Scaly Leg Mites In Chickens: Understanding, Treating, and Preventing
There are so many things to watch out for when you are a raising backyard chickens. Getting to know the habits and the way your flock looks and acts is an important part of owning chickens, in that you see the day to day when they are healthy, and therefore can spot the signs of any sicknesses or illnesses they may have when they do appear.
It is also good to know what this condition looks like if you are purchasing and point of lay chickens, you will know if you are getting birds with infected legs prior to adding them to your flock. You certainly do not want any infected older birds contaminating the birds you do have, rather, you want to be on the lookout for healthy scales that are not red or lifted.
In our early days of keeping chickens, we noticed that some of our birds had these dry, enlarged looking legs, while others had what we considered nice clean “typical” chicken legs.
We eventually worked out that our backyard chickens had leg mites, and it has become something common that happens to chickens, yet it is easily identifiable, and treatable.
If neglected, these leg mites in chickens can result in permanent disfiguration of the feet and toes, and it can become quite uncomfortable for your birds. The good news is that there are treatment options that you can do quite easily.
But first, a little bit more about what you are dealing with.
What are scaly leg mites?
Mites in the legs are a common affliction chickens that can be easily identified and treated.
Scaly leg mites are known as Knemidocoptes Mutans. These tiny critters dig under your bird's skin, specifically targeting the keratin. As they work their way around the keratin in your chickens legs, their skin flares up as a reaction, causing the scales to thicken as keratin oozes out.
Eventually, these scales turn crusty and peel away from the leg, giving the legs a bumpy look with gaps between the scales. It's not the most pleasant situation for your feathered friends.
Yes, these mites sound terrible, it is good to help your chickens get rid of them and get back to those clean, smooth and comfortable legs.
Once you know your chickens have scaly legs, you now know what the cause is and you can easily treat them and help your flock get healthy and feeling good again.
Here is a photo of scaly leg mites affecting a chickens legs, when left untreated:
Photo credit: British Hen Welfare Trust
What causes scaly leg mites?
Leg mites are caused by microscopic mites, often living in damp and dirty environments. That is why they are so common in chickens living in coops that can become damp and dirty.
These mites burrow into the skin of the chicken's legs, leading to inflammation and the characteristic scales lifting. That is why the legs look larger and drier, with the scales looking like they are lifting away from the legs.
Scaly leg mite infections are very easily identified and over time, look drier, larger and more scaly.
Where do chickens get scaly leg mites from?
Chickens typically contract leg mites from contaminated environments, such as dirty coops or contact with infected birds.
Proper coop hygiene is crucial in preventing the spread of these mites, but again, it is common.
How to identify scaly leg mites
If you notice your chickens exhibiting signs of discomfort, such as leg scales lifting, it's essential to inspect their legs carefully. Scaly leg mites can be identified by the presence of raised, crusty scales and redness on the legs.
Also, the legs swell and get a bit red on the main protective skin layer and if left untreated, they will continue to get worse with raised scales as the mites mature and the chickens show an inflammatory response.
In a severe case, your chickens could even lose a toe. It is best to treat your chicken's lower legs as soon as you notice lifted scales, and continue with supporting treatment.
I have some photos, not up close so you will have to look, of two sister hens I had. Same age, both are from the same clutch. For reasons unknown, one bird was developing leg mites, and the other wasn't. You can see the comparison of their legs in the photos below:
How To Treat Scaly Leg Mites
To effectively treat scaly leg mites in chickens, you will need the following items:
Diatomaceous Earth (DE): Dust the affected areas with DE, a natural and safe substance that helps eliminate mites.
Petroleum Jelly: Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the legs and feet to suffocate and smother the mites. This direct contact will treat a clinical infestation, and you can treat dry legs.
- Apply Diatomaceous Earth: Dust the affected areas lightly with DE. Chickens tend to avoid it if applied too heavily. You can also add to their dust bathing areas to help promote the spreading of DE- it helps keep a number of parasites and parasitic infections away, so it is always good to have on hand and in their areas.
Petroleum Jelly Application: Gently apply petroleum jelly to the legs to smother and suffocate the mites. You can do this with your own hands- it won't transfer to you (if you are feeling extra farmy!) or you can grab some nitrile or latex gloves.
I highly recommend purchasing a large tub of Vaseline (get a container you can dip your hand into easily) and gloves. labelling them "for chickens" and keeping them separately in a Ziploc bag, specifically for chicken treatment options.)
