Poultry health directory - An A-Z of disease and illness
Much as we would prefer our poultry to remain healthy all of the time there will inevitably be times when they fall ill.
Quick identification and treatment can literally mean the difference between life and death so Pocket Farm is compiling its own A-Z of poultry ailments to help you spot the signs and deal with them in the most expedient way.
This is a living article that will be continually updated. We will start with the the conditions you are most likely to encounter and expand from there. Where appropriate and/or available there will be links to more detailed information on specific conditions.
Remember that as you know your birds and their behaviour better than anyone you are in the best position to spot the unusual behaviour patterns and physical abnormalities that can identify oncoming illness.
An infectious fungal disease contracted by inhalation where the spore count is high. The mould thrives in warm, wet conditions, producing black straw. Spores produced by the mould can then enter the birds’ lungs and affect their ability to breathe. This condition is also airborne.
Takes two forms – Acute and Chronic.
The symptoms of this form are often milder, with anaemia, yellow faeces and the chickens have a respiratory ‘rattle’.
Affected birds can survive for long periods but slowly decline in health. This form is usually found in adult chickens.
Gasping for breath
Loss of appetite
Thoroughly clean out the housing ( disinfectants are of little or no help so good old fashioned soapy warm water is good enough, but if you feel better adding a small amount of bleach or disinfectant then do so). Ensure the house is completely dry before allowing the chickens back in.
Change their bedding for clean material. If using straw use the best quality available otherwise change the type of bedding completely. Nesting boxes and materials should be given the same treatment. This cleaning routine must be kept up on a regular basis to reduce any further cases of illness.
Birds showing definite signs of aspergillosis must be isolated into a separate living area to try to avoid any spreading of the disease.
Antibiotics are of little or no use at all so avoid the expense of buying any. Some chickens will die and any that show no signs of improvement or are definitely seen to be suffering should be culled.
Those that recover from this disease will always be carriers therefore all round cleanliness is more important than ever.
Caused by a cut or even a small scrape to the bird’s foot that gets contaminated by bacteria, usually staph. Rough perches and wire cage floors are common causes of these cuts and scratches. Large, heavy birds that jump down from high perches can also injure the foot.
A large swelling on the bottom of the foot or on/under a toe that may feel soft in the early stages and hard later.
The chicken may limp or refuse to walk at all.
The foot looks red and inflamed and may feel hot to the touch. A black scab may appear over the sore.
Always wear gloves to carry out any treatment and if possible isolate the chicken until you have been able to clean and cover any open wound. The bacteria that causes Bumblefoot can also infect humans and other chickens.
Antibiotics may be all that is needed if this is caught in the early stages but use up the whole dosage prescribed.
Bathing the foot in a very warm saline solution will also help and is a must if the swelling has gone hard. The scab can be removed if you so wish but peel it off by picking at each corner until it comes away rather than squeezing the swelling.
Pat the area dry and apply a gauze dressing over the abscess and hold in place with an adhesive bandage such as vet wrap. This treatment must be carried out daily until the swelling has completely disappeared. If any treatment you carry out is unsuccessful then consult a vet in order that the swelling can be lanced.
An extremely serious and common problem for all chicken keepers.
Microscopic coccidia parasites can multiply in astounding numbers in the digestive tracts of chickens, causing bloody or watery diarrhoea, slow growth and death. It is most often found in young chickens.
Coccidia eggs are called oocysts and many chickens carry these with no signs of illness.
Chickens raised in crowded or unsanitary conditions are exposed to heavy doses of oocysts every day hence an intake of large amounts of oocysts..
Young chickens between three to five weeks old are most susceptible as are chickens that are unwell from any other illness. Poor nutrition also makes them more vulnerable to Coccidiosis
Some strains are more vicious than others and burrow deeper into the gut.
Coccidia like warm, wet conditions. Freezing weather and drought conditions kill oocysts. Chickens develop immunity to this disease as they mature.
There are two things that can be done to prevent an outbreak of Coccidiosis in your flock. Use one or the other, but not both.
Have your day-old chicks vaccinated with a coccidiosis vaccine.
Use a medicated starter feed for chicks until they’re 4 months old.
Other ways of prevention
Raise chicks on wire-floored brooders.
Keep pens clean and dry. Avoid overcrowding.
Treat chickens of any age with signs of coccidiosis immediately.
