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Ailments of Turkeys and Other Fowl – 2.506   arrow

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by H.L. Enos* (12/19)

Quick Facts…

  • Obtaining poultry from a disease-free breeder flock is important to the prevention of egg transmitted ailments.
  • Most ailments have associated with them a set of symptoms that are not necessarily clear-cut.
  • Professional assistance is usually required for positive diagnosis of an ailment in a poultry flock.

Careful sanitation and management practices are key to keeping birds healthy. Keeping housing and feeding equipment clean and disinfected, keeping poultry areas free of debris and dead animals, minimizing rodent exposures and allowing only limited access to the poultry houses are important to healthy flocks.

Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD), Infectious Synovitis, and Mycoplasma meleagridis infection are sometimes referred to as avian venereal diseases. Since all these disease conditions are egg transmitted, obtaining birds from a disease-free breeder flock is important to the prevention of these ailments in a flock.

Information such as the date of onset, number of birds affected, duration of  symptoms, feed consumption, water intake and environmental conditions is of great diagnostic aid to a veterinarian. A sound vaccination program is recommended and is important to every poultry flock owner. A professional should be consulted about individual situations.

Diagnosing Problems

Omphalitis, or navel infection, is a bacterial problem which enters through unhealed navels of young birds. Mortality peaks at about three to six days of age and, in general, no signs of the disease are seen after eight days. Evidence of omphalitis is demonstrated by an enlarged unhealed scab over the navel with moderate abdominal inflammation.

Salmonella, if transmitted through the egg, is noticeable in chicks as early as one day of age. If the incubator contaminated the young, the disease will be detected in about four to six days after placement. If the disease appears in birds older than six days, then the farm is the probable source of the infection. Chicks with the disease appear cold, seek heat, and pass a pasty white diarrhea. Pasty butt is not uncommon for this disease. Older birds are likely to develop swollen joints, and internal lesions on the liver and/or the spleen appears yellowish or gray.

Aspergillus (brooder pneumonia) is caused by a fungus which is inhaled. The infectious mold spores may come from unclean hatchery facilities, shipping boxes or from the litter. Infected birds exhibit labored breathing as the most common respiratory symptom, but without rattling sounds associated with their breathing.

The following described conditions are similar to aspergillosis, but for these  situations the birds generally exhibit a nervous reaction in addition to respiratory symptoms.

Avian encephalomyelitis (AE) – Infected birds generally are weak for two or three days. They lose their locomotion and there may be head and wing trembling. These birds do not eat well, and death is generally due to  starvation.

Vitamin E and/or selenium deficiency shows up in older birds. The  symptoms generally are similar to those of AE.

Vitamin D deficiency is characterized by poorly coordinated birds. It is often confused with a nervous condition. The locomotion problem is due mostly to weakness. The legs and beak may become soft and easy to bend. Generally, these birds do not show respiratory symptoms except as a secondary problem.

Chronic respiratory disease (CRD), infectious bronchitis (IB) and virulent  Newcastle disease (VND) are similar to aspergillus, except that breathing is noisy. Also, with VND, nervous symptoms develop after about three to seven days of the respiratory signs.

With viscerotropic or virulent Newcastle disease (VND), the birds die before the nervous symptoms appear.

Exudative diathesis is a disease characterized by a greenish-blue fluid under the skin of the breast and abdomen. If the quantity of fluid builds substantially, birds develop locomotion problems and may exhibit signs of  muscular dystrophy.

