My Chicken is Limping: What Does it Mean?

Chicken Limping Featured Image
A chicken limping may be due to physical injuries (such as a predator or fellow hen attack), nutritional issues, toxins, diseases, infections or parasites. If your chicken is physically hurt, you can treat this with antibiotic spray and wrapping the wound.

If you see your chicken limping, it can be distressing, especially if you don‘t know why. There are many different reasons this could be happening – some of which can be easily remedied if you know what to look for.

We will discuss the most common reasons that your backyard chicken may be limping, and give you the ability to narrow down the causes while helping you to figure out what you can do to help your chicken recover.

What Does it Look Like When a Chicken Limps?

The most obvious signs that a chicken is limping are a chicken that is dragging one leg behind them, or otherwise favoring one leg over the other. You may notice an unsteady gait, or an unusual stance, where your hen or rooster seems unsteady on its feet.

a chicken limping
It’s most common that your chicken will stand stationary on one foot

Another sign is toes that aren’t in alignment and either curl unnaturally inwards or outwards, or legs that are curved unusually.

You may also notice a chicken that doesn’t want to move around much and sits back on the hocks, without being able to stand or standing but with one foot raised (like a flamingo).

If you observe any of these signs, it definitely warrants additional investigation.

What Can Cause a Chicken to Limp?

There are many different things that can cause a chicken to limp, some of which are easy to see. If you notice open sores, lumps on the legs or toes, scales that are raised, or wounds – it may be that your bird had an accident or was harmed by another chicken or predator.

These sorts of signs warrant further observation and investigation.

First, you should take a look at the surroundings. Is there any equipment out of place? Are there broken fences, perches, roosts, or areas where a chicken could injure herself?

If you don’t see any signs of something being out of place, it may be time to ask any other humans that have had contact with your chickens if they saw anything unusual. If there isn’t something obvious, it may be time to look into some of the more common things that can cause a chicken to limp.

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Common Causes:

  • Nutritional issues (insufficient feed/nutrients/supplements)
  • Toxins such as mold, heavy lead, or toxic plants
  • Viral diseases
  • Bacterial infections
  • Parasites

What Kind of Food and Supplements do Chickens Need to Prevent Limping?

One of the biggest reasons a chicken may limp is a nutritional deficiency which leads to failure of the immune system. Chickens need quite a few things to thrive.

Ensure that your chicken has a proper diet by including the following:

  1. High Quality Chicken Feed for your breed of chicken- 130 to 160 grams per day based on the weight of your chicken (and enough for each bird in your flock)
  2. Chicken feed should be supplemented with vegetable scraps – no more than 10% of what you feed them.
  3. Allow your chicken to forage as much as possible to self supplement with seeds, worms etc.
  4. Provide oyster shells and egg shells as supplements for extra calcium

Conditions that can cause limping related to poor diet include:

  • Rickets, which is caused by insufficient calcium – causes leg bones to be soft.
  • Perosis, which is related to lack of calcium and phosphorous – causes dislocated joints.
  • Lack of essential vitamins and nutrients: Caused by feeding the wrong amounts and wrong types of food resulting in soft bones, limping, curly-toed paralysis, chickens sitting back on their hocks and not moving much, legs at awkward angles.
  • Insufficient Feed Quantity – apparent by weight loss, unsteady walking, and chickens being unable to balance properly.

What Toxins Cause Limping in Chickens?

There are many different things that are toxic to chickens and can cause physical and neurological symptoms and chicken keepers need to understand what they are and how to prevent their flock from encountering them.

It is vital to search the surrounding environment (everywhere a chicken may have access to) in order to rule out toxicity as a cause of your chicken’s limp.

Things to look for include:

  • Mold – Often found growing in damp, dark areas. Mold can cause significant symptoms, especially if a chicken is spending a lot of time in an area with active mold growth. Common areas include coops, fencing, and feed.
  • Bacteria – Can be found in the soil, in watering areas, food storage areas most commonly.
  • Kitchen scraps – Be careful of the scraps that you feed your chickens and ensure food safety protocols have been maintained in the kitchen. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your chicken.
  • Plants – a very common and often overlooked source of toxins. Many plants are poisonous to chickens including un-ripened berries of the nightshade family, green potato skins, green seeds on potato plants, everlasting pea seeds, and kowhai seeds to name a few.
  • Heavy Lead – Do you have old paint cans sitting around? Or lead painted fences? These are toxic to chickens. Remove any heavy lead paint access so your birds can not reach them.
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What Types of Diseases can Cause a Chicken to Limp?

