Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens: Symptoms & Treatment

Rooster with scaly leg mites standing on stool
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Scaly leg mites are microscopic parasites that burrow under the scales of chicken legs, which causes irritation and damage to the affected areas.

As they feed on the keratin in the skin, they create a crusty appearance on the chicken’s legs, a condition known as scaly leg disease or knemidocoptiasis.

This condition spreads easily among chickens through direct contact, which makes it a concern in flocks. While not life-threatening, scaly leg mites can lead to severe discomfort and infections in chickens if left untreated.

Causes of Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens

Close up of chicken legs affected by scaly leg mites
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Scaly leg in chickens is mainly caused by a tiny parasite called Knemidocoptes Mutans. These mites often find their way into a chicken flock through wild birds and rodents, which act as carriers.

Although these mites can’t live very long without a host, conditions like poor hygiene, overcrowding, and dampness in the coop can make it easier for them to spread from one chicken to another.

Hence, taking care of where the chickens live is just as important as looking after the chickens themselves to keep these pesky mites away.

Signs and Symptoms of Scaly Leg Mites

If left untreated, scaly leg mites in chickens can lead to various symptoms that can affect their health and comfort. Here are the key symptoms to look out for:

  • Crusty Scales: Chickens with scaly leg mites will have legs that look crusty and scaly, not smooth like they should be. This happens because the mites burrow into their skin and scales.
  • Itching and Irritation: If your chickens have scaly leg mites, you’ll see them pecking at their legs a lot. This behavior is a response to the itching and irritation caused by the mites.
  • Swollen Legs: Scaly leg mites can cause the chickens’ legs to swell as the infestation worsens. This swelling can hinder their ability to walk or perch comfortably.
  • Lameness: In severe cases of scaly leg mites, chickens may experience lameness. The pain and damage caused by the mites can make it difficult for them to walk or use the affected leg.
  • Behavior Changes: Due to the discomfort caused by the mites, chickens with scaly leg mites might show changes in their behavior, such as increased irritability or decreased activity.

Regular inspection of your chickens for these symptoms is important for early detection and treatment.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s crucial to start treatment quickly to ensure the health and comfort of your chickens and prevent the spread of mites to other birds in the flock.

How to Treat Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens

Chicken with scaly leg mites standing on towel
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There are several ways to effectively treat scaly leg mites in chickens, each with its own approach. Below is a detailed look at some common treatments:

Petroleum Jelly

Using petroleum jelly is a gentle and effective way to treat scaly leg mites in chickens. When I first encountered scaly leg mites on my chickens, I opted for a soothing foot soak as the initial step.

I prepared a warm water bath mixed with Epsom salt, which I’d learned was excellent for softening those hard, crusty scales and soothing their irritated skin.

It was amazing to see how it relaxed them, almost like they were enjoying a mini spa treatment. This step not only prepared their legs for the petroleum jelly application but also seemed to relieve their stress.

After soaking, gently dry their legs off and put a generous amount of petroleum jelly all over their legs and feet. The jelly acts as a barrier, suffocating the mites and providing relief to the irritated skin.

You’ll need to keep putting it on daily until their legs look normal again, which may take a few months for mild to moderate cases.

Pro Tip: Combine two tablespoons of sulfur powder with half a cup of petroleum jelly to create a more powerful mite-treating mixture. Sulfur is effective in managing parasites in poultry, which makes this blend an excellent choice for treatment.


For more severe infestations, Ivermectin is an excellent option. It’s available in oral or injectable forms and should be administered under veterinary supervision.

Vets typically recommend a dosage of 0.2 mg/kg per bird, which should be given once every two weeks.

Ivermectin works by paralyzing and killing the mites. However, it’s important to be cautious with the dosage, especially for chickens you might eat or get eggs from.

Since Ivermectin’s withdrawal time in birds kept for meat or eggs is unknown, it should be used sparingly.

For more information on how to treat scaly leg mites in chickens using Ivermectin, check out this video:

Treating Scaly Leg Mites | Chicken Husbandry Series

Gasoline and A&D Ointment

The gasoline and A&D ointment method is recommended by Dr. Michael Darre, a professor and extension poultry specialist from the University of Connecticut. It involves dipping the affected legs in gasoline, followed by an application of A&D ointment.

On the day after the gasoline treatment, apply only the A&D ointment. Then, on the third day, repeat the process with both gasoline and ointment for maximum effectiveness.

The gasoline kills the mites and suffocates the eggs, while the ointment helps in healing. This treatment is quick and effective but should be used with caution, especially if the skin is damaged.

Pro Tip: For more effective scaly leg mite treatment, apply remedies at night when chickens are calmer and less active. Nighttime is ideal for treatments like petroleum jelly and other ointments, as chickens roost and are less likely to rub it off.

