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Web site updated 6/11/24       
Smith Poultry & Game Bird Supply

 Health Problems of Poultry and Game Birds

compiled by Terry Smith

Respiratory Disease




(Brooder Pneumonia)

Chronic form - Gasping, sleepiness, loss of appetite, emaciation, bluish and dark color of skin, central-nerve disorders such as twisted neck. Infected birds usually die with 2 to 4 weeks.

None. Cull infected birds. Control the spreading of the disease by adding 1/2 teaspoon copper sulfate to drinking waters (do not use metal containers) for 5 days. Oxine can also be added to the drinking water. Prevent reinfection by cleaning facilities, disinfecting with Nystartin or 1/2 teaspoon copper sulfate per gallon of water, and replacing the litter.

Chronic Respiratory Disease caused by Mycoplaspa gallisepticum

In growing and adult birds - coughing, sneezing, ratting, gurgling, swollen face, nasal discharge, ruffled feathers, frothy eyes, squeaky crow, drop in egg laying, sometimes a darkened head, loss of appetite, weight loss, yellowish droppings. Resembles other respiratory diseases, but spreads more slowly. Lasts longer in cold weather. 

Tylosin and Linco-Spect 50 will reduce the death rate, but survivors are carriers. This is a reportable disease in most states since Mycoplaspa gallisepticum is carried through hatching eggs.

Infectious Bronchitis

In all ages of birds - gasping, coughing, sneezing, rattling, wet eyes, nasal discharge. In young & growing birds - watery nasal discharge, huddling near heat. In adult birds - wattles swollen sometimes. In layers - drastic reduction in egg laying; eggs can be soft shelled, misshapen, rough or with ridge shells and watery whites. (Egg production usually resumes in 6 to 8 weeks, but the quality and quantity will be less.)  Starts suddenly, spreads through flock in 24 to 48 hours, birds recover in 2 to 3 weeks. Mortality is higher in chicks especially during cold weather.

Add electrolyes to drinking water, keep birds warm, well-fed, and dry; avoid crowding. To avoid secondary bacterial infection, add Penicillin or to the drinking water. Survivors are permanently immune, but are carriers. Chicks can be vaccinated with strains of bronchitis found in the specific area. 


Infectious Coryza







In chicks 4 weeks and older- nasal discharge, facial swelling, one or both eyes closed. In growing and adult birds - swollen face, eyes, and sinuses; watery eyes with eyelids stuck together; foul-smelling discharge from nose; drop in feed and water consumption as well as egg production; diarrhea sometimes; wheezing. Progresses through flock varies from a few days to up to 3 months. Recovered birds are carriers.

Erythromycin is the best medication. Sull-Medt can also be used. Sulfa drugs are not FDA approved for pullets over 14 weeks of age. Birds can be vaccinated with Cocyza-Vac following a multi-vaccination schedule

Infectious Laryngotracheitis

Watery, inflamed, swollen eyes, swollen sinuses & wattles, nasal discharge, drop in egg production, coughing (sometimes with a bloody mucus), breathing through mouth with neck extended during inhale and head on breast with exhale, choking, rattling, drop in egg production or soft-shelled eggs. Spreads through flock in 2 to 6 weeks. Birds die or recover within 2 weeks of becoming sick.

No effective treatment. Vaccinate to keep disease from spreading. Survivors are immune, but survivors and vaccinated birds are carriers. This is a reportable disease in most states. Once a vaccination program is started, follow-up vaccination is necessary.


Newcastle Disease (Exotic)





Sudden, high rate of death without or with symptoms:  in chicks - gasping, coughing, “chirping”; drooping wings, dragging legs, sometimes with twisted head and neck, circling, somersaulting, walking backward, paralysis. Birds may recover from respiratory symptoms but nervous disorders remain. In mature birds - listlessness, rapid or difficult breathing, egg laying totally stops within 3 days; loss of coordination, muscular tremors; sometimes, watery, greenish, blood-stained diarrhea; swollen, blackish eyes; bleeding through nose, death within 2 to 3 days of onset of disease.


No effective treatment. This is a reportable disease. Infected flocks are quarantined and destroyed so avoid contact with illegally imported birds and contact with people and birds were outbreaks of Exotic Newcastle Disease have been reported.

Other Diseases/Problems





Mostly affects birds 4 to 6 weeks of age which may display no symptoms or any of these:  droopiness, drowsiness, weakness, ruffled feathers, increased thirst, loss of appetite and weight loss, darkened face, watery sulfur-colored droppings. 

The best treatment is prevention of cecal and earthworms. These drugs are FDA approved for blackhead:  Carosep, Acidified Copper Sulfate, and Histostat-50. Flagyl (Metronidazole) is not FDA approved for poultry, but is widely used with peafowl and ornamental game birds.

Blue Comb (Greens, Mud Fever, Non-specific Enteritis)


Depression, hunching up, loss of appetite and weight, distended sour-smelling crop, bluish comb, greenish, watery or pasty bad-smelling diarrhea, dehydration, sunken eyes, shriveled shanks, cold-feeling body

Infected birds may respond to a molasses flush (3.2 oz. per gallon of water for no more than 8 hours) or being treated with 1/2 tsp. copper sulfate per gallon of water (use non-metal containers). Add BMD to drinking water.