See the large Vaseline tub we keep on hand for a scaly leg mite infection.
What NOT to Use for Treating Scaly Leg Mites
Do NOT use Gasoline for scaly leg mites
Yes, this is an option that chicken keepers talk about on the forums and groups. Please do not be tempted to use this as a treatment! Not only is it toxic, it will probably hurt your chickens legs as well!
Using gasoline can be just generally harmful to your chickens, causing skin irritation and posing other risks and hazards in the coop. It's not a safe or effective treatment for scaly leg mites.
Do NOT use WD40 for scaly leg mites
Yes, here is another option people are recommending on the world wide web. WD40 is not intended for use on living organisms and can be toxic to chickens, and do we really want to eat these eggs? It does not provide a safe or effective solution for treating scaly leg mites.
Do not use natural vegetable oils
Although this may be fine for your chicken's lower legs in terms of treating leg mites, different oils and even barrier butter oils won't stay on the bird legs long enough to smother these mites. Petroleum jelly is really the best course of action for these skin tissues, and to help promote new scales by killing these mites.
Once they are taken care of, the damaged scales should calm down in the legs and feet of your birds and return to normal.
Other Common Misconceptions
- Using household oils: While some oils may provide temporary relief, they are not a long-term solution and may attract dirt, exacerbating the problem, or they could bother your chickens. For example, essential oils need a carrier oil or they can cause rashes and burning.
- Chemical pesticides: Harsh chemicals can be harmful to both chickens and the environment, so it's crucial to opt for safer alternatives.
Treating your coop to keep chickens healthy
Once you have effectively treated scaly leg mites in chickens, it's essential to ensure a healthy coop environment. When you are raising backyard chickens, it is important to clean the coop thoroughly, remove all bedding, and replace it with fresh, clean material.
Regular coop maintenance and cleanliness are key to preventing a recurrence of mite infestations; both scaly leg mites and red mites, which are an entirely different mite issue.
Common Questions About Scaly Leg Mites
Can scaly leg mites affect other animals on the farm?
While scaly leg mites are specific to chickens, it's essential to practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of parasites to other animals.
How often should I check my chickens for scaly leg mites?
Regularly inspect your chickens' legs during routine health checks and especially when you notice any signs of discomfort or leg abnormalities.
Can scaly leg mites be transmitted to humans?
No, scaly leg mites are species-specific and do not pose a risk to humans. However, proper hygiene practices should still be maintained when handling affected chickens
What are the early signs of scaly leg mites in chickens?
Early signs include leg scales lifting, redness, and visible discomfort in the affected chickens.
Can scaly leg mites lead to egg production issues?
While scaly leg mites primarily affect the legs, severe infestations may stress the chickens, potentially impacting egg production.
Are certain chicken breeds more susceptible to scaly leg mites?
No specific breed is immune, but chickens with feathered legs may be more prone to infestations due to the extra hiding places for mites.
Do scaly leg mites survive in cold climates?
Yes, scaly leg mites can survive in cold climates, so it's essential to maintain proper coop hygiene year-round.
Can scaly leg mites affect chicks?
Yes, young chicks can be vulnerable to scaly leg mites, so monitoring and preventive measures are crucial.
Should I treat just one leg of an infected chicken?
It is best to treat both legs of chickens if they have leg mites showing in just one leg. Do treatment on both as preventative measures and fast treatment.
What is the incubation period for scaly leg mites?
The incubation period varies, but symptoms may appear within a few weeks of infestation, like many parasitic infections.
Can natural remedies like herbs help prevent scaly leg mites?
While some herbs may have repellent properties, maintaining a clean coop and regular inspections are more effective preventive measures.
Do scaly leg mites affect the taste of chicken eggs?
No, scaly leg mites do not impact the taste of chicken eggs.
Is it safe to consume eggs from chickens with scaly leg mites?
Yes, it is safe to consume eggs from affected chickens, as scaly leg mites do not transmit to eggs.
Can scaly leg mites lead to more severe health issues in chickens?
While scaly leg mites can cause discomfort and potential long-term leg issues, prompt treatment typically prevents more severe health complications.
Can I clean chicken legs with a soft bristle brush for leg mites?
Because leg mites burrow so deeply into the chickens legs and feet, wiping legs, brushing legs and even epsom salts soak will not help your birds much, as these mites form tunnels into the bird hosts and get deep down. It is best to smother them with a petroleum jelly, especially in a severe case.
Here are some other chicken-related articles you may be interested in:
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