More and more people are returning to natural treatments in treating chicken diseases. Keeping the backyard poultry flock healthy naturally is possible, although preventing illness is the ultimate goal. Keeping your chickens from getting sick in the first place is best, but how can we treat the top chicken diseases naturally if illness occurs despite our best efforts?
In a small flock, you may loose birds due to a contagious viral disease. But, it is much less likely to occur than in a large commercial operation. Quick action and appropriate responses may limit the devastation to your flock from a contagious disease. The first important point to remember is to not panic. Calmly assess the symptoms in your flock and learn the possible causes. Some symptoms can be innocuous, and not need anything more than better management. Being aware of what the possible threats are to your flock, being ready to take action, and quickly taking those steps will lesson the threats considerably.
What do I Need to Know?
There are a few classes of diseases that can infect your birds. Viruses, bacteria, and parasites are three of the classifications that are commonly a problem for the backyard poultry flock. It is my belief that not all ailments have a natural cure. Sometimes, in order to stop the progression of a deadly disease, it is necessary to use vaccines or antibiotics. However, whenever possible, it is good to use a natural cure or remedy. Choosing a natural remedy over a pharmaceutical product can help avoid antibiotic resistance, and build healthy immune systems.
Since viruses are unpredictable and travel quickly through a flock, often resulting in death or the survivors being lifelong carriers of disease, you may not have time to treat a bird suffering from one of the serious viruses with natural remedies.
Bird Flu, H5N2, Avian Influenza
In the news again recently, Avian Influenza is currently spreading across the United States. This virus is deadly but has been eradicated in the United Sates in the past. While mostly confirmed in large scale production houses, it is possible to have it infect a small flock of birds. Knowing the symptoms is important. Bird Flu is deadly, wiping out the entire flock within one to three days. Since it is viral, it often occurs without warning and once it hits, it is too late to save the birds. Prevention is key and having bio security measures in place before hand will keep your flock much safer from the strains of influenza.
Bird Flu is the common name given to the strains of influenza. This highly pathogenic flu is spread through direct contact with droppings from infected birds. It can be carried on equipment, shoes and clothing. There are a probably 144 strains of Avian Influenza which makes vaccinating against it very difficult. As with any virus, the bird flu strain can mutate at any time. Large scale operations may choose to vaccinate but it is a gamble on whether or not it will be effective.
How is it spread – carried through the air and on clothing, equipment and shoes
Symptoms – generally ill looking chickens. Ruffled feathers, hunched up posture, sitting by itself and apart from the flock. Quickly spreads and birds die within days.
Natural Course of Action– keep your birds healthy and feed Probiotics to boost immune system. Quarantine any new arrivals far from the flock. Use bio security practices to avoid the spread.
Infectious Bronchitis is from a type of Corona virus. This causes respiratory symptoms in the affected bird. Those chickens, duck, or turkeys that survive will be lifetime carriers of the virus.
How is it Spread – Viral transmission through droplets of body fluids, fecal droppings, transmitted through the air
Symptoms– Similar to other respiratory disease, gasping, coughing, rattled breathing, nasal discharge. Chickens may be chilled, and a drop in egg production will be a result of all the symptoms. This virus can spread to the kidney and urinary tract. Any survivors will be carriers.
Course of Action– A vaccine is available and good bio security practices to avoid an infection in your flock.
The virus that causes Fowl Pox is not the same as the virus that causes chicken pox in humans. Although it is viral, it is spread through mites and ticks or through an open wound. Symptoms include scabs, fever, loss of appetite and apathy. There are two forms, a dry form and a wet form of the symptoms. A vaccine is available but often not used unless there is an outbreak in the area.
How is it spread– Fowl Pox is spread through mosquitoes, mites and ticks that are infected. Transmission can also occur through an open wound.
Symptoms– Symptoms include, scabs, fever, loss of appetite, general unwell appearance. Large dark warty looking scabs appear on a wound. In the wet form of Fowl Pox, wet cheesy looking growths appear in the throat and a thin membrane forms in the mouth and larynx. The wet form is more likely to be fatal and the dry pox is not as serious. The survivors are not carriers.
Course of Action – A vaccine is available in areas where the disease is common or an outbreak occurs. Insect control and mosquito management help to keep the likelihood of an occurrence minimal.
Marek’s is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of chicks. Once it gets in to your flock, it is always present. It causes the legs to become paralyzed, and the wings to droop. Death can occur with in a few days Interestingly, the vaccine for Marek’s Disease does not keep a chick from being infected with the virus. The vaccine keeps the chicken from being paralyzed from the virus. The vaccine must be administered before the chick is exposed. Most commercial hatcheries will offer this as an add on service. Marek’s virus is part of herpes family there are four strains that affect the chicken in different ways.
