I’ve met up with Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist a number of times over the last 15 months to study necropsy reports, X-rays, photos and stories that I collect from folks about their chicken health issues. She refers to it as ‘show and tell’ and I aim to please by curating things of interest, sometimes oddities she’s never seen before.

This go round we managed to get through 22 cases. I’ll present them over several posts and hope you find them an interesting learning experience.

Remember the old children’s song “Head and shoulders, knees and toes …”? Avian Pathology Cases: 9 was all about injuries and illnesses that affect the legs and feet. It appears I’ve now amassed enough new cases that fit the bill so here’s a look at the nasty things that can affect our birds’ legs and feet.

Scaly Leg Mites

Is this scaly leg mites or something else? What’s the best method of treatment? – Becca Hansen

Dr Bowes: That’s definitely a case of scaly leg mites. I would use Vaseline with an insecticide (malathione) to coat their legs in order to smother the mites. You should also treat the environment by cleaning the coop and using a product like Dr Doom.

Bitchin’ Chickens: This is where I get to add my two cents. Dr Bowes is a vet and is unable to recommend products that are off-label and unstudied in chickens. I, on the other hand, am a layperson and here’s my advice: dip their legs in veggie oil up to their hocks before coating with Vaseline and repeat every couple of days until you start to see the old scales fall off. I would also use a product like Ivermectin, which you can apply topically (it is also effective in the treatment of most worms, other types of mites and lice).

Strangulated Leg

This Silkie chick is about four months old and when she was younger I thought she hurt her foot.  She limped and it gradually got better, then swelled and developed this. She no longer limps and walks and runs normally. – Kristina Martel

Dr Bowes: The swelling is caused by an inflammatory process or vascular constriction. It looks like there is a stricture in her leg, possibly caused by something like monofilament wrapped around her leg. I would explore that area closely to investigate. It’s interesting that she’s no longer limping.

Bumblefoot Complications 1

This chicken’s feet are crazy; there is so much loose skin on her foot pads. I’m usually pretty good about monitoring bumblefoot. If anyone is limping they are checked out and the lesion is removed. I’m not sure how this girl got such saggy skin on the soles of her feet. It looks like the inside ballooned and deflated. One side does have what looks to be an old bumblefoot that is not actively inflamed. I can’t believe she’s never limped. Since she is running around normally and not in pain I will just keep an eye on it. – Kateri KP

Dr Bowes: I agree that this is the result of bumblefoot and think that the one foot is still infected. I would recommend veterinary care so the foot can be cleaned and debrided or the gap will accumulate debris. The area may already be devitalized and dealing with the lesion may cause more distress to your bird. The longterm issue is the skin in that area which covers vital anatomy and the bone joints may become compromised.

Bumblefoot Complications 2

I rescued this feral rooster. He is unable to bear weight on his foot. Initially I thought it was bumblefoot because of the black spots, but they appear to just be discolouration on the surface. I am thinking an infection entered through a broken toenail hence the swollen toe and foot, which is hot to the touch. A vet prescribed Meloxicam and SMZ (sulfa antibiotics) for two weeks and Epsom foot soaks. There was no change so I had X-rays taken which show he has sustained bone loss. He is now on a higher dosage of Meloxicam and Clavamox (penicillin), as well as Tramadol (opioid). – Meredith Berwick

Dr Bowes: This infection is the result of untreated bumblefoot which has resulted in osteomyelitis (infection in the bone). Clavamox is an appropriate antibiotic for abscesses and skin issues, but this is a deeper infection. Tramadol is a potent narcotic; that your vet prescribed it is indicative of the level of pain your rooster is experiencing. Oral medications are difficult to get the blood levels high enough to be effective. I would suggest intravenous meds for a period of 2-3 weeks in order to get the infection under control. If that isn’t possible I would recommend amputation or humane euthanasia.


I just got this rescue rooster. Is this gout? – Jordana Silva

Dr Bowes: It looks like gout, which is both painful and not resolvable. Gout is caused by damage to the kidneys, often as a result of periods of dehydration or too much calcium in the diet. There are medications to regulate urate output and Metacam (Meloxicam) for pain, but I would recommend humane euthanasia, as his prognosis is not good.

Suspected Gout

What is going on with this bird’s foot? – Crystal Cain-Cuvelier

Dr Bowes: This appears to be a chronic, proliferative issue such as gout. An X-ray would show bone loss that affects the integrity of the foot. My recommendation would be humane euthanasia.

Bitchin’ Chickens: Here’s a little more information: Gout is the result of either the production of too much uric acid or, more commonly, decreased kidney function enabling excess uric acid to cause damage to various internal systems. Birds with impaired kidneys may not be able to get rid of uric acid as efficiently, leading to a buildup in their blood and uric acid deposits within the joints and in visceral organs or other tissues. Over time, these deposits will grow to form masses of uric acid crystals. The acid itself isn’t toxic but the resulting crystals cause damage – sometimes severe – to kidneys, heart, lungs, air sacs, intestines and joints.


Abscess: a localized collection of pus in a cavity formed from tissues that have been broken down by infectious bacteria. An abscess is caused when bacteria such as staphylococci or streptococci gain access to solid tissue.

Debride: remove damaged tissue or foreign objects from a wound.

Devitalize: to lower or destroy the vitality of; make weak or lifeless

Osteomyelitis: inflammation of the bone, usually due to an infection

Proliferative: Proliferation is the growth of tissue cells. In many diseases, it is abnormal. Cancer cells are very prolific because they have high rates of cell division and growth.

Stricture: an area of narrowing

Vascular: relating to, affecting, or consisting of a vessel or vessels, especially those which carry blood

One of the things Dr Bowes would like to convey is she doesn’t take recommending euthanasia lightly. Many of the cases we see here are not just about quality of life issues, but actually living with significant levels of pain. Just because chickens are able to hide their pain or don’t go around screaming, doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. That’s a myth we, as chicken keepers, tell ourselves to make us feel better – often because we don’t have the knowledge or resources to make things better. If your bird is in pain without a realistic prognosis for recovery don’t prolong their suffering.

Well that wraps up another edition of Show & Tell With Bitchin’ Chickens and Dr Bowes. I hope that it’s been a learning experience for you.

If you’d like help with a case drop me a line using the ‘contact’ button on my home page. Remember to wear gloves, take good close up photos from several angles and supply us with plenty of information (e.g. timelines, symptoms, medications, general flock health, etc) so we’re able to more accurately pinpoint what’s going on.

Thanks again to Dr Vicki Bowes for her willingness to share her wealth of knowledge and experience to build capacity and skills in small flock keepers.

Featured photo credit: Poultry DVM

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Everything You Need To Know About Small Flock Chickens & More

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