3. Digestive Infections in Chickens

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Aunt Sally

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3. Digestive Infections in Chickens
« on: April 26, 2007, 19:32 »
The advice given in this sticky is that of the author and cannot be considered as professional advice. It is, however, drawn from the experience of a large number of chicken keepers.

This sticky covers some information about common digestive problems and other related infections.

Starting obviously with chicken Poo  :shock:


Chicken Faeces

Chicken Poo is a topic which is frequently a talking point with chicken keepers and I have had my fair share of unusual ones.  Here is a list of possible types of chicken faeces. 

Don't forget these are just POSSIBLE causes and not a definite cause.  If you are in anyway concerned about your chickens health, ask a question on the forum or consult a vet.

Appearance of Faeces

droppings with blood = coccidiosis
greenish droppings = late stages of worms (or has eaten a lot of green vegetables)
white, milky runny droppings = worms, coccidiosis, gumboro
brown runny droppings = E-coli
clear or watery runny droppings = stress, Infectious Bronchitis
yellow & foamy droppings = coccidiosis
greyish white & running continuously = vent gleet
white pasty material = mainly uric acid, which is urine
red orange matter seen in droppings is part of the lining of the stomach which is shed sometimes


E.coli Infection

The bacterium Escherichia Coli is present in the gut of every chicken and also in the gut of mammals including humans. It forms part of the normal intestinal flora that is necessary for the normal functioning of the digestive tract.  But the peaceful living together of chicken and E. coli can be disturbed and result in colibacillosis.  E. coli is called an opportunistic bacterium that can cause disease when your chicken is stressed, injured, ill or run down. It can then be found in places in the body where it normally should not be and where it can harm the chicken.

Local or systemic infections

Local infections are limited to one or more organs of the chicken.  Examples of local infections include the navel infection (omphalitis), the oviduct infection (salpingitis), infection of the air sacs (airsacculitis) and infection of the skin (cellulitis).

A systemic infection occurs when the bacterium enters the bloodstream and spreads through the body.  When the bacterium load is high a systemic infection can result in polyserositis, which includes inflammation of membranes around internal organs like the heart, liver and intestines.  Some E.coli can hide and colonize in small blood vessels where the bloodstream is low such as in joints and tendons causing polyarthritis.


The best way to prevent E.coli infections is to keep your chickens as healthy as possible and minimise other infections such a viruses (eg colds) and  Mycoplasma which with E.coli can cause chronic respiratory disease syndrome. Mycoplasma is a bacterium that damages the respiratory mucosa and predisposes E.coli to cross the mucosa and enter the bloodstream.  Also prevent chickens from injury or treat injuries as soon as found.  Also keep your their accommodation free from ammonia (babies nappy smell caused by accumulation of droppings) which weakens their lungs.
High levels of dust can exposed your chickens to high numbers of the E.coli bacterium which may cause infection of the lungs.


E. coli infections can be fatal and are treatable by a vet who will probably need to carry out a sensitivity test to see which antibiotic would be suitable for treatment.  This can be expensive and some keepers prefer to dispatch sick birds.



Most commercially purchased chickens are vaccinated against Coccidia and have life-long immunity to major species, I will include it here in case you have chickens from a non vaccinated supplier. (It would be best to check that your supplier has vaccinated for all the usual diseases.)

Coccidiosis is the name given to a group of closely related diseases caused by a single-celled (protozoan) parasite called Eimeria.  Eimeria species develop inside cells lining the intestine. As the parasites reproduce they cause bleeding and massive swelling of the gut. This leads to a huge loss of liquid and the bird is unable to absorb the nutrients from its food. Many chickens may die as a consequence.

The infective stage of the parasite burrows into cells in the intestine, where it develops. It develops through various stages and large numbers of the parasites are produced, which move into uninfected cells and spread the infection. The result is that the cells become leaky, blood vessels are damaged. The loss of blood and fluid is often fatal.

The life cycle of Eimeria is complicated but it ends with the production of infectious egg-like structures called oocysts which are excreted by birds into the environment. The oocyst can remain infective on the ground for many weeks. Eating the oocyst starts a new infection. The time interval between eating an infective oocyst and the appearance of clinical signs is generally between 4 and 6 days.


Birds with coccidiosis may appear dull and depressed with ruffled feathers and are often reluctant to feed. Droppings may be loose and/or contain blood. In severe infections, mortality can be high and recovered birds may be unthrifty due to chronic gut damage.


