Tuesday 6 November 2012

Respiratory Infection in Chickens

Chronic respiratory infection in chickens seems to be the result of a less than optimal start in life.  Minimal shelter from cold conditions, lack of veterinary intervention at signs of infection, poor cleaning standards, inadequate feeding and of course exposure to already infected birds.  It can lead to permanent and significant loss of breathing capacity, chronic cold type symptoms - sore throat, wheezing, coughing.  It's unacceptable to allow any animal to live with these symptoms and this winter we have waged quite the battle against a range of problems.

Bantam Wyandottes

Rosa (left) and Amelia, Royal Agricultural Show, Perth 2011
In October 2011 we bought 2 white, Wyandotte bantam hens.  The first time we had strayed from the Silkie or the Pekins breeds in more than 15 years.  These two beautiful girls commemorate the wedded union of two other beautiful girls I know.  Yes, more commemorative wedding chickens!  When I went to collect them, they were very flighty and went bizerk when removed from their enclosure.  They flew hard in to every side of their cage, it was difficult to witness.  One of the hens (Amelia) squeaked and wheezed for nearly two days afterwards.  I was concerned that the rough handling by the person that retrieved her, may have damaged her in some way.  But then the noise completely stopped.

Rosa, enjoying the benefits of an indoor life
The girls clearly had been handled very minimally and even going within 2 to 3 metres of them resulted in them flying up in to the air, loudly protesting and at times hurting themselves as they flew in to the wire of their pen.  I took to avoiding them during the day but at night I would pick them up from the hutch and bring them inside for a feed.  They would sit on my lap, completely terrified but also very interested in getting the special treats I had ready for them.  I figured that if they associated us with feeding, that they would eventually stop fearing us so much.  It has been a year since we brought them home  - Rosa and Amelia and I can now gently approach them both, Rosa especially and pick them up without drama.  Rosa actually allows me to wash her whilst she sits on my palm and they both eat out of my hand every morning. 

The Wheezing Wyandotte

When Winter kicked in, Amelia and Rosa took a downward turn.  When I picked them up they both struggled to breath.  I had to hold Rosa with her feet on the palm of my left hand in order to ease the pressure from her body and allow her to have the maximum space for her respiratory system to inflate.  They wheezed a lot and their breathing sounded wet and stuttered.  It turned out that they both had a chronic respiratory condition.  This was caused by the presence of mycoplasma.  A microscopic organism similar to bacteria which is readily present but when a creature is kept in a less than optimal environment eg. too cold, unhygienic living conditions, poor food supply etc.  These conditions can compromise the immunity and allow mycoplasma the opportunity to thrive and take hold.  They particularly seem to thrive in the cold weather, when a hen is most vulnerable.  

Enjoying a night in the lounge during stormy weather
This winter has seen the girls off and on courses of antibiotics to keep on top of their symptoms.  Amelia has been particularly unwell.  Rosa seems to have gotten on top of it but Amelia, we can hear her erratic breathing piercing the night air and she swallows repeatedly due to a chronic sore throat.  When we look down her throat we can see white plaque deposits dotting the lining, indicating that bacteria are making a moist home for themselves.  

Back to the Vet again

This weekend we went back to the Vet again and this time Amelia has special long term medication that goes in to her water for the next three weeks. The additional issue here is that these girls have brought this condition in to the pen and passed it on to at least two of my other girls.  So I may be fighting this one for a long time to come.

Sun baking - the heat is a blessing for chronic respiratory issues
Buying new girls is a risky business, they don't come with a certificate of health and it can take months (as was the case with these girls) for undesirable symptoms to appear.  But when I look back, that rattly noise that Amelia made the first two days that we had her, was actually a warning of her condition.  I just didn't know what I was hearing at the time.  In the future it will be immediate quarantine and an ASAP Vet visit for any new girls who come with maracas in their chests.  

More updates on Amelia's progress are to follow over the next few weeks.  
Rosa (left) and Amelia
There's no throat lozenges for chickens, no Vix on the chest, no cough syrup, no chicken soup (!).  She is a real battler my Amelia.  I just want her to get better, breath normally, sleep comfortably and be happy.  This winter has heavily prevented her from enjoying any of this and if I'm frustrated, I can only imagine how she is feeling about this messy business. 

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful addition to your blog and I really enjoy reading your stories. They're two little white angels and I hope Amelia's respiratory condition improves very soon. The hot Summer will definitely help. I am sure that you have Amelia in a controlled environment until the heat begins, 28 degrees celcius is the optimum temperature. Regards, Tawapito.