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Health Problems in Backyard Poultry

Just For Pets

4 min read

Health Problems in Backyard Poultry

Plucky chickens are hesitant to show us when they’re not feeling well. They’re a prey species, so one of their natural survival instincts is to mask signs of weakness. Therefore, it’s important for chicken owners to keep a close eye on their flocks for signs that they’re unwell. The following are some of the health issues, diseases and parasites that can be experienced by backyard poultry:

Skin and feather issues: Problems with skin and feathers are usually the result of poor nutrition. Signs include dry and flaky skin, brittle feathers, trouble moulting, thickened and irritated leg scales, and an overall oily texture. Any of these symptoms can signal discomfort and pain, and veterinary advice should be sought immediately.

Obesity: Chickens have a tendency to gain too much weight, particularly on unbalanced diets consisting of too many food scraps. Fat chickens are not healthy chickens and can end up with heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, as well as general lethargy and ill health.

Breeding complications: Reproductive issues are common in egg layers. Problems can include egg-binding, which is when a hen is unable to lay and becomes distressed. Yolk peritonitis and pyometra are similar issues that involve accumulation of fluid in the uterus that must be addressed with surgery. Symptoms include struggling to lay, a change in gait, lethargy, enlarged abdomens, reduced activity and lack of appetite.

Internal parasites: Worms are the most common internal parasites found in backyard poultry, and prevention can be assisted through the use of commercial wormers added to your chickens’ water or food. Ask the pet experts at your local Just for Pets Independent pet store for product recommendations.

External parasites: Lice, mites, ticks and fleas are the external parasites carried by backyard poultry. Prevention and early detection are the best ways to deal with mites and lice. Regularly check birds and their environments including under perches and in nest boxes. Keep coops clean and dry and allow birds to dust bathe. Seek advice from the experts at Just for Pets on the best products for cleaning and sanitising poultry housing, as well as treatments for outbreaks.

Respiratory infections: Upper respiratory tract infections are very common in chickens and symptoms include watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and reduced egg production. There are several types of respiratory diseases and they can be spread by rodents, insects, and through the air. If your bird is displaying any symptoms signalling respiratory issues, you should seek immediate treatment from a vet. Treatment can include antibiotics or surgery. It’s especially important to see your vet in case your chicken is suffering from infectious laryngotracheitis which is a notifiable disease resembling avian influenza.

Pododermatitis (AKA bumblefoot): Pododermatitis is a bacterial infection in the sole of a bird’s feet that can be caused by being overweight, unsafe perches or an unhygienic pen. The infection can spread into the joints of the foot and into the bone. Treatment can include basic foot care, antibiotics or surgery. The infection can usually be prevented by keeping a clean coop.

Marek’s disease is a virus most common in young chickens. Infection can result in paralysis of the legs, neck and wings, painful eyes, and tumours and swelling in internal organs. There is no treatment, but it can be prevented with the help of vaccination and keeping chicks away from adult birds. However, vaccination cannot be purchased in small doses for backyard flocks – it comes in large dose vials and must be given at one-day-old, which only makes it feasible for large scale commercial breeders. Some hatcheries will sell vaccinated chickens direct to backyard poultry owners.

Fowl pox is a viral disease that is often spread by mosquitoes. The infection leads to wart-like nodules on the non-feathered parts of the head and legs and occasionally ulcers in the mouth, nose and throat that can obstruct eating and breathing. Reduced egg production and poor weight gain are the greatest impacts. Prevention of fowl pox is through a combination of vaccination and reducing exposure to mosquitoes, which can be done by screening sheds and removing mosquito habitats. Fortunately, lesions will heal by themselves over three to six weeks. In severe cases, it may be necessary to remove scabs and treat with antiseptics, but consult with your vet for advice.

Your local Just For Pets Independent pet store is a wealth of knowledge on all things pets, just ask them if you have any questions.
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