When deciding to take on and maintain chickens, the first priority is to make sure that the flock is both happy and healthy.
Keeping your birds happy is pretty simple—food, a secure coop, and room to roam are the essential requirements.
On the other hand, keeping your chickens healthy can at times seem daunting to the point of frustrating. A disease can spread at the speed of wildfire between the members of your flock, and as such more often than not prove fatal in a short range of time.
In order to get a leg up on:
- doing all you can to maintain your flock’s overall health
- the most common diseases that are known to afflict chickens that you need to be aware of
- the symptoms to be on the lookout for
- as well as the tried and true remedies, if there are any, to cure them for good
Table of Contents
We will start with a disease that is becoming increasingly prevalent in many flocks—that of Fowl Pox. Although the reports of this disease are on the rise, fortunately, is it easy to spot.
Fowl Pox presents with white patches on the skin, scabby type sores on the combs, and the appearance of white ulcers in the mouth. If you see any of these symptoms present, then indications are that your flock is indeed infected.
Fowl Pox can be contracted in one of three manners. It can be contracted from another infected bird, by way of mosquitoes, and with Fowl Pox being viral by nature it can become airborne and contracted through the simple act of breathing.
The good news is that the treatment for this disease is readily available. Fowl Pox is a disease that goes after and attacks the immune system in your flock members.
The best medicine is to give the infected bird, or birds, somewhere warm, safe, and dry and allow them adequate time to recover.
You will also want to make sure that the infected chicken is fed soft food, and if you feel the need to treat the more problematic areas, there is a topical solution that most vets offer.
This, in a nutshell, is one nasty and virulent disease, and there are no known treatment options that will help in your combating this disease. If one of your chickens does develop Infectious Coryza, they will carry the condition for the rest of their life.
They will also remain highly infectious, presenting a danger of not only infecting other members of your flock but resulting in their deaths as well.
The symptoms for this disease are straightforward to spot and visualize. Flock members will present with the appearance of a very swollen head, as well as their eyes will become so swollen they will appear at first glance to be shut.
Their combs will become visibly swollen as well. Lastly, they will present with a visible discharge from there eyes, nose, or their mouth. Your hens will stop laying, and you will find moisture is present under their wings.
The disease is a bacteria in nature, so it is known to be easily transmitted through the sharing of water or the presence of contaminated objects. There is no shot to cure or stop this devastating disease.
It is highly recommended that any member of your flock that is diagnosed with this horrible disease should be put down, and the body discarded in a manner in which no other animals may subsequently become infected from it.
If you feel any members of your flock appear to be presenting with Infectious Coryza, it is imperative that their living area cleaned be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
A highly contagious, as well as severe disease, Fowl Cholera can occur in a wide range of species of bird including chickens, turkeys, and even waterfowl. It is also one of the few diseases that has been seen to be present in flocks worldwide.
Louis Pasteur recognized the infectious disease as the first of its kind in 1880. The condition has presented with infections ranging from acute to chronic, and as such, the mortality rate can be up to 100% of the flock.
The symptoms of this disease are easily spotted. You will see your birds living areas littered with greenish or yellowish diarrhea.
Infected flock members will also present with obvious pain in their joints, along with appearing to be struggling to breathe. heir combs or wattle will also look to darker in color than usual.
There is a vaccine available that will prevent Fowl Cholera from ever being able to get established in your flock. However, once a member of your flock has been infected, there is no known treatment or cure.
If by chance your bird is one of those few that actually survives, it will be a walking incubator for the disease the rest of its life.
The recommendation at this point is to put the bird down, and properly dispose of the carcass so as to prevent the unlikely passing on of the disease.
Commonly known these days as bird flu, this fowl related disease has been getting a lot of press over the last decade or so.
So much so, that many have forgone the dream of growing and managing a flock of their own, having heard the horror stories reported in the news about flock owners contracting the disease themselves.
Unlike other fowl based diseases, the symptoms of Avian Influenza are pretty easy to spot. Your infected hens will stop laying completely, and your yard or run area will become littered with signs of diarrhea.
You will also notice that your birds faces have become noticeably inflamed. It has been reported that some chickens will exhibit with their legs and combs having red patches on them, or in severe cases turning blue.
If you suspect one of your flock members may be infected, you must act quickly, because time is of the essence in saving the rest of the flock.