Medication from a vet is successful treatment but follow instructions to the letter because the chickens can be overdosed. Apple cider vinegar in their water is a good preventative measure.
A hen is said to be egg bound when she is unable to lay. This is a condition which may result from inflammation of the oviduct, malformed or double yolked eggs, or an egg which has formed too large for a bird to pass. – full article here.
There are two types – Wet Pox and Dry Pox both are a very painful problem for the chicken.
Three possible ways of contracting it:
Virus is shed from fowl pox wounds on affected birds and enters its next victim through skin wounds.
Pox viruses that infect mammals can be spread through the air and it is thought that this may be a way for fowl pox to be transmitted
Biting insects can carry the virus from one bird to another.
Signs of dry form
Once in the skin, the virus reproduces causing raised areas, which then burst releasing a tiny amount of pus often brownish in colour. These wounds are mostly seen on featherless skin such as the legs, comb, eye lids and wattles.
Causes some mild irritation.
These birds may stop laying and lose weight. In severe cases if the eye lids are affected the chickens will have difficulty in opening their eyes.
Birds with the ‘dry form’ rarely die. After about 14 days the pocks heal but can sometimes leave a tiny scar.
Signs of wet form
Much more rarely, the virus can infect the mouth, the oesophagus (food pipe) and the trachea (windpipe) initially to form white lumps in these areas, but after a while these areas join together to create a layer of mucus, pus and dead cells from the mouth lining. This mucus/pus/dead cell build up can obstruct the trachea making breathing difficult. In severe cases it can choke the bird. It can also be very painful for the chickens to eat. Birds with the ‘wet form’, if severe enough, can die.
There is no specific treatment for fowl pox but if your chicken(s) have the wet form it is worth taking them to the vet who can prescribe a supplement to add to their water. They will find it easier to drink than eat.
Affected chickens should be isolated and their coops kept scrupulously clean. The chickens should also be kept as stress free as possible. Hygiene is of the utmost importance as the Fowl Pox virus is extremely resilient and can survive in the environment for years.
A highly contagious viral disease. Spreads through air, by contact, and contaminated surfaces. Affects the respiratory system and can spread to the kidneys.
Coughing, sneezing with watery discharge from eyes and nose. Hens stop laying.
Treatment is purely supportive care. Antibiotics can be given but are not usually successful. There is a 50 percent mortality rate in chicks under 6 weeks.
There is a vaccine available and should be given to hens under fifteen weeks old as the vaccination causes the hen to cease laying.
Acute, sometimes chronic, highly infectious chicken disease caused by the bacterium Haemophilus paragallinarum.
Catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, especially nasal and sinus mucosae. Facial swelling, purulent eye and nasal discharge, swollen wattles, sneezing, shortness of breath, loss in general condition, reduction in egg production lack of appetite.
Isolate from any birds not showing signs of illness. Antibiotics. Bactericidal treatment might prevent carriers.
Also known as “big liver disease”, tumours are the main symptom. Affected birds have bowed, thickened legs and will produce less eggs. The genetic makeup of lymphoid leukosis is associated with slow cell transformation and tumour development over several months.
Two types: Slow and Chronic.
Weak and emaciated,
Enlarged liver, spleen, bursa, kidneys, ovary.
The commonest form of lymphoid leukaemia virus slowly transforms cells into neoplastic (abnormal tissue growth) ones i.e. tumours. The acute form transforms genes and causes tumours which can include fibrosarcoma, chonroma, endothelioma, haemangloma, nephroblastoma and hepatocarcinoma almost anywhere in the chicken as lymphoid tissue is spread throughout the bird (unlike mammals which have lymph nodes).
The virus is pervasive in poultry worldwide and is passed down through the egg as well as transmitted by direct or indirect contact. The virus can only survive outside the body for a few hours so is not very contagious.
There is no treatment or vaccine available for lymphoid leukosis. control is based on high standards of hygiene and selection for resistance to the viruses by culling affected birds.
A highly contagious disease that can survive for months or years in litter and poultry dust. Infection occurs through the respiratory system. Incubation periods range from 3 weeks to several months. Chicks become infected at an early age, whilst the disease normally manifests itself at 8-24 weeks, although it may be observed much earlier or later… Full article here.
Highly contagious respiratory disease and appears to affect birds already weakened through the presence of another disease e.g. Infectious Bronchitis. Incubation period is only a few days.
