Respiratory Infections In Backyard Chickens

chicken with sinusitis

What if I told you that your backyard chickens are carrying a respiratory illness? Even if they look perfectly fine. You’d have every right to be offended.

Well the truth is that most flocks carry more than one disease, and yet many never seem to have a problem. You’re about to find out why. You’re also going to learn what to do when one breaks out.

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Can I Bury My Dog Or Cat At Home?

dog burial gravestone

Burying a dog or cat is an important part of the grieving process for many people. It certainly was for me. So as someone who advises it, and has done it, I was annoyed to see “Why you shouldn’t bury your pet in the backyard” featured on my ABC.

It’s the classic case of sitting in an ivory tower making the rest of Australia feel guilty for doing what comes naturally. It also says some fairly silly things. So before I give you some simple tips for a proper home burial, let’s clear them up.

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Find An Adelaide Emergency Vet Open Late

Before you have an emergency, it’s good to know which after hours vet is closest and how you will get there in a hurry. There are four veterinary hospitals open 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Adelaide*. We created this clickable map by comparing travel times to each one from various locations. Please use it to get directions to your nearest vet when your regular vet is closed.

Walkerville Vet is open 8am to 6:30pm weekdays and 9am to 1pm Saturdays. Vets start consulting at 9am.

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How To Tell If Your Chicken Is Healthy

chicken health infographic

Most people can tell if a dog or cat is sick. It’s not too hard with ferrets either. All of these are predator species and have no reason to hide their illnesses.

Then there are the prey species, like rabbits, guinea pigs and birds. They deliberately hide signs of illness. They even pretend to eat! Most of the time what looks like ‘sudden death’ or a ‘heart attack’ is really the end of a long, slow illness we couldn’t see.

The good news is that you can tell. Here’s what to look for:

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Help! My Chicken Is Egg Bound

chicken egg peritonitis

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

How To Treat An Egg Bound Chicken

  1. Your chicken is almost certainly not egg-bound- true egg binding is rare
  2. When a chicken is egg bound, it is mostly due to poor nutrition such as attempting to feed chickens entirely on table scraps
  3. Most cases suspected of egg binding are really egg peritonitis or internal lay

Now dive deeper.

What Is Egg Binding?

Egg binding is when an egg gets stuck and a chicken can’t pass it easily. Signs are of repeated efforts to lay, or prolapse of part of the uterus through the vent. It can be nasty and is most often associated with low calcium diets.

What if I said egg binding in chickens almost doesn’t happen? What if most of the internet advice and guide books on how to treat your egg bound chicken are not only wrong and a waste of time, but actually harmful to a sick chook with a completely different problem?

If you have chickens and want to know how to get them to live a long life, or want help choosing chicken breeds, then this is the blog for you. Because the disease that people wrongly think is egg binding is the number one killer of chickens.

Yolk Peritonitis vs Egg Binding

The REAL disease is egg peritonitis, also called internal lay, when one or many egg yolks are lost into the abdomen. Normally egg yolks are passed from the ovary to the oviduct. However, in egg peritonitis the yolk is either ruptured (we all know how fragile they are) or misses its target. Then it gets infected with E. coli bacteria.

Why does it happen? No one can say for sure, but it may be when birds are spooked, or handled roughly, or laying one egg at the same time as ovulating another. What is important is that it happens mainly to the high-producing breeds.

HyLine or ISA Browns are the commonest point-of-lay pullets sold in Adelaide (one is shown below). They are beautiful animals with unique personalities and become loved like any pets. However, despite the fact that a chicken can live 8 or 9 years (the record is 16!) most HyLine or ISA Browns die of egg peritonitis between two and three years of age.

Treatment Of Egg Peritonitis

Cocoa the HyLine or ISA Brown Chicken

Egg peritonitis looks like any sick chook: quiet, fluffed up, not laying. Any chicken like this should see a vet quickly. Many chicken diseases can be treated, and although success isn’t guaranteed, it’s also true here. However, the longer they go on laying internally, the harder it gets.

Just such a chicken is Cocoa. When she first presented to us with egg peritonitis, we helped her owner nurse her back to health. It took a long course of antibiotics to treat the infection. We also inserted a Suprelorin implant to stop her laying more internal yolks.

There’s a tremendous irony in spending good money to stop a chicken laying eggs. It just goes to show how valued they become as individuals, not just egg producers.

Prevention Of Egg Peritonitis

How can you prevent egg peritonitis and give your chickens a chance to live a long life? Easy. Choose a heritage breed and the odds go way down. Check out their ‘advantages’:

  • They aren’t as cheap
  • They’re harder to find
  • They only give 3 or 4 eggs a week even when in lay
  • They go into regular non-laying moults
  • They get broody easily.

However, these really aren’t major problems. Heritage breeds are very fine looking birds that look great in any garden. With care they should become family favourites for years to come and you’ll almost certainly still get too many eggs!

Related: Heritage chicken breeds available in Adelaide | Caring for chickens

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Myth 5: My backyard is safe at night

In Adelaide, Rabbits, Chickens, Ducks, Guinea Pigs, Native Mammals and any other small pets commonly live in outside hutches, pens or coops. And without their owners being aware of the risk, they are in great danger. If they are not adequately protected, one night can be all it takes to lose them. Please read on but this story may be upsetting for some.

Why? Foxes! Some readers will be nodding in agreement, and others will be shaking their heads in disbelief. Believe it or not, we have a large and thriving urban fox population in Adelaide. During the day they are denned up somewhere, but at night they roam through our backyards easily climbing fences on the prowl for anything edible.

Cats are seemingly not at risk. Foxes and cats seem to regard each other as worthy adversaries and tend to ignore each other, but I would worry about a kitten out at night. But we need to remember that with cats, night also brings danger. Most cats hit by cars happen at night, probably misjudging the speed and distance of car headlights. Severe cat fights also tend to occur at night when the strays are on the move.

Small pets can live happily in yards for years without problems, then suddenly one nightmarish morning they are all found dead. Foxes will kill as many as they can catch, usually the whole group, and bury the bodies they cannot carry. A fox is a wily and cunning predator, and will attempt to break into animal enclosures if there are any weak points. The pets inside will sometimes die of neck fractures from their panic even if the attempt is unsuccessful.

Nature may be ‘red in tooth and claw’ but we like to imagine our pets don’t have to contend with such horrors. So here are our recommendations:

  1. Keep small pets inside at night, at least in the laundry or an enclosed patio area. 
  2. Chickens and ducks must be locked in a secure coop with an enclosed roof every night
  3. House train your rabbit! It’s fun and easy for a patient person and then they can live with us at all times (if electical cords are protected and you don’t mind furniture legs being chewed)
  4. Screen rabbits from biting insects to help prevent myxomatosis

But all of these animals will need time out of their enclosure to roam and explore. Rabbits particularly suffer from being kept permanently in hutches which do not protect them from extremes in temperature.

Now read an example of what can happen at Case Study: From The Jaws Of Death. We have lots of pages about caring for rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens at Pet Care Advice.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.