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Summer and scaly leg mites

Summer is our newest resident. She is a red hen who was found as a stray. She was in rough shape: missing lots of feathers, bright red spots on her skin, thick scabby and crusty feet, and she was starving. As part of our intake protocol, we quarantined her and performed a complete health check (see our article about quarantine). She had the worst case of scaly leg mites we’ve ever seen. The scales on her shanks and feet were raised with a thick crust covering them, and there were a couple of bleeding lesions.

Scaly leg mites (Knemidocoptes mutans) are tiny pale, gray, round creatures with 8 legs, invisible to the naked eye. They live under the scales of the legs and feet of the bird. They have a life cycle of 10 to 14 days. They burrow underneath the upper layers of skin, feed on it, lay their eggs there, and generate debris that accumulates beneath the scales and raises them. The damage it causes to the tissue is very irritating and can be extremely painful.

Dorsal view of scaly-leg mite. (Image by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.)

Fortunately, this mite is relatively easy to get rid of by treating the bird with Ivermectin (see our article about external parasites), so we gave Summer 0.05cc of the drug when she arrived and another dose 10 days later. That killed the mites, but we had to do more to heal the wounds they caused.

Here is what we did:

  • Soak her legs for 10 minutes in warm water with Betadine to soften the scabs and disinfect the lesions. She enjoyed that step quite a bit and often dozed off in my arms in the process :)

  • Scrub her feet with a soft toothbrush to remove the scabs and dead tissue. Be very careful to not create more lesions by brushing too hard.

  • Pat her legs dry and generously apply some SSD (silver sulfadiazine) to prevent and treat infections.

  • Wrap her shanks and feet with gauze and vet wrap to keep cream in place and avoid further infection.

  • Repeat every 2-3 days until the lesions are closed and the dead tissue is replaced by healthy new one.

It took five treatments over 2 weeks for Summer to completely heal and for new scales to start growing back. Actually, on the fourth treatment, the lesions were closed and new skin was starting to look good so we decided to stop wrapping her legs and let her clean her last scabs herself, which she did with gusto.

Summer graduated to the outdoors a few days ago (after 20 days in quarantine). She immediately went for a delightful dust bath and is now slowly getting to know her new flock mates.


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