Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, quails, guinea fowls and most other poultry birds commonly suffer from a variety of diseases and health conditions. Maintaining peak levels of poultry health is vital for farmers and producers wishing to give their flocks a fighting chance.
A healthy chicken, whether a broiler, a layer or a free-range chicken, is one that has regular access to optimal nutrient intake. While many drugs are available for improving chicken health, supplements and additives are highly effective at boosting the immune system and supporting healthy functions.
Many common health problems can be mitigated or even avoided by improving diets and relieving elements that could contribute to poultry stress. For some of the most severe diseases and health afflictions, vaccines, antibiotics and other treatments may be required. However, even in situations that require the use of drugs, chickens will have a greater chance of survival if they have been given required portions of nutrients to sustain health.
Some poultry health problems can go virtually undetected for days or weeks on end, while others can kill chickens within a matter of hours. Here are 15 of the most common health issues chickens face and how to treat or prevent them:
1. FOWL POX
If you notice your chickens developing white spots on their skin, scabby sores on their combs, white ulcers in their mouth or trachea, and their laying stops then you should grow concerned that your chickens are developing Fowl Pox.
There is no cure for fowl pox, but there are comfort measures that can be provided for affected chickens as well as preventative measures to avoid secondary bacterial infections caused by the lesions. Unaffected birds can be vaccinated during an outbreak.
Fowl Pox is a virus and cannot be treated with any antibiotics (which are all designed to fight bacteria not viruses); however, secondary infections are common with Fowl Pox For the dry form, triple antibiotic ointments and creams can be priceless in treating the external sores.
Common drugs such as Aliseryl, Nemovit, Sulfafox and ESB3 can be used to treat fowl pox. If mosquitoes and other insects that bite poultry are a challenge in your area, use Cislin to control the insects.
Individual birds infected with dry pox usually recover in 2 to 4 weeks, but it may take several weeks or months for the entire flock to recover because the fowl pox virus spreads slowly throughout the flock. You can feed them soft food and give them a warm and dry place to try and recoup. With adequate care, there is a great chance that your birds can survive this illness.
Botulism is another potentially lethal disease. Can you see tremors in your chicken? If so, these tremors could extend to take hold of the rest of your chicken’s body and eventually kill them.
It is a disease caused by the ingestion of a toxin produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium. All domestic fowl and most wild birds are susceptible to the toxin’s effects. If your chickens contracts this disease it means that there has been some type of dead meat left near their food and water which contaminated it.
Another symptom to keep an eye out for is if feathers fall out too easily. Fortunately, there are treatment options worth looking into. If the disease is still in its infancy, you can feed your chicken Epsom salts with warm water.
There is also an antitoxin that can be purchased from your local vet which can be effective to some extent. If you catch the disease early enough you can mix 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts with 1-ounce of warm water. You can give it to them by dropper once daily.
3. FOWL CHOLERA
Fowl Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial disease that affects poultry birds. It is caused by Pasteurella multocida and could be transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water or from a carrier host chicken.
It can be caught from a range of rodents and animals, including birds and raccoons. Are your chickens suffering from yellow diarrhoea? Do they have a darkened head or appear to have difficulty moving? These could all be signs that your chicken has contracted the fowl cholera disease.
Fowl cholera can be treated with penicillin, streptomycin, erythromycin, tetracyclines and sulphonamides. You will need to administer drugs for long-term because the disease usually returns after stopping medication.
To prevent Fowl Cholera, administer Fowl Cholera vaccine and maintain a high level of farm hygiene and sanitation. Prevent rodents, cats and wild birds from gaining access to the pen.
4. INFECTIOUS BRONCHITIS
This is a rapid, sudden and high contagious viral poultry disease. It’s caused by a coronavirus and could be transmitted through the air, contaminated materials and carrier hosts. This highly contagious disease is airborne, meaning your chickens can catch it extremely easy.
Abnormal respiratory sounds, snoring, gasping, sneezing and coughing, watery nasal discharge, ocular discharge and swelling of the face. Reduced egg production and poor eggshell quality. All of these could be clear signs that your chicken is infected.
Infectious bronchitis has no specific treatment, but you can administer antibiotics in mixed infections. You should also take affected chickens to a warm, dry place to recover. Some farmers have tried warm herb tea and fresh herbs, and they claimed they worked. Use drugs such as Respimint, Coloxan, Doxin, Interflox and Coliflox.
