A congenital or developmental abnormality, splay leg is frequently seen in newly hatched chicks, both naturally and artificially incubated. One or both legs can be affected, causing them to extend laterally from the chick’s body.

Contributing factors include temperature and humidity fluctuations during the incubation period and hatch time. Some Bantam breeds (Silkies) may be more susceptible. A difficult hatch or poor chick position inside the egg may also be a cause.

In older chicks, brooder overcrowding with leg or foot injuries from slippery flooring may also lead to this situation. Adults fed diets deficient in vitamin B2 have an increased risk of producing chicks with weaker tendons and ligaments.

Early recognition and treatment are vital, as some cases may be so severe that, if unable to walk, these individuals are at risk of starvation, drowning in waterers, or being trampled by other chicks. Proper leg stabilization with commercial hobbles or homemade braces is the usual treatment for this condition. Affected individuals should also be placed on a non-slip surface.

An essential oil I have successfully used for this situation is helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum). It has historically been used when tissue and nerve regeneration are needed. A tiny amount placed neat at the base of the spine (minimum of twice a day) has been extremely helpful in facilitating recovery with or without hobbles/stabilization. I have seen chicks show significant improvement in 24 hours, with most regaining enough strength to start walking within 48 hours.

Contact a VMAA member for guidance on how to implement safe and effective usage of essential oils for your pets and patients (vmaa.vet).


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