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Splay Leg

Splay Leg, Spraddle Leg

Splay leg, also known as spraddle leg, is a common leg condition in newly hatched chicks. It affects all chicken breeds--regardless of gender. Splay leg is characterized by the lateral deviation of the hip. It is usually associated with the chick being raised on an unsuitable, slippery floor surface during early growth. It can involve one or both legs, although it typically affects both, causing them to extend outward to the sides of the chick's body. Splay leg severity ranges from mild to severe, and often may take a couple of weeks until it becomes obvious. When chicks are severely affected and both legs are involved, it almost appears like they are performing the splits.

Splay Leg Causes


There are a number of different reasons chicks can develop splay leg, such as:
  • Fluctuations during incubation: High humidity and/or any temperature fluctuations can cause abnormalities in hatched chicks.
  • Hatching-related: The temperature of the incubator while the chick was hatching was too high or low.
  • Inadequate diet for breeders: Chickens intended for breeding purposes require a different diet than those intended for laying. Otherwise, there is an increased risk of malformations and vitamin B deficiencies in the embryos and hatched chicks.
  • Improper floor surface: Growing chicks require a floor surface that provides them with adequate traction to move around, otherwise it causes their legs to slide out from under them and prevents them from developing their leg muscles properly, resulting in splay leg.
When splay leg is so severe that the chick is unable to walk, it puts them at high risk of starving to death or by getting trampled to death by flock mates. These chicks will require supportive care and need to be temporarily separated from the other chicks, at least until they are able to walk on their own again to be able to access water and food. If splay leg is spotted early enough, and with patience and appropriate therapy, the condition can usually be corrected and chicks often can live a normal, healthy lives.

Treatment


The main goal for treatment of splay leg in chicks is to provide them with proper leg stabilization during early growth. There are many different ways to accomplish this--through the use of various materials and restraint methods that can be adjusted periodically to keep up with the growth of the bird.

Clinical Signs

One or both legs splaying outward

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam

Treatment

NameSummary
Hobbling using VetwrapTreating splay leg in chicks using vetwrap
Small container placementRelocate the chick to a small, deep cup or container. Place them inside the cup with tissue paper or small hand towel padding. The intent is to help take pressure off of the legs, and positioning their legs underneath their body, so they are unable to splay outwards.
Hammock-slingSuspend chick in a hammock type sling with its legs hobbled together.
Block of foam splintMake a splint out of a suitable block of expanded polystyrene foam. Create two holes in the foam for placement of the chick's legs.

Prevention

  • Provide chicks with a non-slip surface to walk on, such as a shelf liner or towel. The surface needs to be able to provide traction but also be easy to regularly clean and provide a replacement surface while the other is getting cleaned.
  • Have a backup power source ready to use for incubator in case of power outage
  • Position incubator in a room that stays at a steady temperature without direct sunlight hitting the incubator

Prognosis

If recognized and treated promptly the condition can have a positive prognosis.

Scientific References

Blogs

Age Range

Newly hatched chicks are at risk of developing splay leg

Risk Factors

  • Brooding chicks on a slippery floor surface such as newspaper
  • Extreme fluctuations in temperature during incubation
  • Too high or low temperature during hatching
  • Breeder chickens were on a poor quality diet

Case Stories