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?