The bad news is that there is still no known cure, nor vaccine, for the treatment of Avian Influenza. An infected chicken will be a carrier of the fatal disease for the remainder of its life.
As there are no official means of effectively treating the disease, the infected bird must be put down, and its carcass removed far from the rest of the flock for safety.
You will also need to clean and sanitize any part of the coop, run, or yard where the bird may have been, before reintroducing the remaining members of your flock.
Contrary to popular belief, this disease is not spread from bird-to-bird. Chickens may get Botulism when they consume either spoiled feed or the maggots that have been feeding on a carcass that has been infected with Botulism.
Botulism is more widely seen in ducks in the wild and is a common killer of waterfowl. The reason is that the bacteria from Botulism lives in dead fish and vegetation decaying along shorelines.
The most common and prevalent symptom is that of paralysis, which is swift to appear, usually within a few hours after the poisoned food or maggots are ingested.
The legs and wings are the first to fall victim to the paralysis, and then the neck becomes limp. At this time, you will find it is easy to pluck the bird’s feathers, as they become very loose in the follicle.
If enough infected food is consumed, the bird may pass in as quickly as 12-24 hours. However, if a less than lethal dose is consumed, the bird may only become dull and sleepy.
If you suspect a member of your flock has become infected, flush the entire flock. This is achieved by introducing Epsom salts into their water or a mixture of wet mash.
There have been reports that potassium permanganate will counteract the effects of Botulism as well. You may also go the route of an antitoxin injection that you may find at your local vet. However, this can be costly, so most attempt the other two methods offered first.
Infectious Laryngo Tracheitis
Although, for the most part, this particular disease is rarely fatal, keep in mind that there is always the chance that it could take the life of a member of your flock. It is also acute and highly contagious.
The infection itself is born of a herpes virus, also known as infectious laryngotracheitis virus (ILTV), thusly affecting the bird’s respiratory functions as well. It has been reported to exist in many areas of the USA, as well as many countries outside the US.
The symptoms of the disease are pretty easy to spot, as they include the appearance of the bird being short of breath, exhibiting weakness, a persistent cough, or the coughing up of blood with mucus in it.
The virus is very contagious and as such will infect the bird for up to 6 weeks. If the bird is still alive after the span of the infection, the disease is usually considered defeated.
There currently are no known treatments, other than the administering of antibiotics. These are more for the fighting off of a possible secondary infection, while the bird is fighting the primary illness.
It is also suggested that you provide them with a warm and dry area while they work to towards recovery.
When researching the possibility of starting your flock, you are sure to come across this disease being mentioned more than most. This particular disease is more prevalent in younger birds, those of which are 20 weeks old or younger.
What makes this disease so proliferate is the fact that it is so easy for a young bird to come down with, as it is transferred from bird-to-bird.
The condition is airborne, in a sense, as the chicks will become infected from the breathing in of the skin particles shed by another infected chick.
The symptoms are pretty easy to spot, and you will know them when you see them. If your young fowl starts to develop tumors both inside or outside, you can pretty much be sure they have Mareks.
The iris will begin to turn gray, preventing them from being able to respond to any form of light. They will then become paralyzed as well.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that there is a vaccine that can prevent the onset of Marek’s Disease. However, it is crucial that, in order for it to work, the vaccine must be given to the chick when it is no older than a day old.
A chicken has a very rapid rate of development, in relation to time. If the vaccine is given right after hatching, the chicken has a better chance of staying clear of the disease later down the road.
Although this disease may at first sound otherworldly, it is not and is definitely not one you want your flock coming down with. This disease may not even present with any defining symptoms however, it is also highly contagious.
There are multiple symptoms to look for when suspecting this disease. Those include difficulties breathing, rales, sneezing, a persistent cough, the appearance of frothiness with swelling around the eyes, and difficulty walking and moving in general due to severely swollen joints.
Greenish diarrhea has been reported in those birds that are on the verge of dying. You can also expect that any of your layers will stop producing if infected with this disease.
As for the options for treatment, they are currently minimal. The disease is sensitive to antibiotics, as well as there being vaccines available.
It is important to remember that both disinfectants and sunlight can also destroy the Mycoplasmas that makeup Mycoplasmosis.
