Common Poultry Ailments That Affect Your Chickens

A great reference for poultry ailments and for prevention methods with your birds is The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow, which is published by Storey Publishing. Gail gets way more in depth in her book then we do here and we used this book as a reference for the diseases you see below. To get the full outlook on diseases and prevention I recommend that you get a copy of this book, which is listed on Amazon.

Here is an alphabetical list of the most common poultry ailments that can occur with your chickens.

Air Sac Disease:

Incidence: common poultry ailment worldwide

System/organ affected: respiratory symptoms: most common in young birds: coughing, nasal discharge, breathing difficulty, loss of appetite, rapid weight loss.

Cause: bacteria

Transmission: contact with infected birds, inhaling contaminated dust, to chicks through hatching of eggs.

Prevention: avoid dusty litter, provide adequate ventilation, avoid birds getting cold and other forms of stress.

Treatment: Keep birds warm and well fed with high protein food. Treatment with antibiotics is possible.

Breast Blister:

Incidence: common poultry ailment

System/organ affected: keel

Symptoms: Usually affects the larger breeds. They have a large blister on keel that eventually becomes a thick scar.

Cause: Irritation because of laying against a roost or wire with breast bone.

Transmission: not contagious.

Prevention: Wrap something soft on the roost, or don't roost the cocks who usually get this.

Treatment: First open and drain the blister, clean it with iodine, and pack with Neosporin. You can treat with an antibiotic if the blister becomes infected.

Broiler Ascites:

Incidence: common poultry ailment; especially in winter and in high altitudes

System/organ affected: heart

Symptoms: in male broilers, ruffled feathers, slow growth, reluctance to move, sometimes sudden death. Cause: unknown.

Transmission: unknown.

Prevention: none known, may help to be sure good air circulation is present in chicken house.

Treatment: none known.


Incidence: Common poultry ailment

System/organ affected: foot pad

Symptoms: occurs in maturing birds, especially males and heavy breeds. Reluctance to walk, inflamed foot, dark black scab on bottom of foot.

Cause: bacteria.

Transmission: contaminated hatching eggs, bacteria enters foot through open injury, sharp roosts, irritation due to improper litter management.

Prevention: practice good sanitation, avoid high perches with sharp edges.

Treatment: Inject swollen area with penicillin. Open sore by cutting open abscess and squeeze out core, then was with hydrogen peroxide, pack with Neosporin, and wrap foot with bandage. Redress every two or three days. Very difficult to cure.


Incidence: common poultry ailment worldwide.

System/organ affected: intestines

Symptoms: in chicks up to four weeks old: depression, diarrhea, slow growth. In growing an mature birds: sudden death of apparently healthy birds, scaly shrunken comb. In hens: loss in egg production.

Cause: bacteria; that only affects chickens and is very hard to kill with disinfectant.

Transmission: droppings of infected birds. Spread by flies, cockroaches, rodents, contaminated equipment, and shoes.

Prevention: good management and sanitation. Keep chickens from picking in droppings.

Treatment: none effective.

Cholera (acute):

Incidence: relatively common poultry ailment worldwide. More likely in warm climates and in free range birds.

System/organ affected: entire body

Symptoms: in mature birds and those approaching maturity, you can have sudden death or 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, etc. Cause: bacteria.

Transmission: contagious; contact with mucus from the nose, mouth, or eyes of birds with chronic infection, contaminated feed or drinking water, etc.

Prevention: Vaccination is not effective. You must not introduce possibly infected birds into flock and use good sanitation and management practices.

Treatment: none effective. Isolate and dispose of infected flock.

Cholera (chronic):

Incidence: common poultry ailment worldwide, but less common than acute.

System/organ affected: primarily respiratory

Symptoms: in birds at least 6-weeks old: cheesy nasal discharge, loss of appetite, rapid weight loss, increased thirst, lameness and swelling of leg joints, wing joints, foot pads, wattles, and sinuses; swollen sticky eyes, sometimes breathing difficulties. In hens: loss of egg production. In cocks: loss of aggression and desire to crow.

Cause: bacteria.

Transmission: contagious; much like acute.

Prevention: same as acute.

Treatment: same as acute.

Coccidiosis (cecal):

Incidence: common poultry ailment worldwide, especially in warm, humid weather.

System/organ affected: cecum

Symptoms: in chicks or young birds: droopiness, huddling with ruffled feathers, loss of appetite, slow growth, bloody diarrhea.

Cause: protozoan parasites.

Transmission: contact with droppings of infected birds; spread by secondary means (equipment, shoes, etc.)

Prevention: good sanitation, keep clean, dry litter.

Treatment: 1 teaspoon amprolium per gallon of drinking water for five days. Antibiotic treatment guards against secondary infection. Follow treatment with vitamin supplements of A and K.

Coccidiosis (Intestinal):

Incidence: common poultry ailment worldwide, especially in warm, humid weather.

System/organ affected: intestinal tract

Symptoms: in growing birds: droopiness, huddling with ruffled feathers, loss of interest in eating, slow growth and possible weight loss, diarrhea. In mature birds: thin breasts, weak legs, drop in egg-laying, sometimes diarrhea.

Cause: several different species of protozoan parasites.

Transmission: droppings of infected birds; spread on used equipment, feed sacks, shoes.

Prevention: same as for cecal coccidiosis.

Treatment: same as for cecal coccidiosis.


Incidence: common poultry ailment worldwide

System/organ affected: various

Symptoms: in incubated eggs: dead embryos late in incubation with yellowish brown yolk sacs. In newly hatched eggs: swollen inflamed naval, death within six days. In growing birds: sudden numerous deaths of apparently healthy birds with full crops. In hens: they quite laying, take on a very upright posture, death within six months.

Cause: many strains of bacteria (E-coli).

Transmission: ingested droppings of infected birds, or droppings in food or water; mother to chick.

Prevention: good sanitation and ventilation; keep drinking water and feed free from droppings, control rodents.

Treatment: keep birds warm and well fed with high protein feed and give a vitamin E supplement. Antibiotic treatment is effective only when started early and E-coli is identified.


Incidence: common poultry ailment in flocks raised on deep litter, especially in winter.

System/organ affected: eyes

Symptoms: rubbing of eyes with wings, reluctance to move, avoidance of sunlight, one or both eyes cloudy, nose and eyes water, blindness.

Cause: ammonia fumes from accumulated droppings, vitamin A deficiency, infection.

Transmission: environmental, does not spread from bird to bird.

Prevention: provide proper nutrition and good ventilation. Avoid wet litter.

Treatment: replacing wet litter or correcting vitamin A deficiency in early stages leads to a recovery in about two months, but will not reverse blindness.

Common Poultry Ailments D-N

Common Chicken Ailments N-Z

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