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Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens: Signs, Treatment & Prevention

scaly leg mites in chickens

Do you suspect that your chickens might have scaly leg mites?

Scaly leg mites, also known as Knemidocoptes mutans or “leg mange,” are tiny arachnids that infest the legs and feet of birds, particularly poultry and pet birds.

These mites burrow under the scales on a bird’s legs, causing the scales to lift and separate.

The mites burrow like this to eat the keratin that naturally excretes from the legs.

They tunnel in, which causes irritation in the legs. The scales thicken as a reaction, become encrusted with the keratin, and lift away from the leg.

Usually, this is uncomfortable but not painful, though each individual will react differently to it.

In a nutshell, affected legs appear rough, swollen, and scaly. Be on the lookout for that.

But to further know about scaly leg mites in chickens, read below!

We’ve also included how to treat and prevent it from happening in your flock.

Causes of Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens

Red Poultry Mite

Scaly leg mites are transmitted from chicken to chicken and wild fowl to chicken (and vice versa).

If you let your chickens free-range or out on pasture, a small risk is that they may contract mites from the wildfowl in your area.

In my opinion, the reward of letting them forage for at least a few hours a day is worth the risk—but it’s worth mentioning.

Still, the mites are only transmitted through prolonged contact because the mites won’t live very long without a host.

This makes things much easier for us.

How to Tell If Chickens Have Scaly Leg Mites

Not sure if your chicken has mites?

Here are a few telltale signs to learn and be on the lookout for.

Raised Leg Scales

Scaly leg mites are microscopic, but their presence is eventually visible due to the changes they cause on the bird’s legs.

The legs may develop a crusty appearance (caused by the seeping keratin) with raised scales.

Lameness, Depression, or Isolation

Infected birds may exhibit signs of discomfort, such as leg lameness, swelling, and reluctance to walk.

In severe cases, the infestation can lead to deformities and difficulty in perching.

If the chicken is in enough pain, they may isolate themselves from their flock, sit on the ground in the coop a lot, or seem weak overall.

Fewer Eggs from Hens

Hens who are in distress will naturally lay fewer eggs.

While scaly leg mites don’t directly cause reduced egg production, the stress may affect the hen emotionally and physically.

Do Chickens Shed Their Leg Scales?

Chickens do shed their scales, but this is usually not noticeable because they don’t lose them all at once (like they often do with feathers during a molt).

If your chicken just suffered from a bout of scaly leg mites, you may notice a lot of scales dropping off at all once.

Don’t worry; some new scales will eventually grow back in.

They may look a bit odd, but they will return with time.

clean chicken feet

How to Treat Scaly Leg Mites

There are several options that are available to you.

I will share these with you in the order of effectiveness, from least to most.

With that said, the least effective methods are usually the safest and most affordable, while the most effective are faster but will require you to respect and follow withdrawal periods.

Dish Soap and Vaseline

Mild dish soap is not the most effective solution but can work if you consistently reapply it.

The perk of using dish soap alone is that you don’t need to make any withdrawal of eggs or meat like you need to do with ivermectin.

Another perk of dish soap is that it’s gentle on you and your chickens and does not have any harsh chemicals.

  1. Mix a small amount of mild dish soap with warm water in a large bowl or small bucket.
  2. Place this bucket somewhere comfortable for you to sit near it to hold the chicken.
  3. Pick up the affected chicken, pinning down their wings to the body (because they won’t like being set in the water and will flap their wings around), and set them into the soapy water.
  4. Hold the chicken in the water for at least five minutes, with ten minutes being the most preferable.
  5. After soaking, use a soft brush or toothbrush to gently scrub the affected areas.

Effectivity and Risks

Their legs should be fully covered with the mixture, but their body should be mostly out of the water.

The goal here is to drown and kill the mites.

Be careful not to cause any additional stress or injury to the bird.

Brushing can help remove some of the softened scales and mites.

Some people will stop here, but this treatment is a lot more effective if you can slather the legs up with petroleum jelly (vaseline) to the legs afterward.

This suffocates the rest of the mites, rehydrates the skin, and offers a soothing relief to the chicken.

Repeat the soap water bath and petroleum jelly daily until the leg mites are gone.

This will usually take about a week (or more) to be corrected.

If this method doesn’t seem to work, try another that is more powerful from this list.

Epsom Salt

If the legs are dirty, you can prepare a soapy solution by mixing a small amount of mild soap with warm water.

Dissolve Epsom salt in warm water. Use approximately 1 to 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt per gallon of warm water.