Coccidiosis can affect chickens from around two weeks of age onwards. If treatment is required in the rearing period, drugs such as Amprolium, sulphonamides or Toltrazuril can be used. When coccidiosis occurs in laying hens, treatment is more difficult as the medications used are not licenced for use in laying birds and prolonged egg withholding periods may be required.
The only DEFRA Approved disinfectant which will control Coccidiosis is MycoCyst.


In the UK, there is only one licenced coccidiosis vaccine available - Paracox. This contains mild strains of all the coccidia which birds might be at risk from in the UK. The vaccine is administered to the birds during the first two weeks of life, usually via the drinking water. These mild strains of coccidia colonise the bird's intestine and allow the bird to develop a natural immunity to all seven strains of coccidia but because they are very mild strains they do not cause disease in the bird. When properly administered, this type of vaccination ensures that birds should have a lifelong immunity to all the strains they might be likely to meet.


Crop Problems

Before you can decide if your hen is unwell because of a crop problem you need to know what a normal crop should be like.

Hens only have a small gizzard (stomach) for grinding up their food which is quite a long process for them as they have no teeth to chew it up first.  The food eaten during the day is stored in their crop which will gradually become distended. They can eat so much they become quite bosomy in a singular sort of way.  During the night they will gradually grind the food up in their gizzard and their crop will become deflated by morning.  If the hen has a lump on her chest in the morning feel it to try to determine what the problem may be.

Blocked or Impacted Crop

If the lump is hard, then it is called impacted or blocked crop. This can happen when they have eaten long, tough, fibrous grass, or something similar, and it has got into a tangled mass that is too large to pass further down.

Some keepers recommend giving the hen live white maggots (the fisherman's type) to eat.  These may dislodge the blockage. A more standard treatment is to syringe a lubricant into the crop and massaging it to try to help break up the blockage and the contents can then pass out of the chicken's crop and on down the digestive system. Do not try to make a chicken sick as the hard lump will be too big for the hen to regurgitate ! 

Olive oil is good option as a first aid measure, but do not to use it for more than a day or two, as it may overload the chickens liver. Another option is liquid paraffin (from chemists or vets) which, does not go through the liver passes out with the droppings.

Use 2-3ml of oil or liquid paraffin twice a day, and massage the crop quite firmly for a few minutes afterwards. Use a syringe to give the lubricant, being careful to put it past the hole at the back of the chicken's tongue. This hole leads to the lungs and if anything other than air gets down there this can be dangerous. You may need to use a syringe with a narrow tube attached.

Avoid letting the chicken eat anything which might add to the impaction.  Feed soft, highly nutritious food.  If this treatment does not reducing the size of the lump, or has not resolved the situation after a week, or the chicken's health is deteriorating in any other way, the only other options are to consult your vet or dispatch the bird.

Sour crop

If the crop is very soft and feels like a water filled balloon, this is called a sour crop. It is caused by a fungal infection and all the extra liquid is the body's reaction to the fungus.  In this case the crop contents will smell awful, so another way to confirm this is the problem is to smell the chicken's breath, which can be done at anytime of the day. Sometimes a hen my regurgitate some of the contents of the crop.

You can get rid of some of the fluid by making the chicken sick. If you do this you need to be very careful so the chicken doesn't choke as the fluid comes back. You should hold her upside down away from you, head downwards, and gently pushing with your hand from the bottom of the crop upwards towards the chicken's head. Do several small attempts, rather than one big one.

Then feed you hen live, bio yogurt. Most chickens, given the chance, will eat this directly. If she will not eat it give a teaspoon or two (5-10 ml) by syringe daily. And feed soft nutritious food.  If this treatment does not help after a few days, or if the chicken's health is deteriorating in any other way, a vet can prescribe an anti-fungal drugs.  If sour crop is left undetected or untreated long term there can be irreversible damage to the lining of the crop.

Putting Apple Cider Vinegar in the drinking water and garlic in their feed are very good for the digestion and can help to prevent problems.

A chicken's breath should smell kind of musty, like a damp cellar or basement. If they smell like they have eaten something long dead then it is probably sour crop.

 The layer pellets are ground grains and dissolve, kinda, when water is added to the crop making a mash. Add a hen's 100 deg F body heat to the mix plus some digestive fluids and after a few hours there will be a smelly mess in that crop. That is perfectly normal.

 Normally by the end of the day a crop will be fairly good sized and if it is working correctly in the morning be empty. When I say morning though it is usually around 4am that our birds stir and start eating again.

And a word of caution about turning a bird on it's back, Especially Cornish (Indian Games) and heavy meat birds. The internal organs can actually collapse the lungs on some birds as they are now on top of the lungs when a bird is inverted.
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