A duck was housed in a large outdoor enclosure with several other male pintails. The bird was noted to have a drooping left wing and apparent inability to use this wing. Physical examination revealed severe swelling of the carpal joint of this wing associated with the presence of yellow caseous material. The wing was amputated at the distal radius and ulna and submitted for histopathologic examination. There was diffuse swelling (up to 3 times normal) of the soft tissues surrounding the carpal and carpometacarpal joints. Caseous yellow nodules measuring up to 1 cm diameter were scattered throughout the joints and periarticular soft tissues. Ref

  • Case 12: Pneumonia in a Turkey Initially, 3-day-old poults with a history of increased mortality were submitted for necropsy. The poults had severe bilateral consolidation of the lungs with miliary caseous nodules. The gross lesions in the lungs were highly suggestive of aspergillosis. The next day, postmortem examinations were performed on 60 dead poults at the farm, and all 60 had similar lung lesions. Histopathologic examination of affected lungs revealed severe subacute multifocal bronchopneumonia with intralesional bacteria. Tissue Gram stain of lung sections demonstrated gram-positive bacterial cocci. Gomori methenamine silver stain of the lungs failed to demonstrate fungal agents. The histologic distribution of the lesions suggested an aerogenous route of infection. Staphylococcus aureus was isolated in pure culture from affected lungs. Hatchery contamination was suspected because of the severity and early onset of the lesions. Bacterial monitoring at the hatchery demonstrated marked Staph. aureus contamination in two setters, a hatcher's air duct, and the poult room. Improved hatchery cleaning and disinfection prevented a re-occurrence of the problem. Ref

  • Case 13: Septic arthritis and Osteomyelitis in a Falcon An adult female gyrfalcon was presented with a right-wing droop and weight loss. Radiographic images revealed osteolysis and osseous proliferation of the right shoulder and the mobile vertebra between the notarium and synsacrum. The tentative diagnosis was vertebral osteomyelitis secondary to septic arthritis. The bird did not respond to antibiotic and anti-inflammatory therapy and represented 10 days later, with feathers soiled with feces, an impacted, dilated cloaca, and an inability to stand due to spastic paralysis of the hind legs. The bird's condition did not improve with 24 hours of supportive care and its quality of life was considered poor; therefore, the patient was euthanatized and submitted for postmortem examination. Multicentric septic osteomyelitis and arthritis were confirmed in the mobile vertebra between the notarium and synsacrum and the right shoulder. Despite 10 days of antibiotic therapy, Staphylococcus aureus was isolated from within the 2 locations in which septic osteomyelitis and arthritis were identified. Ref

  • Case 14: Polyarthritis and granulomatous vasculitis in a Crane A 1.5-year-old female Mississippi sandhill crane was presented and managed for a polyarthritis of the intertarsal and tarsophalangeal articulations. Results of aerobic bacterial cultures, Mycoplasma species culture, and polymerase chain reaction testing of articular fluid did not identify any causative organisms. Results of radiographs and cytologic examination of articular fluid were consistent with an inflammatory, nonerosive polyarthritis. The arthritis did not improve with systemic anti-inflammatory and antibiotic treatment and with joint lavage. A large necrotic granulomatous mass was detected on the right shoulder area from which Staphylococcus aureus and Enterococcus species were isolated as opportunistic pathogens. Two days after surgical resection of the mass, the distal polyarthritis resolved. Histopathologic examination of the mass was consistent with granulomatous vasculitis with abscess formation of unknown origin. In this crane, the unresponsiveness to standard therapy, the presence of an infected and inflammatory mass, and the resolution of the polyarthritis after the resection of the mass strongly supported a diagnosis of reactive immune-mediated nonerosive polyarthritis. Analysis of this case suggests that immune-mediated idiopathic arthritis should be a differential diagnosis of distal polyarthritis in cranes and that an inciting source remote from the joints should be investigated in case of lack of response to standard therapy. Ref

  • Case 15: Comb necrosis in a Layer breeder hens Comb necrosis with leg weakness was seen in 41-day-old female layer breeder chickens. This disease occurred in three flocks at a breeder farm, but not in other flocks of growing chickens and broiler breeder hens at the same farm. The disease started in 35-day-old chicks in three flocks. The morbidity of comb necrosis was 10% and that of leg weakness was 3%. Characteristic gross lesions of affected chickens were swelling and necrosis of the whole comb. Histologically, liquefactive necrosis of epidermal epithelial cells with hyperplasia, vesicle formation in the epidermis, congestion, and hemorrhages with fibrinous thrombi of underlying dermis in the comb were noted. In mature comb lesions, the epidermis showed eosinophilic necrosis (scab formation). In the livers, multiple fibrinous thrombi were present in the sinusoids and there was necrosis of hepatic cells. Staphylococcus aureus and Pasturella spp. were isolated from comb lesions. There were no significant lesions causing leg weakness. Ref

  • Case 16: Mixed co-infection Avian influenza in a Chickens H9N2 influenza viruses are frequently isolated from chicken meat and bone marrow imported from China to Japan since 2001. These isolates were experimentally inoculated into specific pathogen-free chickens intranasally. Viruses were recovered from the meat and bone marrow of birds showing no overt signs. On the other hand, chickens co-infected with H9N2 virus and either Staphylococcus aureus or Haemophilus paragallinarum showed clinical signs severer than those shown by birds infected only with the virus alone or each of the bacteria alone. In addition, H9N2 viruses were more efficiently recovered from the chickens co-infected with S. aureus or H. paragallinarum than those from the birds infected with only the virus. The present results indicate that co-infection of H9N2 influenza virus with S. aureus or H. paragallinarum enhances the replication of the virus in chickens, resulting in exacerbation of the H9N2 virus infection. Ref