  1. Stir until the salt is completely dissolved.
  2. Gently soak the bird’s legs in the Epsom salt solution for about 10-15 minutes.
  3. After soaking, use a soft brush or toothbrush to gently brush the legs.
  4. Gently pat the legs dry with a clean and soft towel.

Don’t worry. If your chicken has a cut on their foot, this mixture will not hurt them.

They may feel a tingling, but Epsom salt does not cause any burning or pain.

As mentioned in the previous method, be cautious not to cause any additional stress or injury to the bird.

Ensure the legs are completely dry before proceeding to the next steps.

Some people choose to apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly or oil to the legs after using Epsom salt.

This can help create a protective barrier and potentially suffocate remaining mites.

Repeat the Epsom salt treatment every other day for a week or until the condition improves.

Regular and consistent treatment is important to manage the mite infestation effectively.

Vegetable or Mineral Oil and Vaseline

If the legs are very dirty, you can prepare a solution by mixing a small amount of mild soap with warm water.

It will make the oil and Vaseline more effective.

You may want to also dip a soft brush or toothbrush into the soapy water and gently clean the legs.

Gently pat the legs dry with a clean and soft towel before starting with the oil.

The goal of using this oil is to drown the mites, similar to using dish soap.

This option is usually a bit more effective, but it does use more ingredients that are slightly more expensive than plain dish soap.

Wipe the legs with a thick coat of oil, or dip the legs into a vat of the oil.

Vegetable oil or mineral oil (baby oil) is the most common option here because it is the most cost-effective choice.

Peanut oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, avocado oil, and warm coconut oil are also effective, but they cost more and have no additional benefits.

After applying the oil, you can slather on a coat of Vaseline, too.

This is slightly more difficult, but the vaseline will hold in the moisture, drown more mites, soften the scales, and provide quick relief for the bird.

Repeat the vaseline and oil treatment every few days until the condition improves.

This is usually a quicker and more effective treatment than mild dish soap.

Like dish soap, it does not require any withdrawal period.

You can still eat the eggs or harvest the bird for meat without worries or issues.

Vaseline and Sulphur

If the legs are visibly dusty or dirty, you can prepare a mild, soapy solution by mixing a small amount of mild soap with warm water.

This solution can be used to clean the legs before applying the Vaseline and sulfur, making it more effective.

Wipe or scrub the legs (gently) with a soft brush or wash rag.

After you’ve finished this, wipe the legs dry with a towel before moving on to the sulphur and vaseline treatment.

In a small bowl, mix a small amount of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) with sublimed sulfur powder.

The ratio can vary, but a common recommendation is to mix approximately one tablespoon of sulfur powder with four tablespoons of Vaseline.

If you are treating a large portion of (or your entire) flock, remember that 16 tablespoons equals a cup. This is a 4 to 1 ratio.

So, if you need to use a cup of vaseline, add four tablespoons of sulfur powder.

Apply the Vaseline and sulfur mixture to the legs, covering the affected areas thoroughly.

Make sure to get the mixture under the scales where the mites are present; an old toothbrush is great for this.

Repeat the Vaseline and sulfur treatment every few days until the condition improves.

Durvet Ivermectin Pour On De-wormer


Ivermectin is the fastest and most powerful solution for curing scaly leg mites, but it comes with a price (literally!).

You will need to let your chickens go through a withdrawal period after giving this to them.

This means there’s a certain period until you can continue eating their eggs or harvesting their meat.

Please follow the label on your ivermectin box as the bare minimum, and consider waiting past the recommended period if you feel compelled to do so.

Treat the chicken with about 0.1 mg of ivermectin per pound of your chicken’s total body weight.

A five-pound chicken needs a half-milligram (0.5 mg), while 10-pound chickens need 1 milligram.

Most chicken breeds weigh somewhere between one and twelve pounds.

Chicken Breed Weight Guide

If you don’t have a scale, go by your chickens’ breeds.

Gently scrape the ivermectin into their mouth. Be prepared for them to try to push it out with their tongue.

You can also apply it directly to the skin under their feathers, preferably at the back of their neck.

It will be absorbed by the skin, enter the bloodstream, and start to eliminate the mites.

Treat the chicken again fourteen days later.

This option is a lot quicker, but it comes at the cost of being unable to eat their eggs (or meat).

As a general rule, do not eat the eggs or the meat for two weeks after application.

This means you will not be able to consume the chicken products for a full month.

According to this PubMed study, the withdrawal time is slightly shorter for birds given ivermectin orally compared to via the skin.