Canker (Trichomoniasis)

Upper Form - sunken, empty crop, stretching of neck, swallowing, open-mouthed breathing, and fetid odor. Lesions in mouth, esophagus, and crop.

Lower Form - Depression, unthriftiness, watery, yellow diarrhea, and weight loss.

Metronidazole (non-meat birds), copper sulfate*, Carnidazole, canker tablets, 4 in 1 Powder (pigeons) or All in 1. *Stock solution:  1 lb. copper sulfate, 1 c. vinegar, 1 gal. water. Add 1 oz. or 1 tbs. stock solution to 1 gal. of water in non-metal container for 4 to 7 days.




Sudden death, fever, loss of appetite, increased thirst, depression, drowsiness, ruffled feathers, head pale and drawn back, increased respiratory rate, mucous discharge from mouth and nose, watery white diarrhea later becoming thick and greenish yellow, bluish comb and wattles, death within hour of noticing symptoms. 

Control rodents, wild birds, and predators. Medicate  with sulfa drugs or vaccinate to stop mortality. Prolonged use of sulfa drugs decreases egg production and can be toxic. It also leaves a residue in eggs and meat so do not use on birds intended for human consumption. Tetracycline  may be used but it is not  as effective.



In young birds - droopiness, huddling with ruffled feathers, loss of appetite and desire to drink, weight loss, watery, mucous, or pasty, tan or blood-tinged diarrhea. In adult birds - thin breast weak legs, reduced egg production, and diarrhea. Yellow-skinned birds pale comb, skin, and shanks.

Choice of drug depends on the identification of the coccidia involved. Corid, Amprol 128, and Sull-Medt are used to treat Coccidiosis in poultry. 

Marek’s Disease

Birds 6 to 9 months old - enlarged, red feather follicles  or white bumps on skin that fi\orm a brown crusty scab; lack of coordination, pale skin, wing or leg paralysis (one leg points forward & the other poins back under the body), rapid weight loss, coma, death due to trampling or inability to get to feed and water; in breeds having reddish bay eyes - cloudy, grayish dilated pupil.

None, cull unless you’re breeding for resistance. Day-old birds can be vaccinated. Check with state poultry specialist for advice on vaccines.


In mature males, especially heavy breeds - lameness, reluctance to walk, rests on hocks with sores on hocks and/ or bottoms of toes, inflamed foot, hard, swollen, or pus-filled abscess on bottom of foot.

Inject swollen area with 1/2 cc penicillin. If abscess is large, wash foot, open abscess and remove cheesy core. Clean with hydrogen peroxide, pack with Neosporin, and tape bandage over area. Confine bird to deep litter. Dress abscess 2 or 3 days.

Capillary Worms         

Pale head, poor appetite, droopiness, weakness, emaciation, and occasionally diarrhea. Birds may sit with the head drawn in.

No approved wormer is available, but Levamisol is often used.

Botulism (Limberneck)

Sudden death or leg weaknesses, drowsiness and flaccid paralysis of legs, wings, and neck. Has difficulty swallowing, ruffled, loose feathers; lies on side with outstretched neck and closed eyes; trembling sometimes, diarrhea; coma and death due to heart and/or respiratory paralysis.

Remove source of poisoning (decaying vegetable and animal matter) and contaminated litter. Use molasses or Epsom salts (1 tsp. Epsom salts dissolved in 1/2 c. water*) to flush toxins from system.  *Squirt down bird’s throat twice daily for 2 or 3 days. 

Gape Worm


Infected birds yawn, grunt, gasp, sneeze, cough, choke; have loss of energy, little appetite, are weak and emaciated, have closed eyes, and will frequently shake the head to dislodge worms from windpipe.


Treat with thiabenadazole or levamisole (Prohibit). Reworm in 10 days.


Scaly Leg Mites



Raised scales on shanks and feet. Legs thicken and crust over. Can attack combs and wattles.


Use Ivomec to control scaly-leg mites in birds not kept for meat and eggs. Spray with Scalex

Prohibit Leviamisole Solution:  Dissolve 52 gram (1.84 oz) pkt of cattle and sheep wormer in 3 quarts water to make a stock solution. Add 1 oz stock solution to 1 gallon drinking water. Effective at treating Capillaria (capillary worms), Heterakis (cecal worms), and Ascaridia (roundworms). The solutions contain .5 gram of leviamisole per gallon of water. Allow the birds to drink the solution for one day, then remove. In severe cases, the treatment can be repeated every 5-7 days. Dosing information from the Mississippi State University Web Site.




The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow

Penn State Poultry Health Handbook.

Grower’s Reference on Gamebird Health by L. Dwight Schwartz


The best thing to do if you really want to effectively treat your  birds is to consult your local veterinarian or the diagnostic laboratory at your state agricultural college or university.