Spraddle leg & Crooked Toes in Chicks- Causes and Treatments


Spraddle leg, also known as ‘splay leg,’ is a deformity of a chicken’s legs, characterized by feet pointing to the side, instead of forward, making walking difficult, if not impossible. Spraddle leg can be permanent if left uncorrected, but it’s simple to correct, so let’s look at how to fix it.

CAUSES

One cause of spraddle leg is slick floors that result in chicks losing their footing. The legs twist out from the hip and remain in that position unless corrected.
Other causes are:

  • temperature fluxuations during incubation
  • a difficult hatch that makes legs weak
  • leg or foot injury
  • brooder overcrowding
  • a vitamin deficiency

 Spraddle leg, also known as 'splay leg,' is a deformity of a chicken's legs, characterized by feet pointing to the side, instead of forward, making walking difficult, if not impossible. Spraddle leg can be permanent if left uncorrected, but it's simple to correct, so let's look at how to fix it.

PREVENTION

Providing traction for tiny feet is the best way to avoid spraddle leg (in cases where it can be avoided). Chicks should not walk directly on dry newspaper. Safer options are paper towels or rubber shelf liner covering newspaper.
Providing traction for tiny feet is the best way to avoid spraddle leg (in cases where it can be avoided). Chicks should not walk directly on dry newspaper. Safer options are paper towels or rubber shelf liner covering newspaper.

Valentina (who hatched the day after Valentine's Day) had been abandoned while under the care of a hen. The egg was not warm when I found it. Hoping for the best, I put it in my incubator right away, knowing it was close to hatch day. The chick had a difficult time freeing itself from the shell and required assistance hatching. The leg deformity was immediately obvious. Inconsistent temperatures during incubation combined with the difficulties hatching were clearly the cause of her spraddle legs. She couldn't move from this position.
MY CHICK WITH SPRADDLE LEG

Valentina (who hatched the day after Valentine’s Day) had been abandoned while under the care of a hen. The egg was not warm when I found it. Hoping for the best, I put it in my incubator right away, knowing it was close to hatch day. The chick had a difficult time freeing itself from the shell and required assistance hatching. The leg deformity was immediately obvious. Inconsistent temperatures during incubation combined with the difficulties hatching were clearly the cause of her spraddle legs. She couldn’t move from this position.

TREATMENT

The younger a chick is when treated, the better chance of preserving normal leg function. Untreated, a chick can die from inability to reach food and water without assistance. A chick can learn to push up, stand and walk correctly within less than a week, often much sooner if treated.

The legs must be restricted, braced or ‘hobbled,’ to provide stability and allow the chick’s bones and muscles to grow and strengthen in the correct position.
The legs must be restricted, braced or 'hobbled,' to provide stability and allow the chick's bones and muscles to grow and strengthen in the correct position.Any number of materials can be used for a brace, from bandaids to rubber bands, yarn to tape. My preference is VetRap. It's easy to use, sticks to itself, stays securely in place, doesn't restrict circulation when properly applied, won't damage the skin or leg feathers, is easy to remove and has just enough stretch to allow the chick to practice walking.Any number of materials can be used for a brace, from bandaids to rubber bands, yarn to tape. My preference is VetRap.  It’s easy to use, sticks to itself, stays securely in place, doesn’t restrict circulation when properly applied, won’t damage the skin or leg feathers, is easy to remove and has just enough stretch to allow the chick to practice walking.
I wrap two little pieces of VetRap around each leg just below the knee joint, being careful not to wrap too tightly. Since it sticks to itself, no tape is required. I find that these anchors make it easier to change the brace.I wrap two little pieces of VetRap around each leg just below the knee joint, being careful not to wrap too tightly. Since it sticks to itself, no tape is required. I find that these anchors make it easier to change the brace.
I wrap two little pieces of VetRap around each leg just below the knee joint, being careful not to wrap too tightly. Since it sticks to itself, no tape is required. I find that these anchors make it easier to change the brace.Next, I cut a long piece (approx 6-7″) to bind the legs together. The legs should be positioned underneath the chick, slightly wider than a normal stance and should allow a slight amount of play in between the legs for the chick to move a little bit. The brace should be removed once daily to assess the progress and re-adjust as needed. It’s important to ensure that the portion touching the legs does not restrict blood-flow. If there are indentations on the chick’s legs, the brace is too tight. As the chick’s legs strengthen, gradually allow for more slack between the legs until it is clear that support is no longer needed.
This wrap job is not ideal, but the photo was too funny not to share."Police! Show me your hands!"This wrap job is not ideal, but the photo was too funny not to share.”Police! Show me your hands!”
Chicks being rehabilitated must be supervised near water as they can drown. They will require assistance drinking at first. I put stones in the water as a safety measure. (The funnel just dissuades chicks from standing in the dish, until they learn to knock it over, of course.)Chicks being rehabilitated must be supervised near water as they can drown. They will require assistance drinking at first. I put stones in the water as a safety measure. (The funnel just dissuades chicks from standing in the dish, until they learn to knock it over, of course.)

