Limping, hobbling and lameness in chickens, what is causing it and how to treat it.

A limping chickens is sick or injured and needs care

Lameness in chickens is relatively common and in a lot of cases, transient, meaning it will heal on it's own in a few days.

Table of Contents

When dealing with injuries or disease in chickens it is important to know your limits and contact a professional for advice. A limping chickens that is not getting better after a few days or whose condition deteriorates will need an avian veterinarian.

Why is my chicken having trouble walking?

At first you will notice one one, or more, of the following symptoms:

  • Wobbling or unsteady on their feet,
  • Using their wings on the ground to support themselves,
  • Hunched stance or roach back,
  • Favouring one leg,
  • Sat back on their hocks,
  • Hopping rather than walking,
  • Dragging one leg,
  • Standing still even when approached,
  • Spread or splayed legs,
  • Legs sticking out at odd angles,
  • Twisted, missing or tightly curled toes,
  • Standing with the same foot raised up.

Below: This Wyandotte cockerel is unable to stand properly. He is sat back on his hocks and barely moves at all.

Chickens do sometimes stand round on one leg so this is not always the best indicator if something is wrong.

What are the reasons my chicken is limping?

There are many reasons why chickens might limp, have trouble walking or standing or be using their wings to support their weight.

Some of the most common causes include:

  • Injury: Chickens can injure their legs in a variety of ways, such as by falling, being stepped on, or getting caught in something.
  • Disease: There are a number of diseases that can cause lameness in chickens, such as Marek's disease, bumblefoot, and arthritis.
  • Parasites: Parasites such as scaly leg mites can also cause lameness in chickens.
  • Foreign bodies: You know what having a splinter in your fingers is like. It is the same for chickens.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: A lack of certain nutrients, such as calcium, can also lead to lameness in chickens.
  • Environmental factors: Poor living conditions, such as dirty litter or sharp objects on the ground, can also cause lameness in chickens.
  • Infection: Mycoplasma synoviae causes painful swellings in the legs and joints.

If you notice that your chicken is limping, it is important to treat then if you can or take them to the vet to get a diagnosis and treatment. Lameness can be a serious problem for chickens, so it is important to address it promptly.

How to find out why your chicken is limping or lame:

A chicken that is lame, limping or using it's wings to support itself will need to be caught and examined.

Approach the chicken calmly and quietly. Sudden movements and loud noises can startle the chicken, causing it to become more agitated and potentially worsen its condition.

Gently pick up the chicken and hold it securely but not too tightly. Make sure you support its body and keep its wings close to its sides.

Inspect the chicken's body for any visible injuries. Look for cuts, abrasions, or puncture wounds on the skin, and check the legs and wings for any signs of swelling or deformity.

Check the chicken all over for any discharge, swelling, or other signs of infection.

Look over and feel the legs for inflammation, lumps or hot areas indicating an injury or infection.

If the chicken is bleeding, apply pressure to the wound with a clean cloth or bandage to help stop the bleeding.

If you suspect the chicken has a dislocation, broken bones or a more serious injury, it's best to take it to a veterinarian who specialises in poultry care.

No outward signs of injury means an infection or disease is more likely. Tests will be needed.

After examining the chicken, return it to its coop or pen and monitor its behaviour closely to ensure it is eating and drinking normally and shows no signs of distress.

The common causes of lameness and limping in poultry, as well as their corresponding treatments:

Cause of lameness and limpingTreatmentPrognosisRecovery time 
Bumblefoot (Staphylococcus infection)Soak the affected foot in warm water with Epsom salts, apply antibiotic ointment, and keep the bird on clean, dry bedding. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the infected tissue.Good if caught and treated early.7 to 28 days.
Sprains or strainsRest the affected leg, provide supportive bedding, and ensure the bird has access to clean water and food. In some cases, anti-inflammatory medication may be necessary.Good3 to 10 days.
Broken bonesChickens with broken bones require bandaging and splinting and a period of rest but some may require surgery. Broken toes are normally left to heal themselves but are sometimes removed. Open fractures present a massive opportunity for infection.Average, depends on the severity of the break14 to 30 days.
Dislocated jointsSometimes dislocated joints return on their own, leaving little trace. Dislocations can sometimes be remedied by manipulation of the joint until the bones are back in the correct sockets. Sometimes the bird will need to be culled. The cause is injury, malnutrition, tumours or genetic malformation.Poor.14 to 30 days.
ArthritisA condition that causes stiffness, pain, inflammation and swelling in the joints. Treatment involves rest, keeping the chicken in a confined space, and administering pain medication if necessary.Good with treatment.7 days with treatment.
Egg bindingEgg binding occurs when a chicken is unable to pass an egg, leading to discomfort and difficulty walking. It's a common issue in hens, and treatment involves soaking the bird in warm water to relax the muscles and help the egg pass.Poor. Is likely to recur.Initially 24 hours but may need further treatment.
Overgrown clawsOvergrown claws from twisted toes can lead to limping and dragging of the feet. Treatment is to remove and reshape the overgrowth in one or more treatments avoiding the quick.ExcellentImmediate.
Ear infectionAn ear infection can cause a chicken to wobble or be unsteady on it's feet and the bird will have no outward sign of injury. Diagnosis requires a vet and antibiotics.Excellent .3 to 7 days.
Foods, toxins or poisons.Moulds, toxins, poisonous plants, chemicals and heavy metals can all interfere with mobility. Treatment is activated charcoal for 3 to 10 days depending on the exposure.good to bad, depends of the substance ingested and the quantity.24 hours to 10 days
Vitamin or mineral deficiencies (e.g. calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D)Adjust the bird's diet to include more of the deficient nutrient. In severe cases, supplements may be necessary.Average. Good if no complicating factors.30 to 60 days.
Marek's diseaseThere is no cure for Marek's disease, but vaccination can help prevent it. Birds that are infected should be culled to prevent the spread of the disease.NoneCull
Newcastle diseaseThere is no cure for Newcastle disease, but vaccination can help prevent it. Birds that are infected should be culled to prevent the spread of the disease.NoneCull
Leg mitesLeg mites cause pain and irritation and can lead to other infections.Good if treated properly.1 to 6 months.
Fowl choleraAntibiotic treatment is usually necessary to cure fowl cholera. In severe cases, affected birds may need to be culled.Poor7 to 10 days.
GoutAdjust the bird's diet to reduce protein intake. In severe cases, medication may be necessary to manage the symptoms.Average.30 to 60 days
Avian influenzaThere is no cure for avian influenza, but vaccination can help prevent it. Birds that are infected should be culled to prevent the spread of the disease.NoneCull

