Scaly leg mites are a common parasite that lives under the scales of the legs and chickens of feet. Whilst a small infection may seem to cause no trouble to the infected chicken if left it is highly likely that the mite will infect all the other chickens as well. If left indefinitely the mites can eventually build up to such a level on the chicken that it will make the chicken lame. Scaly leg mites will also cause the chicken pain, itchy and discomfort. So… better to remedy the problem sooner rather than later.
The cure is simple if a little inconvenient. It means you will have to catch the chicken and hold it, sometimes upside down, depending on your method of treatment, all of which is highly upsetting to most chickens especially those not used to being handled regularly. Two of our chickens hate being handled but the other one, our little old silky bantam cross, will calmly sit unrestrained on your hand. Although she does get a bit upset about being put on her back which her legs up in the air!
Identification of Scaly Leg Mites
The scales on a chicken’s legs and feet are supposed to be fairly smooth and lay flat, even when the bird is old. If the scales look dry, raised and knobbly looking is a fair bet they have scaley leg mites living and breeding under those scales. The image above is a good example of an early infection that has only affected a small area. A comparison between healthy scales and infected scales (circled) is shown below.
Treatment of Scaly Leg Mite
If your birds are difficult to catch treat them at night after they have returned to the roost. Otherwise they can be treated at any time convenient to you. If one bird is infected treat the whole lot.
Use warm soapy water and a soft brush to clean off any dirt and any scale dust that has accumulated around the scales. Be gentle. You do not want to scrub off the scales themselves. Dry the legs with an old towel.
Then use one of the methods listed below. Repeat the treatments once a week up to daily. The more regular the application the faster the cure. Once all signs of the infestation have disappeared use for another week or two just to ensure the scaly leg mites are totally eradicated and to prevent reinfection. As the scaly leg mites are killed the scales will drop off revealing pink scales/skin below.
Tea Tree Oil
Hold the bird upside down, supported on a flat surface and using a small paint brush paint the area with the tea tree oil. Holding the chicken this way uses gravity to ensure the oil gets right in under each scale. Or, put it into a spray bottle and spray the birds while they are on the perch at night.
Do not use full strength tea tree oil. Us an oil that only has between 5 and 15% tea tree oil in it. Or, dilute stronger oils with vegetable oil so it stays within this strength. This is the method I prefer to use and because we always keep a bottle of tea tree oil in the cupboard.
Olive Oil or Vegetable Oil
Have a cup of oil (or similar) and dunk each foot into the oil for about ten seconds so it is well covered.
For a large flock place a container of olive or vegetable oil in a doorway through which they must pass. Secure a piece of wood across the doorway at a height that will prevent them flying or hopping over the container to avoid the oil. It may be helpful to only put a couple of inches in first to see how they chickens react and check how far up their leg the oil goes.
Once the chickens are used to the container of oil increase the depth of the oil so it covers their leg but does not get their feathers wet or causes any risk of being trapped or drowning.
Vicks and Petroleum Jelly
Rubbing Vicks onto the legs and under the scale works well too. If there are concerns about using Vicks I guess a similar method could be used by mixing a small amount of tea tree oil, cedar oil and eucalyptus oil into some petroleum jelly. It would probably be safest to use no more than about five to ten percent total ratio of oils to jelly.
Nustock comes in a tube and is used for a variety of skin complaints on horses, cattle and dogs. It is made of 73 percent sulphur, 25 percent mineral oil and 2 percent pine oil. A product with that much sulphur might put off some people who don’t like strong smells. A search on the internet showed that this product seems to only need one or two applications. It is also used on fungal infections and wounds.
Perches, Laying Boxes and Chicken Coop
As part of the treatment use the tea tree/olive/vegetable oil or Nustock on the perches. Clean the coop and boxes and spray or paint all the cracks and crevices well. A mix of two parts linseed oil and one part kerosene can also be used for the coop, boxes and perches but not on the chickens themselves.