What is Scaly Leg Mite?
Shocking facts - Scaly Leg Mite is a microscopic mite which burrows under the scales of the legs and feet of a bird. They are grey 8-legged mites with flat, round bodies.
These mites will spend their entire lives on the host, once they have acquired one, burrowing tunnels underneath the skin, reproducing, defecating, and feeding on the connective tissue.
Life Cycle of a Scaly Leg Mite
They have a life cycle of 10-14 days so need to be treated as soon as possible. Usually, they are spread through direct contact with infected birds, or the ground they have been on, and can be found on many different breeds of domesticated fowl and wild birds.
This tiny mite can live in the ground or sometimes on the floor of the henhouse in damp conditions.
It then burrows under the scales of the bird's legs or feet, where it causes great discomfort. It may also infest other areas such as the comb or wattles of chickens.
It doesn’t only affect poultry, any scaly-legged bird is susceptible e.g. small garden birds, and these birds can often carry the mite into your chicken run.
Recognising Scaly Leg Mite
The mite causes a defensive multiplication of the tissue cells and the secretion of a serum in the host bird. The scales are raised, and the legs become thickened with a rough lumpy appearance, often showing what would appear to be a white growth on the leg.
The infection is easily recognised because of the raised scales although the mite is hard to see with the naked eye, they look like tiny white spherical creatures approximately 0.25-0.5mm in diameter in the early stages.
How does it affect birds?
It is highly contagious and affects birds of all ages, although older birds and feathered leg breeds tend to be more susceptible. It is most common in flocks kept on bare earth or damp ground.
In the early stages it would appear to cause very little problem, but should it be neglected the birds lose condition, go lame and have difficulty in perching.
Any treatment of a bad infestation will not be quick, it will require a few weeks of constant treatment until finally the encrustations fall off and the scales return to normal.
See also our AskPhill Video on Dealing with Scaly Leg Mite
How can I treat Scaly Leg Mite in my Chickens?
There are a number of spray treatments or ointments for birds with Scaly Leg infestation.
One very effective treatment is Nettex Scaly Leg Remover as it comes in a handheld spray bottle which makes it easy to apply. It contains ingredients that will smother the mite, soften the hardened scales and soothe the legs. Spray once a week. Its natural oils remain on the scales to help prevent further infestation.
Petroleum Jelly can also be used to smother the mites but this needs repeated application. Its use will eventually soften the encrustations and then allow contact with the mites to suffocate them.
If you prefer a more natural treatment or repellent we suggest Barrier Scaly Leg Spray or Barrier Scaly Leg Ointment which contains natural ingredients meaning it is suitable for use in organic farming.
This is best used as a deterrent to prevent infestations from recurring - spraying the legs every 1-2 weeks leaves them with a deterrent coating. If you are treating an existing infestation spray the legs every 5 days to break the egg cycle.
Before such products were available the old-school way was to dip the bird's leg into a jam jar (or similar) of surgical spirit which does kill the mite. However, these days it is frowned upon (as is dipping it in diesel!) as it will be very painful for the bird and therefore we do not recommend it!
Treating the Chicken Coop and Run for Mites
Having treated the birds you should also look at their run area and hen house.
If their ground is soggy and wet then consider covering it in a thick layer of Hardwood Woodchip to keep their feet and legs dry. Regular applications of Ground Sanitising Powder should prevent further infections.
I hope this information helps when treating what has become a relatively common problem for poultry but with the right treatment and some preventative actions your birds will soon get back to full health.
If you have any further queries please do contact us by email email@example.com or our helpline 01300 345229.
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Scaly Leg Mite in Chickens ©Flyte so Fancy 2013. Updated 2022. Author: Anne Weymouth (Director, Flyte so Fancy Ltd). Reproduction of part or all of this text is only possible with the express permission of Flyte so Fancy Ltd.