It's important to note that this is not an exhaustive list of all the possible causes of lameness and limping in poultry, and treatment options may vary depending on the severity of the condition and the individual bird's health.

I have a friend whose chickens are always getting in with the horses because they like scratching in the bedding but they invariably end up getting their toes trodden on by the horses.

If you suspect that your bird is experiencing lameness or limping, it's always best to consult with a veterinarian who specialises in avian medicine.

Treating pain in limping or lame chickens:

You can give chickens certain drugs to help with the pain and inflammation. Most drugs for pain need to be given with food to prevent the irritation of the digestive system and gut linings.

Remember all drugs have a withdrawal period during which you can not eat the eggs or meat.

Here is a table of pain medications suitable for chickens along with their dose:

AspirinAspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that can help to reduce pain and inflammation. It is important to note that aspirin can be toxic to chickens in high doses, so it is important to follow the veterinarian's instructions carefully.10-20 mg/kg PO (orally) every 6 to 8 hours for up to 3 days
IbuprofenIbuprofen is an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) class widely used to reduce inflammation, pain, and high temperatures both in animals and human beings.A maximum dose of 15 mg per kg of bird weight twice or three times daily for up to three days.
MeloxicamMeloxicam is another NSAID that is used to treat pain and inflammation in chickens. It is generally safe for chickens to use, but it is important to monitor them for any side effects, such as diarrhoea or vomiting.0.5 mg/kg PO (orally) every 24 hours.
CarprofenCarprofen is a third NSAID that is used to treat pain and inflammation in chickens. It is generally safe for chickens to use, but it is important to monitor them for any side effects, such as diarrhoea or vomiting.5 to 10 mg/kg PO (orally) every 24 hours. Injectable version available at the vets
FirocoxibA non steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) used to treat pain and inflammation associated with arthritis and pain after surgery or trauma.0.5-1 mg/kg PO (orally) every 24 hours

It is important to note that these are just general guidelines, and the specific dosage for your chicken will depend on their weight, the severity of their pain, and other factors. It is always best to consult with a veterinarian before giving any medication to your chicken.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind when giving pain medication to your chicken:

  • Make sure that the medication is given orally, and that it is given at the correct dosage.
  • Monitor your chicken for any side effects, such as diarrhoea, vomiting, or loss of appetite.
  • If you notice any side effects, stop giving the medication and contact your veterinarian.
  • Do not give your chicken any medication that is not prescribed by a veterinarian.
  • Keep all medications out of reach of your chickens, other animals and children.

Other ways to make limping chickens more comfortable:

In addition to pain medication, there are a number of other things that you can do to help relieve your chicken's pain. Some of these things include:

  • Rest: Make sure that your chicken has a comfortable place to rest, such as a soft bed or a nest box.
  • Deep bedding: Deep and soft bedding will make chickens more comfortable.
  • Heat: Applying heat to the affected area can help to reduce pain and inflammation. You can use a heating pad, a hot water bottle, or even your own hands to apply heat.
  • Ice: Applying ice to the affected area can also help to reduce pain and inflammation. You can use an ice pack, a bag of frozen peas, or even a cold water bottle to apply ice.
  • Support: You can also help to relieve your chicken's pain by providing support to the affected area. You can do this by using a splint, a sling, or even just your own hands.
Make sure food and water is within easy reach to minimise movement.

Here are some tips to help prevent lameness in your chickens:

Provide a clean and safe environment for your chickens. This means keeping the coop clean and free of sharp objects, and providing plenty of space for your chickens to roam.

Keep the run area dry. Muddy and damp areas are a breeding ground for bacteria.

Feed your chickens a balanced diet that includes all the nutrients they need.

Monitor your chickens for signs of illness or injury, and take them to the vet if you notice anything unusual.

If you have multiple chickens, isolate any chickens that are lame so they do not spread the infection to other chickens.