Spraddle leg, also called “splay leg,” can be caused or exacerbated by brooding on a slick surface such as newspaper. (We recommend these types of bedding, instead.)It’s as if the chick is trying to stand upright wearing roller skates: her feet keep sliding out from beneath her. Alternately, some cases are caused by the bird being poorly positioned in the egg, or by various vitamin deficiencies.
Signs of Splay Leg
In serious cases, the chick (or gosling or duckling) is unable to stand up; legs point to either side of the body rather than beneath the body to support the bird’s weight. Less serious cases may allow them to stand and walk in a too-wide stance with difficulty.
There’s no incubation period since this isn’t caused by a virus or bacteria! However, it’s likely to be there initially, or develop within the first few days of being brooded on a slick surface or being fed a nutritionally deficient diet.
Home treatment and/or prevention
Prevention: Be sure not to brood on a slick surface. If you’re home incubating, take precautions to incubate at the correct temperatures, without wide fluctuation (don’t incubate in drafty areas, or near windows where sunlight may heat the incubator at times). Offer nutritionally balanced feed without too many treats.
Treatment: The following treatment tips, while written with baby chicks in mind, will also generally apply to ducklings and goslings as well. This is relatively easy to treat at home if you catch it right away. You’ll need to splint the chick’s legs in the proper position until her muscles develop enough that she can hold her legs in the proper position on her own. Usually, this is just a matter of two or three days in a young bird. To splint the legs, most people find it easy to use a regular band-aid, because the gauze is just the right width for most baby chicks. Wrap one side of the band-aid around one leg, and the other side around the other leg with the gauze in between. At first, the chick may have some difficulty getting around, because she won’t be used to being upright. She may “stand” on her hocks. However, this normally passes quickly, within a few hours. Change the band-aid every day. When you remove it, check to see if she can easily stand and walk on her own without it. When she can do that, there’s no need to reapply another band-aid. Most birds will recover fully with this treatment if the condition is caught early.
This isn’t usually needed for a spraddle leg, but you may feel more comfortable having a veterinarian apply a splint and check progress.
The condition can be fatal if not treated because the chick won’t be able to walk to food and water. Do make sure that your spraddle-legged chick can eat and drink. Even before treatment, you want to make sure to offer food and water, in case she hasn’t been able to get to it and she’s dehydrated and/or weak from hunger. After applying the splint, if she’s having any initial difficulty getting around, she can get knocked over by other, faster-moving birds, so keep a close eye on her to make sure she can eat and drink on her own without being accosted!
Other conditions, illnesses and/or diseases with similar signs:
Other disorders of the leg can be confused with spraddle leg (twisted tendon [perosis] or twisted leg [varus deformation] for example). When a chick is splay-legged, there is nothing wrong with the legs, per se; the legs have a full range of motion and are not paralyzed or stuck in any one position. It’s just that the muscles are not strong enough to keep the legs in a walking/standing position. If the bird’s legs are twisted, bent, swollen, or stuck in one position, it is likely to be something other than the splay leg.