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Common Chicken Diseases and Their Cures

Even the best cared for flock will sometimes have health issues. Chickens are especially vulnerable to disease where their “wilder” counterparts (ducks and geese) have better resistance. Knowing what to look for and how to treat common chicken diseases can help you catch problems early and hopefully prevent them from taking out your entire flock.

Preventative Medicine

The best cure for chicken diseases is the prevention of them beforehand. There are several things you can do to help promote good health in your flock. These include:

  • Carefully observe all new chickens in separate quarters before introducing them to the flock to avoid brining in new diseases.
  • Keep water bowls and food dishes clean and make sure feed stays dry. Feed only as much as the chickens will eat in a day, and avoid throwing feed on the ground or floor. Instead use a good quality feeder that has small openings so chickens can eat from it, but not walk through the food.
  • Keep the coop as clean as possible.
  • Be careful when feeding to avoid any food with mold.
  • Don’t feed any kitchen scraps that may have mold or be rotten.
  • Pay careful attention to the entire flock and each individual animal for any signs of abnormal behavior or illness.

Signs of illness to watch for in your chickens:

  • Wheezing
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Nasal or oral discharge
  • Twisted neck or head
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Drops in egg production
  • Missing feathers
  • Scabs
  • Joint swelling
  • Thin shells in eggs
  • Abscesses
  • Open wounds
  • Paralysis or uncoordinated movements
  • Dehydration
  • Enlarged abdomen

Specific Diseases of Chickens

While the list of actual diseases possible in chickens is long, only a few are common enough to merit watching for. Any more serious diseases or illnesses should be seen by your veterinarian. Additionally, many more serious poultry illnesses must be reported to the Department of Agriculture in your state.

Crop Impaction: A hard, compacted buildup of food in the crop. Chickens do not have teeth, so they use a bag in the lower portion of the neck that holds gritty substances such as minerals from the ground and small rocks that are ingested during normal pecking habits to break up the food before passing it to the gizzard.

Help break up small impactions by soaking a small piece of bread in olive oil and feeing it to the chicken. The oil can lubricate the lump in the crop. Next, massage the crop to further break up the loosened material. Continue this routine twice a day until you can no longer feel a lump.

Prevention of crop impaction is best done by providing plenty of grit for your chickens to eat. They may not be getting the necessary amounts from the ground, especially if their outdoor area is small and has been inhabited by the flock for a long time. You can buy grit at most feed stores or livestock areas in farm stores. It also contains extra calcium and minerals that are good for your chicken’s overall health.

Fowl Pox: Not related to the human chicken pox, fowl pox shows up as one of two different types of lesions. The first is called the “dry form” version and looks like warts on featherless areas of the bird such as the legs. It takes about two weeks for the lesions to scab up and heal. During that time, chickens will become thin and may die from dehydration and lack of eating.

The “wet form” of fowl pox appears in the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. The lesions are a canker-sore type of outbreak. During the time when the lesions appear until they go away in about two weeks, the biggest concern is the blockage of the airways and an inability to eat due to sores in the mouth and throat.

There are two ways chickens can contract fowl pox: direct exposure to infected chickens (which is why it is important to quarantine unknown animals coming into the flock until they can be judged healthy) or from mosquitoes. Keeping any areas where water can accumulate clean and dry is the best way to keep mosquitoes away.

Pneumoencephalitis: Also called Newcastle Disease, this is a respiratory disease and is serious because it is one of the diseases that can be passed to humans and other animals. Signs of pneumoencephalitis include nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, trembling, paralysis, and a twisted head or neck.

Pneumoencephalitis has a high mortality rate, and it can be as much as 80 percent fatal. It is transmitted in the air, so it is exceptionally hard to prevent. Pneumoencephalitis is also easily carried in on boxes, feed containers, packages, clothing, or bodily secretions.

There are no known treatments for pneumoencephalitis, and the best way to keep it from spreading through the flock is to tightly isolate the infected bird(s) and take exceptional preventative measures to keep it from spreading to other areas of the farm on your clothes or person. That means caring for ill flock members last, and then immediately removing clothing before entering your home. You should also bathe thoroughly after any exposure to ill chickens.

Poultry affected by pneumoencephalitis are usually given antibiotics to prevent secondary illness that occur due to respiratory distress. Consult with your veterinarian any time you suspect a case of pneumoencephalitis in your flock.

Botulism: Known by many names including bulbar paralysis, limberneck, and alkali disease, the most common cause of botulism in chickens is feeding spoiled or rotten food. While humans and other animals can be infected with botulism, it is due to the same reasons chickens get it, and it is not passed from bird to bird or bird to human.

The first sign of botulism is most commonly paralysis. The legs and wings are the first to become affected, so chickens with botulism can first appear uncoordinated. They then get worse as the illness progresses until they can’t stand and the neck and head are no longer under their control. Death occurs due to a paralysis of the respiratory system and is frighteningly fast. Depending on how much bad food is eaten, botulism can kill a chicken in less than twenty-four hours and even as fast as twelve hours.

An outside source of transmission is the presence of decaying carcasses. Always keep track of your chickens, and remove any ill or dead animals immediately to prevent other flock members from pecking at the body. Also keep an eye out for wet bedding. Clean floors regularly and keep the outdoor areas where chickens roam free of feces and garbage.  Eating maggots in waste areas or any place garbage may accumulate can also pass botulism to chickens. Keep all poultry away from those areas.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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