PHYSICAL THERAPY

Brief physical therapy sessions help build leg muscles and balance. Support the body and let the chick push up to get their balance. As it finds its balance, gradually reduce the amount of assistance provided until it can stand independently. One minute sessions, 6-8 times throughout the first day are very important.

This is a video of Valentina at the end of the first day of treatment.

Shelf liner aids in gripping to stand.

Shelf liner aids in gripping to stand.
Standing is tricky at first, but practice makes perfect.

Standing is tricky at first, but practice makes perfect.

CROOKED TOES 

Most  causes of spraddle leg mentioned above can also cause crooked toes. According to Gail Damerow in The Chicken Encyclopedia, crooked toes can also be caused when newly hatched chicks have too much room in the incubator; in trying to get up and about before their frail bones are ready for the action, they can bend them. Crooked toes in chicks do not result in debilitation and are easily corrected if addressed immediately.

Windy, my Blue Splash Marans, hatched under fluxuating incubator conditions due to a power outtage.
Day old Blue Splash Marans with crooked toes. She hatched under fluxuating incubator conditions due to a power outtage.
Windy did not have her toes corrected as I was unaware of the treatment at the time. The crooked toes do not pose a problem for her.
Windy did not have her toes corrected as I was unaware of the treatment at the time. The crooked toes do not pose a problem for her.
Poor Windy needed bumblefoot surgery but at least she got a pedi out of the deal.
Poor Windy needed bumblefoot surgery but at least she got a pedi out of the deal.

To straighten crooked toes: Create a chick sandal by using thin cardboard (just heavier than oak tag paper) and trace around the foot (either mitten-style or glove-style as shown below). Cut wooden skewers, coffee stirrers or pipe cleaners (being careful to protect against sharp ends), to the length of the toe. With tiny strips of VetRap, attach the skewers/pipe cleaners to the toes securely enough that the splint will not move but loosely enough that circulation is not being restricted. Add the cardboard sandal to the bottom of the foot and VetRap it to the bottom.

Polish chick with crooked toes. Straightened in 24 hours with Vetrap. via The Chicken Chick®The VetRap provides traction to prevent slipping and is easier to work with than other options like tape. Generally, the younger the chick, the faster the response to treatment. The toes usually remain straight after a day or two with the sandals, but may take a little longer for the bones to harden in the correct position.

Here’s a crooked toes “cast” I made. HOW TO: Cut two squares of Vetrap just larger than the chick’s footprint. Place one square on a flat surface and have the chick stand on the square with toes in corrected positions. Place the second Vetrap square on the top of the toes aligned with the first square. Press the Vetrap pieces together around each toe so they stick together. CAREFULLY trim around the toes with scissors and gently pinch the Vetrap up around the top of the toes into tiny casts.
Here's a "cast" made from Vetrap for a chick with crooked toes.

 How to fix a chick's crooked toes via The Chicken Chick®

 How to fix a chick's crooked toes via The Chicken Chick®

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Mickie - Brandywine Farm
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Mickie - Brandywine Farm

Use splints. Experiment with different materials. Nothing is failure!

Mickie - Brandywine Farm
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Mickie - Brandywine Farm

Thank you so much!!! Had a 2-day old chick born with foot bent backwards. He was walking on his ankle-front with his foot behind. Made a shoe. It works. My only recommendation to others is to use a neutral color vetwrap if the chick will be in with others. They see that bright color and peck it. I used a plastic separator piece from a fishing lure box (the plastic ones–they are thermoplastic and you can reshape them with heat without damaging the plastic). I cut into a spoon shape. The spoon part was large enough to allow the whole… Read more »

Joanne Mcfall
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Joanne Mcfall

Thank thou so much for this information.. I recently had 5 chicks hatch and the last one I really thought didn't make it but at the last minute showed signs of life.. With lot of attention and stimulation he survived but a day later I was wondering if it should have. Just like your chick, mine could not get up on legs and I thought it was doomed. I found your site and followed your instructions and glad to say within 72 hours of watching your chicks video and removing the "brace" from mine.. I couldn't have wished for any… Read more »

Cara
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Cara

Hello, I have an animal sanctuary and just received two spraddle legged chickens- they are Mille Fleur and fully feathered- over a month old, they have severely splayed legs.. Not only are they splayed but rotated and not flexible enough to bring together to tether.. Does anyone have any experience with older chicks with this condition? There isn't even an avian specialist in the area to bring them to.. Can a chicken live a long life with this? With they be in pain? Other than the legs they are healthy and eating/pooping well. tarancara@aol.com thanks for any help you can… Read more »

Angel H
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Angel H

Hi Chicken Chick, I am writing to you hoping you might have some suggestions for me! My year old buff hurt her leg and we separated her and got her back to health but she still had a little limp but otherwise was doing ok, but a couple days ago she was acting really bad again so we separated her again and as of yesterday she has started walking on her knees!! I don't know what to do! I give her food and water right up to her so she does not have to struggle to get it and I… Read more »

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