We treat our pets like VIPs, and one of the most critical ways to show your pack, fluffle, or flock how important they are is by preventing disease before it happens. Today we’re going to discuss the number one killer of baby chicks: coccidiosis.
What is Coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis is an avian intestinal disease that is more prevalent in young chickens. What happens is a teensy parasite (or protozoa) attaches itself to the bird's intestinal lining. When the protozoa connect, it damages the tissue, causing it to bleed. The damage prevents the chicken from absorbing nutrients and also creates a bacteria-friendly environment. While chickens of all ages are susceptible, if you have chicks in your flock under 6 months, they especially need their nutrients to grow up big and strong. Additionally, young chickens don’t have a fully developed immune system to fight off the parasite. Therefore, you can understand why coccidiosis in chickens is such a threat.
An interesting fact about coccidiosis is that all chickens carry various strains of the parasite. While healthy chickens with a developed immune system can fend off strains they’ve been exposed to, they are always at risk from the other strains. It is also easily spread and thrives in wet, humid conditions between 70°F/21° C to 90°F/32°C degrees. Chickens are naturally curious and scratch the ground. Unfortunately, your flock isn't litter box trained and their droppings on the ground carry the protozoa. Additionally, it can live on/in food, water, hard surfaces, clothing, or equipment... basically, anywhere your chickens are.
The good news is while all animals can carry coccidiosis, it doesn’t transfer between species. Unfortunately, all birds can pass it to other avians.
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
Once the parasite attaches to the intestinal lining, coccidiosis develops quickly. The incubation period is 4 to 8 days. Similar to other exotic species such as rabbits, your girls may seem fine one day but incredibly sick the next. They can even pass away within 24 hours of exposure.
The list of symptoms is extensive. Also, not all chickens will have the same symptoms. The most common symptom is bloody or watery 💩. HOWEVER, when your flock sheds their cecal cells (from their cecum) or lay eggs, their droppings might also appear brown or red. At the first signs of illness, you should always get them to the vet as soon as possible.
- Blood located at the vent site of the bird
- Decreased food or water consumption/lack of appetite
- Failing to lay eggs or laying eggs inconsistently
- Huddling with other chickens as if they are cold
- Pale comb or skin
- Ruffled feathers
- Weakness and listlessness
- Weight loss (in older chickens)
- Young chickens stop growing
We know we just used a bunch of chicken anatomy terms you might not be familiar with. Please check out our chicken anatomy blog for more information.
How is it Diagnosed?
The only way to know if your girls have coccidiosis is to have their 💩 tested by your exotic vet.
Finally, we have some good news for you. Once your vet diagnoses your birds, Coccidiosis treatment for chickens won’t cost you the farm. We all know how expensive exotic pets’ medical care is. Also, if it’s caught early, coccidiosis is very treatable. Keep in mind that your entire flock must be treated even if only a few members are sick. The outbreak must be contained. And fast.
Coccidiosis is usually treated in 7 days by adding medication to your hens’ water supply. The most popular treatment for coccidiosis is Amprolium, which blocks the parasite’s ability to attach and multiply. You should start seeing results within 24 hours. However, if any of your girls aren’t eating or drinking enough, you may have to give them Amprolium orally. Suppose you live in a hot and humid location. In this case, your vet will recommend a second round of treatment to ensure coccidiosis is given a good kick in the chicken bum.
Isolating the sick flock members is key to treatment, too. You need to keep the isolation area clean and dry. You also need to scour the rest of the flock's living space. This parasite is tough, and can live up to a year in the soil.
As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” These steps might keep you from having a coccidiosis outbreak in your flock. Still, they will definitely keep your ladies healthy.
General Prevention Tips
- Keep the coop clean and dry. This prevents the parasites from shacking up with your flock.
- Enforce bio-security. Change and wash your clothes, shoes, and equipment before and after interacting with your hens.
- Quarantine new or sick flock members. You'll be able to see very quickly if your new crew is healthy by quarantining them. Additionally, just like in humans, keeping the less healthy ones away from the group will keep the disease from spreading. It also helps you monitor their recovery.
- Clean feeders and waterers at least daily. Again, coccidiosis loves hanging out in these areas. Chickens aren’t potty trained, and their 💩 gets everywhere, including in their waterers and feeders.
- Feed chicken feed in the feeders. You’re probably thinking, “why wouldn’t I?” Resist the temptation to toss feed on the coop floor or in the roosts. If the parasite is present in those areas and attaches to the feed your hens ingest, they'll get sick.
- Don’t overcrowd. If your flock has plenty of space and coop ventilation, this will decrease any illness's ability to spread. Each chicken needs at least 4 square feet in the coop and 10 square feet in the runs.
Prevention for Chicks
As your little ones are more susceptible, you can do a few other things to get them off to a healthy start. Full immunity is not reached in chickens until they are 7 weeks old. Also, suppose your chicks have repeat bouts of coccidiosis while growing. In that case, it will significantly reduce their egg production or completely prevent them from producing eggs. Coccidiosis creates scarring in the organs needed to make eggs.
- Use Medicated Starter Feed for Chicks/Growers. Medicated Starter Feed boosts the chicks’ immune system.
However, if they've been vaccinated, they don't need medicated starter feed. The vaccines and the feed's effects cancel each other out.
Finally, you can put probiotics in their food. Introducing healthy bacteria into the chicks' intestinal systems helps them fight off coccidiosis.
Can humans get coccidiosis from chickens? No, but we can give it to them by spreading it via our shoes, clothes, or the equipment we use.
Can you eat the eggs from chickens with coccidiosis? Ask your vet. They know best.
While it’s said, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," feeding your gals apples won't prevent them from catching coccidiosis. Taking the necessary steps to fend off this nasty parasite is the best way to protect your flock. If you have any experience with coccidiosis, we'd love to hear from you. Please comment on our socials or email us here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
DISCLAIMER: The links and information are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Small Pet Select of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual.
Interested in learning more about chickens? Check out these articles!
Care for Chickens in Cold Weather: Are Yours Ready?