Gapeworms (Syngamus trachea) are included under 'respiratory system' since the adult worms reside in the trachea (or windpipe) and often produce a gurgling or 'tracheal rattle' that can be confused with respiratory problems.
Gapeworm is common in pheasants but also affects chickens, guinea fowl and turkeys. Gapeworms can cause considerable losses in pheasants and turkeys. Gasping for breath or 'gaping' as it is known is the biggest sign of gape worm. Shaking of the head and neck stretching are also common. When birds are held, gurgling can often be heard. If a heavy infestation occurs, death by suffocation will occur. Fully grown gape worms are 'Y' shaped and vary in size between 1 and 2cm long.They are blood red in colour (as can be seen in the second photo during a post mortem).
Other Names: Gapes, Red worms, Forked worms, Y worms.
Symptoms: Gasping (gaping), yawning, gurgling / respiratory distress, head shaking, loss of appetite, and eventually coughing and choking.
Area affected: Trachea (windpipe), bronchi and lungs.
Transmission: Via intermediate hosts such as earthworms or snails and directly by birds picking up eggs that have been coughed up, or passed out into faeces.
Diagnosis: Laboratory identification of eggs in faeces, gapeworms found in trachea by postmortem, some / all of the symptoms above.
Prevention: A good worming strategy, rotating grazing areas, avoiding contact with ground where wild pheasants have been.
Treatment: Flubenvet 1% 60g is licensed for treating gapeworm. For heavy infestations (high epg or 'eggs per gram of faeces' determined by laboratory worm count) usually on heavily used ground or with high stocking density, it is usually necessary to worm again a little before the prepatent period (the time it takes from being laid as a worm egg to being a mature worm of egg laying age) to reduce high infection levels. Rotating the pasture really helps to break this cycle.
Prepatent Period: 18 to 20 days.
Risk to Human Health: None known.
Photos on this page are courtesy of Elanco.