High dietary protein is thought to increase the incidence of foot pad dermatitis (FPD) as a result of increased uric acid and secondary ammonia production in the excreta or litter. This study was conducted on female turkeys over a period of 3 wk to test the effects of water alone, and also of these end products of protein metabolism, independent of the presence of excreta, on the development and severity of FPD. The animals were allocated into four groups, with 20 birds in each, and housed in floor pens on dry, clean wood shavings (changed daily) throughout the experiment. The control group was housed continuously in its pen, whereas the other groups were additionally exposed daily (for 8 hr) to experimentally treated wood shavings, in adjacent separate boxes, enriched with water alone or water with NH4Cl or uric acid. NH4Cl and uric acid were added via water to the litter to achieve the concentrations of ammonia and uric acid in the litter as found in the excreta of turkeys (about 0.50 g ammonia and 20 g uric acid/kg). The wet litter was kept clean by removing the excreta twice daily and by changing the litter twice a week. The foot pads of all birds were examined on days 0, 7, 14, and 21 and scored externally (macroscopically). Three birds were selected from each group on days 0, 7, and 14, while the remaining 11 birds/group were sacrificed on day 21 for histopathologic assessment of foot pads. The severity of FPD was found to be markedly higher (about 3 times) on wet than on dry litter. There were no negative effects of ammonia and uric acid on foot pad lesions. The results indicate that high litter moisture is the most likely factor causing FPD in turkeys. A focus on nitrogenous irritants in the litter was not substantiated. Exposure of birds to wet litter (in the absence of excreta) for only 8 hr/day was sufficient to develop foot pad lesions. The present results suggest that a focus on the protein content of the diet as a cause of FPD may be misplaced, but all dietary factors which increase excreta or litter moisture, or both, should be considered. The prevalence and severity of FPD can be reduced by maintaining dry litter.
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Vol. 55 • No. 1