We all love our animals, but we realise that where there are animals, as with humans, there can also be illnesses. Much heartache and stress can be caused to everyone in the family when one of them becomes ill.
It is a good idea to make a point of carrying out an inspection of all livestock on a regular basis.
Check their feathers for lice/ mites, check their eyes, vent, legs, feet, wattles and comb. Keep a check on any sudden and unusual changes in their poop.
Watch their behaviour for a few minutes. Make a note of any that are off colour, or not behaving in their usual way.
Any bird that is suspected to be unwell should be taken away from the other birds and kept separate from the others while it is treated and monitored. Only return it back to the others when you are sure it is well enough. By doing this you are preventing it from contaminating any healthy birds if it is something that could be infectious.
Caring for a Poorly Hen
Isolate the hen away from the rest of the flock. Keep her in a box with a little nesting material in the bottom, out of drafts and somewhere dry and warm. We sometimes bring an ill hen indoors so that we can keep an eye on them until they are well enough to go back outside.
Give plenty of fresh water and feed. It they are off their feed, try feeding a variety of feeds to tempt them to eat, in order to keep their energy levels up whilst they are convalescing. Things you could try in addition to the usual feed ration are: a few chopped greens, corn, live yoghurt (good bacteria source), chopped fruit, crumbled toast, porridge, scrambled egg, boiled rice, sunflower seeds.
A little sugar dissolved in boiled water and once cooled, given to the hen through a syringe via her beak, is also a good way of giving an instant energy boost.
A small amount of salt dissolved in warm water is an effective old fashioned way of cleaning any infected wounds or cuts.
Any other treatment that you give besides the above and alot of TLC, will depend on what is wrong with the hen and the type of symptoms that she is showing.
Below are some of the most common illnesses of poultry that we are aware of as poultry owners and breeders, along with symptoms, remedies and preventatives.
If you are in need of any advice or help, we would be happy to hear from you. Please email any health concerns or enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond to any emails as soon as we are able to.
However, we are not specialists in Veterinary medicine, any information which is provided here, by email or over the phone is as a guide only and is provided in good faith. We therefore can't accept responsibility or liability for any losses suffered from following the general advice shown below. If you need specialist advice, or professional help, please contact an Avian Vet.
Worming chickens and waterfowl at least once every month to six weeks is essential. (This depends on the type of wormer used).
Symptoms:- May have diarrhoea, opening and shutting of beak, drop in egg production, increase in food intake, thin and lethargic birds that are prone to illness.
Worms are an internal parasite that can easily transmitted bird to bird. There are several types that they can pick up:-
Hair worms, Capillaria worms - found in Crop, Intestines, Oesophagus
Round worms - found in Digestive System
Gizzard worms - found in the Gizzard - mainly geese
Gape Worm - found in the Trachea, Lungs
They should have regular rotation of the ground, this will avoid them getting worms. However, if your pen is static and you are using the same ground throughout the year, it may be a good idea to put down wood chips/ bark. The coup should be kept dry and clean. The coup should be disinfected regularly. Drinkers and feeders should be cleaned regularly; at least once every week.
Symptoms: Sneezing, coughing, runny nose
Hens can suffer from colds during the wet and cold months. Ensure that your coup has plenty of perching areas, for your hens to share their warmth and be out of any drafts. Ensure that there is plenty of clean dry straw in nest boxes and that there is enough clean, dry litter on the floor. Ensure that the coup is well ventilated at a higher level, to ensure the circulation of enough clean air. Citricidal drops can be given in the water to help alleviate a cold. Apple Cider Vinegar can also be added to the water. It is good practice to put a little Apple Cider Vinegar in the water every few days to keep the auto immune system healthy.
Symptoms: Sneezing, coughing, gasping for air, eyes swollen, eyes bubbly or mucousy, rattly chest, may have diarrhoea
This disease is an airborne disease and can be passed around the country by poultry, wild birds etc. If your bird has been vaccinated, it cannot get this, however it can still be a carrier and pass it onto other birds that are not vaccinated. Good husbandry is a preventative - see our Biosecurity pages. Treatment is via antibiotics i.e. Baytril or Tylan, these can be prescribed by an Avian Vet/ Vet. The infected birds should be removed from the healthy ones. Natural antibiotics can also be used such as Colloidal Silver, although this may not be as fast acting or as effective as a prescribed antibiotic from a Vet. This can be added into the drinking water.
Symptoms: Scratching, lethargic, anaemic, loss of feathers around vent (bottom area), white build up (lice eggs) around the base of the feathers lining the vent, lowered egg production, red speckles of blood on eggs (mites).
