I’ve now featured 15 chicken keepers in my series ‘Having Chickens Is A Great Way To Meet Your Neighbours’. One of the things I’ve noticed is several people’s birds have scaly leg mites (SLM). When I pointed this out, their owners were surprised and didn’t know that their chickens’ bumpy legs were actually a sign of trouble.

It’s hard to keep up with all the things that might affect your flock. I get concerned, that with the popularity of backyard chickens, people might think that chickens are a no maintenance pet. Not true. Keeping chickens healthy requires some on-going work. I find that my daily chores (cleaning, feeding, watering) are punctuated, on occasion, by an real emergency (e.g. prolapse, bumblefoot, an egg bound hen), or an outbreak of parasites. Even the healthiest flock is vulnerable to lice, mites and worms, which are often brought into your pen and sometimes, even your coop, by wild birds and rodents, or are present within the soil.

The first time one of my birds had mites I didn’t know there were different kinds (i.e. body, feather and leg) and I misdiagnosed her and treated her for a species she didn’t have. This article will focus on scaly leg mites.

Sometimes we only notice our birds aren’t doing well when they are already quite sick. As prey animals they do their best to hide any signs of illness. Do you examine your birds regularly? Pick them up and look for anything unusual? Ever see bumpy, crusty scales on their legs? Bingo. That’s a sure sign your bird has scaly leg mites, and probably has for some time.

SLM are a relatively common, burrowing mite found on the legs and feet of free range and backyard chickens around the world. Just like their name implies, these mites burrow underneath the scales of the bird’s feet and legs, feed on skin and deposit poop. Over time, this causes the bird’s scales to lift and thicken, sometimes protruding outwards. Unlike body mites which you can see or feel, these mites are microscopic and you won’t even know they are present until your chickens start showing signs.

Healthy chickens have scales that appear smooth and lie flat against their legs. When chickens are infected the appearance of their legs and feet will slowly deteriorate. Early signs include flaky, crusty, peeling, rough or uneven-looking scales, with some lifting upwards. Eventually, the heavy crusting of the scales can cause serious problems. SLM can also lead to bacterial infections and major tissue inflammation. One, or more, flock members might be infected, since the mites will move from bird to bird.

There are several treatment options – all of them require consistency to fully eradicate your flock and coop of the mites. If you’ve got a few birds it’s quite easy. A larger flock might require some help.

Option 1: Oil & Vaseline

Soak your birds’ legs up to the shank in warm, soapy water and use a soft toothbrush to gently scrub the scales. This will exfoliate the crusty scales and remove some of the mites’ excretions. Then dip their legs into a container of oil (vegetable, canola, linseed etc), followed by a coating of Vaseline, rubbing it into the scales. This will soften the dead, loose scales and smother the mites. Apply several times a week until you see an improvement.

Option 2: Sulfur & Vaseline

Mix 2 tablespoons of sulfur powder with ½ cup of Vaseline and apply on their legs daily for a minimum of two weeks.

Option 3: Ivermectin

In severe cases, or for many birds, you can use Ivermectin. Several drops of pour-on (rather than oral) Ivermectin are applied directly on the skin at the base of the neck or on their back between their wings. It is the least messy option and the easiest to do without assistance. Ivermectin is well studied in large livestock, but is used off-label in poultry. Repeat in 10 days.

One side benefit of using Ivermectin is it is effective in treating other types of mites, lice and worms (gapeworms, roundworms, but not tapeworms).

Option 4: Spray-on Oil

If you have a mild case or only a few birds you can use a spray-on cooking oil (like Pam). It’s easy to apply at night when they are on the roost bar, but it takes a bit of work to get the whole leg uniformly covered.

I belong to several online farming groups and people advocate and swear by all kinds of treatments. Dipping your birds legs into gasoline or kerosene is one of them. It may be effective but I think it’s caustic for birds’ skin, especially if they have open areas. Another is diatomaceous earth (DE). It’s the fossilized bodies of microscopic algae whose sharp edges are said to be effective in killing mites, lice and other pests. The problem with using it for leg mites is their entire life cycle is spent on the host, and under their leg scales, rendering DE ineffective.

I think it’s a trial and error process. Use what matches your philosophy of health care and see what works for you.

