Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens: Cause, Treatment and Prevention

Have you ever seen a chicken strutting with feet that are just gnarly and nasty looking? It’s hard to imagine anyone willing to just get near those chickens. They certainly look like they’ve got some disease.

Well, what you’re seeing is the result of the work of mites. They’re tiny but they’re ravenous and very contagious. And if you grow your own chickens, you’d want to know about how to deal with them. Just read on.

What are Scaly Leg Mites?

The Scaly Leg Mite, also known as Scaly Foot, is a super tiny arthropod, a separate family of segmented invertebrates that you know of where the spiders and scorpions are their distant relatives. They’re known in the scientific community as Knemidocoptes mutants.

It’s just that they’re very small. They’re so tiny that they can be just 0.5 millimeters small, hardly visible. Larger scaly leg mites can grow up to 25 millimeters.

They’re round in shape with four stubby legs close to their head-like extension that’s actually its retractable feeding appendage. They don’t seem to have eyes or a brain. But just like many of its relatives, the Scaly Leg Mite is a parasite, engaged wholly in the activity of feeding.

What are Scaly Leg Mites

The Scaly Leg Mite lays eggs, typically under the scales and tissues of bird legs such as the chicken. It’s the very place where these mites thrive. These eggs are laid by female mites and take about two weeks to hatch where they start out as larvae. After a few numbers of molting, they become nymphs. And with a few more molting, they become adults.

These parasites have very short lifespans compared to their arachnid relatives. Their entire life cycle lasts from 10 to 14 days.

Their primary means of dispersal is through their contact and movement of their favored host, which typically include chickens, turkeys, passerines like finches, canaries, sparrows and the psittacines such as parrots, parakeets and budgerigars. They are known to also affect woodpeckers, ducks, geese and swans. Raptors like the hawks get them too.

While they’re primarily found under the scales of bird’s legs, the comb and the wattle, some related specie of the Scaly Leg Mite even feeds on the feather follicles which cause balding. Their primary means of transmission is by prolonged direct contact when birds socialize.

This is particularly so when the parent birds inadvertently infect their young. The mite seems to also get into the surfaces and crevices of any bird’s habitation, prompting chicken growers to sanitize the coop. They are highly contagious.

Effects of Scaly Leg Mites

chicken scaly leg

Once the Scaly Leg Mites crawl in between the scales of a chicken’s legs, they burrow themselves deeper, eating their way through the tissues underneath while slowly tunneling their way around. The life cycle for the scaly leg mites begin. Soon they start laying their eggs.

As these mites burrow and leave behind secretions. This along with their feeding irritate the tissues where these mites live. These, in turn, cause excessive growth of scales. These scaly lesions look crusty and scabby with whitish growths wherever they are infected.

These lead to deformities on their legs and toes as well as on the chicken’s wattles and comb if they get infected too. These deformities on the chicken’s feet can lead to difficulty in walking, irritation, pain and discomfort. And if they are not treated and instead left on their own, the condition can even mean the loss of their toes and, in extreme cases, even death as an indirect result.

These affected parts become sensitive and peeling the crusty white growths can injure the chicken.

These growths themselves are not contagious. It’s the mites that are. Thankfully, these are not the specie of mites that pass on to humans. It’s perfectly alright to touch or handle them as you work on treating your birds.

There’s a way these scabs and mites can be treated in a way that doesn’t have to endanger or irritate your birds. These solutions have been applied by other chicken growers and have seen their effectiveness.

I’ll let you know which ones are often used and which ones you might want to stay away for the safety and health of your chickens. It will certainly help if you carry out the treatment with a companion to assist you – one to hold on the chicken and the other to apply the treatment.

Here’s what you can do to treat them effectively without causing any pain to your chickens.

How Do You Treat Scaly Leg Mites?

scaly leg mites in chickens

There are products available you can buy that specifically treat Scaly Leg Mites on chicken legs and feet. They’re often in handheld spray bottles that make them easier to apply with one hand while you hold on the chicken with the other.

It’s still better if you’ve got an assistant though. These contain active ingredients that kill the mites where they are underneath the leg scales of chickens and soothe their injury. They may have oil that can prevent future scaly leg mite infection.