These can be prolific all year round and can be picked up from other animals, the grass, straw or hay. Lice still survive in the winter when snuggled up against your hens nice warm body! Lice/ mites can make a hen feel low, cause anemia and also lower their immunity systems, so they can be more prone to picking up infections and bacteria when they have lice/ mites.
You can check for lice by turning the hen upside down and looking at the vent area. Lice can vary in colour, but chicken lice are usually a light brown/ sandy colour. The lice will usually congregate around the vent area, as it is warm and their small white eggs can usually be seen attached to the bottom part of the feathers around the vent. The hen may also lose feathers from the vent area and appear fidgety if she has lice.
Red mite are not easily spotted as they are so tiny. Many of these would be able to fit on the head of a pin. They usually come out of the nooks and crannies of the coup, particularly from the joints of the wooden perches. They will come out to feed on the blood from the chickens. You can check for red mite, by wiping a white cloth along the perches at night time. If there are specks of blood on the cloth, then it is a sign of Red Mites. Tiny red blood dots on the shells of freshly laid eggs, could also be a sign of mites.
Treatment should be by thoroughly disinfecting the coup and perches. Applying a spray or powder to the birds. Spraying or powdering the bedding area, coup, perches with a louse powder/ anti mite powder or spray. This needs to be done regularly at weekly/ 10 day intervals to break the egg cycle of the parasites, until they are gone completely. Preventative: Good husbandry.
Chickens love to dustbath (see picture below), to naturally rid themselves of lice and mites. One way of ensuring that they get a good covering of lice powder, is by shaking some louse powser or mite powder into a tray full of sand, or by shaking it onto the dirt in their favourite dustbathing places. This way, they can dustmite themselves!
Symptoms: Diarrhoea, watery, blood stained droppings, loss of condition of bird, lethargy, hunching up, dull or ruffled feathers, weakness, loss of weight, retarded growth.
This is caused by a small intestinal worm and can passed on very easily to other birds. Infected birds should be removed from the healthy ones. They should be treated with a course of antibiotics prescribed by an Avian Vet, or given a non prescribed medicine in the form of Coxoid for 7-14 days depending on the severity of the symptoms. There is an egg withdrawal time of 28 days when using the Coxoid medicine. Good husbandry should be adopted as a preventative.
SCALEY LEG MITES
Symptoms: Raised thickened scales on the legs, crusts/ scabs on the comb or wattles. Mange lesions on legs, comb or wattles, irritation; keeps pecking its legs, plucking its feathers.
Scaley Leg Mite is microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye. It can be caught from wild birds or passed on by infected livestock. It can be easily treated with Scaley Leg Mite Spray which can be sprayed onto the infected areas. Treatment should be continued at intervals to break the egg laying cycle of the parasite. Preventative: Inspection of flock, good husbandry; thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the coup, perches etc, clean, fresh bedding.
Symptoms: Hen quiet, very sleepy, hunched up, off her feed, large crop feels full of fluid.
The reason for this could be due to the crop being full of dead bacteria, which has built up to an accumulation of sour fluid in the crop.
A good way of getting rid of this is to try to make the hen be sick. Turn the hen upside down, whilst trying to keep the neck straight. The build up of fluid will automatically come out of her beak. You can help this along a little by gently massaging the crop and softly squeezing the neck to help move the liquid down neck until it comes out. Once the crop is empty, the hen can be fed with a little live yoghurt (good bacteria).
Symptoms: Swollen, hard/ impacted crop that won't go down over night, loss of weight, bird is hunched up. Foul smell coming from nostrils/ beak.
This can happen when the free ranging birds have eaten something tough or fibrous and have been unable to swallow it properly. Give the bird a couple of drops of mineral oil. Massage it gently into the hardened crop with your fingers. This will hopefully soften the contents of the crop and allow the bird to swallow the contents. Repeat this the following day if necessary. Alternatively, the bird can be fed live maggots which will help break down the contents of the crop before they too are digested!
EGG BOUND HEN
Symptoms: Hen that would normally lay, goes off lay, but still frequents the nest box, displaying behaviour which looks like she is going to lay an egg - bearing down, pushing etc but no egg is laid. Hen shows signs of being in distress.
The egg can become stuck if it is too large for the hen to pass.
Hold the hen over a bowl of warm water, making sure her vent is in the water. This is to try to get her to relax her muscles. (Make sure the water is not too hot). Squirt a little olive oil or KY jelly into the hens vent and gently massage the area. Try not to break the egg if you can feel it in her vent. Repeat this at intervals. If this does not work, seek Veterinary advice.
FROST BITE ON COMB, LEGS & WATTLES
Symptoms: Blackening/ small black spots or patches on the comb, wattles or legs. On the comb, frostbite will usually start off on the tips of the comb, turning them black. The blackened tips will then shrivel and drop off.