To prevent Infectious Bronchitis, vaccinate your chickens against the disease and maintain proper ventilation of chicks.
5. INFECTIOUS CORYZA
Infectious Coryza or Fowl Coryza is a severe respiratory disease that affects chicken and it could be sudden. This disease is common in layers and broilers and it is caused by Haemophilus paragallinarum. It could be transmitted through water contaminated with nose discharges, through the air, or through direct contact with an infected chicken.
You will know that your birds have caught this disease when their heads become swollen. Their eyes will swell shut and their combs will also swell. Then the discharge will begin to flow from their eyes and noses. They will stop laying and will have moisture under their wings.
Infectious Coryza can be treated with antibiotics and sulphur drugs. Oxytetracycline, enrofloxacin, trimethoprim and sulphur drug can be combined to treat infectious coryza. Other drugs that you can also use include Respimint, Coloxan, Doxin, Interflox and Coliflox.
Chickens can be protected from infectious coryza through vaccination. Dispose all infected chickens or those that had recovered. Sanitation and hygiene and avoid keeping chickens of different ages together.
6. MAREK’S DISEASE
Another particularly nasty one of the common chicken diseases, this is extremely contagious and can be caught by inhaling dead skin cells or dust from the feathers of other birds. It is more common in younger birds that are usually under the age of 20 weeks.
Symptoms usually include paralysis of the legs and wings. In the classical form of Marek’s disease, the affected chickens lie on their side with one leg stretched backward and the other leg stretched forward. In the acute form, many chickens die suddenly without showing any sign of illness while some chickens show paralytic symptoms and appear depressed before dying. Other signs include paleness, loss of weight, shrunken comb and diarrhea.
This is a particularly nasty viral disease that barely leaves any survivors and those that do survive will carry the disease for life. It usually affects chicks, so keep an eye out for tumors and the loss of movement from any limbs.
Also, watch out for the skin going gray and your chicken not showing any response to light. There are no effective treatment options; instead, a vaccine can be given to chicks when they first hatch. However, other farmers have reported that drugs such as Aliseryl, Nemovit, Terranox and Virukill have helped them save their birds from dying.
You may not think of Thrush as one of the chicken skin diseases. But this fungal infection, Thrush, or Candidiasis as it is officially called, can be picked up from moldy food and can also be picked up from contaminated water.
Signs and symptoms include white oozy substance inside the crop of infected chickens, Increased appetite than normal, Lethargic appearance, crusty vent and ruffled feathers as well as overeating. As with all diseases, if symptoms go unchecked it can become dangerous, but this one is pretty easy to address.
Feeding probiotics as a supplement or in a form like yogurt can be very helpful, and an antifungal medication from the vet is a quick and effective solution as well.
Obviously, removing the source of the mold is also imperative, as the fungus can otherwise be re-ingested.
8. AIR SAC DISEASE OR CHRONIC RESPIRATORY DISEASE (CRD)
CRD is a mycoplasmal disease caused by Mycoplasma gallisepticum, and it affects the respiratory tracts (including air sacs) of chickens and other birds. CRD can be transmitted through hatching eggs, direct contact with carrier birds and through inhalation of contaminated droplets, dust or feathers. However, it can be picked up from other birds (even wild birds) and it can be transferred from a hen that has it to her chick through the egg.
This disease first appears in the form of poor laying skills and a weak chicken. As it progresses, you will notice coughing, sneezing, breathing problems, swollen joints, and possibly death.
Now, there is a vaccine for this illness, and it can be treated with an antibiotic from the vet. Chronic Respiratory Disease, also known as Mycoplasmosis, can be treated with several antibiotics. Tylosin, oxytetracycline, streptomycin, neomycin, chlortetracycline, gentamicin, tiamulin, enrofloxacin, lincomycin, erythromycin and other related drugs such as Respimint, Coloxan, Doxin, Interflox and Coliflox can be used to treat Chronic Respiratory Disease or Mycoplasmosis.
9. NEWCASTLE DISEASE
Newcastle disease (also known as Ranikhet disease) is a viral disease that is caused by paramyxoviruses. You will begin to see breathing problems, discharge from their nose, their eyes will begin to look murky, and their laying will stop. Also, it is common that the bird’s legs and wings will become paralyzed as well as their necks twisted.