You can buy these online from $10 to about $32 a bottle from online companies that specially sell agricultural products to hardware stores.

If you’re looking for cheaper alternatives using effective and proven DIY mixes, here are some things you can do.

Treatment 1: Warm Water – Drying – Petroleum Jelly

The most popular DIY treatment applied to treat Scaly Leg Mites on chickens is the use of petroleum jelly. A few initially soak the chicken’s legs and feet in comfortable warm water with soap solution before they dry them with a towel and apply the petroleum jelly.

The idea of soaking the chicken feet in the water is to take out some of the gnarly growths hanging on the chicken legs and feet. Warm water softens them while the soap solution disinfects them. Taking out some of these growths help open up more surface area for the application of petroleum jelly.

You may use gloves if you want to but it is perfectly safe to use your bare hands and fingers to do the petroleum jelly application. The idea of applying petroleum jelly is to basically suffocate the mites that are burrowed under the scales.

Massaging the petroleum jelly in between the scales and the cracks between the growths will help reach these hidden mites. Smothered in the petroleum jelly, they won’t be able to breathe, leading to suffocation and death. They are easily sloughed off after that.

Don’t pull off these growths on your own. Some of these are still attached to tissues underneath the growths. Pulling these out can injure your bird.

The application is often done twice to three times a week for two weeks covering the lifespan of a mite. There are farmers who apply this daily.

Treatment 2: Sulfur and Petroleum Jelly Mixture

scaly leg mite

You can also apply an alternative treatment, mixing 2 tablespoons of sulfur powder and half a cup of petroleum jelly.

Treatment 3: Ivermectin

For serious cases of Scaly Leg Mite, a prescribed medication used specifically to treat parasitic infestations is given orally or by injection. This is normally prescribed by a veterinarian.

Dosage of 0.2 milligrams per kilogram per bird is the guiding amount given once every two weeks. This is a strong medication. It is recommended that you’d use this as a last resort if you’d want your chickens free of any medication from its body and eggs.

Treatment 4: Gasoline – A&D Ointment

Here’s a treatment recommended by Dr. Michael Darre, Ph.D., a Poultry Extension Specialist from the University of Connecticut.

The treatment starts with dipping the legs into the gasoline and letting them air dry on the first day. Once dry, you slather the affected legs and feet with the A&D ointment helping them to heal. The gasoline kills off the mites.

The next day, you just apply the A&D ointment without the gasoline.

On the third day, you do the gasoline dip, drying and A&D application again.

Cleaning Out Your Coop

It’s not enough to treat the chicken legs and feet of the Scaly Leg Mites. These parasites do come back with a vengeance. It’s smart to treat the coop where they sleep and when possible, their run area. You should be able to treat the surrounding area and the coop with purposely made disinfectant you can purchase online and in the store.

Another thing you can do to keep the mites affecting your flock at a minimum is to keep the area dry. Covering the grounds with hardwood wood chips will keep their feet and legs dry while sanitizing the area regularly with diatomaceous earth.

Doing routine coop disinfection will help keep the mites off of your birds or at least minimize their effects.


Scaly Leg Mites are more often a nuisance but it’s a problem that’s worth the effort if you’d want your chickens living happily in your coop. You’ll be rewarded with plump hens with lots of eggs often. Remember to keep an eye on their legs and feet. And if you see one showing signs of these mites, it’s time to treat everyone in your flock and disinfect their coop.

6 thoughts on “Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens: Cause, Treatment and Prevention”

  1. ok i understand all that but whats to keep the vasaline on their feet and won’t the dirt , sand , whatever stick to the vasaline? what if the chicken tries to clean that off their feet? its not really edible is it?

  2. From the corresponding article, it says the petroleum is to suffocate the mites more than anything. And also, it’s non-toxic 🥂

  3. If you do it at night, the birds are much calmer and have all night for the pertoleum/ AnD to soak in while they sleep.

  4. I use coconut oil, i melt it then brush it on with a small arts and craft paint brush. so far its worked a treat, its natural and won’t harm a chicken in any way.

  5. Ive read in a number of hen care books to never pull off any of the scale growth as this is incredibly painful, as is the use of gasoline. Vaseline or coconut oil will do the job.


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