Some words of advice:

  • Tackle the mite problem early before it spreads to your whole flock or becomes serious. Even though you can’t see them, scaly leg mites can cause major health issues including lameness, deformity or even the loss of toes.
  • Feather legged/footed birds (e.g. Marans, Silkie, Cochin, Brahma, etc) are more likely to harbour leg mites and will be more difficult to diagnose because their scales are obscured.
  • Don’t pick the raised scales off – it’s painful and their legs might bleed.
  • Try to work at night when your birds are in the coop and quiet. There’s nothing like chasing birds around for a bath and oil dip to get them all excited.
  • If your coop has lights, don’t turn them on, but wear a head lamp instead.
  • If you’ve got a few birds work systematically and maybe make a checklist as you treat them so you don’t miss any.
  • If you’re using the oil or Vaseline methods wear as little as possible. I go into the coop wearing only underwear and a large garbage bag over me (with cut outs for my head and arms). I guarantee that no matter how careful you are you’ll get splashed with oils that stain clothes.
  • Don’t empty you coop and nest box bedding where your birds will have access to it as it may contain mite eggs or larvae. Compost it well away from your coop and run.
  • Once you’ve eradicated the mites keep an eye on their legs for any sign of a re-infestation.
  • When bringing new birds into your flock quarantine them and treat them for lice, mites or worms, before integrating them.
  • Be consistent in treating them. The life cycle for scaly leg mites is 10- 14 days, so it’ll take a while to kill the adults and then, the larvae that subsequently hatch.

12 comments on “Scaly Leg Mites

  1. Hi- Have you successfully used Ivermectin to treat these mites? If so, is there known withdrawal period of eggs? I googled it and there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer since it’s off-label.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard varying things about Ivermectin & scaly leg mites. I’m going to a Small Chicken Flock Management workshop next weekend led by two avian pathologists. That’s one of the questions on my list. I’ll post when I get the answer.


      • Nicole Sterling

        I have been trying to get rid of scaly leg mites for a couple of months, I have 5 girls. 2 are silkies, I have not treated the silkies. There in the same coop but have their own roost and stay to themselves. Also, they not showing signs, I don’t think. It’s hard to tell with their feet being feathered. 2 of my other 3 hens have scaly leg mites for sure so I’ve been treating all 3. I’ve soaked their feet in epsom salt and covered them in vaseline. I also got some Scaly leg spray. It seems like it starts to work but they never actually go totally away. I’ve been wanting to try Ivermectin but haven’t because I’m kind of afraid of using too much or doing it wrong. Am I supposed to put it on their necks rather then on their feet?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Scaly leg mites seem to affect some birds and not others. It’s harder to detect and treat in feathered legged birds. The treatment (dipping their legs into veggie oil, then coating with vaseline) is easy but you do have to be persistent – at least every 2-3 days for the first week or so, then maybe twice/week until they’ve gone. It may take awhile until the old scales drop off and you see new ones underneath. Yes, Ivermectin is a topical treatment for internal parasites, mites and lice. You can search for my post for instruction on dosages and more information. Two drops to the skin on the back on the neck is plenty for small birds like Silkies.


    • Regarding a recommended withdrawal period for the consumption of eggs and meat: because Ivermectin is off-label for chickens that issue has not been studied. Ivermectin works, but there is no data on how it affects birds, how they metabolize it and a ‘safe’ withdrawal period. I talked to a vet and they suggested it was probably fine to eat the eggs, but not to sell to the public (for how long, I don’t know, and there is no definitive answer). Ivermectin is used on people – topically and orally – which leads me to believe that the small amount that chickens absorb is not a great health risk. Apparently pharmaceutical studies are driven by commercial farms and they use other products so there’s not much money to be made from small flock folks.


    • If life cycle is 10to 14 days. All egg mites should hatch in up to 14 days. If you catch them all in that time it would stand to reason that they should be gone

      Liked by 1 person

      • I use Ivermectin, mostly for body mites and internal parasites. It does work on Scaly Leg Mites, but I find it’s more effective (and less toxic) if you dip their legs in veggie oil and then coat with Vaseline. I have posts on both Ivermectin and Withdrawal Periods — just type those terms into the search box on my home page to find them. Mites, lice and internal parasites are often brought into your flock by rodents and wild birds so, unfortunately, they are never really gone. If your birds are healthy and have access to a dust bath year round you can keep most of those parasites at a low level.


  2. “If your coop has lights, don’t turn them on, but wear a headlamp instead.” – side comment unrelated to the topic – I also noticed having a headlamp that has red LED in addition to white is great. With red LED on instead of white they stay much calmer and are less likely to move around, wake up or try to find a better spot on the roost. I still use white light for up close inspections for Bumblefoot or lice since you see details better. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous

    Thank you for an excellent article!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anonymous

    Excellent Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I noticed all the online references for using ivermectin on chickens is in the form of ivermectin catalpuron I have ivermectin sheep drench which is 08% solution parasiticide. So I’m wondering if the dosage would be different then for my chickens?
    Thanks for the great info!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Bitchin' Chickens

Everything You Need To Know About Small Flock Chickens & More

%d bloggers like this: