Curled Toe Paralysis in Poultry - Identifying Riboflavin Deficiency in Non-organic Purchased Quail

The manifestation of curled toe paralysis and its treatment are the same for most poultry but I'm using quail as the example because although I've treated it in other people's birds, within my own flock I've only come across it in quail. Nutritional deficiencies in quail manifest themselves in much the same way as I have seen them occur in humans. In fact it is through my experience of keeping quail that I have gained a better understanding into the tell-tale signs of deficiency in myself and my family. Quail have a high basal metabolic rate and as such their problems with nutrition are dramatically and rapidly revealed and equally speedy in their disappearance when balance is re-established.

Golden Japanese newly hatched quail chicks

A lecturer from a local agricultural college once remarked that my quail were the most 'laid-back' he had ever seen. This remark has been one which I have always remembered because I see it as of great importance as an indication of general health in my quail. Whenever my quail exhibit stress or any kind of aggressive behaviour towards each other, I know it is time to up their B complex vitamins and amino acids. The easiest way to cover most of these is to make sure they have a constant supply of wild arthropods, in particular, those which dwell in compost heaps, such as woodlice (sow bugs), earwigs and compost worms (red wrigglers or bramblings). These latter are more nutritious than earthworms, which although a favourite with quail are bad converters of their food and thus not as nutritious as their compost cousins.

Organically raised quail foraging

In this article I am going to look at riboflavin (B2). This was the first ever deficiency I came across both in quail and later in my neighbour's poultry, when he brought me over a 'hen chick' with what he thought was a damaged leg. Let's first examine what B2 does and then go on to look at the symptoms which would be expected in a quail and which also hold true for other poultry. As already mentioned, the B complex vitamins are of tantamount importance to the body as they have an effect on both the physical and the nervous system of the bird.

B2 Riboflavin - Functions and Associations

Quail conversion of caged to organicRiboflavin is required by the body to both produce energy from the intake of food and to regulate its use, without it the mitrochondria, what might be referred to as the 'batteries' of the cells, cannot function properly. B2 also aids the body to produce glutathione which acts as a free radical scavenger protecting the body from disease and premature aging. A lack of glutathione causes damage to both the red and white blood cells and in addition, disruption to the nervous system. Glutathione is also thought to protect the eyes from problems caused by excessive sunlight. Most importantly from the point of view of adult non-organic quail, glutathione is necessary for the elimination of heavy metals and other toxins accumulated by the body. B2 is also associated with the body's assimilation of other B complex vitamins, such as the coenzyme B6 (active form, P5P or pyridoxal 5 phosphate) and folate (B9). Thus riboflavin deficiency can also bring with it deficiency in the other B complex vitamins, all of tantamount importance to the nervous system.

What to look for

quail chick exhibiting riboflavin deficiency
The first indication in a quail chick of riboflavin deficiency is a general lethargy, this may be hard to spot if you have not kept quail before. Quail chicks are different to 'hen chicks', they are precocial and much faster on their feet. Unlike chicks they do not follow the same behavioural patterns, with regard to frequency of sitting under the mother and coming out to forage. In quail chicks, I have observed that the intervals between these periods of activity and rest are much shorter. Therefore, I am always looking for anomalies in this behaviour and in particular individuals, who may be sitting down more often than I would expect them to. The picture above tells such just such a story. I took it as a 'snap' shot, it was so unusual to see a week-old quail at complete rest, apart from when sunbathing and sleeping. It's a cute photo but when I returned to the greenhouse, from having taken back the camera, this little chick hadn't moved and in fact when I got him on his feet I found he had just the hint of a limp. Interestingly enough, it was this group of quail chicks first day out in the greenhouse and they had been very energetically weeding and finding insect pests. Experience has taught me the difference between a quail chick, who is just having a break, a sunbathe or a nap and one who is showing early signs of B2 deficiency.

The next stages and resulting symptoms of B2 deficiencies, after the sitting down and the slight limp, come on pretty quickly.

These include:
  • the quail sitting on one or both its hocks and or dropping down onto one knee as it walks. This is then accompanied by,
  • a tendency of one or both wings, to droop or drop down as if it is an effort to keep them in place.
  • the toes of the chick then begin to curl inwards and
  • the chick finally exhibits paralysis in the wings, toes, feet and legs

However before this latter happens, over a matter of a few days, you will have had time to totally reverse the process and establish a complete recovery. Even after these final stages manifest themselves you will still have time but the cure will take longer and it will be much more difficult to get the nutrition in to them, particularly a hatchling or very small quail chick.