However, most chickens diagnosed with Mycoplasmosis do end up dying from the disease.
This does not mean that you should be completely discouraged, as some reports show that in a minute number of cases antibiotics, as mentioned above, have proven to take the disease head-on and some chickens have been reported to have survived.
This is one particularly nasty disease that, if left unchecked, can take out your entire flock in no time at all.
The reason the disease spreads so quickly and efficiently is that it is an airborne pathogen, which means that a healthy chicken can contract the disease very easily—and very fast. The very proximity to an infected bird is enough for the healthy bird to fall victim as well.
The symptoms of Infectious Bronchitis present very similar to Bronchitis in humans. You will know your flock has fallen victim when you hear your birds sneezing, snoring and coughing.
Shortly after you notice these symptoms, you will begin to see drainage secreting from their nose and eyes. The hens that are infected will stop laying as well.
At this time, there are no options for treatment or means to combat the disease once the chicken has been contaminated. What this means is that the chances are good that as many as half of all chicks that become infected will eventually die.
Now, there is a vaccine to prevent the disease from taking hold. However, if you choose to forgo the vaccine, you will need to take action as soon as you see the symptoms.
Remember that the disease is viral-based, and as such travels by air. Treatment would be to provide a warm and dry place for your infected birds to rest, and to recoup, as well as a soft food.
As the name implies Mushy Chick, or as it is also known as Yolk Sack Infection, is a disease that will impact a newly hatched chick.
The chick will present with an enlarge midsection, which is inflamed and has a blue tint to it. The chick will have the appearance of being drowsy, as well as weak. There will also be an unpleasant odor to the chick as well.
Transmission of the disease usually occurs from chick-to-chick, or exposure to a dirty surface previously inhabited by an infected chick. Mushy Chick is more commonly contracted by way of an unclean area where a chick with a weak immune system has been exposed.
There is no known vaccine for Mushy Chick, although some reports show that in minute cases antibiotics have been known to combat the infection.
If you suspect one of the chicks is presenting with the disease, it is imperative that you separate the healthy chicks from the suspected sick chicks as soon as possible.
Also, use necessary precaution when handling those chicks suspected to be contaminated with Mushy Chick, as the bacteria associated with this disease, primarily staph and strep, may have an impact on humans.
This disease is one of the most common to plague any flock, and as such, should be at the forefront of every flock managers mind. Being intestinal in nature, it occurs when a parasite of microscopic nature will attach to the lining of the intestines of the chicken.
What makes this disease different is that all chickens carry the organism within their bowels however, only a select few will actually develop the disease and suffer from the effects.
The good news is that the condition is species-specific. This simply means if you have other livestock around, your chickens will not infect them.
Coccidiosis has a concise, eight day, incubation period, which means the disease works relatively fast.
Symptoms may present either very gradually or very rapidly, meaning a chicken may appear healthy as a horse one day, and suddenly drop dead the next.
The most common symptom is that of blood or mucus in the chicken’s droppings. However, do not get this confused with the cecal droppings that you might see, as they are brown/red in color as well.
These types of droppings are typical and are shed naturally by the birds. Along with the discolored droppings, look for chickens exhibiting listlessness, huddling together as if to get warm, loss of appetite and a pale appearance to their combs and skin.
When it comes to treating for Coccidiosis, you will need to remember “all for one, and one for all.” If one chicken is infected, the entire flock has to be treated.
Those flock members that you suspect of being infected are to be separated out on their own immediately. Then make sure to clean their coop, at the same time insuring their living space is clean and dry.
The only method to combat the disease, in effort to make sure that it does not continue to grow and spread, is that of using a commercial treatment. Usually liquid based, you would simply add the recommended dose to your flock’s water supply.
Thrush with chickens if very similar in nature to the type that babies contract. Thrush is an alimentary tract disease affecting many species in the avian community.
The disease presents with thickening and white plaques present on the mucosa, most commonly in the crop.
However, it can also present in the intestine, and is associated with the erosion of the gizzard. The culprit that causes Thrush is a fungal yeast. The condition has been seen worldwide in flocks, and the mortality rates for this disease are relatively low.
Symptoms of this disease include the appearance of an oozy white substance that will be in that space between their neck and their body—commonly known as the crop.