More than one form: Mycoplasma gallisepticum presents as foamy eyes, sneezing, nasal discharge, swollen eyelids and sinuses, reduced egg production and gasping in chickens. This one is the main culprit in backyard flocks. Mycoplasma synoviae causes swollen, hot joints as well as respiratory problems.
Antibiotic treatment will not cure the disease but reduces its effects to a tolerable level. Usually more effective in young birds but not quite so effective in older ones.
There is a vaccination available to offer some protection against Mycoplasma.
This is often associated with other crop conditions such as impacted and sour crop. The crop is a sac of smooth muscle and is easily damaged. Where the crop is stretched due to build up of food it can lose its shape and dangle down – hence the name – and eventually stop working altogether .
Long, fiberous material, such as grass, blocks the crop and cause a build up of food.
Treatment – Mild Cases: A pendulous crop can be emptied in the same way as you would for an impacted crop, but vets usually advise putting the bird onto water for 24 to 48 hours in mild cases before gradually re-introducing their food.
Treatment – Serious Cases: As for impacted crop. The contents of the crop should be softened before turning the bird upside down to empty the crop. Whilst this sounds difficult, it is in fact quite straight forward and usually successful in most cases.
If in any doubt, please seek the advice of a poultry vet.
During the process of laying an egg the lower part of the hen’s reproductive tract is temporarily turned inside out which lets the hen lay a very clean egg. Sometimes the tissue doesn’t retract after the egg has been laid and this condition is known as a prolapse. Full article here.
An inflamation of the oviduct.
Salpingitis can occur in birds of any age and is usually caused by an underlying problem inflaming the oviduct, e.g. E. Coli infection, Mycoplasma, Salmonella. Can also occur at start of lay when an egg gets stuck. There may be an accompanying mucous like and/or yellow discharge which can be mistaken for a broken egg.
These conditions will need antimicrobial medication however birds with advanced infection will rarely respond to treatment.
Brought about due to poor housing conditions. Wet bedding, nesting material and flooring plus uncleared droppings leads to ammonia literally burning through the skin of the feet and legs making it red raw and extremely painful.
Scald is easily prevented by regularly cleaning out coops and providing clean bedding, moving runs around if possible and not overcrowding. Remember ammonia vapours from droppings can build up inside the coop causing breathing difficulties too.
When you see chickens for sale in the supermarkets, look at the legs, sometimes you will see brown marks, if they haven’t been removed before display; this is a scald burn.
SCALY LEG MITE
Scaly leg mites are parasites that are particularly associated with the feet and legs of chickens although they can also infest any unfeathered areas including the face, beak, ears, eyes, combs and wattles of other poultry – full article here.
THRUSH as MONILIASIS/CANDIDIASIS AND VENT GLEET
A widespread fungal infection of all birds including poultry, especially chickens. Birds of all ages can be infected by it.
The disease is caused by a fungus rather like yeast, called Candida albicans. Transmission of the disease occurs when the bird ingests some source that is infected with the Candida albicans fungus.
Affects the crop, gizzard, the proventriculus (a gland in the stomach), intestines and vent.
This condition produces no specific symptoms. Some are listed below
Young birds may become lethargic, pale with ruffled feathers. Caged layer hens may become obese and anaemic. Some birds exhibit a vent inflammation that resembles a diarrhoea-induced condition with a whitish incrustation of the feathers and skin around the area. Feed consumption may increase by 10 to 20 percent.
The crop and proventriculus have whitish thickened areas that are often described as having a “turkish towel” appearance.
Internally there may be erosion of the lining of the proventriculus and gizzard and inflammation of the intestines.
An antimycotic drug will control the infection. See a vet for prescription advice.
Note: Many broad spectrum antibiotics will enhance this disease; therefore they should not be used until after control of this condition is completed.
Home remedies such as live pro-biotic yogurt and any cream that treats human thrush can be just as effective when used for poultry.
Three main types of worms in chickens – roundworms, tapeworms and gapeworms.
Chicken appears unhealthy and thin. Some may gain weight slowly even though they eat far more feed than chickens without worms. Appearance of worms or worms eggs in chicken droppings
Many chicken owners use a proprietary wormer twice a year (Flubenvet is the only one licences for poulty in the UK) as a precaution
If you suspect your flock has worms then start worming treatment immediately.
Adding garlic to their food or water or apple cider vinegar (equine strength) to their water can help avoid your flock becoming affected.
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