Alongside respiratory disease- diarrhoea is one of the most common conditions to affect chickens kept on small holdings or in domestic situations such as the back garden.
|A normal dropping|
Before we look at causes of diarrhoea it is worth mentioning that a normal bird dropping should be firm and brown with a white part on the top which is made from urates (the chickens urine) as chickens urinate and defecate in one motion.
A healthy bird will also pass a caecal dropping every 10th dropping or so, these are usually caramel in colour.
They are passed from the caeca instead of the large intestine, hence the difference in appearance.
|A caecal dropping|
Any yellow foamy droppings or bloody droppings are abnormal.
There are a number of possible causes for diarrhoea in poultry:
I have previously discussed Coccidiosis in a more indepth article, however, the important thing to remember with this disease is that it tends to cause a bloody diarrhoea in poultry under 10 weeks of age, often affecting all the birds in the batch and in severe cases can lead to death. If you suspect your birds have coccidiosis seek veterinary help immediately. Note coccidiosis in turkeys rarely causes blood to appear in the droppings instead causing diarrhoea and dullness. If you want to rule in/out coccidiosis then you can get a chicken vet droppings sample kit and send a dropping sample to us where we will tell you if there are worm eggs or coccidial oocysts (eggs) in your bird's droppings.
Worms rarely cause diarrhoea in chickens but if they are present in large numbers they can irritate the gut causing a secondary bacterial diarrhoea. If you have birds losing weight and have a mild diarrhoea it is again always worth ruling out worms as a problem by sending a sample to our lab for a worm egg count or if the birds' have not been wormed in the last 4 – 6 months then worming with Flubenvet would be a sensible course of action.
There are a number of viruses which can damage the gut causing diarrhoea such as rotavirus and adenovirus (in turkeys). As with all viruses there are no medications which will stop the virus it literally is a matter of supporting the bird whilst it fights the virus itself. However when a virus damages a bird's intestine it allows harmful bacteria to grow out of control in the intestine leading to a secondary bacterial diarrhoea.
Bacterial diarrhoea is simply a disruption in the normal balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestine. This cause often results in an overgrowth of harmful Clostridia bacteria. It is thought that there is usually an underlying reason for this disruption such as:
Once the Clostridia takes hold it can damage the wall of the gut further leading to a worsening diarrhoea. In severe cases the wall of the gut can become so badly damaged that the bacteria can simply cross over from the gut to the blood causing blood poisoning which is usually fatal.
If chickens have suffered with Infectious Bronchitis Virus this can result in kidney damage, birds then suffering with this damage can produce excessive quantities of urine which mixes with the droppings before defecation causing them to be more watery than normal which causes owners to report diarrhoea.
There are a number of chicken owners out there (including my own brother!) using turkey feed for their chickens (as it contains more protein) in an attempt to get them to grow better but in reality chicken feed contains the correct levels of protein for chickens and using a feed with excessive levels of protein causes wetter droppings since the extra protein is converted into urates which cause the bird to drink more and urinate more leading to damp bedding and a waste of money.
Irrespective of the cause of diarrhoea it has a number of harmful effects:
When one of your birds has diarrhoea there are two important things to determine:
If the bird has diarrhoea but is otherwise fine and is eating and drinking normally then there is no need to panic and below there are a number of things you can do to help you bird:
After you have the diarrhoea controlled your bird will likely have lost a lot of weight.
Chicken Vet Amino + is a multivitamin product containing amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and B vitamins to help build up your recovering bird. It can be given in water for five days.
Chicken Vet Energy contains L-Carnitine to stimulate your bird's appetite. It also can be given in water daily for five days. I would suggest it might be worth mixing the two products together for a five day course once your bird has stopped scouring.
There are a number of simple steps you can take to prevent diarrhoea in your birds:
For more information about any of the products mentioned or for further advice look at the Chicken Vet website.