Health

Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens – Symptoms & Treatment

By Chicken Fans Editorial Team

Scaly leg mites make a chicken's leg look thick, scabby, and rough. It's very common in domestic poultry and can be dangerous when left untreated. We discuss the condition, the symptoms, and how you can treat and prevent scaly leg mites in chickens.

What are Scaly Leg Mites?

Scaly leg mites are microscopic critters that nestle under the keratin scales of a chicken's legs and feet. The mites dig minuscule tunnels beneath the skin, damaging the underlying tissue. This results in thick, scaly, and crusty skin. It's painful and causes deformations and toes to fall off.

Symptoms of Scaly Leg Mites

The symptoms of scaly leg mites are:

  • thick, rough skin on legs and feet
  • crusting, scabbing, and flaking of the skin
  • uneven scales and scales lying disorderly
  • lifted scales or bumps in the skin
  • deformation in the feet and toes
  • irritation and itching
  • lameness and difficulty walking

In the early stages, the scales lose their bright and slick appearance, and you start to see some crusting and thickening of the skin.

A veterinarian uses skin scrapes under the microscope to identify the mites for diagnosis.

Causes of Scaly Leg Mites

The condition is caused by tiny mites: Knemidocoptes mutans. They are so small they can't be seen with the naked eye. The burrowing mites have little claws to dig tunnels and feed on the keratin underneath the unfeathered skin of the legs.

The tunnels in the underlying skin tissue cause swelling, irritation, and inflammation of the skin. In severe cases, the toes and legs can become malformed.

For a long time, scaly leg mites were thought to be a fungal infection.

scaly leg mites silkie

Transmission of Scaly Leg Mites

The primary form of transmission is through direct contact, where the mites jump from bird to bird. They can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, ducks, other domestic poultry, and wild birds.

Transmission of scaly leg mites can occur in several forms:

  • direct contact (primary form)
  • prolonged close contact (e.g., when roosting or mother and chicks)
  • indirect contact (e.g., feed contamination or face rubbing on the perches)

Treatment of Scaly Leg Mites

Scaly leg mites can be hard to eliminate, so it's best to act quickly.

Treatment consists of:

  • killing the mites by suffocating them or using medication
  • treating the skin with ointment to keep it moisturized for healing
  • removing dead skin and scales regularly
  • cleaning and disinfecting the entire chicken coop and replacing the bedding

Mild cases

Repeat this every few days to treat mild cases of scaly leg mites:

  1. soak the chicken's legs in lukewarm water
  2. remove any dead skin and clean the scales
  3. dip the legs in oil to suffocate the mites
  4. clean the legs and apply a thick coating of petroleum jelly (vaseline) to lubricate the skin

You can use any available household oil, like olive oil, coconut oil, or linseed oil.

Be careful when cleaning the scales; they can bleed if you pull them off. If the legs are dry and scrubby, use a small brush to ensure you get the jelly in all spots.

Many poultry keepers add petroleum or petroleum-based products to the mix to loosen the scales. Petroleum is toxic to chickens, so we won't recommend it here, but it's still an effective practice that even veterinarians use.

As an alternative, many commercial treatments are available, usually as a spray.

Severe Cases

A veterinarian will prescribe medication if the condition worsens.

For severe cases of scaly leg mites:

  • Apply Ivermectin or an equivalent either in oral or injectable form
  • Use mild disinfectant like Savlon or antimicrobial Hibiscrub to clean the legs

Treatment will take about three weeks, but it can take much more time for the new healthy scales to regrow. The feet can look deformed for quite some time, even when the mites are gone.

In very severe cases, the damage can be permanent.

Prevention of Scaly Leg Mites

To prevent scaly leg mites:

  • prevent wild birds and ducks from accessing the coop
  • keep the coop dry and clean
  • regularly check the legs of your birds
  • keep new flock members quarantined for a while
  • practice good biosecurity

The Scaly Leg Mite: K. Mutans

The responsible mite is Knemidocoptes mutans and is widespread in domestic fowl. The tiny burrowing mites have a roundish body with tactile hairs and claws.

Source: Alan R. Walker

A single mite lives for about two to three weeks. For most of its lifetime, it's actively digging tunnels underneath the skin. The mites mate on the chicken, and the females lay their eggs in the small tunnels they burrow in the skin tissue.

Summary

Scaly leg mites are tiny little mites that dig tunnels under the skin of a chicken's leg. This results in thick crusty skin and deformities. These mites can be hard to get rid of, so it's a good practice to regularly check the legs of your birds.

When you notice any of the early signs, simple treatment with oil and vaseline may be enough. For more severe cases, a veterinarian will prescribe medication.

Treatment is important. The condition is painful and causes deformations and loss of toes when left untreated.

Further Reads

Another common mite that affects backyard chickens is the red mite.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Can scaly leg mites from chickens infect humans?

No, the mites are host specific and do not affect humans, only domestic poultry and wild birds.

Can dogs and cats get scaly leg mites from chickens?

No, the mites can not affect dogs or cats and will only affect domestic poultry and wild birds.

Are scaly leg mites the same as poultry red mites?

No, scaly leg mites are Knemidocoptes mutans and feed on the keratin layers of the chicken's skin. Poultry red mites are Dermanyssus gallinae, and feed on a chicken's blood. While scaly leg mites are too small to see with the naked eye, you can see red mites crawling around in the coop.

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Chicken Fans Editorial Team

The editorial team consists of 3rd generation chicken owners Kat, journalist, editor-in-chief, and Nick, working with illustrators and specialists in the field.

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