Scaly Leg

This is a condition caused by a mite called ‘Knemidocoptes Mutans’ which burrows under the skin on a bird’s legs to feed on the keratin. The tunnelling causes irritation with leg scales becoming thickened, as the keratin seeps from the leg tissue, and eventually becoming encrusted and lifting away from the leg. The legs will appear lumpy with large gaps visible between the individual scales.

This is generally not considered a painful condition, but can cause discomfort.

Symptoms

  • Raised uneven or lifted scales on legs.
  • Thickened rough skin.

Causes

  • Caused by the scaly leg mite (knemidocoptes mutans) which is invisible to the naked eye and burrows into the skin on the birds’ legs and feet digging tunnels, eating their skin, laying eggs and leaving droppings. It spends its entire 10-14 day life cycle on the affected bird.

Guidance

Note that this home remedy is not intended to offer a cure or replace veterinary treatment, but may alleviate symptoms where no professional support is easily available. The suggestions are based on experience gained with our own hens.
  • There are lots of proprietary treatments on the market.
  • The traditional method of applying a thick coating of Vaseline or Swarfega to the legs daily for one week will suffocate the mites and soften the scales.  Swarfega will also loosen the scales which may then shed revealing pink healthy tissue underneath. Please note, officially any petroleum-based product is considered toxic to poultry, but this product has been used by BHWT staff, volunteers and supporters routinely with no ill effects.
  • A 1:50 mixture of Ivermectin and Propylene Glycol coated onto the legs twice monthly has proved effective (John Chitty BSAVA Manual of Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery)
  • Mild disinfectant (Savlon or Hibiscrub): bathing the legs with a mild disinfectant can be beneficial but will need repeating daily for several weeks.
  • Methylated spirit: officially, veterinary-recommended treatment is to stand a hen in methylated spirit, but given that the underlying skin may be very sore, we do not consider this a welfare-friendly solution and therefore we do not recommend it.
  • Seek veterinary advice for further treatment options.

Prevention

  • The mite is spread by direct contact between birds. Check all birds on a regular basis.
  • Initially introduced by wild birds, rodents or new flock members. Limit access
  • New scales may take some time to grow back, but no lasting damage should be done to the well-being of a hen. It is worth noting that damaged scales need to be shed in the same way that feathers are moulted allowing regrowth. This takes time and the legs will look abnormal long after the mites have been killed. Do not be tempted to pick off any damaged scales as the legs may bleed.
Figure 1: Hen legs showing scale damage
Figure 1: Hen legs showing scale damage
Figure 2: Hen legs showing scale damage
Figure 2: Hen legs showing scale damage
Figure 3: Swarfega: smear a thick coating to the legs daily for one week
Figure 3: Swarfega: smear a thick coating to the legs daily for one week
Figure 4: Bathing the legs with a mild disinfectant can be beneficial
Figure 4: Bathing the legs with a mild disinfectant can be beneficial

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