Above: sunbathing.
Below: the beginnings of curled toe paralysis. When you see this chick in the film, which will be included with the next article, you will observe he exhibits drooping wings and also the tell-tale limp.

In the next article I will look at how to treat B2 deficiency with nutritherapy and some strategies for making sure the quail get sufficient to effect a complete cure.

newly hatched coturnix quail chicks
Thanks for dropping by and if you have enjoyed this piece and found it useful think about sharing it and also maybe about joining this blog. Please also feel free to ask questions or make comments in the section below.

All the very best,



How to cure curled toe paralysis (riboflavin deficiency)

For my 'field study', I am using the example of quail chicks, from non-organic purchased hatching eggs because this is the area in which, sadly I have a great deal of experience more

©  Sue Cross 2015


  1. Hi. Thank you for your article. I have a leghorn chick that was hatched on the 21st or 22nd April 2016. I think it had this issue as soon as it hatched. I'm going to try and get some brazil nut and yeast flakes. Hoping its not too late and that it will recover. My friend checked its feet out yesterday and said that it had no feeling in its left leg. Its also half the size of its siblings and is now looking sickly.

    1. Hi Sharon, This is a very common problem particularly in purchased eggs but very easy to remedy. You will know very soon if you are on the right track, as birds recover very quickly once you get the right nutrient into them. Within a few hours you should start to see some improvement and within 24-48 a complete recovery. As your chick sounds like the 'runt of the litter', I think feeding it up separately would be a good idea. I would be inclined to a general good all-round 'paleo' diet and to take it off any grain and concentrate on a wild protein (invertebrates or organic hard boiled egg or scrambled in raw organic coconut oil). This will cover almost all the B complex vitamins and essential amino acids; such as methionine and then feed with it; green leafy vegetables, which will cover the rest. As a smaller chick it will also be under stress to obtain food so feeding it separately will do its confidence a lot of good too! I have had runts that have turned out to be fine, friendly and often dominant birds, simply perhaps because I took the time to build them up and forged a bond with them. If you have the chick with a mother hen then you you are no doubt aware that you will need to be careful of not breaking the bond with her but making it seem like she is doing the work. However, if the chick is constantly being left behind in a group and crying out for attention, she will probably be glad of the help! All the very best and hope this is of use and please get back to me and let me know how you get on, Sue

    2. Hi Sharon, I realised this morning, when you commented on the above post that I had not written the 'cure' part. I have now done that and it is here I have also added some suggestions for further deficiencies, which can lead to similar symptoms. All the very best, Sue

  2. Hello,

    I have a barred rock chicken who first started limping. I thought perhaps she had bumblefoot, and soaked her feet and later examined them but did not find anything wrong with them. So I took her to a vet (not an avian vet) who told me that she thoughtit was a vitamin deficiency because by then both feet were involved and her toes were curled up. Also she was walking on her elbows(?) So she did some research and said it was vit B2 deficiency and that I needed to give her at least 100mcg/day of B2 for her to get better. I started giving her some polyvisol (children's vitamins), but I had added vit E and Selenium for another chicken and I was afraid I may overdose her on the Selenium. So then, I started giving her an egg daily, as well as spinach, but I don't see much improvement. This was about 2 weeks ago that I took her to the vet. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Hi there, I have a couple of ideas. Firstly I wouldn't use human vitamin supplements for chickens unless you are absolutely sure they contain nothing but the actual vitamin and in its natural form i.e. not a synthetic and even so it is better to feed vitamins via foods so your hen can self regulate. Secondly don't feed spinach as your green vegetable, it is too high in oxalic acid and this is thought to actually inhibit its uptake! This may therefore be the reason why your hen is not getting better, as you are feeding riboflavin and other B complex vitamins in the form of the egg but the oxalic acid is preventing your bird from using it and it will, as a water soluble vitamin, just be being flushed out. Don't worry there is so little research done on proper nutrition through foodstuffs for poultry that it is not surprising you have not come across it! I would stay away from spinach anyway, oxalic acid will also cause digestive problems and again nutrient will be flushed. My hens rarely eat spinach by choice. I would be going for kale or other cabbage family or get your hen on some grass, these are all a great source of folate. Your hen may also be experiencing a vitamin B12 deficiency. Has she been laying heavily? Also the egg you are feeding is it your own home produced or a commercial one? The egg will only be as good as the chicken it came from, so if you have to buy an egg. go for a pastured organic one. I would also stop feeding any grain and in any form, including layer pellets and get her on a wild invertebrate diet if possible. If you can't source these, then buy meal worms Tenebrio molitor a species of the Darkling Beetle, they are sold for reptile food. You can even start your own meal worm 'farm' easily in something like a plastic box and thus have a ready supply of nutritious food. Her other problem may be that she has a trapped nerve due to a problem in laying, that can go on for weeks, I call it rubber chicken syndrome, but again good diet, including crushed oyster shell, vitamin A from cabbage, vitamin D3 from sunlight, phosphorus from eggs or fish and magnesium (you can make magnesium 'oil' from easily purchased magnesium salts) and spray it under her wings - all these will help. Food remedies are quick to work and you should be seeing results within 6 - 48 hours and thus know if you are on the right track. However, I always choose to feed food not human vitamins and of the best quality I can find. Hope this helps and get back to me and let me know how things are going. I have been away on holiday and away from the computer - normally I reply speedily! All the very best, Sue