This disease is carried by other birds including wild birds. That is how it is usually contracted. However, if you touch an infected bird you can pass it on from your clothes, shoes, and other items. However, the good news is that older birds usually will recover and they are not carriers afterward, but most baby birds will die from the disease.
With very harmful paramyxoviruses, the first sign is sudden death. Other signs like weakness, depression, greenish diarrhea, lying down, swelling of the face and nervous signs will also be observed. Torticollis (twisting of the neck), leg paralysis, arching of the body are some other indications of Newcastle disease. In layers, laying of soft-shelled or shell-less eggs is an early sign, followed by totally halting of egg laying. Moderately harmful paramyxoviruses are responsible for severe respiratory problems. In adult chickens, there is usually obvious decline in egg production for many months. However, the mortality rate is low. The mildly harmful paramyxoviruses may not cause any disease or just a mild respiratory problem.
There isn’t treatment at this point, so the virus must be left to run its course. However, this is a serious enough disease that, at least in the U.S., you report it if you suspect your chickens has the disease. Separate the animal to prevent the disease from spreading, and give them plenty of TLC while recovering. One possible solution is to provide them with Vitamin A.
Also, keep an eye out for secondary infections, which can usually be combated with antibiotics. Vaccines are available to help prevent any future outbreaks as well.
10. MUSHY CHICK DISEASE
What a charming name… for a sad and grotesque bird disease. Officially known as Omphalitis, “Mushy Chick” is a disease that infects new chicks shortly after hatching. However, in the short time between hatching and healing, the navel can become infected if it comes in contact with a dirty environment, such as soiled eggs, unclean hatching boxes, etc, which can lead to infection.
The symptoms to look out for are an irritated, slightly blue midsection when the chicks hatch. They are also usually rather weak. The disease is transmitted via direct contact with a contaminated animal or object and because the chick has an undeveloped immune process, it cannot fight off the infection.
There is no vaccine for this disease, although sometimes antibiotics will work and in some cases antibiotics do not always work. However, usually, when you come in contact with this disease you will need to immediately separate your healthy chicks from the sick ones. The treatment options for mushy chick remain limited.
11. PULLORUM DISEASE (SALMONELLOSIS)
Pullorum disease is a bacterial disease that is caused by a bacterium called Salmonella pullorum. This viral disease attacks different birds differently. In older birds, you may say them coughing and struggling to lay eggs.
However, in chicks you frequently don’t see any symptoms, meaning some die completely unexpectedly.
But when they do display symptoms, it is usually a compromised respiratory way or white paste across their back. Today there exist no treatment options for Pullorum.
The disease is highly contagious and affects the blood of chickens, but characterized by white diarrhea. This is the reason why pullorum disease is also called Bacilliary White Disease (BWD). It can be transmitted through the eggs, contaminated feed, water, litter and faeces.
Whilst there have been rumblings about a vaccine, as it currently stands chickens will need to be killed if they display symptoms to prevent others catching the disease.
Several antibiotics can be used to treat pullorum disease. However, furazolidone is recommended. Pullorum disease can be controlled by good biosecurity measures and ensure you procure your chicks from a reputable hatchery.
12. AVIAN INFLUENZA
More commonly known as “bird flu,” outbreaks of the disease have become alarming to humans on a global scale because of the infectious rate at which it can spread and kill off a flock – not to mention the possible transfer to humans as well.
The Avian Flu is a viral disease that can survive for a very long time. It spreads through contact with an infected backyard flock or infected surfaces. Anything from an improperly disposed-of carcass to infected rodents, equipment, and even people can all spread the disease.
The symptoms are relatively easy to spot. They will stop laying eggs, diarrhea will probably litter your garden and their face may become inflamed. There have also been reports of red patches on the legs and combs of infected chickens.
Unfortunately, there is still no effective means of treating infected chickens. Instead, once the bird gets the disease it must be killed and removed from the area of other chickens safely.
Due to the contagious nature of the disease, swift action on the part of the owner must be taken.
However, if the outbreak is more severe, dark red and white spots can develop on the infected chickens’ legs and combs. Also, blood-tinged discharge from the nostrils is common and facial swelling and blue combs and/or wattles.
Avian Influenza can be extremely deadly.
Less dangerous strains can have a relatively low mortality rate, but a large portion (half or more, depending on the source) of the birds can die during serious epidemics.
