A Guide to Recognizing and Treating Chicken Foot Problems

Diagnosing Leg Mites, Gout, and Bumblefoot in Chickens

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wo common chicken foot problems and leg ailments are leg mites and bumblefoot, both of which are easy to treat. Less common, but sometimes mistaken for either leg mites or bumblefoot, is a type of arthritis known as gout, which is far easier to prevent than to treat.

Leg Mites

The scaly leg mite (Knemidocoptes mutans) is a pale gray, round, tiny chicken parasite, only about 1/100 inch in diameter. It is more likely to attack older birds, but can also affect young chickens kept with old birds. It burrows under the scales on a chicken’s shanks and feet, raising the scales by generating debris that accumulates beneath them. As a result, the shanks thicken and crust over and eventually become deformed.

Scaly leg mites spread slowly by traveling from bird to bird along the roost. This chicken foot problem may be controlled by brushing perches once a month with a mixture of one part kerosene to two parts linseed oil (not motor oil, please), or twice a month with an old-time natural poultry product called VetRx veterinary remedy, which has a corn oil base.

Leg Mites in Chickens
Scaly leg mites burrow under the scales on a chicken’s shanks and feet (left), causing the scales to stick outward. Swelling of the joints due to gout (right) may be mistaken for deformity due to scaly leg. Artwork by Bethany Caskey.

Once scaly leg mites settle in, they burrow deeply under the leg scales and spend their entire lives on the chicken, so you’ll have a hard time getting rid of them. Every poultry keeper, it seems, has a favorite method for these chicken foot problems. One such method is to use the drug ivermectin, which is not approved for chickens but is widely used to control both internal and external parasites. Chicken keepers who regularly use ivermectin to control leg mites and other external parasites find that internal parasites eventually become resistant to it.

Other methods involve physically smothering the mites by dipping affected legs in vegetable oil, linseed oil, or VetRx. Repeat the treatment every three days for a mild infection, daily for a severe infestation. Less messy than using drippy oil is to liberally coat the shanks and feet with petroleum jelly (Vaseline), which stays on longer than oil and therefore needs to be repeated only about once a week. Continue treatment until the old scales pop off and the shanks appear normal, indicating the legs are completely free of mites, although don’t expect severely damaged scales to return to normal.

Bumblefoot

A common bacterial infection, especially among heavy breeds, is an abscess in the foot pad, resulting in lameness. This chicken foot problem is known as bumblefoot, from the old British word bumble, meaning to walk unsteadily. Today the abscess core is sometimes referred to as a bumble.

Bumblefoot in Chickens
Bumblefoot (left) appears as a single callus-like scabby lump in the pad at the bottom middle of the foot, and usually affects one foot. Swelling due to gout (right) can result in infected sores appearing underneath the toe Joints, and typically affects both feet. Artwork by Bethany Caskey.

An abscess may originate from such things as scratching in hard or rocky soil, jumping down from a too-high perch onto packed or splintery bedding, or spending too much time standing or walking on concrete or hardware cloth. As a result, the foot pad develops a bruise or cut, allowing staph bacteria to enter.

The occasional bumblefoot may be the result of an accident, much as a person might get a splinter. The frequent appearance of bumblefoot in a flock is a clear signal that management changes are in order. Usually, the first sign is that the chicken is reluctant to walk, and limps when it does walk. The chicken’s foot may look swollen and feel hot. At the bottom of the foot will be a callus-like lump, which may be either soft (if the infection is recent) or hard (if it’s been going on for some time) and covered with a black scab.

If the infection has not progressed far, cleaning the foot, injecting the abscess with a suitable antibiotic, and moving the bird to a clean environment may be all that’s needed. If the abscess has progressed to the hard, scabby stage, it won’t go away unless the core is removed. You may get lucky and find a veterinarian willing to perform this surgery, but most likely you’ll have to do it yourself.

First, soften the abscess by standing the chicken in warm water for about 10 minutes, gently massaging the foot to rinse off any clinging dirt. Epsom salts dissolved in the water will reduce inflammation and help sooth the foot. Avoid letting the chicken drink the water, as it will contain bacteria; also, if Epsom salts have been added, they are a laxative.

After a good soaking, the softened scab should pull off easily, along with some of the abscess’s yellowish, cheesy or waxy core. Once the scab has been removed, press the skin out at the sides of the abscess (don’t squeeze) to encourage more of the core to come out. Use tweezers to pull out as much as you can. If the abscess is large and hard, you may need the assistance of a sharp knife, such as a surgeon’s scalpel or an X-Acto knife, to scrape or peel it out. Repeat the soaking and core scraping as needed, working gently and taking your time until the abscess has been thoroughly cleaned.

