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Eight Most Common Diseases That Affect Chickens

Eight Most Common Diseases That Affect Chickens

As a chicken keeper, you are bound to encounter certain diseases or genetic disorders that affect the flock. The longer your experience of maintaining a flock is, the more likely it is that you've seen a wide variety of diseases and disorders affecting chickens. In this article, we will look specifically into diseases as opposed to disorders. Although diseases are part of the backyard chicken-keeping experience, it doesn't mean that you should not worry about diseases and wait for nature to take over. Chickens are quite resilient but they are by no means immune to various pathogens or illnesses. To help your flock, you should aim to ensure biosecurity and prevent the outbreak of diseases before they happen. If proper coop management practices are in place, it will be easier to deal with diseases and it could help you minimize the impact from spreading further or becoming more serious. We will provide a list of the most frequently observed diseases and some tips on how to prevent or treat them.

Eight most common diseases that affect chickens:

1) Coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease. The parasite damages the gut of the chicken and causes the chicken to lose appetite while at the same time limiting the absorption of food and nutrients with frequent diarrhea. This further leads to weight loss and a host of negative consequences for the chicken due to its immune system's compromised ability to fight off the parasite on its own. Help your bird by adding probiotic and prebiotic rich foods to its diet or if you notice the disease has progressed, you can get your bird on antibiotics or other medication to help get rid of the parasite.

2) Infectious bronchitis. Infectious bronchitis is a type of viral respiratory infection. It is very contagious and affects only chickens. A sharp decline in egg production is observed, as well as loss of appetite, frequent sneezing and rattling. Since it's viral in nature, antibiotics won't help to treat it but there are commercially available vaccines. As is the case with us humans, all that is needed sometimes is just time and plenty of rest for the virus to go away.

3) Infectious coryza. Infectious coryza is another type of respiratory infection, less frequently observed than infectious bronchitis, and also unlike bronchitis, it is bacterial instead of viral in nature. Nasal discharge as well as watery eyes and swelling of the face are observed. Certain antimicrobial and antibiotic medicine may help treat the disease although the bacteria is very stubborn so it is best to isolate the chickens as early as possible.

3) Marek's disease. Marek's disease is a viral disease which causes cancer. There is unfortunately no treatment for Marek's disease and the affected chicken will eventually die. Paralysis and ocular tumors are frequently observed. Being a viral disease, it is best to isolate the chicken affected by the virus as early as possible. Prevention is the best cure currently available and there are vaccines available that could be given to day-old chicks.

4) Avian influenza. Avian influenza is also known as the bird flu and is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease. There is no treatment or vaccines available to treat the bird flu. Inflamed heads, sudden death, nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing and swelling are all commonly observed. It is commonly spread by waterfowl, hence those keeping ducks, geese and chickens are at a higher risk of virus transmission. If influenza is observed within your flock, aside from isolating the birds, you should contact the vet since there is a risk of human infection and transmission as well.

5) Fowl pox. Fowl pox is a viral disease, albeit not as concerning as other viral diseases mentioned. In both its wet and dry form, is characterized by lesions and bumps on the skin and around the mouth. Complications can occur if it spreads deeper down the respiratory system. Similarly to the infectious bronchitis, time is the best cure and the best thing to do is to ensure bird is comfortable throughout the healing and resting process.

6) Fowl cholera. Fowl cholera is a bacterial disease affecting a wide variety of backyard flocks. Depending on the strain and amount, this bacterial disease can be spotted by observing swelling in the face, wattles, ear or joints. In more serious cases, sudden death among the flock may be the only sign as it can be hard to spot the disease before the chicken dies. Just like in other cases, ensuring biosecurity is vital to preventing the disease but if the disease is already present, various antibiotics can help to treat the disease.

7) Newcastle disease. Newcastle disease is a type of viral respiratory disease. The severity of the disease depends on the strain but all strains will spread very fast once introduced to the flock. The symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory diseases such as nasal discharge and breathing difficulties. Antibiotics won't help treat the disease directly since it's a viral disease but they can help prevent other diseases during the time when a bird's immune system is compromised. Vaccination along with biosafety management is the best prevention method for the disease.

There are other diseases and many disorders we didn't cover such as ascites, cannibalism, sour crop, prolapse vent, orthopedic disorders (spraddle leg, femoral head separation, slipped tendons, etc.), egg binding, a host of parasitic diseases, and more, some of which we will try to cover in our upcoming The Grubs Times articles.

The good news is that a large part of backyard chicken diseases can be prevented with fairly simple coop maintenance and management practices. Paying attention to biosecurity, size of the coop and ventilation within the coop, clean water supply, adequate nutrition, dry litter and dust baths are all crucial components of preventing the spread and gravity of diseases. You should be able to help your chickens get better and in the majority of cases won't need a vet to intervene. However, you may also encounter cases where the best thing to do is to take your bird to the vet and potentially isolate or cull a sick bird.


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