    2. First of all, I thank you so much for your reply. You're right I didn't know about the spinach. I usually don't give it to all my chickens, only once in a while, but I have been giving it to Faith, this chicken, and to another chicken who is blind and who, for some reason, once she tasted it, she didn't want any other green. So I will weaned them both off it right away. Also I purchased another kind of vitamins (Rooster Booster Chicken Booster), and I put it in the food mush I make for all my girls. They don't seem to be to thrilled with flavor, however. I'd also switched back to giving faith her mush (w/vit) instead of egg, but she definitely prefers the egg, which is one of my chickens'. So from what I gather in your comment, I should again switch her back to egg, and add the worms, etc. I sometimes give them freeze-dried mealworms. Do these count or do they have to be fresh? Also how much/often do I feed her? I'm sorry if I'm taking too much of your time, but these two girls Faith, and Blanche (the blind one) have been through alot, but they are fighters, they don't give up; so I can't give up on them either. I thank you so much for all your help.

    3. Hi there and you are very welcome, I've always got time for people who really care for their birds and want to help them! Yes egg is a great all round food and you could also add raw organic coconut oil too as this is a great immune system support as well as a great energy food. Re: dried meal worms, I saw a study recently that compared the nutritional value of commercially raised invertebrates and wild and as you might expect the latter were the best food value. We are back to the premiss of; 'you are what you eat', so the wild meal worms will be on a much better diet. However, whatever you can get your hands on for invertebrate protein is still a good option. I am just starting my own meal worm 'farm', I picked up a box of them from a store that sells fishing bait and am in the process of converting them to an organic diet, so in the long term this could be a great option for you too. I find chickens are excellent at self-regulating their diet and if you let them eat what they want then the following day they may take less or none at all, just keep offering a little every day and go by what they choose. I'm thinking Blanche will be more cautious in what she eats, as she can only taste and smell not see it. Therefore once she's found something she knows tastes OK she may in fact get hooked on it because she recognises the smell. I had this with a Wyandotte hen I was given as a present from our neighbours. At the time they kept all their birds in a run that had no vegetation, they just threw in some weeds from the garden, the main one being sow thistle, which is a diuretic. When the Wyandotte, who we called Dorothy, came to us she had the whole freedom of our garden and we did have quite a few sow thistles but plenty of other vegetation too. Dorothy however recognised the sow thistles immediately as being something she knew as edible and began to binge on these with disastrous results to her digestive system. However she was a quick learner and actually after she had watched my other hens eating, she quickly remedied her eating habits!

      Please do get back to me and let me know how you go on with Blanche and Faith, they are very lucky to have found a home with someone as caring as you. All the very best, Sue

    4. Again, thanks for your reply. My sister, who is an entomologist, after I mentioned to her what you said about thd invertabrates, suggested I breed a type of bug she says is a grain bug, therefore a "clean" bug. She says is very simple to do with bran and they multiply very quickly. So I might do that. Until I have it going, however, I'll probably stick with the mealworms. I don't know how much to feed her or how often, since with the crumbles I just have them there all the time and I do give them mush once a day, but they take their sweet time to eat it. Would one egg a day be enough or do I have to give her several a day. And how about fruit? Sometimes I'll give them apples or watermelon. Is there anything in particular that's good for them?