But, for the sake of safety, wait the full fourteen days no matter how it was given to the bird.

Clean and Disinfect the Chicken Coop

After treating the birds, it’s time to clean the coop. This is ideal when you have your flock on free-range.

If not, you can set up fences and free them long enough to clean their coop.

Luckily, most mites will die quickly if they aren’t on a chicken, but it’s best practice to clean the coop out of an abundance of caution so you don’t have to keep treating the chickens over and over.

Use a Disinfectant

Choose a poultry-safe disinfectant. Some options include quaternary ammonium compounds, hydrogen peroxide, or a commercial poultry coop disinfectant.

Sanitize the Bedding and Waste Materials

Remove all bedding from the coop, such as straw, hay, or wood shavings. Dispose of the used bedding properly.

It is okay to compost these waste materials, so long as your birds are treated with ivermectin and have not been put in here since treatment (their manure is not good for your compost pile).

Use a broom, shovel, and dustpan to sweep and remove any debris, dust, and droppings from the coop.

Pay attention to corners and crevices where mites might hide.

Remove all bedding or liners from the nesting boxes and replace them (if natural materials) or disinfect (if plastic padding or other man-made material).

Clean Surfaces

Scrub all surfaces, including walls, roosts, and nesting boxes, using a scrub brush and a mild soap or disinfectant solution.

If the coop is equipped with removable trays, clean and disinfect them as well.

You can use a pressure washer to thoroughly clean surfaces. If you have painted the inside of your coop, be careful because it might peel the paint.

Apply a poultry-safe disinfectant to all surfaces. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dilution and application.

Make sure to cover all areas where the mites may be present. Read this guide for recommendations on suitable disinfectants.

If you want, you can make an additional Epsom salt solution by dissolving Epsom salt in warm water, as described earlier.

Use a scrub brush to apply the solution to surfaces. Epsom salt is believed to have some antimicrobial properties.

Allow the coop to air dry thoroughly before reintroducing birds or adding new bedding.

clean a coop power wash

Use Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a natural and non-toxic substance that can be used to help control pests in chicken coops, including mites and other external parasites.

Begin by emptying the coop of all chickens, feeders, waterers, and bedding, ensuring proper ventilation.

Thoroughly clean the coop, removing debris and droppings.

Using a powder duster or handheld spreader, evenly apply a thin layer of DE to all coop surfaces, focusing on areas prone to pest hiding, such as cracks, crevices, nesting boxes, and roosts.

Dust the designated dust bathing areas as well. Your chickens will get this powder in their feathers and on their feet, expediting the treatment process.

Reapply DE regularly, especially after cleaning, to maintain an effective barrier against pests.

Allow for good ventilation during application and settling, and ensure the DE is applied in dry conditions for optimal effectiveness.

Once settled, return chickens to the coop, add fresh bedding, and provide food and water.

Remember that using DE will kill your deep litter method; it’s okay. You can start this over once the mite issue is eliminated.

Give Your Chickens More Protein

Keratin is made from protein, and this keratin is used to produce more feathers and scales on your chickens’ legs.

Since your chicken needs to shed and regrow these scales and may be stressed by the mites, it’s a wise idea to add a bit more protein to their diets, at least temporarily.

Good options for increasing protein include:

  • Increased free-ranging time (if foraging is possible). The insects they find will help a lot. If you can’t let your chickens out or have deep snow, give your chickens insects directly in the coop, like bagged mealworms, soldier flies, maggots, or fishing worms.
  • Chick feed. Chick feed has a higher protein content, which is helpful for your chickens as they heal.
  • Feed cooked eggs. Do not give your chickens raw eggs, not because they are dangerous, but because they teach your chickens to eat their own eggs. Eggs are high in protein and will give them that boost they need to mend faster.
  • Feed more meat. Cooked or raw meat will give your chickens a healthy dose of protein, too.

What Happens If Leg Mites Aren’t Treated?

If leg mites in chickens are not treated, the infestation can lead to various negative consequences for the affected birds.

Infected birds experience discomfort, pain, and irritation due to the mites burrowing under the scales on their legs.

This can lead to lameness, reluctance to walk, and overall reduced well-being.

Scaly leg mites are highly contagious. If not treated promptly, the mites can spread to other birds within the flock, exacerbating the problem and making it more challenging to control.

Without intervention, leg mite infestations can become chronic, persisting over an extended period.

Chronic cases are generally more difficult to treat and may damage the affected birds in the long run.

