Rare Chicken Diseases

Just like humans, chickens will get poorly from time to time and will need some TLC from you (their owners). As a chicken keeper you will inevitably come to find a droopy hen looking very sorry for herself. Chickens aren’t very good at hiding when they are feeling a little unwell, so you will know fairly early on if there is a problem.


A brood of Plymoth Rock chickens free ranging in search for some grubs
A brood of Plymoth Rock chickens free ranging in search for some grubs

There are a few common hen illnesses, and this section will run through these common chicken diseases and symptoms that accompany them.




Coccidiosis

This is caused by a microscopic parasitic organism that attaches to the lining of your chickens intestine. The gut wall is damaged which can cause significant pain to an infected chicken. If not treated this can be fatal as it affects the birds ability to digest food. Most reputable breeders will vaccinate against Coccidiosis before selling them.


Symptoms

  • Diarrhea with blood in it
  • Weight loss
  • Chicken will appear droopy and unwell
  • Drop in egg production

Treatment

Treatment involves using an anticoccidial medication such as Coxoid to kill the Coccidiosis living in the gut. Antibiotic treatment may be needed to help with the bacterial disruption Coccidiosis causes in the gut. The chickens run needs to be treated to get rid of any oocysts that could be ingested by your chickens again. If your chickens have a movable run then you can move their coop and run around everyday. If they have a static run then you will need to disinfect the ground using a ground sanitiser such as Nettex ground sanitising powder.

If you suspect your chickens have Coccidiosis you should contact your vet for further advice.




Mycoplasma

Mycoplasma is a type of bacteria (unique in that it doesn’t have a cell wall surrounding the cell membrane). There are many different variations but the most common Mycoplasma that infects poultry is Mycoplasma gallisepticum. Mycoplasma causes respiratory disease and can be fatal. However plenty of birds can contract Mycoplasma and recover. Once a bird is infected it will be a carrier for life and any stress can cause a flare up of the infection again. Having a carrier in the flock does also mean that any new birds introduced with weaker immune systems can become infected and not be able to recover. Wild birds can carry it, so free ranging hens are more likely to come into contact with the disease.


Symptoms

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fluid or small bubbles in corner of the eye
  • Swollen face
  • Drop in egg production
  • Sweet smelling breath

Mycoplasma is very contagious and can live on the surfaces of feeders, drinkers, and clothes for several hours.


Treatment

Treatment involves a course of antibiotics. If you believe any of your chickens have Mycoplasma you should contact your vet who will be able to diagnose it and administer any antibiotics.




Colibacillosis

Colibacillosis is a bacterial infection caused by E.coli. It is mostly associated with upper respiratory infections and can be fatal, but more often than not the chicken will recover. Colibacillosis primarily affects younger birds (5-6 weeks) but older birds can also suffer from it.


Symptoms

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Listlessness
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Laboured breathing
  • Reduced appetite

If you notice any of the above symptoms you should contact your vet who will be able to give you further advice or treat the bird.


Treatment

Treatment involves a course of antibiotics




Fowl Cholera

Fowl cholera is a bacterial infection. The infection can be chronic which means the infection is mild and the birds will fully recover, but will be carriers for the rest of their lives. Birds can also get acute fowl cholera which causes death very quickly sometimes without any symptoms presenting themselves. Rodents can cause the spread of this infection, so controlling the rodent population is an effective preventative measure. Some poultry keeper choose to cull any birds that carry the bacterium to prevent further loss of birds.


Symptoms

  • Acute
  • Sudden death
  • Mucus coming out of the beak
  • Chronic
  • Swollen wattles
  • Swollen joints
  • Twisting of the neck

If you notice any of the above symptoms you should contact your vet immediately.


Treatment

Tetracycline antibiotics. A chicken can never be cured once they have the infection.


Fowl Pox

Fowl pox is caused by a virus and can be spread through biting insects, through the air, or through wounds on the skin. It usually isn’t fatal but is painful for your chickens. There is a ‘wet’ form and a ‘dry’ form, with the latter being the more common of the two. Birds suffering from the ‘wet’ form can sometimes suffocate and die. Fowl pox is easy to detect but there is no real treatment. There is a vaccine for this virus but as it rarely kills birds poultry keepers usually don’t bother with the expense.


Symptoms

  • Warts, scabs on wattles and comb
  • Caseous (cheese like) deposits in the mouth and throat. (only in the wet form)
  • Drop in egg production
  • Loss of appetite

Treatment

There is no specific treatment available. The infection takes around 3 to 5 weeks to run its course. Any health supplements such as apple cider vinegar or a vitamin booster will help your chickens recovery. If you do suspect your chickens have Fowlpox then you should contact your vet for advice.




