If your chickens are affected with bloody droppings and are showing a failure to thrive, they might be affected by coccidiosis. This intestinal parasite is common in chickens but can be devastating to a flock, especially in younger chickens that haven’t developed effective immunity against the parasite. The good news is there’s treatment available.
What Is Coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis is a disease caused by an intestinal protozoa, which is a type of intestinal parasite. When it enters the gut, the stomach acids break down the hard coating around the parasite, basically activating it. Coccidia oocysts then invade the lining of the small intestine and can cause bleeding and prevent the chicken from absorbing nutrients properly. Coccidia can then be spread in your chicken’s feces, going on to affect other chickens in your flock.
Symptoms of Coccidiosis
Coccidiosis can affect a single chicken or a flock of chickens quite quickly, as the incubation period is only a few days. Depending on the chicken and the level of infection (a few organisms or many), symptoms can appear over many days or occur suddenly. There are even cases of a chicken looking perfect normal on one day and then being dead the next.
The most common sign of coccidiosis is blood in your chicken’s droppings, but you don’t want to get this confused with cecal droppings, which can be a reddish color. If there’s any question, your veterinarian can examine the stool, performing a diagnostic test called a fecal floatation, which can identify coccidia oocysts.
Other symptoms of coccidia include:
- Ruffled feathers
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Listless chickens
- Pale comb and/or skin
These symptoms can occur at the same time as or instead of blood in the stool.
The good news about coccidiosis treatment is that it is available over the counter. You should isolate sick chickens from the rest of the flock to help minimize its spread but to also prevent the healthy birds from picking on the sick ones and preventing them from getting nutrition. As far as treatment goes, all of your birds need to be treated to ensure that you clear up the problem.
Amprolium is a commonly used coccidia treatment, also referred to as a coccidiostatic medication. It doesn’t kill the coccidia but blocks the parasites ability to multiply and cause further health issues. The medication is often added to your chickens’ water supply, but you may need to give it orally to sick chickens that aren’t drinking or eating much to ensure they get an effective dose of the medication. Treatment goes on for several days, usually seven. You may also need to give a vitamin B supplement to your birds after treatment, as the medication can affect their ability to metabolize vitamin B.
When you are treating coccidia, you also want to make sure that your chickens’ living space is cleaned up. Clean out the coop thoroughly and wash all feeders and waterers to help minimize the possibility of transmission. You will want to ensure that these areas are clean and dry, as the protozoa thrives in warm, moist environments. If the area you keep your chickens in is damp or particularly humid, consider a second course of treatment to make sure that treatment is fully effective.
Most chickens that are actively infected with coccidia will have decreased egg production or stop laying eggs altogether. While the medication has zero egg withdrawal time in most countries, you should consult with your veterinarian about whether the eggs should be eaten or not. Unfortunately, some young chickens develop intestinal scarring and fibrosis when they have chronic coccidiosis, which can result in them not absorbing nutrients from their food very effectively. These chickens are often poor egg layers as they develop.
Coccidiosis is easily spread in chickens, as it is transmitted through the stool. It can be passed from chicken to chicken via contaminated water or food. You might even inadvertently pass it to your chickens from contaminated tools like shovels or even on the bottom of your shoes, which is one reason proper cleaning procedures and quarantine should be maintained especially when new chickens are brought onto a property.
While most healthy chickens develop an immunity to coccidiosis over time, they will only build up the immunity to the strain that they are exposed to. If they get exposed to another strain, such as if you bring in chickens affected with a different strain of coccidiosis, it is possible for your chickens to get sick, even if they have overcome an infection previously.
If you have chickens that keep getting coccidiosis, you should work with your veterinarian to try and identify a cause. Poor housing conditions or an underlying health condition may be to blame.
Medications such as amprolium can be given to treat or prevent widespread coccidiosis infections within your flock, but using the medications too often or chronically can lead to resistant coccidia that are not treatable with medication. When you get chicks, check to see if they have been vaccinated for coccidiosis, although this is not always done as the chickens will only be protected against the strain they are vaccinated against. You might also consider a medicated started feed. Don’t use this if you have chicks that have been vaccinated, as it can cancel out the vaccine they received.
Housing management is the best course of action for helping to prevent coccidiosis. Keep the environment clean and disinfected regularly. Make sure your chickens’ dishes are kept clean. Also make sure you don’t just toss food on the ground, where it will be easier for your chickens to become infected with coccidia.
You should also ensure that your chickens have plenty of space. Each chicken needs a minimum of four square feet in its coop to do well. Overcrowding your chickens is a recipe for disaster and can ensure the parasite spreads quickly through the coop.
If your area gets affected with deep freezes, that’s a great way to kill off coccidia. Unfortunately, however, many areas around the world feature periods of humidity and wet weather, where the coccidia thrives.
Coccidosis is a commonly chicken parasite that can be devastating to a flock. One of the most common signs is bloody stool. While treatment is available over the counter, you should check with your veterinarian to help get a diagnosis.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.