How is it spread– bird to bird contact, dander and dust in poultry housing.
1.Cutaneous form – red swollen feather follicles
2.Neural form – progressive paralysis, labored breathing, diarrhea, death
3.Ocular form- gray oddly shaped iris, blindness and death
4.Visceral form – tumors on internal organs
Natural Course of Action – some breeds are resistant, use good sanitation practices and keep the chicks away from the adults until 5 months of age
New Castle Disease
There are two types of New Castle disease. The mild form is mainly respiratory and most often not deadly. It can cause some lasting nervous system problems.
The severe or exotic form of New Castle disease is devastating resulting in a death rate of 100%. Vaccine prevention is available in areas that commonly experience outbreaks.
How is it spread – Through contact with infected feces, bodily fluids and infected water and feed bowls. Some wild birds can be carriers.
Symptoms – Respiratory symptoms including rasping,coughing and nervous system disorders and paralysis, greenish diarrhea.
Natural Course of Action – Tools for preventing the spread of New Castle Disease include quarantine, disinfect any transport cages, buy poultry only from reputable, New Castle Disease Free flocks and breeders. Since it is such a serious threat to poultry health, it is a reportable disease and requires notice to USDA. There is no treatment for those infected and total reduction of flock, cleaning and sanitizing with a 21 day waiting period before reintroducing new chickens to the area are the recommendations.
As in the case of life threatening viral attacks, many of the bacterial infections can result in loss of members of the flock. Prevention and cleanliness would be the key to naturally preventing bacterial infections. Once a bacterial infection is present, proceed carefully in eradicating it. These bacteria can be transmitted to humans, resulting in serious illness.
Infectious Choryza looks like severe cold symptoms. The disease is caused by a bacteria. Antibiotic treatment is effective on this highly contagious bacteria. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, and swollen eyelids. Searching the internet for instances of natural treatment of Infectious Choryza, I came across this rather involved and detailed treatment of a flock using many extracts and herbs.
How is it spread – airborne, direct contact with infected birds
Symptoms – Looks like a cold with inflamed swollen eyes and mucus membranes
Natural Course of Action – feed large amounts of garlic with sage tea, warm feed with bran and molasses. Supportive care. The disease does not go away even after symptoms have gone away.
Caused by a mycoplasma bacteria and spreads quickly through a flock. Stress can bring on an outbreak. Bringing in younger birds to add to a flock of carriers can also trigger an outbreak.
How is it Spread – M.G. is often spread by bringing in new birds for the flock, adding bird that is a carrier to your flock. It can also be spread by wild birds and can be carried in hatching eggs. It can be carried in on shoes and clothing too.
Symptoms – Mostly a respiratory issue, starting with mucus in the eyes, cough, labored breathing and raspiness. Birds rapidly decline and if they recover will be carriers and may relapse from time to time.
Natural Course of Action – An all in all out management. Getting rid of the entire flock and waiting two weeks after disinfecting the entire environment. Mycoplasma bacteria do not live long without a host. It is not known to be transmitted to humans. The best prevention is use of probiotics for immune health, and good bio security practices.
Staph infections can be a big problem in a chicken coop or any poultry flock. The bacteria can cause a range of problems but the most common for ducks and chickens would be the condition commonly referred to as bumblefoot. Bumblefoot is an infection on the bottom of the foot that abscesses. It makes walking on the foot painful for the bird. Cleaning and soaking the foot in an antibacterial solution may help the abscess to clear up. More stubborn cases may require surgery to eliminate the core in the abscess and allow the infection to heal. Prevent by managing the coop flooring and regular cleaning. In addition, make sure that the roost bars do not have splinters or rough patches.
How is it spread – Staph bacteria are commonly present in the environment. If the bacteria get into an open wound, particularly on the foot, an abscess can appear.
Symptoms– Bumblefoot will look like a large abscess on the bottom of the foot. It may look full or just swollen with a center scab. The bird will be reluctant to walk on it, and hold the affected leg up off the ground. Most chickens with a bumblefoot infection will limp, some may not want to walk much at all.
Natural Course of Action– Increase sources of Vitamin A such as grasses. Make sure that the areas where the chickens perch are free of splinters, and rough areas. Minimize ways that chickens can injure feet or get cuts on feet.
