Frequently Asked Questions
1. Egg binding
Egg binding is when an egg gets stuck in the oviduct and will not pass through into the cloaca to be laid. It is more common in young laying hens just starting their initial laying cycle. Heavy fat hens are also more prone to the condition. It can be caused by nutritional issues or disease issues. Medical or surgical intervention is often needed. Other problems can be present in hens thought to have a bound egg. Oviduct impaction, internal lay, yolk peritonitis and ascites secondary to liver disease or cancer can all give a hen the appearance of egg binding.
2. Marek's Disease
Marek's Disease (MD) is caused by a very contagious herpes virus of poultry, Marek's Disease Virus (MDV). It does not affect people or other animals. The MDV is considered to be ubiquitous in areas where poultry are raised. There are different types of this virus, some being very mild and others quite pathogenic that cause a lot of disease. Most often, in small backyard flocks, we are dealing with the more mild strains. The most notable sign of MD is paralysis of one or more limbs, leading to a "roadrunner" type stance with one leg forward and the other back. The virus causes certain white blood cells to infiltrate nerves, as well as other organs, such as the eye, skin and liver, leading to clinical signs dependent on the location of the lesions. Birds become infected with the virus very early in life and can be affected as early as 4 weeks of age. Paralysis signs are most common between 8 to 20 weeks of age but can occur later in life as well. There is no known cure. To help protect your birds, you should purchase chicks that have been vaccinated for MD at the hatchery. If you raise your own chicks, you need to vaccinate them on the day they hatch and keep them separate from other birds, in a clean area, for at least 2 weeks to give the vaccine time to work.
There are other diseases that can look similar to MD. The inability to walk and neurological signs are commonly caused by nutritional disease, bacterial infections, some viruses, as well as trauma.
3. Respiratory Disease
Birds have breathing systems that are uniquely different from other animals. The have lungs like we do but they also have air sacs throughout their bodies. The air they breath in goes through the lungs, into the air sacs, through the lungs again and then back out. Because of this more extensive system, if a bird should acquire an infection of the airways, it can spread quite easily through the rest of the body. Infections in other parts of the body can also more readily affect the lungs and breathing system. There are several things that can affect a birds respiratory system. These include viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, air quality, temperature and physical blockages or trauma. Most people think that if they see their bird gasping, it must have Gapeworms. This could be but there are many other things that could be causing the issue as well! Common infectious causes of respiratory disease include Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), Infectious Coryza (IC), Infectious Bronchitis virus (IBV), Infectious Laryngotrachitis virus (ILT), Newcastle disease virus (NDV) and Avian Influenza (AI). If you hear a high pitched sound as your bird breaths, she likely has an obstruction along the airway. If there are no other clinical signs and she seems to have been okay before this, it may be a small bit of food or other debris. If she is ill, it may be gapeworms, ILT or the wet form of Pox or other disease causing damage to the lining of the trachea. It is highly recommended that you consult your veterinarian for any respiratory illness noted, and keep your flock quarantined so you don't spread contagious diseases.
Should I use medicated feed for my chicks? The most common medication in chick feed is Amprolium, a coccidiosis treatment. If you know you have a problem with coccidiosis in your flocks then go ahead and use medicated feed for the chicks. Adult chickens rarely have a problem with coccidiosis unless they have never been exposed to it. Amprolium, aka, Corid, is commonly used to treat coccidiosis problems in both chicks and adult chickens. Observe all directions on medication and medicated feed labels.
Sometimes antibiotics are needed to treat bacterial infections and prevent suffering and death loss. If you have a problem, contact a veterinarian familiar with poultry for a consultation prior to any treatments are given. If treatment is done, you will need to discard eggs and refrain from butchering meat birds, for a period of time after the last dose is given.
If you are seeing roundworms in the fecal droppings of your birds, you can treat with Safe-guard AquaSol at the dose on the label in chickens, including hens laying eggs for human consumption. It is the only de-wormer labeled for such use. You can find a link to this on the left of the page.
Trauma can be caused by cohort birds, predators (dogs, raccoons, skunk, hawks, owls, etc), nails, sharp metal, slats, falls, and many other means.
If there is an open wound, this will need to be cleaned with a product such as sterile saline flush, dilute chlorhexadine or dilute iodine. Do not use alcohol in wounds as it is very painful. Do not use full strength hydrogen peroxide in wounds as it is damaging to cells and can be painful. Dilute peroxide is only used to help "bubble out" dirt from very dirty wounds on initial cleaning. After cleaning, a product like Banixx, Vetericyn or BluKote can be applied. Use caution in very deep wounds that may be penetrating into the body cavity. Puncture wounds generally need antibiotic treatment, especially if they are caused by the teeth of a predator. Surface wounds may extend much deeper than they appear so if you can get your bird to a veterinarian for exam, that is most recommended.