Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens (How to treat them & prevent them)

I have been keeping and breeding chickens for over 20 years, and if there is one thing I have learned over that time, it is that sooner or later you will have to deal with pests and diseases.

There are a number of different pests and diseases that we see on a fairly regular basis when it comes to keeping chickens. Lice, mites, and Scaly Leg Mites are probably the most frequently seen pests.

In this article, I will share some of my experiences treating Scaly Leg Mites in my chickens, and what measures I put in place to prevent them from attacking my hens.

Scaly Leg Mites are microscopic parasites that burrow under the leg skin of chickens where they tunnel under the skin in search of keratin they can eat. Scaly Leg Mites cause chicken irritation and the skin on the chicken’s feet and legs becomes thickened over time, eventually lifting away from the legs and feet.

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What are scaly leg mites?

Scaly Leg Mites are microscopic parasites that will burrow under the skin on a chicken’s legs and feet.

The Scaly Leg Mite (or Knemidocoptes mutans to give it its proper name) burrows under the leg skin in the search for keratin which it eats.

The mite burrows through the skin, making tunnels as it goes. These tunnels irritate the chickens, although it is not thought it actually causes the hens any real pain.

As a result of the tunnels and waste left behind as the mite spreads, the skin on the chicken’s feet and legs becomes thickened and crusty and it can start to lift away from the actual leg itself.

The longer the mite lives under the skin, the more damage it does, and left unchecked the chicken may become lame or even lose some toes altogether.

Scaly Leg Mites can also affect a chicken’s wattles and comb.

Scaly Leg Mites live for around 10 to 14 days, and the majority of Scaly Leg Mites spend their entire lives living on (or in) a single bird, although clearly, a small number do move to another bird, which is how they spread.

Where do scaly leg mites come from?

There are two possible sources of a Scaly Leg Mite infestation in your flock.

The first, and the most likely source of the mites is from wild birds interacting with your chickens. When we build a chicken enclosure, we basically create a haven for wild birds. We place feeders and waterers filled with a never-ending supply of food and water.

As a result, unless we totally net our enclosures, there is a good chance wild birds enter our chicken runs every day.

Wild birds naturally host a population of mites and lice, and they inadvertently spread from the wild birds to our chickens.

The second potential source of Scaly Leg Mites into our flock is the introduction of new hens to the existing flock.

When we introduce a new chicken to an existing flock, the new birds must be quarantined to ensure they are not carrying any unwanted pests or diseases that could spread to our otherwise healthy chickens.

What Are The Symptoms of Scaly Leg Mites?

Fortunately, the symptoms of Scaly Leg Mites are fairly unique, and almost always point towards infection of these microscopic parasites.

The main symptoms of Scaly Leg Mites are;

  • Raised, uneven scales on the legs and feet
  • Rough skin around the legs and feet
  • Chicken struggling to stand still
  • Chickens may be trying to scratch their legs to relieve itchiness
  • Deformed legs or feet
  • Inability to roost
  • Lameness

If you discover any of the above symptoms on one of your hens, be aware that Scaly Leg Mites can spread extremely quickly through a flock, so care must be taken to treat the infected bird, ideally starting by placing it into isolation.

How To Treat Scaly Leg Mites?

In my personal experience, the best way to treat chickens suffering from Scaly Leg Mites is to use the following method.

  • Soak the chicken’s feet and legs in warm water that has a small amount of mild soap added to it. Leave the hen in the warm water mix for as long as she will allow you to.
  • Using a soft toothbrush, gently rub the chicken’s legs and feet to remove as much loose skin as you can. Don’t rub the legs excessively hard, you do not want to hurt her.
  • Rubbing the chicken’s legs with Neem Oil (a naturally occurring pesticide found in the seeds of the Neem Tree) will help loosen the skin and start to kill the Scaly Leg Mites.
  • Before returning the hen to her run, smoother her legs in Olive Oil or Coconut Oil. These oils will smoother the Scaly Let Mites and suffocate them.
  • This process will need to be repeated three to four times a week for around 1 month, or until all the old dry skin falls off, leaving fresh new scales visible.

Remember, Scaly Leg Mites pass easily from one chicken to another. If one of your birds has them, there is a good chance others do too, so you might consider rubbing Olive Oil or Coconut Oil into all of your chicken’s legs as a precaution.

Whilst treating your chickens for Scaly Leg Mites you should actively clean your coop out more frequently, maybe as often as every other day, just be to sure there are no further mites lurking in the nest box or bedding.

When I have battled Scaly Leg Mites in the past, I sprayed the inside of the coop down with white vinegar each time I cleaned the coop out, just to ensure any mites lurking in cracks or crevices were killed.

How to Prevent Scaly Leg Mites?

Preventing Scaly Leg Mites from attacking your chickens in the first place is far better than having to treat an infected flock, however, prevention can be tricky.

In my experience, the best way to prevent your hens from becoming infected in the first place is to follow these basic practices.

  • As Scaly Leg Mites are often introduced by wild birds, netting your entire enclosure will prevent wild birds from accessing your flock.
  • Providing a dedicated dust bath filled with either very fine sand, like chinchilla sand or Diatomaceous Earth will help your chickens rid themselves of many external parasites before they become a major issue.
  • Spraying roosting bars in the coop with white vinegar every time you clean the coop will kill off any mites that are waiting on the bars looking for a new host.
  • As with roosting bars, spraying any branches brought into the enclosure for the chickens to perch on will reduce the chances mites are transferred from wild birds to your chickens.
  • Generally maintaining a clean environment, cleaning the coop, roosting bars, feeders, and waterers on a regular basis will help keep the number of mites and lice down generally.

In Conclusion

An infestation of Scaly Leg Mites can quickly spread through your flock and make life uncomfortable for your chickens.

Whilst these microscopic beasts are easily spread from wild birds to domestic chickens, and then equally easily spread among a flock of hens, they are also fairly easy to diagnose and treat once a chicken is infected.

Preventing Scaly Leg Mites is not easy, but with a bit of effort and some forward planning, the chances of your chickens catching Scaly Leg Mites can be considerably reduced.

If you found this article helpful, why not try another one I wrote recently titled ‘How to Keep Chickens Cool when it’s Really Hot’.


Aaron Homewood

Aaron Homewood is HomesteadSavvy.com‘s poultry editor. Arron has spent over 20 years keeping, breeding, and showing different poultry breeds, including chickens, ducks, geese, and quail.​
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Article Sources:

  1. Neem Oil National Pesticide Information Center