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I Believe I Can Fly
Splay leg is a leg and/or pelvic socket deformity found in nestlings.  It is most often found in newly hatched that are not strong enough to hold themselves up with their legs firmly planted beneath them

There are a number of causes:



INAPPROPRIATE NESTING SURFACE:  If the floor of the nest box is slippery or does not have enough bedding, the young chick cannot get enough footing to hold up its weight.  Consequently one leg; or both legs, will slip out from underneath the chick. The body weight of the chick will force the leg bone from the hip socket, or distort the "knee" out of alignment. 

If these conditions are not remedied early, the damage will be permanent.
LuLu is a severely splay legged Hahn's Macaw.  She hatched in October 1999 and was 4 months old when this picture was taken. 

LuLu's breeder brought her to me when she noticed the legs were not correctly positioned.  She was handfeeding the clutch and tried securing the legs underneath LuLlu to no avail

When LuLu came to me, I put her in a series of leg wraps and braces, trying to realign at least one of her legs so she would be able to perch.  She remained in braces and/or supports for about 2 months.  At least three times a day she was given "birdy physical therapy" to try to keep the joints from contracting.  No amount of effort corrected her condition so it was determined that it would be best for her to learn to live with her condition. 

LuLu is housed in a special cage with ramps and shelves rather than ladders and perches.  She travels in a wicker basket with hanging toys for grasping.  This is how she pulls herself around.  She is a little green Tarzan swinging with one foot
from her hanging toys,  reaching to grab the next one with her other foot.
I use several techniques to correct splay leg -- depending on age, severity, and direction of the splay. Occasionally positioning the legs suspended under the body and propping the little one up in a padded container will be sufficient to re-align the legs.  If this is not sufficient other techniques are described below.
1.  Using soft  rubber (vinyl) medical tubing purchased from a hospital supply store, cut small pieces the length of the leg. Then slit the pieces lengthwise so it opens up and can be wrapped around the leg -- one for each leg.  This will make a little soft rubber "cast" or leg support.  Do not use the hard clear oxygen tubing, this can rub on the legs, cutting the fragile skin and leaving open wounds.

Cut a narrow piece of vet wrap (or any self-sticking elastic bandage) 4 - 8 inches long, depending on the size of the bird; may need to be longer for larger species.  "Figure-8" this wrap around the two legs, crossing in the middle.  Go around one leg, cross in the middle, around the back of the other leg, cross  in the middle, etc.  Continue until you have enough thickness in between the legs to keep them in a natural spacing.

Do not stretch the wrap and pull too tight.  This will restrict circulation in the legs.

When using this method, you may have to prop up the little one in a bowl padded with an absorbant material.  I pefer using an appropriate size flower pot with an old cotton wash cloth to pad the inside of the pot and the rim.   You could also use washcloths or pieces of cotton diapers to make small "bed rolls" to hold the youngster in an upright position.

If you use this method, make sure you remove the braces at least once a day and check the circulation in the legs.  Make sure the braces aren't too tight and rubbing sores on the legs.  This is also a good time to do a little "physical therapy" by rubbing the legs, submerging them in warm water and working the toes, bending the knees, etc.

2.  Using a small piece of a styrofoam meat tray cut into a square (about 2 inches square -- depends on the size of the bird), cut a couple of small openings in the middle of the squre so you can pull the feet through. This will work to keep the legs in alignment until you can gather supplies for a better system.  Remember that the styrofoam can rub sores on the "ankles" and older chicks will take an intense interest in pecking at the little white pieces of styrofoam. In lieu of pulling feet through the holes, you can use paper surgical tape to tape the feet flat on the surface of the styrofoam.  This will also work if you are working with toes that are out of alignment. This is only a stop-gap method. 

Bubble wrap (the plastic bubble material used for packing breakables) can also be used as a temporary measure similar to the styrofoam.  Pull the legs together, wrap both together in bubble wrap and secure with tape.  Make sure you put something for spacing in between the legs.  Also, remember, this is plastic and will not allow the skin to breathe.  Remove a couple of times a day and allow the legs to "air dry."
3.  Apply leg bands to both legs and use dental floss to tie the bands together, pulling the legs into
alignment.  Remember to put a folded piece of soft material such as sponge or gauze between the legs to keep them from pulling to close together.  This is, by far, the easiest of the methods I use, however, it also may contribute to some "knee" deformities by pulling the legs too close together at the ankles. This is why a "spacer" between the legs is so important.

Also, observe closely for open sores where the bands rub the legs.  You want the bands tight enough so the feet don't slip out, but loose enough to allow for good circulation.  I find the small plastic spiral bands work for the tiny birds -- or the colored plastic spiral bands (usually used for chickens and poultry) work for the larger birds or older chicks.  Make sure the bands you put on are OPEN bands so they can easily be removed. 
If you get the chick early enough, you will usually notice improvement within a few days.  Some birds have responded in as few as three days -- others have had the braces on for several weeks with no signs of improvement. Of course, the cause of the splay is going to have some bearing on the amount of time and the quality of improvement that can be expected.  The severity of the splay and the age of the bird are also critical factors.  None of these methods will work if the leg or hip sockets are deformed.  This is why x-rays are so important when improvement is not readily noted.  X-rays may indicate a need for more intense splinting by medical personnel or surgery.
Once you find a chick with splay leg you need to start investigating the cause -- lack of calcium, poor positioning in the egg, genetic deformity, trauma, were the parents setting "too tight" (most often seen in the coldest part of winter), and the most common reason - nothing on the bottom of the nest box for the little feet and toes to hold onto.  The weight of the plump chick pushes the legs out to the side. 
If the nest box is the cause, add some type of padding to the bottom of the box.  I have found that the foam/vinyl mats used to keep rugs from slipping or the non-slip drawer or shelf liners -- or even the little rubber stickies you put in the bottom of the bathrub, if applied UNDER the nest box shavings or litter, will increase the chance of the youngsters getting a good foothold.  If you use anything like this you need to be diligent in your nest box inspections.  If you notice that the parents - or the chicks - have started pecking at it, remove it and use something else. 
For more information on splay leg, other methods of correcting the problem and stories of birds and their human companions that have adjusted to life with this condition, check out the following links:
Judy Leach's Parrots http://www.petparrot.com/
                                  Click on Disease/Injuries in Index
How to Fix Splay Legs in Baby Lovebirds Using a Makeup Sponge

The Love for A Cockatiel http://www.cockatiels.org/tiellove.html

A Good Life for Minnie http://www.bluequaker.com/Art-001.htm

A New Approach to Correcting Splayed Legs in Baby Birds

Special Parrots Home Page http://www.fcaviary.com/special.htm

This page is not intended to replace competent medical care.  If you have any quesitons or suggestions, please drop us a note at Charlie's Bird House.
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