One thing any homesteader can appreciate is just how valuable their animals are. We do the best that we can to keep them safe and healthy. Of course, we can’t prevent everything from happening and sometimes they do get hurt or sick.
Chickens, and birds in general, are fragile and can be injured very easily – particularly around their feet and legs. What’s a tell-tale sign of an injury/problem?
Well… limping, for a start and with that in mind, I thought I’d look at some of the possible reasons that your chickens may be limping.
So why is my chicken limping?
There are a number of things that can cause your chicken(s) to limp: injuries to their legs, joint issues, bacterial/fungal infections, parasites, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, and exposure to harmful substances are all possible causes.
Treatments vary depending on the source and extent of the damage, but should be done quickly to ensure success.
Physical Injuries to the Leg
This is an obvious one. If your chicken has an injured leg; it’s going to favor that side. If a bird is picked up by its feet, dropped/falls from a height and lands badly, or stepped on by children/livestock, it can damage the bird’s legs and lead to the development of a limp.
A bacterial infection, bumblefoot starts – usually – with a puncture wound in the footpad. It can also start when a bit of mud or manure gets stuck to the underside of your chicken’s foot.
The infection results in a hard ball of sorts over the wound which leaves the skin underneath moist; allowing bacteria to grow in the wound.
Treatment involves cleaning out the pus from underneath the growth and patching it up with antibiotic sprays and bandages. Bumblefoot should be treated quickly because the longer it goes on untreated; the harder it gets to treat.
Yep, arthritis affects our flock the same way it can affect us. Or rather, it entails the same consequences.
Arthritis and/or other joint-related issues usually result in noticeable inflammation and can make walking painful and difficult. It would need special veterinary treatment and can stem from a bumblefoot infection.
In chickens, arthritis is more likely to result from a viral infection. Infectious arthritis is not always accompanied by swelling in the joints, so you will want to pay close attention to your birds’ mobility and overall health.
Keep in mind that viral arthritis might present no other or seemingly insignificant symptoms and be plaguing your poor chicken.
If a bird seems to be limping, lame, or hesitant to stand or move with no obvious outward signs of injury or discomfort, you cannot rule out arthritis.
If you think one of your chickens might be suffering from arthritis, contact a veterinarian immediately for diagnosis and treatment options.
Scaly Leg Mites
Mites burrow under the scales on your chicken’s lower legs, causing them to be raised, bleed, and become infected. All these factors contribute to making your chicken lame.
Treatment is simple, coat the legs in petroleum jelly or something similar. This is to suffocate the mites and allow the healing process to start.
Alternately, a soak in warm water and Epsom salt can help to reduce irritation and kill mites at the same time. You’ll generally need to hold the affected bird in the wash, though.
Exposure to Toxins / Chemicals
Exposure to toxins can happen in a few different ways. Unhygienic conditions, moldy food, kitchen scraps, and plants are just a few sources from which exposure can occur.
This can cause depression, difficulty with motor functions, and balance, and weight loss. Treatment will vary based on the degree of exposure and the types of chemicals to which your birds were exposed.
Also known as slipped tendon disease or pirosis, this is a disorder that most commonly affects chicks that are still rapidly developing and under 2 months of age.
Usually caused by a variety of mineral or vitamin deficiencies in the diet, specifically manganese, zinc, choline, and niacin, the less commonly through a lack of folic acid.
It results in developmental problems such as shortened leg length, distorted placement of the muscles, or a failure or slip of the Achilles tendon; and typically results in lameness. Other deformities abound in chicks that are still developing in the egg.
It cannot be treated once deformities have occurred during development, but correct nutrition for chicks (and laying hens!) is an easy and essential method of prevention.
Parasitic worms, be they internal parasites or external parasites, don’t usually directly target the legs of a chicken, or the muscles that move the legs, but sometimes strange things happen when these nasty critters end up in tissues that they normally would not reside in.
Sometimes a worm can come unmoored from other tissues in the chicken and travel through the bloodstream, coming to rest elsewhere in the body- like the legs.
In this case, the chicken’s legs may be affected to a greater or lesser degree, and in particular, can suffer terribly when worms end up attacking the large muscle groups or connective tissues in the leg.
Look for a sudden change in the chicken’s attitude along with a gradual loss of mobility. Worm infestation of legs usually displays as weakness and eventually a limp then lameness.
In extreme cases, the condition can lead to total paralysis if the muscles and other tissues of the leg are destroyed.
If you suspect your chicken has worms, or know you have a worm problem in your flock already, you are wise to suspect this as a potential cause of limping.
Anti-worm treatments are always a good idea and usually still effective, though you might need the assistance of a vet to deal with complications from this unusual infection.
Vitamin E Deficiency
All kinds of vitamin and mineral deficiencies can result in lameness in chickens, most particularly in young chicks.
One of these is vitamin E, which is absolutely essential for healthy muscle function in developing chicks. A lack of this vital nutrient results in loss of balance and coordination, legs locked in a straight position and spasmodic movements.
A lack of this important nutrient can cause a type of muscular dystrophy that results in severe and irreparable damage to the skeletal and muscular systems and.
Though reversible if caught early, the damage is permanent when pronounced and you will probably have to cull your chicken.
The best course of action is prevention through a well-rounded diet and vitamin supplementation.
A good quality chicken feed will contain the necessary vitamins and minerals, but if you are unsure whether or not your chickens are getting enough, speak to a vet about specialty vitamin E preparations which can quickly recharge a chicken’s nutrient levels.
Caution must still be taken: too much vitamin E can also be harmful and cause problems, so follow the dosage recommendations on any supplement you use.