Infectious Bronchitis

Infectious Bronchitis (IB) is the most common viral upper respiratory disease in chickens. Most hybrid chickens are vaccinated against several strains so as a hobby chicken keeper you shouldn’t need to worry about this if your hens are vaccinated. IB is highly contagious and it will likely spread throughout your flock very quickly. Mortality is high in younger birds <5 weeks. Older birds usually recover within 3-4 weeks.


Symptoms

  • Wilted/droopy looking
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Gasping
  • Diarrhoea
  • Wet litter
  • Smaller soft shelled and irregular shaped eggs

If you notice one of your chickens has any of the above symptoms you should contact your vet for advice.


Treatment

There isn’t any treatment as with most viral infections. Sometimes a vet will prescribe antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections. As with Fowlpox any health supplements such as apple cider vinegar or a vitamin booster will help aid your chickens' recovery.




Infectious LaryngoTracheitis

Infectious Laryngotracheitis is a viral infection. It usually isn’t fatal but it can be. The mortality rates are usually 10-20% but it can go up to 50%. The infection usually lasts 6 weeks, and after this a bird is a carrier of the virus for life. The virus is resistant and can survive for a long time outside of its host but can be killed easily with disinfectants. So treating your coop and run will disinfectants regularly can lower the risk of your chickens getting this infection.


Symptoms

  • Coughing, sometimes coughing up mucus or blood
  • Gasping
  • Shortness of breath
  • Drop in egg production
  • Eye and nasal discharge

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your chickens you should contact your vet for further advice.


Treatment

There is no treatment for this viral infection. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to control any secondary bacterial infections that the chicken may contract due to a weakened immune system.




Sour Crop

Sour crop is a yeast infection in the crop. The crop is a pouch at the base of a chickens throat. It is the first stage of digestion. The infection cause the crop wall to thicken and the crop gets blocked. It can cause death by starvation if left untreated. Sour crop is more common in growing birds than adult birds. It can be triggered by some oral antibiotics or if your chicken hasn’t been getting enough vitamin A.


Symptoms

  • Fowl breath
  • A full crop that doesn’t empty
  • Loss of weight
  • Looking droopy and deflated
  • Drop in egg production

Treatment

Taking your chicken to the vet is the best option. The vet will most likely empty and clean the chickens crop and prescribe some anti fungal medication to control the bacteria in the crop.




Egg Peritonitis

Egg Peritonitis occurs when the yolk released by the ovary travels into the abdominal cavity instead of the the oviduct. The infection can spread and make your chicken very unwell. A lot of the time this can be fatal as by the time your chicken shows symptoms they are close to death. If caught early chickens can recover. Diagnosis is pretty tricky as sometimes a chicken won’t show any symptoms before death. There are a few signs you can look out for below.


Symptoms

  • Pale comb and wattles
  • Looking unwell- closed eyes, sitting still, looks droopy and deflated, lack of interest in surroundings or food.
  • Drop in egg production
  • Lack of appetite
  • Penguin stance

Treatment

If caught early enough antibiotics can work to kill the infection and your chicken will recover. Unfortunately a lot of the time Egg Peritonitis isn’t caught in time and will kill your chicken.




Prolapsed Oviduct

A prolapse is when the tissue inside the vent protrudes from the vent. It occurs when laying eggs usually. When a chicken lays an eggs the tissue will protrude to lay the egg. When a prolapsed oviduct occurs the tissue does not return back inside and stays outside. It can happen when a hen lays a particularly large egg or when a pullet starts to lay before she is fully grown.


Symptoms

  • Red tissue hanging out of the chicken's vent

Treatment

You must separate the chicken from the rest of the flock immediately before the other hens start to peck at her. The tissue may recede back in by itself, however a lot of the time it will need some help from you. Take your hen and place her in warm water and try to gently wash off any dirt or poo that is around her vent on on the tissue. Using petroleum jelly gently push the tissue back inside her vent, and then apply a Preparation H or witch hazel to reduce any swelling. You will need to keep the hen isolated for a couple of days. It is recommended to keep her in darkness so she doesn’t lay any eggs to give her oviduct a rest. After a few days of rest she can return to the flock but you will need to keep a close eye on her to see if she prolapses again. If you don’t feel comfortable treating a prolapsed hen yourself you should take her to the vet.




Botulism

Avian Botulism is caused by a toxin that can either be ingested, breathed in, or enter the body via a wound. The bacteria that produces the toxin can be found in decaying matter such as decaying vegetation, or decaying animals. In order to produce the toxin the bacteria needs anaerobic conditions (without oxygen), a protein source, and warm conditions. The toxin causes musculoskeletal and respiratory paralysis by blocking nerve function.


Symptoms

  • Paralysis of legs, wings, neck, eyelids, then death.

Treatment

Removal of the toxin by disinfecting run and coop. Treat of the chicken will involve selenium, vitamins A, D and E as well as with some antibiotics as chlortetracycline, bacitracin. If you think your chicken has Botulism then you should contact your vet immediately.



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