Frostbite usually occurs when temperatures plummet to below freezing. It will often affect birds with large combs/wattles. It can be very painful for them.
As a preventative to frostbite, a small amount of Preparation H/ Anusol - cream for Hemorrhoids can be applied to the comb, legs or frostbitten areas. This will increase the blood flow to the area and keep it warmer.
Some poultry owners rub vaseline into the comb/ wattles/ legs, this can provide them with some insulation against frost bite. Massaging this in well, will also increase blood flow to the area.
Symptoms: Three main types:-
Cutaneous form (Skin form) - Enlarged reddened feather follicles, white bumps on the skin that form crusty brown scabs.
Neural form (Nerve form):- Swollen sciatic nerve can cause progressive wing or leg paralysis; typically one leg extended forward, one leg extended back, twisted neck. Weight loss, laboured breathing, eye lesions, vision impairment, diarrhea, starvation and death, also by trampling on by other chickens.
Visceral (Internal organ form):- tumours on heart, overy, tests, muscles, lungs.
This disease is caused by a herpes virus. It mainly occurs in chickens under 16-weeks of age. In late Marek's mortality can extend to 40-weeks of age. It is highly contagious and is spread by direct contact with infected birds, mealworms that live in the chicken coup, infected dust. Morbidity is 10-50% and mortality is up to100%. In an infected flock, mortality can spread very quickly over a moderate to high over a course of a few weeks. Virus doesn't survive incubation process very well and is not spread by hatching eggs.
Unfortunately there is no treatment for this disease. It can be prevented by vaccinating day old chicks and good hygiene practices, as the virus can survive for months in coup dust and litter.
Symptoms:- This affects the respiratory and urogenital tracts. Causes respiratory distress; sneezing, rattling and lesions in the trachea. Egg production will drop, production will recover in 5-6 weeks, but at a lower rate. The virus can affect many of the tissues of the body including the reproductive tract; egg shells will become rough and the egg whites will become watery.
This disease has an incubation period of 24-72 hours. It can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a Vet. Prevention is by vaccination, aided by a good biosecurity program.
Symptoms:- Bubbly liquid coming from eye, thick or thin disharge: yellow, white or clear. Swollen area around eyes, mucous from the nostrils. Shaking of head, scratching of eyes.
Chickens should be checked regularly for any sign of an eye infection. This could be accompanied by sneezing, rattly chests, or a bad smell coming from the birds beak or nostrils, which could be underlying symptoms of a respiratory disease. It could also be a result of an eye injury or a foreign object stuck in the eye. Check the eye closely for any signs of an injury or foreign body.
Keep the chickens eye clean by regularly and gently bathing it in clean, warm water. Gently remove any build up of pus from around/inside the eye. Some people recommend bathing the eye in warm black tea. We have tried this and this does work, but it does depend on the severity of the infection and whether this is a one off symptom, or whether or not it is a symptom of some other underlying problem that needs antibiotics and/ or antibiotic eye drops.
Try to prevent the hen from scratching her eyes, clip her nails if you can, as this can spread the infection. .
Eye infections can often appear worse in the morning after the eye has been closed all night. Some birds can reinfect themselves when they sleep by putting their head under their feathers on their backs. We have in the past made a little jacket with a hole for the head, legs and vent. This prevents the hen from being able to bury their head in the feathers at night. This can be uncomfortable to them first of all, but they will soon get used to it. We have only used the jacket for short periods of time at first and only when the hen had been convalescing indoors, until the hen was used to wearing it. We then reintroduced it at night time only. We have found that this does help as it gives the eye time to heal.
If the hen appears unwell in itself, displays any other symptoms, or the eye infection doesn't clear up within a few days of regularly bathing it, then seek the advice of a Vet, as it may need to be prescribed antibiotic eye drops.
AVIAN INFLUENZA (BIRD FLU)
Symptoms:- Sudden death, respiratory distress, diarrhoea, swollen head, dullness, rapid drop in egg production, blue discolouration of the wattles and comb, loss of appetite.
This is a highly infectious disease which affects wild, commercial and pet birds. It is spread through secretions and droppings from infected birds, contact from contaminated clothing, feed or water, objects or vehicles. It is a notifiable disease, which means that DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) should be notified on any outbreak in the UK. The UK became officially free of Avian Influenza in November 2008.
To minimise the risk of an outbreak of this disease, all responsible poultry owners should maintain a high level of biosecurity (see biosecurity page for details). Any person keeping 50 or more birds are required to be registered with DEFRA. Any keeper of less than 50 birds may still register with DEFRA on a voluntary basis. In the event of an outbreak, DEFRA will notify all keepers on their register, enabling them to put in place action plans to protect the health of their birds. This could include keeping them away from wild birds for a given period of time.
