Most chicken owners will encounter medical issues among their flock at some point. There are many signs and symptoms to watch for when it comes to a chicken’s health and wellness. An important part of a chicken’s anatomy, that often becomes an area to watch for illness, is the vent (a.k.a cloaca). It is common, and unpleasant to deal with conditions of the vent, but it is extremely important to take prompt action when there are signs of trouble.
What is the Vent?
The vent is the small opening on a chicken’s fluffy butt that functions as both a reproductive opening and an excremental escape hatch. In other words, it’s the baby maker and the exit for their birdy poo. Both feces and eggs are dispatched through this one small opening.
A healthy vent will be pink and moist. There will be no signs of inflammation, discoloration, or dirt. Yes, at times it may get a little messy, but for the most part the feathers should be clean around the vent.
What is Pasty Butt?
Pasty butt occurs most often in chicks that have been shipped from a hatchery. If a chick has pasty butt, a plug of feces will be visible covering the vent. It is typically dry and stuck tightly to the baby’s down. As a chick continues to try to pass its excrement, it continues to buildup and harden; thus the little chick becomes blocked and unable to pass stool. It is painful and stressful for the chick and can become fatal if not treated appropriately, and quickly.
Pasty butt occurs in chicks who are stressed due to things like shipping, movement, or other external factors. It can also be caused by improper diet, dehydration, or being kept at incorrect brooder temperatures for their age.
Viruses and infections are also less common causes of pasty butt, but should not be ruled out. If more than once chick consistently suffer from pasty butt, there may be an underlying illness.
How to Detect Pasty Butt Or Vent Issues
Pasty butt is not always an obvious affliction, so it is important for the chicken owner to observe new chicks for symptoms.
When I receive a new box of chicks, I take the time to check each one as I move them from the shipping container to their brooder box. I have not often seen pasty butt directly out of the shipping box; however, it often occurs after the chicks have started eating chick starter. This could certainly be due to the quick diet change (from nothing to something).
To check each chick, I hold them one at a time, gently, and tip them over so I can get a clear view of the vent. If there is excrement literally pasted, and dry, covering their butt then it is safe to assume they need to be treated. Pasty butt usually sticks out like a sore thumb, so a quick glance is really all it takes.
For the first two weeks, I regularly check each chick individually, about once every other day. It would be easy to overlook pasty butt without picking each chick up individually and turning them over. A chick can be fine one day, but the next day appear sluggish. It may not follow the rest of the young flock or it might prefer to sleep instead of bustling about with the rest of the active chicks. A chick displaying this behavior may have pasty butt. Once they become this ill, it is hard to treat, so prevention is key.
Pasty butt can get out of control quickly, and if not recognized early, it can become too far gone to be able to treat. Prevention is the best way to combat this condition.
Three Ways to Prevent Pasty Butt
Maintaining Appropriate Brooder Temperature: Pasty butt can be prevented by checking the brooder temperature often, adjusting according to the age of the chick. Any extreme variance one way or another will cause problems for the young flock
Grit: Making sure chicks have grit available will aid in proper digestion.
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If more than one chick is afflicted with pasty butt, and it becomes a recurring problem, there is a slight possibility that the chicks are ill, look into our diseases and illness guides to help determine the cause.
How to Treat Pasty Butt
Luckily, pasty butt is easy, albeit unsettling, to treat if it is caught early. Because it is the type of condition that can easily snowball, at the first sign of pasty butt, it should be addressed. It becomes more difficult to treat as time passes.
First, I prepare a bowl of water that is as close to the temperature of the brooder as possible. Then, I make sure I have gloves on, and either paper towels or napkins on hand. I keep the disposable towels moistened through the entire process. Doing so keeps the paper soft, and less harsh on the baby’s bottom.
Then, I gently pick up the chick, who is already understandably grumpy, and slowly lower its back end only into the warm water. I make sure to do my best to wet as little of the chick as possible to prevent the chick from becoming chilled when returned to the brooder.
Once in the water, the chick quickly relaxes and accepts the experience. It will often stop chirping and even dangle its little chick legs like a rag-doll (the warm water is akin to a lovely spa treatment for the fussy chick). I make sure to hold the chick firmly, yet gently, in the water for about 30 seconds.
Next, I lift the chick out of the water, take the moist disposable towel in my other hand and very gently attempt to pull some of the plug off. If it has not softened enough to remove the entire plug, I repeat step two and three until the plug simply slides off with light pressure.
It would be rude to leave the chick dripping from the back end. So I spend some time lightly dabbing the chicks bottom to aid the drying process. Then, I return the chick to the brooder. If other chicks peck at the wet area on the chick to the point of causing more stress or injury, I opt to keep the wet chick separate until dry. Baby chicks are curious and love to poke at other chicks that look just a little different than the others.
Many times the same chick will become plugged again within a short amount of time. This is why it is important to treat the underlying condition and continue to monitor the chick for pasty butt.
Other Vent Infections
Adult birds rarely get pasty butt. By the time they are laying, they have developed a resilient vent area and muscles. In other words, they are able to defecate more effectively than a newborn chick. But that doesn’t mean they are out of the woods for other vent infections. They can become infested with parasites and mites, each of which have tell-tale signs like a messy bottom. Vent gleet, however, is the adult chicken equivalent of pasty butt.
Vent gleet (or cloacitis) is the inflammation of the vent. A full-grown bird may suffer from vent gleet due to the consumption of moldy food, stress, or other illness. It can also be due to dirty water. While chickens love drinking from puddles, and this is completely normal, they may be putting their health at risk if they are drinking stagnant water, or water that is contaminated with fecal matter.
In other words, their digestive system is in peril. Too many treats can often cause this kind of distress and confined chickens, that are not provided with grit, will also struggle to digest their food properly.
If I notice symptoms of vent gleet, I immediately add probiotics to their clean water and confine the afflicted birds to a coop of their own. They get a very bland diet…just their layer feed and grit until the condition clears. Confinement also helps prevent the spread of any possible disease to other healthy birds. If a week goes by and their butts are not back to their fluffy selves, I will consult a veterinarian for their opinion.
Chickens won’t be happy to be handled for care, but they will feel much better once they are free of the “obstruction” or digestive upset. Vent problems are not fun to deal with, but they can easily be prevented and stifled, if caught early on. It is important to monitor the flock for any signs of these disorders. While it may be an unpleasant task to treat vent issues, it is important take action as soon as possible.