Rinse out the abscess with Betadine, saline wound wash, or sodium hypochlorite (Dakin’s Solution). After the abscess has been cleaned out, pack it with an antibacterial ointment, such as Neosporin. Cover the foot with a gauze pad, secured with first-aid tape or thin strips of vet wrap, taking care not to make the wrap too tight.

Repeat this procedure every two or three days while the abscess heals. Meanwhile, house the chicken in a warm, safe, clean environment with plenty of water and adequate nutrition.

Chicken Foot PRoblems

Could It Be Gout?

Gout is not a specific disease, but rather a sign of serious kidney dysfunction. It is a complex form of arthritis in which urate crystals accumulate in the joints, causing inflammation in the hock and foot joints. The resulting swelling, deformity, and sores may be mistaken for other chicken foot problems such as bumblefoot or a severe case of scaly leg mite.

Bumblefoot differs from gout in occurring as a single sore at the bottom of the foot (occasionally with lesser sores under or between toes) and usually affects only one foot, while gout typically affects both. Scaly leg differs from gout in resulting from deposits under individual scales, rather than around joints under the skin. Unlike both bumblefoot and scaly leg, gout has no sure cure. But you can take measures to prevent this chicken foot problem and to make an affected bird more comfortable.

Gout in chickens takes one of two forms — articular or visceral. Articular gout may result from a genetic defect that causes the kidneys to function improperly,  but may also be triggered by a diet that is too high in protein. It is more common in cocks than in hens, generally doesn’t appear in birds until they are at least 4 months old, and usually affects individuals rather than an entire flock.

The usual sign is swollen joints of the feet and toes, resulting in lameness and shifting of the weight from leg to leg to relieve discomfort. Because of the swelling, the bird is unable to bend its toes. The feet may redden and blister, and the blisters may develop into sores. Because walking is painful, the bird may spend a lot of time sitting in one place, grooming excessively.

Since articular gout makes walking and perching uncomfortable, installing wide roosts and keeping the bird’s toenails clipped both help reduce discomfort. A chicken that doesn’t want to walk may need to be encouraged to spend time outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air.

Visceral gout is more common than articular gout and affects both hens and cocks. It has many causes including water deprivation; excess dietary protein; moldy feed; high-calcium layer ration fed to growing pullets; electrolyte excess or deficiency; prolonged use of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda in drinking water to relieve heat stress); kidney-affecting diseases, such as infectious bronchitis and intestinal cryptosporidiosis; exposure to toxic chemicals, including cleaning products; overuse of antibiotics, particularly gentamicin and related aminoglycosides, and sulfa drugs. Either tumors or kidney stones can obstruct the ureters, causing urates to accumulate in the kidneys and other organs.

Although visceral gout does not always cause swelling of the feet and toes, when it does, it can be difficult to distinguish from articular gout. However, unlike articular gout, which affects the joints, visceral gout involves internal organs and gradually progresses into kidney failure and death.

Neither form of gout has a known cure. A veterinarian may recommend a urine acidifier, such as ammonium chloride (commonly used to prevent urinary stones in male goats) or DL-methionine (a common ingredient in commercially prepared non-organic poultry feeds). Natural sources of the amino acid methionine include fish meal and oilseed meal such as safflower, sesame, or sunflower meal. Adding apple cider vinegar for chickens‘ drinking water is not helpful as an acidifier — because the chicken’s natural stomach acid is much more acidic than vinegar — but it does make the water taste better to chickens and thus encourages drinking.

Encouraging water intake flushes the bird’s system with moisture, increasing the amount of urates expelled and reducing the amount retained in the body. To encourage an affected bird to increase its moisture intake, change the drinking water often, furnish warm water in winter and cool water in summer, and offer moisture-laden fruit and vegetable treats such as fresh sprouts, bits of apple, or slices of watermelon.

Have you dealt with chicken foot problems? How did you treat them?

Gail Damerow is the author of The Chicken Health Handbook and several other books on poultry keeping.

Originally published in Backyard Poultry February/March 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

20 thoughts on “A Guide to Recognizing and Treating Chicken Foot Problems”
  1. Hi I have a 5 day old chick and it’s foot is all floppy and doesn’t walk on it flat ,what could it be ? I’ve tried massaging it be she walks on it like it’s on its side is there anything I can do to get it right
    Thanks martin

  2. One of my chickens is walking on her elbows (dont knkw the chicken term for it lol) and laying down a lot. We have her separated from the other chickens for now. They are 3 or 4 months of age. Not laying eggs as of yet. Her feet do look a bit swollen. Buy shes still eating and moving her head around just fine. Not favoring either leg more than the other. Any suggestions as to what it could be?

