What Is Coccidiosis? Signs And Treatment In Chickens
Coccidia; you’ve likely heard of it if you own any type of farm animal. Let’s take a look at what exactly is coccidia, how to diagnose an infection in your poultry, and how to best deal with an infection.
It is true that coccidia can infect a wide range of animals, especially cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits and chickens. But typically each species of animal has its own specific “type” of coccidia that infects it and cross-species infections are not common. For example, there are about 5 specific types of Eimeria coccidia that infect rabbits, but none of those types are able to infect chickens to any severity because poultry have their own “type” of Eimeria coccidia that infect them. Think of it like our house keys. They all look similar, but my house key doesn’t open your front door and vice versa.
What Is Coccidia?
Coccidia is the common term used to describe a group of parasites called protozoa. If you can recall your high school biology class, protozoa are classified as single-celled animals similar to amoeba or single-celled plants that we know as algae. Coccidia are bigger than bacteria, but still microscopic. Coccidia can be found everywhere in the world on both land and water.
The oocyst is the form of coccidia that lives in the environment. For poultry, the biggest source of coccidia oocysts can be found in the coop litter and run area. Since coccidia can be found naturally in the environment, chickens can become infected when they forage in the yard. A chicken ingests the oocyst, passes into the chicken’s digestive tract where the oocyst then transforms into a second developmental stage and seeks out the intestinal lining of the chicken host. In the warm, moist environment of the chicken’s intestines, the coccidia rapidly develops into its replicating phase and explodes in population, causing damage to the intestinal lining of the chicken. At this point, the chicken may begin to show some clinical signs as the coccidia infection advances. Acute symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, listlessness and poor weight gain may be evident.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what coccidia is and what it looks like in poultry, how do we treat an active infection? It’s important to immediately do a complete cleanout of all coop floor litter and nest box material. Getting as much of the infected manure out and away from your chickens is the first step in slowing the spread of oocysts. Remove the bedding to a compost bin or burn pile. As long as you hot compost the manure and bedding and then allow it to set for a year, it should be safe to use in your garden. Also scrub and disinfect all waterers and refill with fresh water. At the same time, I prefer to add a coccidiostat such as liquid Corid to the drinking water. Use a rate of 1 teaspoon per gallon of water for the first 5 days, then I switch to a lower dose of ½ teaspoon per gallon for another 2 weeks or so. By this time, the birds have been protected long enough to have developed their own immunity to the coccidia species that they are facing.
Coccidia is perhaps the most common infective agent likely to cause illness in your chicks or adult chickens. It’s not a matter of if you will deal with it, but when. Our goal is to help you be ready to deal with it when coccidia does show up in your brooder or coop. Leave us a comment below and let us know about your experience in dealing with coccidia in chickens.
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