Today’s topic is common disease and problems found in your flock that you can usually treat at home.
Some of the diseases and problems that can plague chickens are easily dealt with at home using common remedies that you likely have in your medicine chest.
As we all know, running off to the veterinary every time something occurs is expensive and often happens on ‘off’ hours or weekends.
So in this article we discuss the 5 most common chicken diseases/problems and how to deal with them.
This is the most serious disease on this list. Coccidiosis can be prevented quite effectively by taking a few practical steps.
In this particular disease, prevention is the key to keeping your chicks healthy – you really don’t want to be dealing with an outbreak of coccidiosis in your coop. If you want an in depth guide read our article.
So, how do you prevent it? To answer that question, let’s first look at what makes an ideal habit for this disease to live in:
- They love warmth – 70-90°F is good.
- Humidity – icky dampness everywhere.
- Filth – chicken poop.
These three things present the perfect environment for trouble.
The best way to prevent this disease is through cleanliness. A brooder is a lovely warm, frequently damp and fairly poopy environment.
Clean that brooder at least once a day preferably more; scoop the poop, remove damp bedding and replace with new and dry stuff. Change water frequently and food if it is soiled.
Chicks do not start exhibiting any resistance to coccidiosis until after the 6-8 week mark. If you are integrating your chicks to the flock this early, you will have to be diligent about keeping the entire area as dry and clean as you can.
As a part of keeping your chicks safe, you really should not have fellow chicken people over to visit with them unless they have pretty strict biosecurity precautions themselves.
For further prevention you can feed the chicks’ medicated starter for their first few weeks.
Medicated chick feed is usually treated with amprolium to help prevent coccidiosis.
If you do notice any of the following signs, isolate the chick(s) immediately:
- Weak, poorly looking, failure to thrive.
- Pale skin and comb.
- Decreased appetite and weight loss.
If these symptoms start to occur, change to medicated feed if you aren’t using it already and isolate the poorly birds away from the healthy ones.
At this stage you may need to involve a veterinarian as you will likely need antibiotics.
However, if you follow the recommendations outlined above, the chance of your chicks catching coccidiosis is very much minimized.
Bumblefoot is an infection of the foot, and sometimes it will need to be surgically removed. We talk about this in depth in our article here.
Whilst surgery is sometimes needed, it is painful and not always successful.
The preferred treatment is to soak and soften the bumble until it ‘pops’ out. A warm foot bath with Epsom salts is the bath of choice.
This can be time consuming so be prepared.
You will need to soak their foot for 10 minutes or so.
Once their foot is soft you need to remove the bumble; this will leave a large hole.
Wrap your patient securely in a large towel. Soak the hens’ foot you will need to chat to her to keep her co-operative, sometimes a treat or two is needed for the more unhinged hens.
Now you need to place her on her side so you can clearly see the bumble. She is not going to like this very much, I find placing a second towel very loosely over her head helps a lot – and keep talking.
If it is a small and fairly recent, you may be lucky enough to have it pop out for you easily. With the tweezers or your fingernail, try to lift the edges of the bumble up. If they lift easily squeeze the bumble between your fingers working up from the bottom of the lesion to the skin surface.
Fill the hole with plain Neosporin and wrap securely with Vet wrap. It should not be so tight as to restrict circulation, so check after 5 minutes to make sure the foot is still warm. Secure in place with tape.
Fowl pox is caused by a virus that is spread by mosquitoes. It comes in two forms – wet and dry.
If you are old enough to remember chickenpox as a child, you will probably recognize fowl pox the minute you see it. Signs other than the warts are:
- Hunched up, lethargic.
- Decreased appetite and drinking,
- Decreased egg laying.
- Respiratory problems (wet pox only).
Always wear gloves to tend to these sores, pick up and dispose of any scabs you see as they are able to infect your other birds. Isolate those infected.
This is a contagious disease, so good biosecurity is a must – do not visit other chicken folk and do not let them visit you. You really should quarantine all new birds and isolate affected birds.
Small pustules can appear on the comb, wattles face, legs and even around the vent. If it is a mild case you may only see wart-like lesions on the face or comb. Areas that are feathered do not get these lesions.
Fortunately for us, fowl pox is pretty easy to treat at home.
Sometimes the sores around the face can start to produce a nasty discharge. These should be gently cleaned with warm water, pat dry and apply plain Triple antibiotic ointment (without pain killer) to each of the sores. Remember, you are using the antibiotic to prevent a secondary infection from occurring – antibiotics will not cure pox as it is caused by a virus.
This is another little problem for chicks. A pasty butt or ‘sticky bum’ is when the poop collects at the cloaca and sticks to the fluff/feathers; it seals shut the cloaca.
It might seem laughable but it can kill your chick, after all what goes in must come out. This one is a very easy fix.
All you need is a chick, some warm water, a few cotton buds, olive oil and lots of patience. The skin of a chick is very fragile and can split easily, so be very gentle.
First, check to see how hard the paste is. If it is still pliable, use the cotton buds to remove excess and then gently clean the cloaca/vent. Once it is clean, take another swab and coat the area with olive oil to prevent further sticking.
If the chick has a poop ball the consistency of concrete, it is going to take a bit longer. Sit your chick in warm water and check after five minutes. It should be softening a bit, if not back to warm water. Once is has softened you can follow the steps above to remove it.
Cuts, Abrasions and Peck Marks
As we know, chickens are intensely curious creatures which can sometimes lead them into trouble. They can appear with toenails missing, small cuts and abrasions, but much more frequently with a bleeding comb from a well-aimed peck.
Combs and wattles bleed a lot!
So don’t panic if it looks like a lot of blood, it usually isn’t.
Peck wounds are usually small but occasionally one of the comb ‘points’ will have been taken off.
The area will look red and enticing to the other birds now, so now is the time to apply some Blu-kote or similar solution to make the red area look uninteresting.
Once this has dried, apply a thin layer of plain Neosporin (without anesthetic) to the area. This will help to keep dirt out of it and aid with healing.
Should you separate the bird from the flock? If you are able to observe the flock interacting with the victim for a while you will know whether to separate or not. If they continue to peck at her, separate until the wound has healed.
Missing toenails should be treated in the same way. Stop the bleeding and apply antibiotic ointment; if the chicken will tolerate a dressing that will help tremendously.
The dressing only needs to stay in place for a day or so, enough time for the wound to start to heal.
Treating your flock at home can be intimidating at first, but as you tackle some of the smaller things, the bigger things won’t hold as much anxiety for you.
Remember that whilst diet alone may not ‘cure’ your chicken, it goes a long way.
A well-rounded diet that contains all the nutrients needed for health, plus some extra little additives such as apple cider vinegar, garlic, probiotics and oregano can go a long way to building a great immune system.
The stronger that system is, the better the likelihood is that your flock shakes off some of the diseases that attack them.
Remember though, these tips and advice are not a replacement for veterinary care, if in doubt refer to your veterinarian.
There are a few other problems that you can treat at home too, look for our second installment on chicken diseases coming soon.
Do you have any specific things that you would like us cover? Let us know in the comments section below…