WHAT IS COCCIDIOSIS?
Coccidiosis (also known as cocci) is an intestinal disease caused by multiple species of parasites found in the environment where your chickens live. The parasites prevent the chicken from being able to absorb the nutrients from their food by attacking the intestinal lining of the bird. The parasites will multiply very, very quickly. Affected birds must be treated with extreme urgency and quarantined from the rest of the flock., to prevent death in your bird, and spreading the cocci to other members of the flock.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF COCCIDIOSIS?
The only way to diagnose coccidiosis with 100% accuracy is by having a fecal float test done by an animal veterinarian. In reality, most poultry owners and breeders are not going to run to the vet every time a flock member falls ill. Learning how to identify and home treat many common issues can be a chicken life saver.
Although these symptoms are not exclusive to coccidiosis, they are indicators that it may be the cause of your chicken’s illness. Because coccidiosis is so common, it one of the first causes of illness (and death) that should be considered when narrowing in on a diagnosis.
- Rapid weight loss in chickens.
- Malnourished and unkept appearance.
- Pale skin on the comb and wattles.
- Blood in their stool.
- Mucus in their stool.
- Lethargic and labored movement.
- Refusal to eat.
- Failure to thrive in baby chicks.
- The worst outcome.
WHERE ARE THE PARASITES THAT CAUSE COCCIDIOSIS FOUND?
The parasites that cause coccidiosis can literally be anywhere. They can be found in the ground and thrive in wet litter, so keeping your coops clean and dry is important to the biosecurity of your flock. The parasites can be transferred just by walking into the coop with contaminated shoes or contaminated equipment.
There are many types of parasites that can cause coccidiosis. Chickens can build up a natural immunity to some forms of parasite that cause cocci, but if another form is introduced without that immunity it can affect the chicken. In short, chances are high that you will deal with this at some point in your time keeping chickens simply because it’s impossible to 100% eliminate all paths by which coccidiosis can be introduced to your flock.
HOW IS COCCIDIOSIS SPREAD IN THE FLOCK?
To understand how to stop coccidiosis, you need to understand the life cycle of the parasites that cause the coccidiosis condition and how it spreads among flock members so quickly.
The official explanation in Wikipedia for the source of coccidiosis is technical. Remember, coccidiosis is actually the condition (name of the disease) that is the biproduct of several varieties of microscopic organisms that cause it.
The parasite’s “egg”, called an oocyst is a hardy, thick-walled spore, able to survive for lengthy periods outside a host. The zygote develops within the spore, which acts to protect it during transfer to new hosts. Organisms that create oocysts include Eimeria, Isospora, Cryptosporidium, and Toxoplasma.
The oocysts can be carried by other chickens outside of your flock, wild birds, and contaminated clothing or shoes. Chickens can also contract coccidiosis through contaminated feed and dirty water.
The parasite eggs, called oocysts, are orally eaten by the chicken as they hunt, scratch and peck their way through the day. They are microscopic and once they’ve been ingested, the parasite eggs hatch and multiply rapidly in the intestinal tract of the chicken. They wreak their first havoc as they attack the intestinal lining of the infected chicken. They wreak their second havoc when they are then expelled into the chicken’s habitat through the contaminated droppings and other flock members ingest them. The chances are extremely high that if one flock member has coccidiosis then other chickens in that flock are also infected. It is for this reason that you treat the entire flock when one chicken exhibits coccidiosis.
HOW TO PREVENT COCCIDIOSIS
It is impossible to eliminate all of the parasites that cause coccidiosis. Here are some tips to reduce the conditions in which they thrive and it all boils down to good bio-security practices.
- Keep your chick brooder boxes clean.
- Keep your chicken coops dry and use dropping boards. We use PDZ from Tractor Supply on our dropping boards to absorb as much moisture from the droppings as possible.
- Clean the coops daily and don’t use the deep litter method.
- Make sure your chicken coops are well ventilated for good air circulation.
- Offer chicks probiotics to help keep good bacteria in their systems.
- Provide chicks with medicated chick starter. (only if they have NOT been vaccinated for coccidiosis)
- Food and water should not be kept inside the coop.
- Always provide clean water by using elevated waterers and chicken nipples. We use an automated water system called The Chicken Fountain, but they are no longer being made. Alternative models can be found on Amazon or you can make your own. The important thing is water should always be clean and fresh.
- Keep chicken feed off of the ground. Use closed, hanging feeders or purchase Grandpa’s Feeders. They are expensive but well worth the investment. (Side note: I have purchased both Grandpa’s Feeders and knock offs to try and save money. Buy the real deal on this one! Every time I’ve tried a cheaper version, they don’t work.)
- Quarantine any new birds introduced to your property for a minimum of 2 weeks. New birds could bring in parasites that they are currently immune to. Your birds might not be immune to that parasite yet. Your birds could have parasites that your new birds are not immune to as well. Two weeks is a reasonable amount of time to observe the new birds for any repressed illness or red flags.
- Do not overcrowd your chicken habitat. Chickens should have a minimum of four feet per bird in the chicken coop. Chicks should have a minimum of 6 inches each per chick in the brooder box.
HOW TO DIAGNOSE A CHICKEN YOU SUSPECT HAS COCCIDIOSIS.
If you suspect your chicken might have coccidiosis, the only way to properly diagnose coccidiosis is to have your veterinarian perform a fecal float test. When you notice that the chicken is sick quarantine that chicken. Call your veterinarian to set up an appointment. Make sure to ask your veterinarian if they can treat chickens. Some veterinarians do and some veterinarians do not. You will need to get a fresh stool sample from the quarantined chicken to take to the veterinarian for the fecal test. Do this as quickly as possible. Coccidiosis spreads very rapidly and, if left untreated, can result in death within a couple of days of infection.
In reality, most chicken owners keep Corid (amprolium) on hand and skip going to the vet for confirmation unless this becomes a recurring problem.
HOW TO TREAT YOUR CHICKENS FOR COCCIDIOSIS
Once you’ve determined that you are dealing with coccidiosis, you must treat the entire flock to prevent further contamination to the other flock members in the chicken coop. The most commonly used and most effective treatment for coccidiosis is amprolium (also known by the brand name Corid). It can be acquired in a liquid form, or 20% water soluble powder form.
Liquid Corid should be administered to the entire flock at a rate of 9.5 cc per gallon of water for 4 days. In two weeks administer an additional 9.5 cc per gallon water for another 3 days. The reason for the time lapse between treatments involves the incubation period of the parasite eggs. The first 4 days dose that you administer kills the live and active parasites. The second 3 days dose kills all of those that hatched after the first dose from the eggs in the intestines.
If you do not administer the second dose the coccidiosis will rear its’ ugly head again in a second wave that is often much stronger.
Corid 20% water soluble powder should be administered to the entire flock at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon per gallon of water. The powder should be administered for 5 days.
Make this the only available drinking source for your chickens.
Some medications require an egg withdrawal period after treatment. This means that you should not eat any eggs laid by the medicated chicken within a certain time frame. This varies per medication. Corid does not have an egg withdrawal period.
After treatment watch your birds to make sure that they recover from their symptoms. Your chicken should go back to eating like normal. They should no longer be pale, or lethargic after a few days. Always keep a watchful eye to make sure everyone is acting up to par and doing what chickens love to do.
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