  • Case 17: Joint infection and Bumblefoot in a Chickens Swollen foot pads, hock joints and occasionally stifle joints with pale yellow exudate were noted in 10-day-old broiler chicks due to a bacterial infection. Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and E. coli were isolated from various joints. Faulty toe trimming of the chicks at day one appeared to be the route of entry of the bacteria in to the joints. The chicks were negative for Reovirus. Ref

  • Case 18: Acantholytic Folliculitis and Epidermitis Associated With Staphylococcus hyicus in a Chickens Several mature Leghorn-type hens with the same genetic background experienced skin and feather problems in a breeder flock. There was almost-total feather loss on the head and neck, as well as thickened, scaly skin, and follicular ostia were plugged with keratin debris. Other individuals exhibited prominent subcutaneous nodules multifocally on the head. Histologic examination of the skin revealed a severe hyperplasia of follicular epithelium with hyperkeratosis and cystic dilation. Numerous clefts and vesicles were detected along the epidermis and follicular epithelium, some containing acantholytic keratinocytes. A mild heterophilic inflammation was associated with these lesions, and few gram-positive cocci were present in the keratin plugs. Bacterial culture of the skin yielded a variable amount of Staphylococcus hyicus. Immunochemistry looking for chicken IgY revealed no intercellular staining in the epidermis or follicular epithelium. All these findings supported a diagnosis of Staphylococcus-associated acantholytic epidermitis and folliculitis. This case suggests that S. hyicus could be a significant pathogen in poultry production. The close genetic relationship among affected individuals could indicate a hereditary predisposition in this line of White Leghorn laying chick Ref

  • Case 19: Staphylococcus hyicus associated with turkey stifle joint osteomyelitis in a Turkey Essentially pure cultures of Staphylococcus hyicus were isolated in moderate to high numbers from tibia growth-plate lesions from five of nine turkey hens showing clinical signs of stifle joint osteomyelitis. Of the four other tibia growth-plate specimens examined, Salmonella sp. and Enterococcus faecalis were individually isolated from one bird each, and no bacterial pathogens were isolated from the remaining two cases. Staphylococcus aureus, considered the most common cause of osteomyelitis in turkeys, was isolated from none of the nine birds examined in this flock. These findings suggest a strong association between S. hyicus and turkey stifle joint osteomyelitis. Ref

  • Case 20: Osteomyelitis (vertebral) and septic arthritis in a Falcon A 6-week-old, parent-reared peregrine falcon was presented with spastic hypertonus of its hind limbs of unknown origin and duration. Radiologic examination revealed smooth periosteal reactions ventrally at thoracic vertebrae 5 to 7. Contrast-enhanced computed tomography identified the swelling as inflammation; antibiotic, antimycotic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic treatments were initiated, and vitamins and minerals were supplemented. Because the bird's condition did not improve after 10 days, it was euthanatized and submitted for postmortem examination. On histopathologic examination, chronic, active osteomyelitis was diagnosed in thoracic vertebrae 5 to 7, and chronic, active arthritis was present in both the right shoulder and left elbow joints. Staphylococcus hyicus was isolated from these 3 locations, as well as from lungs and liver, indicating a chronic septic staphylococcosis. Although infections with Staphylococcus species are occasional causes of vertebral osteomyelitis in juvenile poultry with active growth plates, it is only sporadically reported in raptors and companion birds. This case report is the first description of the clinical features and diagnostic and pathologic findings in a juvenile peregrine falcon with hematogenous osteomyelitis and arthritis associated with septicemia caused by S hyicus. Ref

  • Case 21: Staphylococcus simulans associated with endocarditis in a Chickens A broiler flock developed clinical signs including increased mortality and lameness, and some dead chickens were found on their backs. Lesions included cauliflower-like, fibrinous vegetative lesions on the left atrioventricular valve; cream-coloured, necrotic foci of varying size in the liver; and necrosis of the femoral head. Histopathological examination of the heart revealed multifocal conglomerates of bacterial colonies attached to the valvular endocardium, threads of fibrin, and inflammatory cells with the presence of heterophils. S. simulans strains were first identified by API ID32, and then confirmed with Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry and by partial sequencing of the rpoB and dnaJ genes. These bacteria were resistant to methicillin but sensitive to vancomycin and characterized by slime production and protease activity. Ref

  • Case 22: Haemorrhagic Syndrome in a Chicks An outbreak of a haemorrhagic disease was noticed in 5-week-old chicks at a poultry farm in Srinagar. Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus were isolated from morbid material following culture. Administration of Cephalexin and a haematinic tonic and homeopathic medicines Ficus religiosa Q, Arnica montana 200 in combination with Ascorbic acid therapy controlled the mortality within 6 days limiting it to 15%. 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. Provide additional vitamins and probiotics. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
AntibioticsBased on culture and sensitivity and location of the infection.



  • Provide a balanced nutritional diet
  • Promptly and correctly attend to and treat any wounds
  • Decrease risk of injury by eliminating birds' access to sharp surfaces or objects
  • Practice good sanitary practices and regularly change bedding litter
  • Always disinfect or fumigate incubators and brooders following each use
  • Keep stress level down in birds

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Risk Factors

  • Dirty, unsanitary living conditions
  • History of recent skin wound
  • Concurrent infection or illness
  • Stress
  • Immunosuppression