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Approach to diarrhoea in backyard chickens
  1. Richard Jackson

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Richard Jackson qualified from the University of Glasgow in 2010. He grew up on a commercial turkey farm in Ireland and spent time in his childhood breeding and showing rare breeds of chickens. Since graduating, he has worked at the St David's Poultry Team, working with commercial poultry, and provides veterinary support on backyard poultry to both owners and vets through ‘Chicken Vet’.

WHEN approaching any case of diarrhoea in a backyard bird, the practitioner should remember that many cases are related to husbandry and not all cases require treatment (as in other species). Also, many backyard keepers will refer to abnormal droppings as ‘diarrhoea’. Abnormal droppings may be the result of a number of enteric and non-enteric causes, which include intestinal parasitism, bacteria, viruses, nutrition, nephropathy and neoplasia.

History taking

The approach to history taking in backyard birds should be no different than for other pets, and should include:

  • Age. The age of a bird is important as young chickens (between two weeks and three months) are susceptible to coccidiosis, while older birds are generally immune.

  • Is there blood in the droppings? Undigested blood is generally indicative of caecal coccidiosis in chickens; however, many owners erroneously report orange or pink droppings as blood (Fig 1). Such orange/pink contents in droppings can be caused by a range of aetiologies.

  • Diet. Always ask owners detailed questions regarding what they are feeding their birds. Incorrect diets and poor husbandry in general (including hygiene) are major predisposing factors for enteritis in backyard flocks. Many owners tend to give their chickens treats in the evenings, which can lead not only to diarrhoea but also to obesity. Poultry need only pellets or mash. This should be appropriate both to the species of fowl and to their age, as the protein requirements vary considerably. A diet with excessive …

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