Preventative: Good biosecurity measures, minimise the risk of direct or indirect contact with wild birds i.e. put feeders and drinkers inside coups, put covered tops on runs. If poultry is free ranging, then put in place a strategy for dealing with any outbreak in the UK, which will enable the poultry to be kept away from wild birds.
More information on this disease can be found on the DEFRA website www.defra.gov.uk
EGG DROP SYNDROME
SYMPTOMS:- . Loss of colour in pigmented (brown/ darker coloured) eggs, followed by a vast number of thin shelled and shell less eggs in otherwise healthy birds. Rapid decrease in egg production by up to 40%.
This infectious disease is most common in brown egg laying hens; mainly broiler types. It is less common in white egg laying breeds of chicken. Infected birds excrete the virus through their oviduct which can become mixed in with their droppings. This can then spread through water or feed contaminated with droppings or via infected eggs which are used for breeding. Ducks and Geese can be carriers of this disease without showing any symptoms.
Some young chickens first coming into lay may produce the occasional soft shelled egg, this is nothing to worry about. Egg Drop Syndrome is more likely to be present if it there a chronic problem in terms of quantity and quality of eggs.
The virus affects the Pouch Shell Gland in the hen, which is the part of the body which is responsible for producing the egg shell.
There is no successful treatment for this disease. An increase in egg production will be seen in layers following a moult. Prevention is by good sanitation, cleaning and husbandry procedures, paying particular attention to the cleaning of the incubating equipment; trays etc. Vaccinations can be given to prevent this disease, for the smaller livestock owner, or the keeper of a few chickens, this is not always commercially viable as it can become costly.
Splay Legs or Spraddle Legs in chicks
Symptoms:- Affects newly hatched or day old chicks. Chicks are born with splay legs (like they are doing the splits) and are unable to stand properly.
The reasons for this are often due to bad nutrition of breeding stock during the lead up to and the breeding season. Breeding stock should be fed on Breeders Pellets, which contain the correct nutrients and vitamins to maintain optimum health levels necessary for breeding. We stock these here at the Ark.
Care must be taken during the incubation process to ensure that the eggs and equipment are sanitised prior to use, as harmful bacteria can affect the unborn chicks during incubation. Also the correct levels of heat and humidity should be maintained throughout the incubation process. Sudden rises and drops in the temperature or humidity can affect the health of the unborn chicks.
A suitable surface on the floor of the brooder is important, as slippery surfaces can worsen the condition of splay legs, or become the cause of leg problems in newly hatched chicks/ ducklings/ goslings.
Cut a bandaid or a plaster in half lengthways. Wrap one end of the plaster around one of the legs of the chick and attach it back to the body of the plaster to form a cuff around the leg. Do not wrap it too tight. Do the same with the other end, leaving a length in between its legs to ensure that it can stand up straight. The size of the length between the legs will depend on the width of the body of the chick. The chick will soon get used to wearing this and will still be able to get about. Leave the plaster on for a couple of days, before taking it off and checking the chicks progress. You may have to repeat this a couple of times before any benefit is seen. It should rectify itself in as little as three or four days.
Bent or Crooked Toes
The younger the chick, duck or gosling, the better the result will be. Cut a tear drop shape from the hard plastic lid of a margerine tub or pot of cream. Make sure that the size is slightly larger than the chick, gosling or ducklings outstretched toes and foot. Take a strip of sticky plaster and place this sticky side up underneath the plastic shoe base you have made. Place the youngsters foot on top of the plastic shoe, make sure that the toes and foot are stretched out in position and the toes are not overlapping the end of the shoe. Gently hold the foot open whilst you bring up each end of the sticking plaster and bring it up and over the foot to stick the foot down to the shoe.Take another strip of plaster and gently wrap it over the shoe and foot and up and around the ankle. Cover the shoe in another strip of plaster. Ensure as you are doing this that you are not doing it up too tight as this may restrict blood flow to the leg, foot or toes. When you have finished the youngster should be able to walk about on the shoe albeit a little haphazzzardly to start with. Make sure the youngster cannot get its foot wet, or the plaster will come off.
Check the progress of the foot every couple of days, by taking the shoe off and doing the whole process over again. Re cut the plastic shoe if necessary to allow for growth of the foot. It shouldn't take more than a week to see the results.
I have had a very good success rate with this method of straightening crooked toes. Obviously the success of this does depend on the severity of the crookedness and also the reason for the condition. If in doubt, do not let your animal suffer and consult a vet.
If you are incubating eggs yourself, be very careful that when you pick up eggs to move or candle them during the incubation process that you do not make sudden movements whilst holding the eggs, that you move slowly and gently, as sudden jolting actions can cause deformities in fragile young legs and feet.