A healthy flock is a happy flock. Like any pet or livestock, it’s important to keep your chickens safe from harmful diseases. Chicken diseases spread in a variety of ways. If left unchecked, they can infect the entire flock. Fortunately, if you know how to recognize these diseases, you can treat them before they do serious damage to your birds. Here are some of the most common health issues chickens face, what they look like, and how to treat them.
Fowl cholera is a bacterial disease that most often affects older chickens. Your birds can get it from contaminated food, water, or wild animals. Fowl cholera causes joint pain, which means swollen joints or obvious discomfort are common symptoms of the disease. Other signs include difficulty breathing, a loss of appetite, diarrhea with a greenish tinge, oral or nasal discharge, or darkened combs or wattle. Fowl cholera often leads to a quick, unexpected death. Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for fowl cholera. Even if a chicken recovers, they’re still a carrier of the disease and you should put them down to stop the disease spreading to the rest of the flock. However, there is a vaccine for fowl cholera that can prevent your birds from ever contracting it.
More commonly known as bird flu, avian influenza is one of the most common health issues chicken face. Because people can also contract this disease, there’s plenty of talk about it in the news. Fortunately, avian influenza doesn’t pose a serious risk to the general public. Unfortunately, it’s often deadly to chickens—some birds may even die without showing any other symptoms of the disease. Some signs of avian influenza are swelling in the face or comb, respiratory issues, and dark spots on the combs, wattles, and legs. Hens with the disease will lay fewer eggs or even stop laying altogether. Like fowl cholera, there is no treatment for avian influenza, and even surviving birds continue to carry the disease. Your best chance for preventing this and other viral infections is to keep the coop clean and make sure your chickens have a healthy, nutritious diet.
Fowl pox, or avian pox, is a highly contagious disease that acts much like chicken pox in humans. Fortunately, it rarely results in death. The most noticeable symptom of fowl pox is white, scab-like spots on their skin or combs. They might also develop ulcers in their mouth. These ulcers can cause the bird to have trouble breathing, which is the main way a bird can die from the disease. For the most part, though, these sores will heal within a few weeks and the bird will be just fine. Chickens often get fowl pox from mosquitoes or other contaminated chickens, but there is a vaccine that can protect them. Additionally, once a chicken has had and survived the disease, they’re immune to further infection.
Newcastle disease is a fast-spreading respiratory disease. As such, the most common symptoms are respiratory issues: wheezing, trouble breathing, and nasal discharge. A bird might also get a murky look in their eyes or experience paralysis in their wings and legs. Hens with Newcastle disease will likely stop laying. Both wild and domesticated birds can get this disease (in fact, wild birds are often what spread it), but domesticated birds are far more likely to suffer from more severe symptoms. There is no treatment for Newcastle disease, and chicks who contract often do not survive. However, older birds can recover just fine.
One of the most serious diseases chickens face, botulism is a bacterial infection that spreads through contaminated food or water. Chickens with botulism often have tremors, which progress quickly and can paralyze the birds’ legs, wings, and neck. This can also freeze the respiratory system, which is why botulism can kill a bird within a few hours if left untreated. If found in time, there is an antitoxin that can treat the disease. You can also give your birds a mixture of one teaspoon of Epsom salts and one ounce of warm water. Use a dropper and give this to your birds once a day. To prevent your birds from contracting the disease in the first place, be sure to keep their coop and any other living areas clean. Decaying carcasses or meat are often sources of the bacteria, so take care to remove and disinfect any rotting meat that may have come into contact with your birds.
Infectious bronchitis is extremely common among wild flocks, who tend to develop a resistance to the disease. As a result, they spread it to domesticated flocks. If your chickens have contracted the disease, they will likely eat and drink less, slow down or stop laying eggs, and develop respiratory issues. Because it’s a viral disease, infectious bronchitis spreads quickly through a flock. Chicks are more likely to die from the disease, but there is a vaccine that can help prevent infection and boost recovery times if a bird does contract it. You should quarantine infected birds in a warm, dry place so they can rest and recover. There is antibiotic treatment, and some chicken farmers report that heat lamps and herbal treatments have also aided their birds’ recovery.
The most common—and most obvious—symptom of infectious coryza is the swelling. Chickens infected with this bacterial disease will have swollen heads and combs. This can cause their eyes to shut and discharge to appear in the eyes and nose. Other symptoms include a loss of appetite, respiratory problems, moisture beneath the wings, and a halt in egg-laying. There is a vaccine for infectious coryza. While there are antibiotics that might treat the disease, it’s not a guaranteed cure. If your bird has passed the point of treatment, you should put them down to protect the rest of your flock from the disease.
Because chickens face so many dangerous diseases—many of which don’t have vaccines or treatments—it’s important to keep a close eye on your flock. You can prevent illness in the first place by keeping your automatic chicken feeders, waterers, and all other equipment clean and free of contamination. Proper care of your chickens’ living areas, as well as a healthy diet and lifestyle, can help ensure that your chickens lead happy, productive lives for years to come.