It's often hard to determine what's ailing a chicken, and there are a number of possible culprits. Many ailments are treatable, but some always prove fatal. Use the following summaries as a basic guide to diagnosing illness - but always consult a vet for an expert opinion on the problem and its treatment.
Air Sac Disease
- Cause: The disease is passed from bird to bird, and from infected mother to chick (while it is still in the egg).
- Symptoms: Weak-looking birds with swollen joints, coughing and sneezing, breathing problems, reduced laying.
- Treatment: Chickens can be vaccinated against the illness, and infected birds can be treated with antibiotics.
Healthy Australorp hens - what every chicken keeper wants to see
- Cause: Spores from mouldy droppings or bedding in an uncleaned coop. Young birds are most vulnerable.
- Symptoms: Wheezing, lethargy, increased thirst.
- Treatment: Unfortunately there is no cure! The best thing for the chicken would be to put it out of its misery, or get a vet to do it for you.
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
- Cause: The disease often originates in wild birds. Outbreaks are rare, but this is a lethal and rapidly-spreading disease, and once in a chicken flock, the whole lot will have to be put down.
- Symptoms: Breathing difficulties, diarrhea, discoloured combs and wattles, poor laying, sometimes dark red spots on legs and combs.
- Treatment: There is no vaccine and no cure. All infected birds are carriers, and need to be put down. All carcasses must be destroyed immediately. The run and coop will need sanitizing.
- Cause: Eating contaminated food. Rotten meat is a common culprit.
- Symptoms: Tremors, difficulty breathing, leading eventually to total body paralysis if untreated. In advanced stages, the hen’s feathers will come way in handfuls.
- Treatment: A vet can prescribe an antitoxin. A home remedy recommended by many chicken keepers is 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts dissolved in with 1 ounce of warm water, fed to the infected bird each morning.
- Cause: This is caused by infection in a foot that has been accidentally cut.
- Symptoms: The foot, and sometimes the leg, will begin to swell.
- Treatment: Clean any wound to prevent the disease taking hold. The condition should be referred to a vet, who will surgically cure the bird. If left untreated, bumblefoot can be fatal.
- Cause: A parasitic disease of the gut, spread via infected droppings.
- Symptoms: Lethargy, droopiness and listlessness, accompanied by loss of appetite, pale combs and wattles, and ruffled feathers. Infected birds will huddle on their roosting perch, or in a warm corner. There will be blood or mucus in the droppings, which will be runny.
- Treatment: An anticoccidial medication and antibiotic is the only sure way of killing the coccidian parasites that cause the disease. Recuperating birds need a warm, dry environment and an extra dose of vitamins and minerals in their diet (e.g. a supplement for their water supply).
NOTE: Young chickens are often vaccinated against this disease before sale. For those not vaccinated, there are chicken feeds available that contain the vaccine.
- Cause: The disease is contracted from other chickens, mosquitos, or even by air if there is an infected flock nearby.
- Symptoms: white spots on the skin, scabs and sores on combs, white ulcers in mouth and/or trachea, no egg-laying.
- Treatment: Place the infected bird in a warm place and feed her soft foods. Ask your vet about fowl pox vaccine.
- Cause: Bacteria contracted from wild animals or contaminated food or water.
- Symptoms: Swollen comb and wattles, darkened skin on head and wattles, discharge from nostrils and beak, greenish or yellowish diarrhea, signs of discomfort when walking, difficulty breathing.
- Treatment: There is no effective treatment for infected birds, and even if they survive they will be carriers of the disease. Having the bird humanely put down is the sensible way forward. However, there is a vaccine available which prevents the disease from taking hold in the first place.
- Cause: This is an airborne virus, with infected birds in the neighbourhood being the origin.
- Symptoms: Sneezing, coughing, snoring, discharge from nose and eyes, no egg laying.
- Treatment: Your vet can vaccinate the flock to prevent the disease from infecting the flock. If the disease does strike, keep the infected chickens isolated in a warm, dry place, with plenty of fresh greens in their diet. Some will die, but some pull through.
- Cause: This is a fatal virus that travels through contaminated water, infected birds, and any area contaminated by either of these.
- Symptoms: Swollen combs and heads, to such an extent that the eyes are soon swollen shut; discharge from eyes and nostrils; dampness beneath the wings. Infected birds stop laying.
- Treatment: There is no cure for this illness, and infected hens must be put down. Any bird that is allowed to linger will be a carrier of the infection.
- Cause: This is a virus, largely affecting young chicks. It spreads when chicks breathe in tiny particles of infected dander (shed skin).
- Symptoms: Rapidly growing tumors, creeping paralysis, grey irises.
- Treatment: Vaccination of one-day old chicks prevents the virus taking hold; but once a chick is infected, there is no cure and the bird should be put down. A living carrier of the virus is a health hazard to all the other birds.
- Cause: A bacteria, spread from chick to chick or from infected surfaces.
- Symptoms: An enlarged, inflamed, blue-tinted midsection in the chick. Infected chicks will smell unpleasant. They will also be drowsy and very weak.
- Treatment: There is currently no vaccination, but a vet may prescribe antibiotics. Infected birds should be isolated from the flock. Handle infected or dead victims with gloves and wash thoroughly afterwards, as the disease can cause illness in humans.
- Cause: This is a highly contagious disease carried by wild birds and other domestic poultry. It can also be transmitted through contaminated clothes, shoes, etc.
- Symptoms: Breathing problems, including open beaks and gasping, discharge from nose, dull eyes, twisted necks, eventual paralysis in legs and wings.
- Treatment: Birds can be vaccinated against the disease. Younger victim will usually die, but older birds tend to survive, and once recovered they are not carriers of the disease. There is a US-wide initiative to rid the country of the disease.
Hen showing symptoms of the deadly Newcastle Disease
- Cause: This is a viral disease, spread by contact with contaminated surfaces and ill birds.
- Symptoms: Older birds will begin sneezing and coughing, and stop laying. Younger birds’ main symptoms are lethargy and messy vents surrounded by a white paste. Some will have breathing problems; some may even die before any obvious symptoms have manifested.
- Treatment: There is no cure and no vaccine, so infected birds need to be put down.
- Cause: A fungus, originating in moldy food or from contaminated water and surfaces.
- Symptoms: A thick white liquid in the crop; encrusted vent; big appetite accompanied by lethargy; ruffled feathers.
- Treatment: Anti-fungal medicines are available from vets. Clean the coop and feeding areas after any outbreak.