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Scaly Leg Mite Infestation

Other Names: Knemidocoptiasis, Cutaneous Knemidokoptosis

Scaly leg mites (Knemidocoptes mutans) are a relatively common ectoparasite (external parasite), which affect backyard and free range poultry flocks worldwide.

These mites invade the scales on the legs and feet (less commonly the neck and comb) of their host, resulting in hyperkeratosis, keratosis, and irritation. The damage caused by the mites predisposes the birds to secondary bacterial infections and deformation and loss of toes which can permanently cripple the bird.

Scaly leg mites burrow into the skin on the birds’ legs and top of their feet, where they will spend their entire life cycle (10-14 days) digging tunnels, eating their skin, laying eggs, and leaving droppings behind. One or more flock members might be infected, since the mites will move from bird to bird.

How do I know if my chickens have scaly leg mites?


Healthy chickens have scales that are smooth and flat. Chickens with scaly leg mites will not have scales which are smooth and flat. They will be crusty, and the scales uneven and raised. The skin will be thickened.
Signs of scaly leg mites in chickens
Eventually, the heavy crusting of the scales can start to interfere with joint flexion, resulting in lameness, deformity, and necrosis. In addition, chickens infested with scaly leg mites are at risk of developing secondary bacterial infections and fungal pyoderma.

How do chickens get infected with scaly leg mites?


Scaly leg mites are spread between birds by direct contact with infected flock members. They are initially introduced into the flock through wild birds, rodents, or by already being present within the soil and surrounding environment.

How are scaly leg mites treated?


In order to initially suffocate the mites and help promote growth of new scales, paraffin oil or petroleum jelly (Vaseline) is applied to the legs and feet of each infected bird. Repeated daily until the old, damaged scales have fallen off, and new healthy scales have grown in. Concurrent treatment with ivermectin is also beneficial.

Clinical Signs

Flaking, crusting, scaling, or roughened skin
Uneven or lifting of scales

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Skin culture

Treatment

NameSummary
Paraffin oil, Coconut oil, Shea butter, or petroleum jelly (Vaseline)Apply over the bird's feet and legs.
IvermectinGiven orally or topically in 3 doses at 0.2 mg/kg of body weight, once every two weeks. Two weeks after the first treatment, the scales should be sloughing off, and by the third treatment, new scales should have grown in.
DO NOTEver cut or pick off scales as this can cause damage to the bird's legs and feet.
MoxidectinPour-on or injectable forms are both effective, and available in 0.5% and 1% preparations.
Dergall (in countries where it's available).

Support

Prevention

  • Provide flock with a dust bathing area
  • Maintain a clean environment
  • Keep rodents out of coops
  • Prevent contact with wild birds
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect any tree branches brought in to be used as perches for birds.

Prognosis

Depends on how quick the birds are treated.

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Blogs

Age Range

More likely to occur in older birds.

Risk Factors

  • Feather-legged chicken breeds are more susceptible.
  • Recent relocation to a new environment.
  • High populations of wild birds

Case Stories