If you have a limping chicken, you need to turn detective and work throug the clues.
The very odd reasons why your chicken is lame
There’s no one symptom in poultry that has more possible causes than lameness. Often it may seem a mystery. The most common reasons for a bird to go lame are: a sprain, strain or breakage genetic predisposition diseases, i.e. virus or bacteria other infective agents, e.g. a mycoplasma a deficiency in the diet something toxic they might have eaten
Running through a short checklist will often eliminate some of the possible causes immediately.
1. How old is the bird?
When a chicken goes lame, a common first response is to think ‘Marek’s disease’, a devastating virus that can cause limping, then paralysis, and often ends in death.
This can generally be ruled out if the bird is younger than six weeks old or older than six months. Marek’s is most commonly caught in the first 2-3 weeks of a chick’s life, but it has a long incubation period so symtoms won’t show until a bird is 10-24 weeks old.
If it is older than six months, it is unlikely to be Marek’s disease. There are some exceptions, but these are rare.
2. Examine the bird
The next step is to examine the bird in more detail.
Feel the legs right from the thigh, high up under the feathers, down to the hock joint (the drumstick), then down the scaly part to the toes and the sole of the foot. Gently flex the leg out (if you can without causing pain).
Compare the legs, including their temperature.
is the amount of movement the same for both?
is there any ‘crunching’ noise of bone ends in a joint when you move the leg?
is there any swelling, eg is part of one leg hotter?
are the soles of the feet soft and clean with no scabs or black lumps?
are there mud balls adhering to the claws or the sole? can the bird walk at all? This will help you work out whether the bird has a physical injury to a tendon or joint, or an infection in its skin, most commonly on the underside of the foot called bumblefoot.
If a bird seems healthy but is suddenly unable to move, it could also be a spinal injury or a sore on its keel/breastbone.
3. Extra checks
A couple of symptoms are going to indicate a surprising cause:
does it also have a twisted neck, toes, or is completely paralysed?
when you bend the leg at the hock, do the toes curl (as if perching) or not?* *they should curl in a healthy bird
If you see one or more of these symptoms, the cause is likely to be a nutritional issue. Confusingly, a shortage of essential vitamins and minerals can affect some birds and not others in the same flock eating the same diet.
Deficiencies in the diet of breeding birds can also result in their chicks being deformed. These deformities may not always be apparent in a newlyhatched chick, but may get worse as the bird grows. Curly toe paralysis is an example of this, caused by a shortage of B2 (riboflavin).
Conduct a careful examination of your bird’s leg, from the top of the thigh down.