Coccidiosis in Chickens

At some point in time every person in the chicken community has had the opportunity to sit and watch their chickens forage for various worms and insects in their yard. For some of us that may have been the primary reason we decided to raise chickens in the first place (besides delicious, fresh eggs daily of course).

As a chicken forages around their run, it can unknowingly be pecking at and eating infected bugs and worms. It may even be ingesting chicken droppings – which we all know are everywhere – that have been contaminated. While it’s always a joy to watch, and very entertaining, there is always a minute possibility that at that very moment your chicken is contracting a very dangerous disease called Coccidiosis.

So, what is Coccidiosis exactly?

Coccidiosis is a disease that is contracted by coming into contact with or eating something that has been infected, for example the aforementioned chicken feces. Tiny organisms called coccidian protozoa cause coccidiosis. They attack the digestive system of its unsuspecting host. Once inside the digestive tract it will attach itself to the chicken’s intestinal lining and proceed to steal most of the nutrients found in the food the chicken eats. In essence, this will slowly starve your feathered friend to death, if left untreated.

How Do I know If My Chickens Have Coccidiosis?

You will have a pretty good idea that your chicken has contracted coccidiosis if it suddenly begins to exhibit loose, bloody stool. As a general rule of thumb, anytime a chicken begins to show a drastic change in their stool, whether it is a change in its color or consistency, it’s a cause for concern. This is especially true if there haven’t been any major changes in their lifestyle or feed.

Depending on how far along the coccidiosis infection is your chicken may also show other symptoms. These can include lethargy, loss of appetite, being standoffish from the rest of the flock, and even a reduction in the amount of eggs that they produce.

It’s important to always be conscientious of the overall health of your chickens. Make sure that you are keeping a close eye on their behavior so that you can spot anything that’s off quickly and reduce the amount of exposure and overall infection rate. It’s always a good idea to take extra precautions when it comes to the health of your flock. If one of your chickens is not acting like itself, you ought to remove it from the flock immediately.

But What If I’m Not Sure It’s Coccidiosis?

Luckily, coccidiosis is not guaranteed to be a fatal disease unless you let it linger. If left unattended a coccidia will slowly suck out any and all nutrition that the chicken needs to survive, and will eventually kill the chicken, if it’s not eradicated. However, if caught in time before it’s had enough time to do too much real damage to the intestinal lining of your chicken, it is generally pretty easy to get rid of. 

With that being said, it’s imperative that you are sure that’s what your chicken is actually suffering from. There are many illnesses and bacterial infections that a chicken can develop which may have very similar symptoms. If you begin treating for the wrong disease or bacterial infection it can have lethal results.

To be 100% sure that your chicken is in fact suffering from coccidiosis, and not some other illness or bacterial infection, you will want to consider executing a droppings test. After getting a sample you can submit it to your local chicken veterinarian.

They will have the proper tools to test the droppings and will be able to determine for sure what is causing the digestive issues. They should also provide you with the correct treatment required to eliminate the bacteria and help get your chicken back to being as good as new.

Ok, I’m Sure It’s Coccidiosis. Now What?

Once it’s been well established that it is for sure coccidiosis you will need to begin treatment right away. One of the most commonly used medications for coccidiosis is Amprolium, but really any good antiprotozoal agent designed to be used on chickens will work. It’s easy to use as all you’ll need to do is pour it into the water supply for your chickens.

Chances are that if one has it then more than one has it, so this medication should get distributed among all birds in your flock and help to eradicate any current infections among your flock. You can expect to continue the treatment and disperse it out to your flock for at least a week. If you notice any of your chickens not drinking the water you will have to manually distribute the medication and should phone your vet to get the proper measurement for just how much to give them.

Once the treatment has started, it’s time to let the cleaning begin! To rid your chicken’s run of any (or at least most) coccidian protozoa that are lurking about you will need to perform a deep cleaning like you’ve never done before. This task should include cleaning out and replacing all materials inside the coop and nesting boxes and replacing any dirt or sand that you have in your chicken run.

While the risks of you contracting any lethal or incredibly harmful bacteria or infection while cleaning out the chicken’s run and coop are relatively low, you should still wear gloves, goggles, and a mask for the process. You should keep these on at all times during the cleaning process. No matter what it’s always better to be safe than sorry and you don’t want to be breathing in all the dust that will inevitably get rustled up while you’re cleaning and disinfecting the chicken’s living quarters.

Other Tips For Preventing Coccidiosis In Chickens

While there’s no surefire way to prevent your flock from becoming infected from this or other bacterial diseases or illnesses, there are things that you can do to help lessen the damage and overall possibility. Listed below are a few things we recommend you add into your daily and weekly chicken care routine.

Maintain A Good Husbandry Routine:

Every good chicken keeper should clean out their coops and runs on a daily, or at very least weekly, basis. This cleaning regimen is a necessity when it comes to maintaining a healthy and happy flock and will also encourage your hens to produce more eggs. One of the most important tasks of husbandry is maintaining fresh water and clean food areas for your chickens.

Try to make it a habit to change the water out at least once, if not twice, per day. Scattering a bit of diatomaceous earth around the run and in the water can work wonders when it comes to eliminating pesky creatures that can cause harm to your chickens like worms, ticks, mites, and other destructive critters.

Practice Good Biosecurity:

Many people in the chicken community assume that biosecurity is something that was fabricated by the government to place strict guidelines on chicken owners, but whether you are an operator of a large manufacturing plant or just have a few small backyard chickens, it’s an important practice for the overall health of your flock.

Biosecurity includes things like acquiring new chickens from reputable hatcheries, quarantining any new or sick chickens, ensuring that you and anyone else that comes into contact with your flock wash their hands before and after leaving the coop and disinfects their shoes before and after walking through the run. These little things can make a huge difference for your flock.

Vaccinate Your Chicks:

Vaccinating your chickens can also be a great way to help prevent coccidiosis from infecting your flock. If you would prefer not to do this task yourself, you will want to deal with hatcheries that offer to pre-vaccinate the chicks before delivering them. Many times it’s the younger and less-developed chicks that are most susceptible to acquire deadly infections.

While we’re on the topic of younger chicks, and even though some in the chicken community might disagree or be against it, it may also be to your benefit to begin supplying them with a medicated feed as a starter. This type of food will help boost their immune systems while they’re young and can help fight off coccidiosis as well as other more common diseases.

Coccidiosis in chickens is not the end of the world, as you can clearly see that it is a preventable and manageable condition, if you catch it in time. One of the best methods to ensure a healthy group of chickens is to make sure to pay close attention to their daily routine. A healthy chicken should be alert and active, curious and hungry, and want to be among their fellow chickens (as they are naturally social animals).

You will want to keep an eye on the behavior of the chickens and ensure that they maintain an active disposition, that they are eating and drinking plenty and that they are not being standoffish from the rest, especially during the daytime. If you notice any signs that something might be off, you should take initiative and remove that chicken from the rest of the flock and begin quarantining them.

Regarding chickens, bacteria and diseases spread like wildfire, so it’s crucial that you remove any threat as soon as possible. The sooner you act the sooner you can identify the problem with your chickens and begin treatment.