Coccidiosis is a fairly common issue among broiler chickens, but if your chickens become infected with coccidiosis, you can resolve the issue with an early diagnosis and a proper treatment plan.
Coccidiosis can become a serious health concern when left untreated and result in significant losses of livestock and economic production. Luckily, there are precautions you can take to limit the spread of this parasite among your flock.
This article will tell you more about identifying signs of coccidiosis in your flock and what to do if one of your chickens has coccidiosis.
What is coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis spreads by ingesting contaminated food and water or coming into contact with infected feces. It’s especially common in large flocks that live in highly concentrated spaces.
Coccidiosis is a disease caused by the presence of the protozoan parasite Eimeria. This parasite can affect turkeys, pets, livestock, and even humans — in addition to chickens.
Eimeria can damage the intestinal tract and lead to enteritis, or the inflammation of the intestinal lining. Symptoms like diarrhea, weight loss, and bloody stool may become present as the disease begins to multiply inside the body. It also impacts your birds’ ability to absorb nutrients from their food.
Coccidiosis spreads fast, so knowing what warning signs to watch out for is important.
How does coccidiosis affect chickens?
Chickens aren’t the only animals impacted by coccidiosis, but the parasite can uniquely affect avian intestinal health. Common symptoms of coccidiosis in chickens include:
- Bloody stool
- Lack of movement
- Low levels of energy
- Inconsistent egg-laying
- Appetite loss
- Ruffled feathers
- Weight loss
- Lack of egg production
- Pale spots on the skin
Once the chicken ingests the parasite, it attaches to the cell lining in its small intestines and begins to multiply. As it spreads, it ruptures more cells in the process. Chickens can become infected with more than one type of parasite at the same time, but most treatment plans are effective against different strains of the disease.
One of the best ways to tell whether your chicken is infected is to study their stool. In addition to having diarrhea, infected chickens may show blood or mucus in their stool. You may also detect an unpleasant and unfamiliar smell.
How does coccidiosis spread among chickens?
Normally, coccidiosis spreads among chickens by contact with contaminated chicken droppings and litter. Fecal spread is especially common in humid and warm environments, as this is ideal for developing sporulated oocysts. Chickens can become infected by eating contaminated poop or by pecking at it.
Young chickens are more susceptible because they don’t have a strong immune system. Other factors that could further compromise chickens’ immune systems include overcrowding, stress, and poor sanitation in their living space.
Coccidiosis can also spread on shoes and shovels. If you have multiple chicken coops or runs, you can transmit coccidiosis from one space to another even if you don’t have infected birds inside both spaces.
This can also present issues if you walk through areas where you plan to feed your chickens later. They can catch an infection from pecking on the ground where you’ve walked.
The typical life cycle of coccidiosis is between four and six days. The incubation period is only around eight days long, and the speed at which symptoms begin to appear varies between each case.
You’ll need to have a vet perform a fecal float test to diagnose coccidiosis. They’ll collect a fresh sample, which they process in a laboratory to test for the presence of Eimeria. The vet will inspect the processed solution under a microscope to determine whether coccidia oocysts are present. They can normally identify these structures based on size, shape, and internal characteristics.
If the vet diagnoses your chicken with coccidiosis, they’ll recommend a treatment plan based on the perceived severity of the infection. This will help you treat the infected chicken while preventing the spread of the disease among the rest of your flock. If you act quickly, you’ll have a better chance of treating the parasite (and reducing the chicken’s risk of death).
Do chickens recover from coccidiosis?
Yes, most chickens fully recover from coccidiosis after treatment. The recovery process can take anywhere between a few days and a few weeks. The potential for a full recovery is higher when coccidiosis is detected and treated early.
However, each chicken recovers at a different rate based on their age and overall health. Adult birds may have greater immunity than young birds. The good news is that chickens can develop greater immunity after several cycles of coccidiosis, but it’s only specific to the particular species with which they were infected.
How to treat coccidiosis in chickens
When one chicken in your flock catches coccidiosis, you must treat your entire flock even though you’ll isolate the infected chicken. Normally, your veterinarian will prescribe a liquid amprolium, such as CORID, to mix with the chickens’ drinking water for several days. Some veterinarians may also suggest the use of amprolium as a preventative measure. Additionally, you may want to provide your chickens with a vitamin B1 supplement to replace nutrients lost during disinfection.
Remember that birds develop immunity when they become infected. However, you can interrupt this process by giving them medication too early or too often. Specifically, young birds less than 14 days old shouldn’t receive any medicated feed. If they still show symptoms after two weeks of life, consult your local veterinarian to determine the best course of action.
Most medications don’t require an egg withdrawal time. However, it’s wise to consult with an expert about whether you should use eggs laid while your chickens are on medication. Chickens often lay the most eggs when they’re healthy, so don’t be surprised if infected chickens fail to produce at their normal rate.
Expect your chickens to recover faster if they have access to a balanced diet and clean water as they take their medication. It also helps if the chicken regularly takes a probiotic to boost their immune system and key functions.
Using probiotics to treat coccidiosis in chickens
Sometimes, the most effective defense against coccidiosis is proactive maintenance. Probiotics can promote better gut health by providing healthy bacteria that restrict the development of harmful and unhealthy bacteria. They also cut down on gut inflammation, which could contribute to more serious cases of coccidiosis.
Engrain’s eMax feed technologies contain several probiotics that improve your flocks’ gut health and can help reduce the incidence of infection.
Coccidiosis prevention tips for chickens
Along with using a probiotic solution, such as Engrain’s eMax feed technologies, you can take several additional steps to increase your biosecurity and prevent the spread of coccidiosis among your chickens.
- Provide plenty of space for your flock. Reserve at least 4 square feet for each bird, especially if your entire flock isn’t vaccinated.
- Don’t feed chickens on contaminated ground.
- Keep all brooders clean and dry. Litter quality directly impacts the speed at which parasites spread. Pay attention to how rapidly your litter deteriorates and remove any caked buildup. Make every effort to use dry and fluffy litter.
- Maintain clean feeders and drinking water.
- Vaccinate newly hatched chickens. This is more common with chickens born in a hatchery.
- Provide your chickens with preventative medication or medicated starter feed (unless vaccinated, in which case the feed negates the vaccination).
- Introduce new chicks gradually to your existing flock to promote acquired immunity. Quarantine new chickens for at least two weeks before entry.
Chickens that live in individual cages where they can’t come into direct contact with fecal matter won’t develop coccidiosis unless they somehow have access to manure.
Learn more about eMax Feed Technologies to promote intestinal health in chickens
For many farmers, feeding their flock is one of their biggest expenses. Engrain’s eMax Feed Technologies allow you to provide your chickens with healthy feed at a low cost.
Our cutting-edge feed technologies help boost chickens’ immune systems and decrease their risk of infection from things like E. coli and Salmonella. Engrain’s feed can also contribute to greater egg production and better growth performance.