How to Prevent Scaly Leg Mites in Your Flock

Scaly leg mites can be a big problem for your chickens, but you can protect them by taking the necessary precautions. Here are some effective prevention strategies you can use:

  • Clean the coop regularly: Keeping the chicken coop clean is essential in preventing scaly leg mites. Remove waste, change bedding frequently, and use a poultry-safe disinfectant to keep the environment clean and mite-free.
  • Keep the coop dry: Scaly leg mites like damp places, so make sure your coop is dry and well-ventilated. This makes it less inviting for mites.
  • Quarantine new chickens: Always quarantine new chickens before introducing them to your flock. This helps stop any scaly leg mites they might have from spreading to your other chickens.
  • Regularly check your chickens: Inspect your chickens’ legs regularly for any signs of scaly leg mites. Eliminating these mites as soon as possible can make a big difference.
  • Keep wild birds and rodents out: Since wild birds and rodents can bring scaly leg mites into your coop, try to keep them away. Use measures like bird netting and rodent control to minimize their contact with your chickens.
  • Use natural mite repellents: Things like diatomaceous earth or dried herbs can help keep scaly leg mites away. These can be added to dust baths or sprinkled around the coop.

By doing these things, you can greatly reduce the chances of scaly leg mites making a home in your coop.

When to Seek Veterinary Help

Chicken scaly legs with visible mites
Image credit: neinor / Instagram

Sometimes, home remedies and over-the-counter treatments for scaly leg mites just don’t work, and that’s when a vet can really help. They can offer stronger medications and recommend the best way to get rid of those mites.

Also, if your chickens seem to be in pain, like if they’re limping or constantly pecking at their legs, they’re probably very uncomfortable. A vet can help make them feel better.

Furthermore, if you see any signs of infection, such as swelling, open wounds, or other indications of a more serious health issue, you definitely need to see a vet. Infections can get serious if they’re not treated properly.

Remember, getting early help can stop the mites from causing bigger health problems for your chickens. If you’re worried about how they’re doing, don’t hesitate to seek veterinary assistance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Rooster scaly leg mites in bathtub
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Are Scaly Leg Mites Harmful?

Scaly leg mites are indeed harmful to chickens. These tiny pests can cause pain and distress to chickens by burrowing under their skin and scales.

Over time, this can lead to crusty legs, infections, and even lameness. If these mites are ignored for too long, they can make chickens really sick and weak, making them more vulnerable to other diseases.

Does Ivermectin Treat Scaly Leg Mites?

Ivermectin works very well against scaly leg mites. It works by paralyzing and killing the mites, which helps get rid of the symptoms and stops them from spreading.

Its effectiveness was highlighted in a 2016 case study where a peafowl with severely scaly legs was given an oral dose of Ivermectin.

Remarkably, the treatment completely cleared the visible lesions in just 28 days, showing just how good Ivermectin is at treating scaly leg mites in birds.

Does Vaseline Work for Scaly Leg Mites?

Vaseline can be a helpful home remedy for treating scaly leg mites in chickens. When you rub it on their legs, it forms a barrier that suffocates the mites. This can soothe the irritated skin caused by the mites.

But remember, Vaseline isn’t a cure-all. It’s better to use it along with other treatments your vet suggests, as it’s more about soothing the problem than fixing it completely.

What Happens If You Don’t Treat Scaly Leg Mites?

If you don’t treat scaly leg mites in chickens, their legs can turn really crusty and swollen, which can be very painful and make it hard for them to walk.

Over time, this can cause serious infections and potentially lead to deformities in the legs.

Moreover, all that itching and discomfort can stress them out, which isn’t good for their overall health or for egg production. So, it’s really important to treat them as soon as you can.

Can Humans Get Scaly Leg Mites From Chickens?

Humans generally don’t need to worry about catching scaly leg mites from chickens. These mites are specialized parasites that mainly target birds’ legs and feet; they cannot survive or thrive on humans.

However, it’s always a good practice to maintain proper hygiene and take precautions when handling chickens or their environments to prevent any potential health issues.

Scientific References

A Murillo, B Mullens Diversity and Prevalence of Ectoparasites on Backyard Chicken Flocks in California. Journal of Medical Entomology (2016)

A Murillo, B Mullens Sulfur Dust Bag: A Novel Technique for Ectoparasite Control in Poultry Systems. J Econ Entomol. (2016)

C Sreedevi, et al. Occurrence of Knemidokoptes mutans and Laminosioptes cysticola in Backyard Poultry in India Journal of Parasitic Diseases (2015)

R Axelson, DVM. Knemidokoptic Mange or Scaly Leg and Face Disease in Birds Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center (2017)

Siti Aminah Y, et al. A Case Report of Scaly Leg Mite in Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) ResearchGate (2016)

Srinivasan, et al. Scaly Leg in Nondescript Breed of Backyard Reared Chicken ResearchGate (2014)

S Salahuddin, et al. Scaly Leg in Backyard Reared Chicken and its Successful Management The Indian Journal of Veterinary and Biotechnology (2017)

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