Silvadene Creme may kill the staph infection by drawing the infection out. Apply to the abscess and bandage the foot, allowing for circulation to continue. Turmeric may have some antibacterial effect on the staph infection. Be cautious about using any human over the counter salves or ointments that may contain a pain reliever as they are toxic to chickens. Do not use tea tree oil on chicken wounds, as it is also toxic to chickens. There are many schools of thought on how much surgical intervention is needed. The fact is each case must be looked at individually to determine if soaking and keeping the abscess wrapped will be enough or if surgery to remove the core of infection is a better course of action.
Escherichia Coli is present in the environment and in the intestinal tract of living birds and animals. If the digestive tract gets out of balance E.Coli can proliferate and become a big problem. Stress and unsanitary conditions can lead to an outbreak of E.Coli. Probiotics given regularly will help the digestive tract stay healthy . Cleaning water bowls and feed pans regularly, keeping droppings cleaned up and not allowing the poultry area to stay wet and damp will also help prevent an outbreak.
How is it spread – Through contact with infected droppings and unsanitary conditions.
Symptoms – Lethargy, lack of appetite, green watery diarrhea, weakness. Symptoms continue to worsen until death
Natural Course of Action – Keep the digestive tract healthy with proper diet, supplements, probiotics and a stress free environment. Chickens who feel stressed over time are less resistant to bacterial infections. There is some evidence that oregano and turmeric may help the digestive tract remain healthy in the presence of bacterial overload. As is the case with many chicken ailments, prevention is the best course of action. Cleanliness, quarantine ill birds and sanitize any shared housing or bowls/feeders.
This bacterial disease can affect any species of fowl but is usually limited to turkeys and chickens. It is transmitted through the egg to the chick from infected hens, and from chick to chick in the incubator. It is deadly in young chicks, with many dying early with no symptoms shown. There can be carriers of the bacteria too. The recommendation is to not keep a flock that has experienced an out break as the recovered flock members will be carriers.
How is it spread – contact with infected feces, eggs, chicks. It can be spread through bird to bird contact, contamination of feeders and water containers from feces. It can be passed to humans by unsanitary practices, eating infected eggs from an infected flock. Hand washing is very effective against Salmonella bacteria.
Symptoms – low activity, ruffled appearance, lack of appetite, excessive thirst and diarrhea.
Natural Course of Action – Prevention is best. Hand washing after handling poultry and eggs. Chickens and people with stronger immune systems are less likely to become infected. Regular use of probiotics will keep the digestive tract healthy and more resistant to opportunistic bacteria.
Treating your chickens naturally, before internal parasite problems strike, includes feeding garlic, and apple cider vinegar. Feeding fermented chicken feed also strengthens the intestinal tract making it less hospitable to nasty organisms. Using apple cider vinegar, garlic, fresh pumpkin and pumpkin seeds and herbs as part of the chicken’s diet will lesson the incidence of internal parasite infestations.
A condition caused by Cocci. Mostly limited to young birds, this intestinal wall disease is caused by a protozoa. Cocci are opportunistic organisms and are most likely limited to young or weakened birds in your poultry flock. The affected chickens or turkeys will appear unwell, hunched up, have ruffled, unkempt feathers and possible blood in their droppings. The droppings may adhere to the vent area feathers. (Although, not every case of droppings adhering to the vent area feathers means that the chicken has Coccidiosis )
How is it spread – Through contact with the cocci in infected droppings
Symptoms– Lethargy, weakness, blood in the droppings
Natural Course of Action– An old fashioned natural remedy for diarrhea is cinnamon and Epsom salts in the feed. Apple Cider Vinegar, Brewers yeast and Garlic keep the digestive tract healthy and strong.
Roundworms and Tapeworms are the most common intestinal worms found in chickens or other poultry. Most worm infestations involves an intermediate host, in most cases insects. Worms are picked up from eating insects that ingested the eggs of the worm. . Chickens will probably stop laying and have a very pale comb area if infested with worms. The bird may also eat a lot more food than normal. The condition referred to as Gape is caused by a type of roundworm that lodges in the chicken’s throat. If your chickens are picking up worms infestations from free ranging on pasture, be sure to rotate pastures. While the pastures are not being used by the chickens, the worms will die off.
How is it Spread – Worms are ingested through eating insects, or the insect eggs.
Symptoms – Lack of egg production, loss of condition, abnormally high appetite, pale comb or wattles. Gapeworm causes suffocation, gurgling, coughing.
Natural Course of Action – If chickens are free ranging, rotate pastures. The worms need the chickens to continue their life cycle. While there are no animals on the pasture the worms will die off. Oregano in the diet will help prevent worm infestations.
