Attention! This is a potentially life-threatening condition for your bird and/or flock. Time is of the essence, contact your veterinarian immediately.Find me a Vet

Leg Fracture

Broken Leg

Leg fractures are a painful traumatic injury, occurring sporadically in chickens. If a fracture is suspected, it should be stabilized before moving the bird. There are several different materials and methods used for fracture stabilization of a chicken's leg bone. In order to be effective, the external coaptation device used for the splint must be placed in such a way as to have the ability to immobilize the joint above and below the fracture. The bandaging materials should be soft, pliable, and made from materials that do not adhere to the birds feathers. Cast padding is an ideal base material, with self-adherent materials used for the outer layer. Once the bandage is in place, it should be periodically monitored to ensure it fits properly and is not too tight or too loose.

If you suspect that your chicken's leg may be broken, the best course of action is to bring them to your veterinarian, who would be able to take radiograph images to assess the nature of the fracture. An good example case that demonstrates the process by which veterinarians go through is Neptune, who is an ex-battery hen who sustained two broken legs.

Fractures can differ with respect to the number of bones involved, the location of the break, whether it is open or closed, its shape, and chronicity. The presence of any skin wounds is usually indicative that it is an open fracture. The type of fracture will often dictate the type of recommended therapy and stabilization procedures used. Some birds may require surgery, while others may only require bandaging and a period of rest and physical therapy. Any fractures which occur near a joint will usually result in decreased range of movement and normal limb function upon recovery due to ankylosis. Open fractures are more at risk of a secondary infection, resulting in osteomyelitis. If fractures are properly aligned correctly by an avian veterinarian, birds in general, tend to heal faster than other animals, and can potentially heal within 2 to 3 weeks.

Nonsurgical immobilization of fractures
This method of treatment consists of fracture stabilization, rest, supportive care, and physical therapy. Without properly alignment of fractures and the use of this method instead of going to the veterinarian, will likely require a longer period of rest and bandaging. The bird should be closely monitored on a daily basis and will require weekly bandage changes with physical therapy sessions.

Types of Stabilization Methods
  • Figure-of-eight wing bandages: This method is best used for fractures of the elbow or carpal joint, or in small or very young chicks. It is important not to apply this bandage too tight.
  • Schroeder-Thomas Splint: This method is best used for fractures involving the tarsometatarsus (shank) and hock joint. It is developed from a wire or rod material, used to produce two right-angle bends next to the ring at the top of the splint, so that it runs parallel to the long axis of the leg.
  • Robert Jones Bandage: This method is best used for simple fractures involving the hock joint. It required heavily padded leg bandages that can be used with or without additional splinting material. Materials used for an external coaptation device various, however to be effective, it must be firm enough to provide support, and can include human orthopedic molds (orthoplast, hexcelite), wood applicator sticks, tongue depressors, aluminum rods, or similar such material.
Complications
Leg fractures that alter weight-bearing in one or both feet can predispose the chicken to developing bumblefoot and arthritis.

Symptoms

Lameness
Reluctance to move or stand
Pain on palpation

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs

Treatment

MethodDetails
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Stabilization, rest and physical therapyMay be all that is needed only in very mild cases, however the only way to confirm this is to obtain radiograph images by visiting your veterinarian.
SurgeryPerformed only by a veterinarian, and is recommended in most fracture cases in birds.
Rehabilitation/PhysiotherapyChicken wheelchair or sling

Prevention

  • Be gentle when handling chickens, and NEVER try to catch them by their legs when they are running.
  • Minimize risk of impact injuries
  • Don't allow chickens to go out in pastures with horses unsupervised, as even the tamest of horses can spook and accidentally step on them.
  • Be mindful of where chickens are relative to doorways, especially when wind is present.

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Risk Factors

  • Improper or rough handling by a human
  • Accidentally stepping on chickens
  • Kicked or stepped on by a horse
  • Trampled by other flock members due to scary event
  • Flying or running into a solid object
  • Getting caught in a portion of the enclosure and freaking out
  • Excessive egg laying
  • Vitamin deficiencies

Patient Cases