Stracke, J., Volkmann, N., May, F. et al. 2021. Walking on tiptoes: Digital pads deserve increased attention when scoring footpad dermatitis as an animal welfare indicator in turkeys. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7, 613516.

Animal welfare is one of the most challenging issues in modern farm animal husbandry. Animal welfare indicators can be used to monitor welfare on farms or at slaughterhouses, with footpad dermatitis (FPD) being one of the most important indicators used in turkeys. Up to now, the severity of FPD has been measured by evaluating the size of altered lesions on the metatarsal pad of birds. However, such lesions are not only found on the metatarsal pads, but alterations can also occur on the digital pads of the animals, the latter is not included in the European standard scoring systems for turkeys so far. The aim of the present study was to give a detailed outline of alterations on the digital pads of turkeys and associate their occurrence to a standardly used five-point scoring system, which is based on alterations of the metatarsal pad only. Therefore, pictures of 500 feet of turkeys from 16 flocks at the end of the fattening phase were taken, using an automatic camera system. Based on these pictures, alterations on the digits were scored according to different parameters (lesions, swellings, and number of affected digits). Furthermore, detailed measurements were conducted using an imaging software. Results were compared with a standardly used five-point scoring system (standard FPD scoring system), based on the metatarsal pad as reference. Results provide no equivalence in occurrence and severity of alterations on the metatarsal pads compared to those found on the digits. Pathologic alterations on the digits were already present at standard FPD scoring level 0; no differentiation became obvious between the higher scoring levels 2–4. Strong correlations were found when comparing percentage of alterations of the standard FPD scoring system to those of a system including alterations on the digits and the metatarsal pad, using the total foot as a reference (rp = 0.9, p < 0.001). This was the first study conducting a detailed analysis of alterations on the digits of turkeys. In conclusion, results of this study show that including the evaluation of alterations on digits could refine the present FPD scoring system, especially when using FPD as an animal welfare indicator.