As the mites continue to burrow and feed on the tissues beneath the scales, the scales may become raised, crusty, and deformed.

In severe cases, the legs can exhibit significant structural changes.

Infected hens may experience stress and discomfort, leading to a decline in egg production.

The damaged and irritated skin provides an entry point for bacteria and other pathogens, increasing the risk of secondary infections.

These infections can complicate the condition and may require additional treatments.

While leg mites are usually not fatal, these secondary infections can be fatal and immediate.

Without treatment, chickens may experience severe weight loss, scars on the legs, deformed scales, loss of toes or feet, or even death.

Chickens in a poultry farm

How to Prevent Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens

Preventing scaly leg mites in chickens involves implementing good hygiene practices and proactive measures to minimize the risk of infestation.

Conduct regular inspections of your chickens’ legs and feet.

Look for early signs of scaly leg mites, such as raised scales, crustiness, or swelling.

Early detection allows for prompt treatment and helps prevent the spread of mites.

Clean the Coop Regularly

Maintain a clean and dry coop environment. Regularly remove and replace bedding, clean surfaces, and remove accumulated debris.

A clean environment reduces the likelihood of mites and other parasites thriving.

Part of keeping a clean coop is not overcrowding it.

Avoid overcrowding in the coop, as it can increase stress levels and create conditions favorable for the spread of mites.

Provide adequate space for each bird and monitor flock dynamics.

Keep a Clean Dust Bath Available

Provide your chickens with a designated dust bath area.

Chickens naturally dust bathe to keep themselves clean and to help control external parasites.

Adding sand or diatomaceous earth to the dust bath area can enhance its effectiveness.

Quarantine New Birds, Isolate Sick Ones

Quarantine new birds before introducing them to the flock.

This allows you to monitor their health and prevent the introduction of potential infections or parasites.

If you identify a chicken with scaly leg mites, promptly isolate and treat the affected bird.

This prevents the spread of mites to other members of the flock.

Practice Smart BioSecurity on Your Property

Implement biosecurity measures to minimize the risk of introducing diseases or pests.

This includes controlling visitor access to the flock, using dedicated equipment, and practicing good hygiene when interacting with the birds.

chickens roost outside the coop - chicken roosting bar ideas

Scaly Leg Mite: FAQs

How Do You Treat Scaly Leg Mites on Chickens?

To treat scaly leg mites on chickens, clean the affected areas with warm, soapy water to remove debris.

After drying, apply a treatment such as petroleum jelly, vegetable oil, or specialized veterinary products (like ivermectin) to suffocate or kill the mites.

Repeat the treatment every few days until the condition improves.

Isolate infected birds if necessary, and consult a veterinarian for professional advice.

Are Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens Contagious?

Scaly leg mites are highly contagious among chickens.

They can spread through direct contact or by sharing contaminated living environments.

To prevent the spread of mites, it’s essential to treat all birds in the flock, even those without visible symptoms.

Can Scaly Leg Mites Infect Humans?

Scaly leg mites are specific to birds and do not typically infest humans.

While chickens may carry mites, these parasites are typically host-specific and adapted to avian environments.

Direct transmission from chickens to humans is uncommon, but handling infested birds without proper precautions can cause skin irritation.

To minimize risks, practice good hygiene, wear protective gear, and promptly treat any mite infestations in chickens.

Can Chicken Mites Infect Your Home?

While chicken mites prefer bird hosts, they can temporarily infest human habitats.

Mites may enter homes on clothing or through other means.

To prevent this, practice good hygiene, change clothes after handling chickens, and regularly clean and disinfect coop surroundings.

Prompt treatment of infested birds helps reduce the risk of mites spreading to the home.

How To Get Rid of Chicken Mites in My Coop?

To get rid of chicken mites in your coop, start by cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces.

Remove debris, old bedding, and thoroughly scrub the coop.

Apply a poultry-safe disinfectant or a mixture of water and diatomaceous earth to all surfaces. Consider using dust baths with diatomaceous earth.

Regularly clean and monitor for signs of mites, treating promptly if detected.

Consulting with a veterinarian for specific advice is recommended.

Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens: Before You Go…

It can be very bothersome to see scaly leg mites in your chickens. It’s a good thing that this condition isn’t as fatal as other health problems.

Still, it pays to act quickly at the first sign of leg mites. There are natural (and cheap) remedies to treat scaly leg mites.

You can also invest in ivermectin to ensure fast and effective treatment.

Either way, what matters is to treat and prevent this condition in your flock to keep your chickens happy, healthy, and thriving.


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