There are many natural dietary items that will help prevent a worm infestation and illness.
2% of DE Powder mixed into a 50 pound bag of feed.
Apple cider vinegar in the drinking water
cultured food such as yogurt and naturally fermented chicken feed
All of these items make the chicken’s digestive tract less hospitable to intestinal worms.
Red Mites and Northern Fowl Mite
A mite is a blood feeding parasite. The affected chickens may have blood spots on their egg shells, and scabby areas on the body or face. While you can choose to use a commercial chemical product to battle the mites there are natural options. Alternative and arguably healthier natural treatments include using wood ash from a wood burning fireplace. (after it has completely cooled of course) Dust your chicken with the wood ash, working it into the feathers and down to the skin. Use Neem Oil spray or a vinegar and lemon spray on the roost bars and in the empty nest boxes to kill and keep the mites and lice away.
How is it spread – Through an infestation in the environment.
What are the symptoms – scabby areas on the face, vent, or body. Blood spots on the eggshells.
Natural Course of Action – using the dust bath containing wood ash, will kill the mites. Neem oil on the roost bars and any cracks and crevices. Lemon oil spray or spray made from lemon rind soaked in vinegar will also kill the mites in the environment.
Scaly Leg Mite
The Scaly Leg Mite limits itself to the feet and legs of infested birds. The condition is easy to treat by coating the legs and feet with mineral oil, Waxlene jelly, Petroleum jelly, linseed oil or paraffin wax to smother the mites. Apply every few days until legs are smooth again. Clean and disinfect the coop, particularly the corners and ends of the roost bars. Dust the area with Diatomaceous Earth (DE Powder) or wood ash and add fresh shavings or straw over top.
How it it spread – Through contact with the environment containing the mites.
What are the symptoms – Rough, raised scales on legs and feet. The chicken may be hesitant to walk if the scales are painful on the feet.
Natural Course of Action – Coat the legs and feet with Vaseline petroleum jelly, Mineral Oil, Waxlene Beeswax jelly, or parraffin wax to smother the mites. Repeat as needed until the legs are smooth and healthy again. Treat the environment and the roost bars with wood ash, Diatomaceous Earth, change bedding.
For more natural solutions to external and internal parasite treatment and prevention, please check here.
The lice are usually found in the vent area of infested birds. Dust the nest boxes with wood ash. The lice feed on dead skin, and feathers so the afflicted birds will look like they are being pecked and picked on. The same type of treatment that was suggested for mites can be used for lice.
How is it spread- Bird to bird contact and from the environment of infested birds.
What are the Symptoms – Excessive preening, red, irritated skin, restlessness, feather damage
Natural Course of Action – You must treat both the bird and the environment at the same time. Some people use olive oil to coat the chicken working it into the skin. Be careful to avoid the eyes and nostrils! Treat the environment, coop and any perches with Neem oil spray.
The previous list of entries is not all inclusive, but covers the most common ailments you may deal with as a backyard poultry keeper. The top chicken diseases have been around for ages. Bio security practices are the most important things you can do in disease care and prevention. The practices should be adhered to at all times to lesson the threat to your flock. Here are some tips to maintain a healthy environment for your flock.
- Avoid exposure. If your neighbors and friends raise poultry also, do not swap birds back and forth without a quarantine period. Normally a quarantine will last thirty days. This same practice goes for adding birds from rescues, swaps, poultry sales, and even hatcheries. When visiting other poultry areas, do not wear the same clothes and boots into your coop.
- Quarantine any new additions and also any birds that are looking ill or showing signs of illness. Keep an available small animal crate or carrier for this purpose. Line it with a clean towel and some clean bedding. Do not use this bedding or any food and water bowls for the general flock unless completely sterilized and disinfected.
- Avoid contamination from wild birds and rodents. If possible, cover your poultry runs with wire, mesh or netting to keep wild and migratory birds from sharing the food and water and leaving their droppings. Don’t leave food out at night for rodents to snack on.
- Proper Nutrition – Feed your chickens and other poultry a good quality diet to ensure that their nutritional needs are met. Supplement with fresh herbs, vegetables and probiotics to keep their digestive tract healthy.
- Be aware of common threats to your flock. Knowing what viruses are circulating helps you to take steps to prevent the disease from reaching your flock.
- Keep the coop and run clean and the coop building well ventilated to prevent stagnant air from accumulating. Stagnant air and ammonia buildup will stress the birds respiratory system, making it more susceptible to disease.