This is the 17th post in a series featuring my partnership with Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist. We get together on a regular basis to look at interesting cases that I collect and present to her for a diagnosis, or sometimes ‘best guess’ based on the limitations we’re dealing with.

A couple of months ago I was working through several dozen cases and they seemed to naturally fall into categories based on anatomy. This one is the third dedicated entirely to conditions affecting our birds’ feet and legs.

Leg Deformity

I have a Houdan rooster with bowed legs. When he was younger his legs didn’t seem to bother him but as he aged they bowed more and he stopped moving around a lot. I forced him to spend time in the sun by putting him outside in a crate. He has since perked up a little and is more willing to come out. He walks on the side of his feet and legs; the dark circle is a callus. Is there anything I can do? – Parnanguak Louise Wilkins

Dr Bowes: This is a bone deformity that might have been the result of a broken pelvis which caused a change in his stance. Bones in young birds need a weight load in order to grow straight. It is more likely that it started as a metabolic bone disease like rickets caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, phosphorus or calcium when he was younger. At this point the bone is set in place and is considered a permanent deformity, which can’t be corrected. He probably isn’t experiencing pain, but you should monitor the callused areas for infection and slipped tendon.

Bitchin’ Chickens: I would suggest that you make him a simple DIY wheelchair that would allow him to sit with his legs beneath him. That way you would reduce, or even eliminate, the weight on his already stressed legs. I think it would improve his quality of life and would allow you to move him around quite easily in a mobility device.

Broken Spur

Our rooster snapped his spur off. We were able to stop the bleeding using styptic powder and took him to a vet who was rather dismissive and said the wound site looked great and no further care was needed. Our concern was the danger of bone infection since the spur broke off flush with his leg, and the scab that formed made it impossible to see the injury site and whether the spur bone was compromised or not. – Sara Franklin

Dr Bowes: To prevent the possibility of this type of injury you can grind (but not remove) the spur so they are not as long. In this case the bone will heal and the tissue around the wound will generate keratin, but it’s unlikely his spur will grow back normally. In the interim, treat as a wound (i.e. clean and monitor for infection).

Infected Feet

What is going on with my hen’s feet? – Debra Farley

Dr Bowes: I would like to see photos of the bottom of the feet to confirm if there is an underlying condition like bumblefoot or a fungal infection. I would treat with Epsom salt soaks and the application of an antibacterial cream.


What is this? – Jeannie Drummond

Dr Bowes: Osteoporosis is the loss of structural bone whereas osteopetrosis (literally meaning ‘bone stone’) is caused by the abnormal growth in young birds. This is a proliferative bone condition that causes thickening of the long bones making them brittle and vulnerable to fractures. It is often associated with concurrent infection with Leukosis.

Bitchin’ Chickens: When I showed Dr Bowes this photo she asked me if I knew what it was. I ruled out gout and bumblefoot and asked if I should know the answer because I’d seen it before. It turns out it was a bit of a trick question because she’s only come across this condition once in more than 30 years as a pathologist. When she told me that she got a little bit excited and suggested that photo should be on a veterinary exam. It’s not often I get a gold star as a pupil, but I think this warrants one and for that reason I have given this case a special place of honour: Dr Bowes and my 100th case!

Hanging Rooster

Last night I found one of my roosters hanging from the pen fence. I am not sure how long he was like this but he had no fight left. I put him on the ground after freeing him and one foot was curled up and he couldn’t stand. I have him in a cat carrier so it’s small enough he can’t really move around. He has food and water and is eating and drinking normal. Is there anything I can do for him or should he be put out of his misery? – Jennifer Ellison

Dr Bowes: I would separate and isolate him in a crate for three days to monitor him and keep him from bearing weight on that leg. He may have injured his sciatic nerve (hence the curled toes) or even have broken a bone (which would be determined by an x-ray).

Infected Leg

I noticed this injury and have been treating it. He has multiple feather follicle cysts and inflamed follicles with crusts around them. Is this what’s happened to his leg as well? – Katryn Ducharme

Dr Bowes: That’s not related to feather follicles. The infection is abraded and close to the hock joint and bone. I would address this as a wound by treating with Epsom salt soaks and applying topical antibiotics. If it gets worse/bigger then oral antibiotics would be required as the infection originated on the inside and is coming out through the skin.

Strangulated Leg

Bitchin’ Chickens: When I first saw the photo of the ‘lost’ foot in a post in an online chicken group I didn’t recognize the case. As I scrolled down the thread I was surprised to see my name. Another member posted a screen shot of advice I had given to the owner of the bird three weeks previously when she first posted asking for help, chastising her for not following it.

At the time, I immediately recognized the stricture in the chick’s leg as probably resulting from an embedded leg band and provided the link to a case I had written about a bird with a strangulated leg caused by monofilament wrapped around it. Apparently the band was so embedded that the owner didn’t realize that was the problem and didn’t figure it out until the poor bird’s foot fell off. Three weeks later she was fitted with her first prosthetic foot which will be modified to make it more streamlined. Of course I wasn’t happy that I wasn’t able to save her foot, but I did feel a bit confident that I am developing a certain level of competence to actually help some folks.

Dr Bowes: That band was probably put on when the bird was a young chick and then became engulfed by the leg tissue. The stricture caused devitalization of both the tissue and bone. The bird will survive with one good leg. If you use leg bands use the expandable ones and check them regularly. 


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

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

Well that wraps up the latest installment of Show & Tell with Bitchin’ Chickens and Dr Bowes. In the last 14 months we’ve worked on more than 100 cases and I’m sure we’ll have more to come in future.

Many thanks to Dr Vicki Bowes for sharing her time and expertise to improve the well being of small flock chickens (and their owners). Featured photo: Alec Salter Design

If you have a mystery you’d like solved or a questioned you want answered please feel free to drop me a line using the ‘contact’ button on my home page.

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Bitchin' Chickens

Everything You Need To Know About Small Flock Chickens & More

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