Despite the almost humorous name, this disease is no laughing matter. It is very easy for your chicken to pick up this ailment.
Bumblefoot is an infection that is caused by staphylococcus bacteria and it is usually the aftereffect when your chickens get their injured foot infected by this bacteria. The foot of the affected chicken swells up because of infection. The cut or injury to the foot could occur when the chicken is scratching the floor or a sharp object.
The only way to treat Bumblefoot is by performing surgery. It involves using a biopsy or scalpel to cut out the scab and removing the underlying infected core. After removing the core, drain the pus and soak the infected foot in warm water and Epsom Salts. Dry the foot with a clean bath towel and apply honey or any microbial and Vetericyn VF. Cover the area up with gauze and wrap with vet wrap to lock the bandage.
If bumblefoot infection is left untreated, eventually, the whole foot turns dark blue or even black, becoming swollen and distorted. The affected chicken may become completely lame and could also die after other tissues in the body are affected.
They can get it just from messing around in the garden. But once their foot gets a cut on, it is open to infection, which can then turn into bumble foot. Keep an eye out for these chicken disease symptoms: Swelling, sore and inflamed patches on the legs and feet.
While the name alone is a bit challenging, that’s just the beginning of the trouble. This unpleasant disease is caused by a microscopic parasitic organism that attaches to the walls of your chicken’s intestines and wreaks havoc. Not only will it call significant pain, but it can also kill your chickens.
This parasitic disease will literally turn your stomach, or more accurately, your chicken’s stomach. It shows up, like many parasitic diseases, in overcrowded and unsanitary environments.
Coccidiosis is a chicken disease that invades the bird’s intestinal tract. The parasite is ingested from the chicken’s environment in its egg form and then reproduces, at which point more eggs leave through the chicken’s feces.
The Coccidiosis parasites can create a huge amount of gut damage, leading to things like diarrhea with blood and mucus and losing weight. Common symptoms include diarrhoea with blood in, significant weight loss and a reduction in the number of eggs being hatched. Fortunately, you can get a vaccine to prevent the infection taking hold, but if the chicken already has the infection then there are quite a few ways to deal with Coccidiosis. You can get an anticoccidial agent like amprolium or toltrazuril, while antibiotics can be an option if secondary infections occur. Drugs containing sulfur such as Sulfacox, ESB3, Coxoid and Bremamed can be used to treat coccidiosis.
A gentler alternative is using an essential oil like thyme, tea tree, or clove. Easy preventatives include vaccinating the backyard chickens and keeping the coop clean and dry. Because the parasite becomes infectious in wet or humid environments, it is a good idea to keep the entire coop clean and the area around feeders and waterers. This can help prevent any future outbreaks.
15. INFECTIOUS BURSAL DISEASE (GUMBORO)
Gumboro disease, also known as Infectious Bursal Disease, is a highly infectious disease that affects young chickens, turkeys and ducks. The name Gumboro stems from the area it was first recognised, Gumboro district, Delaware, USA. The disease is caused by the infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV), which is a member of the Birnavirus genus. The virus destroys the lymph cells within the cloacal bursa (of fabricus), tonsils and spleen. The disease normally affects chickens up to six weeks and the onset can be sudden.
Flocks maintained under strict biosecurity are particularly susceptible to field exposure as they would not previously have been exposed to the disease.
The virus is excreted from infected birds for 10–14 days and is highly infectious. There are a range of vectors including wild birds, rats and humans. Disease severity can depend on virus virulence, levels of maternally derived antibody (MDA), age and breed.
IBDV or gumboro spreads by contaminated faeces, water and feed. It is a highly contagious and hardy agent. Other vectors can harbor the virus including darkling beetles their lesser meal worm larvae and rats.
Major signs of Gumboro disease include dehydration, trembling, watery urate diarrhoea, coughing and panting, ruffled feathers, vent pecking, head tremors, sleepiness and depression. For treatment, use ESB3, Doxin and Nemovit.
These are the 15 most common chicken and other poultry disease you need to be aware of. There are many less common illnesses too. Just be sure to always pay attention to your chickens, ducks, quails, guinea fowls, geese, turkeys and other poultry you may be keeping and stay alert to any physical or behavioural changes.
Bear in mind that most common poultry diseases can be treated or controlled by Coliflox and it's worth having the drug at all times if you have broiler chickens, layer chickens, free range chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowls, quails, pigeons and any other domestic birds.