They will seem to have a very hardy appetite. However, their vent area will appear crusty, and they may also present with the appearance of being lethargic.
There is currently no vaccine against Thrush however, it can be treated effectively with the use of anti-fungal medicine. You can also prevent it by making sure that your chickens are not exposed to or are able to eat molded feed or other types of molded food.
This ailment may sound funny, but it is by no means a laughing matter. Bumblefoot is a very easy ailment for just about any member of your flock to fall victim to.
The reason being, they can get it in all manner of ways—from scratching around in the garden or scratching around in the mulch of your landscaping.
It begins by your chicken accidentally cutting its foot, and then progresses from there. The cut becomes infected, and it is then that the real problems start.
The symptoms of Bumblefoot are easy to spot—you will know it when you see it. Once the infection from the cut has set up, you will notice that your bird may be limping, favoring one leg over the other.
Then there will be the appearance of pinkish-red areas of roughness either on top of or bottom of the chicken’s foot, or even between its toes.
When the infection has had a chance to take hold, your birds foot, and in some cases including the leg, will manifest redness and sores and will begin to swell.
If spotted in the early stages, Bumblefoot is relatively easy to treat. Fill a basin or tub with a mixture of warm water and Epsom salts. Then proceed to soak the foot for 10-15 minutes.
Dry the foot thoroughly, and then apply a topical spray, such as Vetericyn, and cover with gauze. Wrap the entire foot in vet wrap, sufficiently securing the bandage from prying beaks.
However, if a dark scab is present, surgery to remove the infection along with its core may be needed.
Pullorum will affect young chicks and older birds in a totally different manner. Viral in nature, this disease is commonly contracted through the introduction by wild birds, mammals, and flies.
Once a flock member is infected, the virus is spread by way of bird-to-bird contact, as well as contact with contaminated services.
It is worth noting that a hen that may happen to recover from Pullorum is known to typically pass the bacteria causing the infection to at least one-third of her eggs.
The symptoms of Pullorum will vary, with some chicks presenting with a reduction in activity, their backsides developing a white paste all over it, and a tendency to show signs of difficulty breathing.
Although, some have reportedly been known to have died without the showing of any signs at all. With older birds, you will see symptoms including that of coughing and sneezing along with reduced laying.
The bad news is that there is no known cure nor vaccine for this dreaded disease. Any bird that has become infected with Pullorum should be put down and care taken to properly dispose of the carcass to prevent any other animal from contracting the disease.
Those birds that do recover from the infection will be carriers of the bacteria that causes the disease for the rest of their lives.
Newcastle Disease, for the most part, is not fatal to chickens. However, it does do long-lasting and significant damage.
The disease is known to cause some severe damage to your chicken’s respiratory system and its processes, which has been shown to remain with the bird through the rest of its natural life.
The disease itself presents with the appearance of discharge from the mouth, the nose, and the eyes.
Those chickens that have been infected with Newcastle will also appear to have significant difficulty when breathing, and those hens that contract the disease will also stop laying, a sure indicator that they are infected.
As for how the disease is transmitted, it is through your flock members coming into contact with other animals, more specifically wild birds. However, it is imperative to remember that animals other than birds are known carriers of Newcastle as well.
The upside is the news that there is a vaccine for Newcastle. However, even if the fowl has not been vaccinated against Newcastle, chances are, given time to heal, that they can survive, especially those birds that are older.
On the other hand, the prognosis for chicks is not as bright. Due to their developing immune system, their little bodies are unable to effectively fight off the infection.
As you can see, with most any animal on your homestead, there is a chance for illness.
However, if you have done your homework, and know what to causes the possible diseases that your chickens may fall victim to, as well as being on the lookout for the symptoms, you will be better prepared with an effective treatment.
In this way, you can make sure that your flock members live long and happy lives.
Tracy lives with her furry baby, Chigger, in a small, quaint, country town nestled within the Appalachian Mountain range.
A mere four years into her homesteading journey to obtain a simpler, more self-reliant lifestyle, she finds that she always has something to learn, and there is always something to be grateful for.
When not researching or writing, she can usually be found working on one of the many tasks that always seem to be needing done on her homestead, tending to her garden, or laughing at the many antics of her chickens, whom she has affectionately named the “feathery five,” as well as Chigger himself.
Meet the rest of the team here.