How To Treat Chicken Scaly Leg Mite

Updated May 12, 2023

A normal chicken’s leg is a thing of wonder: shiny, evenly spaced scales completely cover the leg and top of the foot, giving you the unmistakable reminder that chooks are really little pet dinosaurs.

You know a normal leg when you see one, but it’s harder to notice when it’s not. Scaly leg in chickens often goes unrecognised in flocks until it either gets bad, or you end up at the vet for another reason.

Signs Of Scaly Leg

Scaly leg is caused by a microscopic mite that burrows in the outer layer of the skin. It causes rough, hard whitish crusts and spurs on the feet and legs. Darker areas are the result of the skin cracking and bleeding. The normal shiny scales are typically completely absent.

The Cnemidocoptes mite also affects Budgies, where it causes a crumbly honeycomb appearance to the bill, and canaries, causing long spurs on the legs.

How Chickens Catch Scaly Mite

Most chickens get scaly mite from new introductions to the flock. Therefore you should always check the legs of each new chicken carefully.

However, it’s also possible for wild birds to transmit the mite. This is yet another reason to do everything you can to exclude birds from your chickens’ feeding and roosting areas.

I am personally dubious about stories of the mite coming in on inanimate objects like bedding. My personal view is that cases where the mite suddenly appears in a closed flock are best explained by a subclinical infection of the mite, just like we see with Guinea Pigs.

Treatment Of Scaly Mite

There are many folk remedies you can read online for scaly mite. Most of these rely on the regular application of something that asphyxiates the mites such as petroleum jelly. Another alternative is dipping the feet and legs in surgical spirit weekly.

My view is that these treatments do not completely eradicate the infestation. The symptoms certainly improve, but there seem to always be a few mites that survive.

In my experience, scaly mite is best treated with ivermectin. However, this drug is not approved for chickens, and it is uncertain how long after treatment that eggs may be safely eaten.

In Australia Injectable ivermectin is only available in forms for cattle and sheep, and should only be administered by a vet. There are three reasons why:

  • The strength of livestock medicines makes overdosage extremely likely
  • Ivermectin is a drug with legal restrictions on its sale & storage
  • Withholding periods need to be followed closely

The last point is perhaps the biggest disadvantage of using any systemic medications on chickens. Ivermectin is fat-soluble, and will accumulate in egg yolks, which take around 30 days to form. Therefore, to be safe, we routinely double this as the withholding period.

Eggs from chickens treated with ivermectin should not be eaten for two months. Therefore you may want to time the treatment to coincide with a broody period. However, most chickens can’t wait that long.

Treatment Protocol & Success

Ivermectin can be given either orally, on the skin, or as an injection. Personally, I only use it as an injection, and so will you!

Once you see how easy it is to give a chicken an injection, you’ll wonder why you did it any other way. Injections are quick, precise, accurate and effective. With a fine insulin needle, they’re also probably less stressful than other ways to medicate.

I suspect that my bias towards injections is why I have never experienced a treatment failure. A course of ivermectin injections will also treat lice, and worms other than tapeworm.

Every chicken must be treated simultaneously to eradicate the mites. Due to a legal requirement to only treat animals ‘under our care’, you will need to bring in all the chickens for the first visit. Only a single consultation fee is charged if there are no other problems.

We will show you how to give the first dose, and even get you to do one. Then we are happy to supply the following doses to be given at home. However most people prefer us to give each course, and that’s OK too.

Three doses of ivermectin are given at exactly 14 day intervals. The second and third doses are to kill newly hatched mite eggs before they lay eggs of their own.

Lastly, it’s a great idea to do a major spring clean of the coop, run and yard, paying special attention to roosting areas. In theory this isn’t necessary, but you have to do it sometime, so why not now. Muck out the old litter, and scrub or pressure hose roosts, walls and flooring.

Within a few weeks, the crusts and scabs start falling off. After a few months you’ll have those lovely shiny legs back again.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

8 Replies to “How To Treat Chicken Scaly Leg Mite”

  1. Hi. I have treated my girls as per instructions. How long before the legs and feet should heal properly? Thanks.


  2. Hi, this article is awesome I’m so glad I came across it!
    how much ivermectin would I give orally? I live in a very small town and they don’t treat chickens. I was given some for gapeworm a while ago and I have some left. I have one too with a bad case of scaly leg mites, it’s pretty serious.
    Yesterday I soaked his feet for 20 minutes in Dawn dish soap and applied A&D ointment, according to my Google search I can do this for a few weeks, once a day? And he should survive? He’s not limping but it looks really bad
    none of the other ones are showing symptoms I left for 3 weeks and came back with him in this condition he has since been quarantined, I plan on cleaning everything today and treating all the birds. I have silkies, so it’s hard to see their feet through all their feathers!

    1. Hi Sherryl. Thanks for reading. The purpose of this article is to get chickens treated more effectively by using ivermectin. However the disadvantage of this is the extremely long time during which the ivermectin remains present in the eggs and meat. Too many people fail to consider the human health implications of treating their chickens. Therefore you need a vet to guide you, even if only via telephone, who is aware of your local laws.

  3. Hi
    I have just treated my 3 bantam hens with ivertmectin. I was told to repeat in another 1month- so next dose will be 6 th October. Do I need to withhold eggs for 4 months after the final dose?
    Are the girls likely to pick up scarlet leg again? We do have a lot of wild pigeons.
    Kind regards

    1. Hi Trudy. Well done for asking about withholding periods especially in the COVID age of people taking the same drug at breathtakingly high doses. I always recommend a minimum two month withholding as a minimum but since the drug is unlicensed in chickens and residue levels have not been studied, four months is even better. By the way, I always repeat the second dose at two weeks as I think that by four weeks some of the hatched eggs are laying eggs themselves.
      From my experience it only comes back if you introduce a new chicken who is a carrier, which is very easy to do.

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