Turkeys can develop two distinct types of breast lesions: breast blisters and breast buttons. Breast buttons are a type of inflammation on the surface of the skin commonly seen after prolonged contact with a direct skin irritant (e.g., ammonia, moisture, feces or mud). A breast blisters, on the other hand, is an inflammation under the skin in a small pocket, known as the bursa, located over the center of the breast. This pocket has a tendency to fill up with fluid and various types of inflammatory debris and is even a favorite settling site for bacteria. Breast blisters in turkeys are pretty common, and heavy tom turkeys are more prone to developing them.
The exact cause of breast blisters in turkeys is not completely understood, but it’s most likely related to several factors. Anything that causes a turkey to be down for prolonged periods of time could serve as a continuous source of irritation and trauma to the bursa. The actual blister is not thought to cause a clinical effect on the turkey, but it might be an important indicator of another issue. Common reasons for a turkey to spend more time lying down on its breast are leg problems either in the foot itself or in the leg joints or bones, and turkeys should be examined for such problems. Litter—made from rough, splintery or abrasive materials, with high moisture and ammonia levels, with improper pH, and with a high bacterial load—has also been suggested as a contributing factor.
A key strategy in breast-blister prevention strategy would be to ensure that turkeys are housed on “friendly” litter because the better the condition of the litter, the lower the incidence of leg problems and breast blisters. Avoid allowing your turkeys, especially toms, to reach excessive weights, too. This can be achieved by meal-feeding rather than providing free access to feed.
If you think the breast blister is infected with bacteria, systemic or local antibiotic therapy might be helpful. Contact a local veterinarian for direction on this, as she might be able to obtain a sample of the bursa fluid for culture and sensitivity to better direct you to the best antibiotic. Because breast blisters tend not to cause clinical effects, the best option might be to identify the initiating cause and to treat or fix that rather than potentially aggravate the blister by performing any manipulation, such as lancing, draining, rinsing or soaking.
Any visible area of inflammation or infection should be trimmed during processing and discarded. If a systemic bacterial infection is suspected prior to slaughter, the entire carcass might be affected. In this case, postpone slaughter following any administration of antibiotics to give the antibiotic time to withdraw from the tissues.
About the Author: Kelli H. Jones, DVM, MAM, Dipl. ACPV, is assistant clinical professor and extension poultry veterinarian at Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Poultry Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (MSU PRDL).
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Hobby Farms.