    1. Hi Victoria, have you inspected the bottoms of her feet to see if there are any injuries or round scabs? Are the scales on her legs raised? It sounds like something happened to her feet, but if you can see any other signs or injuries, that would help decide what to do next.

      1. I have not actually looked at the bottums but I didnt feel anything abnormal they do look a bit swollen. But from what I can tell no obvious injuries that i know of

    2. Sometimes a chick can hatch without being able to stand. If it is what I have had before in a couple of chicks, I fixed it in a sock overnight, and that seemed to make it able to stand. I did do this soon after it had hatched, but maybe if you tried something like it it would work.

      1. We just had achick hatch like this. Only abnormality is short outside toes. Other than that it moves around just doesn’t stand. How did u fix this?

  3. My chickens leg got tangled very tightly for a day and leg is swollen to the point it’s lightly bleeding. I soaked leg with warm water and Epsom salt. After, I layed her belly up to relief pressure from leg and put drops of oxygen peroxide to the inflammation area. What else can I do?

  4. I’ve one month old chicks they’re all good before but now I’ve noticed there elbows are sollen and some of them walk like they can’t lift there body weight and can’t stand properly as other chicks. I massaged there legs but it didn’t work.
    What else can I do do?

  5. Hey can you help me in swallon joint leg of my 4 months old roaster cause by cat in attempt to hunt down. I save him, there are few wounds that I manage to cure but the swallon joint is seems to be nervous for him although there is no wound on joint. But it is swallow like air around joint. Please help me what I do.

    1. Hi Hammad, if there are no visible wounds, then your best protocol would be to put the rooster in an area where he can rest while still being able to conduct his healthy activities. This would probably be a small, enclosed area where he doesn’t have to worry about cats or other roosters, but where he can eat, drink, dustbathe, and peck normally. The swelling should go down soon. Good luck!

  6. i have treated my chicken for scaly leg mites. it was a severe case and after soaking in soapy water and applying oil and vaseline a few times all the scales fell off leaving the skin exposed. the chicken will still not stand on both feet at the same time. will anything help regrow scales?

  7. Good say.
    I want to treat my Silkie for early onset of bumblefoot.
    How do I wrap the feet with all these hard foot feathers all over the place?
    Do I cut them off or pluck them out?
    Which option will ensure no pain and no bleeding?
    Many thanks.

    1. Hi Terrijeanne,
      I’m sorry to hear about your Silkie. If the feathers are getting in the way and introducing bacteria into the freshly cleaned wound, then I would certainly trim them. Plucking would cause even more pain, so just trim them with scissors. The feather shaft close to the skin can be vascular and actually bleed, so keep styptic powder or cornstarch handy in case that happens, or just rim the softer barbs. Good luck, and I hope your chicken heals.

  8. I have a chicken with what seems to be a wonky toe. It seemed to have appeared over night, I suspected an early case of bumblefoot so I treated for that with warm water & epsom salts, then a flush, silver ointment and gauze and vet wrap. Initially it improved, then it stopped improving so I stopped with the treatments. She has no pain walking or when I feel it, but it looks crooked now. Any idea of what it could be or could have been that would leave such remnants?

    1. Hi Alexa, it could be that she broke the toe, perhaps from fighting or catching it in something. If the foot hasn’t swollen, you don’t see a sore or scab, and she doesn’t appear to be in pain, then it will probably just be a crooked toe for the rest of her life.

  9. I have a chicken whom I believe to be 3 years old and has had no health problems beforehand that I know of. She has been holding her foot up for the past few days and there is this spot on her foot where it’s like on her toe joint thing and it looks to be little bit swollen. It appeared right after we put our roosters upstairs with our hens because apparently the roosters like the cold and decided not to go upstairs. Some of our hens are also acting a little on edge and there is one who like is losing her back feathers and such. There was also a small flock of wild birds that decided that they would hide from the weather in the chicken coop so they could have also caused it. I would like to know what I should do about this predicament.

    1. Hi Anna, I recommend looking at that sore spot to see if there’s a scab. If so, proceed with bumblefoot treatment to remove the infection. This story has a great tutorial on the procedure. Good luck!

  10. My rooster has a swollen foot, but it’s only his pad, and there are no marks of any kind. I have done epsom salt soaks for two days. Asking for any suggestions on what to do?

  11. My 2 wk old chick has an appendage toe coming out of her elbow she walks fine but it’s very long. Can I remove it how to fix it

  12. Hi thank you for your wonderful page. I am hoping you can help me. My chicken has a swollen foot. She has no problem walking on it and is completely happy. Her other foot is fine. Her foot doesn’t have a scab on it. Her foot is hot. I took her to the vet but they don’t know what is wrong with her. I don’t know what to do to help her as it doesn’t appear to be any of the issues listed. If you could help that would be amazing. Many thanks.

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