Is important to keep our poultry healthy, happy and well! Just like us, our birds can get sick, which could be caused by diseases such as Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) and Virulent Newcastle Disease. As owners, it is your responsibility to learn how to detect disease, so that you can seek proper treatment for your sick ones. To help you, here is a compre-hen-sive (we try!) guide with tips on how to detect disease in birds!


How does disease spread?

Diseases are usually spread through contact and the transfer of bacteria, viruses and toxins. They can spread through multiple ways including:

  • Drinking water and feed, which can be contaminated with bacteria and toxins.
  • Bird to bird contact: other birds that come in contact with your bird could be carrying diseases that could infect your bird.  It is important to limit contact and make sure proper precautions are taken when introducing a new bird into your flock.
  • Inflected clothing: similar to bird-to-bird contact, human-to-bird contact can also spread disease. You could introduce a disease into your flock by wearing contaminated shoes or clothing around your birds.
  • Equipment: bacteria and viruses can stay on the surface of equipment, such as carrying cases.
  • Soil or litter can be infected with bacteria, viruses, or parasites; and/or could contain toxins.
  • Vectorsflies, mosquitos, and parasites are often carriers of disease.
  • Lack of Nutrients: not having enough nutrients in their diet can result in your bird becoming more susceptible to disease. Deficiencies in nutrients, such as not enough vitamin A, could lead to weakness and a decrease in egg production, among other health problems. For more information about feeding your birds, read our article on feeding your poultry.


What are some preventative measures I can take?

You can prevent your poultry from getting infected by adopting measures to ensure that your poultry is safe! Here are a few:

  • Buy from trusted sources: Buying products from trusted sources, such as local markets, can ensure that your birds are not exposed to contaminated soil, litter, water, or food. Additionally, purchasing chicks from a trusted hatchery will help you ensure that they have received the appropriate vaccinations.  A trusted hatchery will not only know the vaccination schedule for your area, but they will also follow appropriate biosecurity measures.
  • Take proper biosecurity measures: Some of these include washing your hands before and after being in contact with your birds, cleaning and disinfecting equipment thoroughly, and limiting contact with visitors and other birds. Use a footbath or disposable shoe covers before entering your poultry area, to make sure you aren’t tracking in any invisible bacteria or virus you may have picked up from another farm, feed store, market or show.
  • Vaccinations: getting your birds vaccinated is an effective way to prevent disease, as it can help boost their immune system and help them fight off diseases that they may encounter.
  • Control vectors: As mentioned above, vectors such as mosquitoes and flies, can carry diseases with them. It is important to control these vectors by maintaining a clean environment and utilizing necessary products such as mosquito traps or sprays.


a sick white-headed chicken


Recognizing Symptoms and Treatment for Disease

It is important to know the signs that show that your poultry might be sick. To help recognize these symptoms and to figure out if your bird’s behavior is out of the ordinary, it is useful to know how they behave when they are not sick: What is their normal activity level like? What is their normal appearance? How much do they normally eat?

Although this is not an exhaustive list, the following symptoms are common. When sick, poultry can:

  • Be less active than normal
  • Eat or drink less than normal
  • Have ruffled feathers, discharge from the eyes or nose, difficulty breathing, or runny diarrhea
  • Produce fewer eggs than normal
  • Produce discolored, irregular, or misshapen eggs
  • Die unexpectedly of no apparent cause

If you suspect that your bird is sick, it is advisable to get a proper diagnosis from a trusted veterinarian and follow the treatment plan given. If there’s sudden death in your flock or an unusually high number of sick birds, it is critical that you report it. Call the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s sick bird hotline on (866) 922-2473.

We all want our birds to be healthy and thrive, so let’s be on the lookout for early signs of illness.