Sanitation and Management

  • Feeders and waterers should be kept clean. They should not be transferred from flock to flock or house to house.
  • All shipping coops, cages, holding pens and other housing facilities should be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly before moving a flock to the premises.
  • All feed should be kept dry and cool. Do not use moldy feed. It may be more economical in the long run to dispose of moldy feed.
  • Ponds and other wild bird habitats should be kept free from decaying plant life and animal carcasses.
  • Any dead birds or animals should be removed immediately. Try to determine the cause of death.
  • Birds of different ages or different species should not be housed together.
  • Rodent and unwanted animal populations around a farm should be kept under control.
  • Weeds around the poultry house that may interfere with air circulation or serve as habitat for unwanted species should be
Ailment Cause Species/symptoms Treatment Prevention
Avian tuberculosis Bacteria All avian species – Excessive weight loss although
appetite is maintained, diarrhea and possible
lameness. Increased thirst, respiratory distress
None Strict sanitation, range rotation,
keep wild birds away from flock,
don’t mix young with old birds.
Don’t overcrowd, provide adequate ventilation.
Brooder pneumonia
Turkeys and captive game birds – Labored breathing
that is accelerated, gasping, increased thirst.
None effective Destroy affected birds, contaminated
feed or litter; keep feed and litter dry.
Normally from contamination at hatchery
Coccidiosis “cocci” Protozoan Turkeys, ducks, pigeons, geese – Birds look sick;
e.g. hunched over, ruffled feathers with heads drawn;
diarrhea usually occurs which may or may not be
bloody, mortality varies with infection.
Amprolium, sulfa drugs Keep nesting areas dry and clean; remove
affected birds from flock; give a
coccidiostat in the feed or water.
Vaccine available for chicks, young develop
resistance over time
Duck viral enteritis
“duck plague”
Virus Wild and domestic ducks, geese and swans –
dehydration, blue beaks, bloody vent in young birds; loss of appetite, pasted eyelids, dehydration
watery feces and nasal discharge in older birds,
severe diarrhea
None Cull affected birds and quarantine
premises; eliminate cohabitation of wild
fowl with domestic fowl.
Virulent Newcastle
Disease “VND”
Virus Chickens, turkeys and other fowl – Fast spreading
with high mortality; severe respiratory symptoms;
e.g., sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge.
None Cull all affected birds, but save a few
for laboratory diagnosis; vaccination is a
must; start access control to the farm by
people and wild birds.  All cases of
Newcastle must be reported to the state
Veterinarian. Vaccination program,
Fowl cholera
Bacteria Turkeys, wild birds and water fowl – Fairly fast
spreading with high mortality; loss of appetite,
darkening of the head parts (may be swollen), green discharge, Coughing and nasal discharge;
the course of Illness is short.
Sulfaquinoxaline and
other sulfa drugs
Obtain disease-free stock and quarantine
them on clean premises; keep other birds
and mammals that may be carriers away
from flock, rodent management
Turkey X-disease
Toxin Turkeys, ducks, pheasants – lethargy, ruffled
feathers, droopy wings; later incoordination;
weight loss and death.
None proven; however,
removal of old bad feed
may help mild cases.
Use fresh feed; stored feed must be kept
dry and in a cool environment.
Protozoan Turkeys, peafowl, grouse and quail – listlessness loss of appetite; head parts may become blue-black in color. Yellow droppings, reddening of skin Nitarsone Replacement of a few inches of top soil;
range rotation and the use of anti-
histomonal drugs; e.g. hepzide. Don’t range
turkeys where chickens have ranged in the
last 3 years (worms ingest histomoniasis)
deworm birds, regular manure removal
Turkeys – lameness, pale head parts, retarded growth, slow growth; hock joints may be swollen. Broad-spectrum antibiotics Establish disease-free flock; follow a strict
security management program; low levels
of antibiotics help.
Limber neck
Toxin Wild ducks and captive pheasants, however all birds
are susceptible – drowsiness, weakness and finally paralysis of the neck, wings and legs.
Give type C polyvalent
antitoxin and fresh supply
of water
Removal of stagnant water and decaying
vegetation and carcasses.
Infection, ‘M.M.”
Myco-plasma Turkeys – lowered hatchability; airsacculitis in young poults; leg weakness, poor weight gain.
respiratory distress
Broad-spectrum antibiotics Establish clean breeder flocks; dip eggs
before setting
Respiratory disease
Turkeys – respiratory symptoms; e.g. coughing,
sneezing, nasal discharge and swollen head.
Chickens – nasal discharge and eye discharge,
swollen sinuses, sneezing
Broad spectrum antibiotics Depopulation of infected flock; obtain
disease-free breeders.
Ulcerative enteritis
“quail disease”
Virus Upland game birds and turkey poults – similar to
those of coccidiosis; listlessness, humped appear-
ance with ruffled feathers; diarrhea which is some-
times bloody; in quail, white watery feces are
distinctively characteristic.
Feed containing bacitracin,
virginiamycin, lincomycin
bacitracin in feed.
Eliminate all potential carrier birds; raise
flock free from other species; do not mix
old birds with young ones; practice good
sanitation techniques.
Avian influenza
(Bird flu)
Virus Low pathogenic – respiratory issues, listlessness
appetite loss, breathing difficulty, and reduced
egg production
High pathogenic – facial swelling, blue combs
and wattles, dehydration, respiratory issues,
may have blood tinged discharge from nostrils,
may die before symptoms
Low – antibiotics, good care

High – depopulation

Biosecurity – keep coop clean, prevent
infection from wild birds, other flocks.
All cases of Avian Influenza must be
reported to the State Veterinarian.