There are a few possible causes for disease in chickens that can cause limping:

1. Bumblefoot

Extremely common cause of limping in chickens. Bumblefoot occurs when a chicken has a puncture wound on their foot pad or a toe, and it is covered by wet mud, which hardens into a scab but leaves a moist pocket where bacteria thrives.

Bumblefoot on chicken
This is bumblefoot and is very common. It’s wise to check this first.

This bacteria can infect the joints of your chickens and cause them to go lame. It is important to catch this as early as possible so be sure to inspect your chicken’s feet and toes to see if this is causing the limp.

For treating bumblefoot, you will need to remove the mud barrier, clean the wound with warm water, and keep it as dry as possible for as long as possible to allow for recovery.

2. Marek’s Disease

A type of viral disease that most often affects younger chickens that can cause lameness. The most common sign is one foot that faces the opposite direction of the other foot.

Birds can be completely paralyzed by Marek’s disease, and it may also cause other parts of the chicken’s body to contort unnaturally or have tumors develop.

Marek’s disease is caused by the herpes virus, and unfortunately, they cannot recover from it and will have it for life. It can be spread incredibly easily and if one bird in your flock has it, it is entirely likely that the rest of the flock will contract it.

If you have a limping chicken sick with Marek’s disease, you should know that your entire coop can be infected even after all the birds have been gone. The good news is it can’t be spread from mother to baby, but once a baby hatches, it will need to be removed from any environment that has Marek’s to avoid contracting it.

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3. Tenosynovitis

This is viral arthritis that affects the hock joints. If you see a bird standing on one leg, with a hock joint that feels warm and swollen, this could be the cause.

4. Staphylococcus Arthritis

The hocks of your chicken will be warm and swollen with pus and fluid. This can be related to the progression of bumblefoot and requires antibiotics from a vet in order for your chicken to recover.

5. Scaly Leg Mites

These tiny mites dig themselves into and under the scales on the legs of your chicken. If you see scales that are raised up instead of flat, which may be bleeding, this is a sign of scaly leg mites. Smear on petroleum jelly over the scales to suffocate the invaders and help your chicken recover.

6. Mycoplasma

Mycoplasma is a bacteria that can also cause infections of the joints. This type of bacteria can be passed from chicken to chicken contact and exist on damp surfaces for long periods of time.

What Environmental Factors Cause Chicken Limping?

A chicken’s environment needs to be free from hazardous materials in order to prevent injury and infections including certain diseases from occurring.

As a chicken owner, it is important to note and correct any areas that seem overly damp or muddy – this can be a breeding ground for bacteria and cause infections and diseases in your chicken’s legs.

If a chicken coop or run is not cleaned regularly, feces can build up and also create an environment that can cause a chicken to have accidents and be more prone to infections.

dirty chicken coop
This is a common example of a poor chicken coop

Netting and strings can cause injury to chickens who find themselves with their legs caught and in trying to disentangle themselves, may be injured or experience a sprain or broken leg which can cause limping until it heals.

As you can see, there are so many things that can cause a chicken to limp, but if you keep a close eye on your flock and their environment, you may be able to narrow down the cause.

If you aren’t able to figure out what is causing your chicken to limp, you should consult a veterinarian in your area who can help. Just as you count on your chickens, they count on you for proper care.

Christina

A longtime resident of Southern California, Christina recently moved across the globe to Austria, where she bought land specifically to build a small house with room for a backyard chicken coop. Christina spent her childhood summers on a farm, raising and caring for a flock of hens owned by her grandparents, which prompted a lifelong love of chickens, and other farm animals. Christina is passionate about writing, having written hundreds of articles for well-known websites, and uses her English degree in service of her love for animal welfare, most recently taking on a writing position at Chicken Care Taker in 2022.

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