Another vitamin and/or mineral deficiency that can likewise occur in human beings, rickets is the result of a lack of calcium, phosphorus, or vitamin D.
This can cause a range of problems in chickens, including deformities of the legs and skull, softening and weakening of bones, and poor muscle development.
It manifests as circling behavior (due to a bad or lame leg), a head twisted around and inability or reluctance to stand.
As with most types of lameness brought on by a nutrient deficiency, this is most likely to manifest in young chickens and chicks, and is sadly the most devastating to them as damage is permanent if the condition is not arrested quickly enough.
And again, as with other vitamin or mineral deficiencies, you should take steps to prevent rickets by ensuring that your chicken’s diet is well-rounded and varied, with plenty of green leafy vegetables and other sources of calcium.
In some cases, a vet can provide special supplements that can quickly correct any deficiencies.
White Muscle Disease
White muscle disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that results from a lack of vitamin E or selenium in the chicken’s diet. It causes progressive and steadily worsening damage to the muscles of the affected bird, leading to weakness, inability to move, and eventually death as the heart fails.
If a bird seems sluggish, weak, or is reluctant to stand and has not been getting a very good diet, you can suspect this as a potential culprit.
White muscle disease is easy enough to prevent with the right nutritional programming, but treatment is tricky, especially if it is caused by a deficiency of selenium: it is very easy to give a chicken too much selenium and kill them that way, even though you are trying to save the poor thing!
Don’t hesitate to enlist the help of your vet for the task, as precise blood work is needed to properly diagnose and then monitor the dosage of supplements for treatment.
By now, I hope you can see just how bad various nutritional deficiencies can be for your flock, but we aren’t done yet. Calcium deficiency in chickens can lead to another lameness-causing condition that you have probably already heard of before: osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a condition that leads to the thinning and weakening of bones, making them more susceptible to fractures. Weak leg bones mean bones that are easily injured, and that will obviously mean limping.
Though it is usually caused by calcium deficiency it can potentially result from vitamin D and phosphorous deficiencies, also. And, you guessed it, the best treatment is prevention: a healthy diet rich in calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D.
For pronounced cases, the assistance of a vet will be needed to deal with resulting injuries and other complications, but it is possible to treat it easily enough on your own with strict attention paid to your bird’s diet.
A genetic condition that results in a pinched spinal cord and all sorts of issues, most notably a strange, crouching posture with upturned feet or a chicken’s actually walking on their hocks instead of their feet.
Seemingly present only in some lineages, it’s most commonly found in broiler-weight birds and other heavy breeds. There is no real treatment for this other than palliative care and making sure the chicken doesn’t further injure themselves.
The good news is that the condition can be eliminated or reduced through good and conservative breeding practices.
A nasty viral infection that attacks the central nervous system of affected birds, this is a condition that plagues young chicks but can also affect adults.
Known for causing weakness, inability to hold the wings up, blindness, and leg paralysis (which may be limited to only one leg) it will quickly decimate flocks of young chicks.
The good news is that there are a few different vaccines available to help protect your flock from this deadly virus, and survivors usually don’t need to worry about infection again.
The bad news: there is no treatment and no cure. Infected birds are often euthanized to prevent the spread of the disease.
Marek’s disease is a highly infectious and too common disease that affects chickens. Causes a host of issues, among them: dilation of the crop, paralysis of limbs (the usual cause of limping), difficulty breathing, lesions on the internal organs, immunosuppression, graying of the irises, discoloration of the comb, and sudden death. Yikes!
Luckily, vaccination is effective at preventing the worst of the symptoms in most birds, but any bird that is infected will carry, and shed, the virus for life.
Worst of all, this disease was such a plague upon the poultry industry that mass vaccination, worldwide, is now standard practice, and as a result, the surviving strains of the virus are highly evolved and even deadlier.
Today, most birds that contract this super-virus will die if they are not already vaccinated. Get your chickens vaccinated as early as they can if you want to protect them from this contagion!
A bacterial infection that often strikes when chickens are young, it results in nasty, weeping sores, discoloration of skin and scales on the legs, and eventually loss of muscular coordination. A limp from pain or necrosis of tissue will be present early on, of course.
Typically caused by unsanitary conditions, the best way to prevent it is by keeping your flock’s environment clean. If you do have an outbreak, the good news is that it is treatable with a course of antibiotics.
The infection is transmissible to other chickens in the flock, but scientists aren’t quite sure how this happens, so it is best to isolate any chickens that do suffer from it.
Sadly, some chicks are born with major problems right out of the shell, assuming they can break out of their shells.
This is a birth defect that can cause all sorts of problems, most notably deformed legs and hips. These chicks will be unable to stand or walk properly, if at all.
There is no real treatment for this condition, as it is genetic. Although you can take up the challenge of a “special” chick: the best thing you can do for a chicken suffering from congenital lameness is to humanely euthanize them.
These chicks will never be able to lead normal, happy lives and will only suffer if you try to keep them alive.
Keeping Your Birds Safe
Prevention is better than a cure and, considering what the veterinary bill can look like nowadays, that’s especially true when dealing with livestock animals. Keeping your birds in hygienic conditions, and clear of harmful plants and kitchen scraps is a good start.
Handling them properly can prevent injuries to their legs. Proper treatment and care for any issues with your bird’s legs is crucial to making sure that they can walk comfortably.
In closing, I’d like to say thanks for reading – as always. I hope you found this article informative and enjoyable to read. Until next time guys and gals, take care!
Greg spent most of his childhood in camping grounds and on hiking trails. While he lives in the suburbs nowadays, Greg was raised on a small farm with chickens. He’s a decent shot with a bow, and a huge knife enthusiast. Find out more about Greg.