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COVID-19 update: Client advice on what to do during the Coronavirus crisis

Poultry

Veterinary surgeons at the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic are at the forefront of providing the best medicine for individual and small flocks of poultry.

Traditional poultry medicine was geared towards treating large commercial flocks but now with the popularity of backyard poultry the treatment of individual birds with non-infectious conditions and also age-related conditions has become a separate specialism. This is closer to the veterinary treatment of parrots and birds of prey that the commercial flock medicine taught in veterinary schools.

There is very little published information on the individual medicine of chickens in particular but Aidan is currently co-authoring the forthcoming BSAVA Manual of Poultry Medicine with another veterinary surgeon Guy Poland. They were approached by the British Small Animal Veterinary Surgeon to author this book due to the demand for treatment and the paucity of information available to the average veterinary surgeon. They have recruited an international team of writers and Aidan has written or co-written 5 of the 26 chapters.

  • Transport to Surgery
  • Diagnostics
  • Examination Protocol
  • Preventative Medicine
  • Reproductive Problems
  • Surgery
  • Necropsy

Transport to Surgery

Chickens and water fowl are best transported in solid sided boxes. The solid sides will reduce light levels, which will have a calming effect on them. There should be a sufficient number of ventilation holes and top-loading boxes will reduce stress when lifting the birds in or out. In hot weather, containers with perforated sides or top are required to allow adequate ventilation. The holes in the mesh should not be large enough to allow the bird to stick its head out since this would render it vulnerable to injury.

Wire mesh floors should not be used since these may cause injury to toes. Boxes should be tall enough to allow the bird to stand. They should be wide enough to allow some movement but not so wide as to allow the bird to spread its wings, which may result in injury. 

Cat carriers are frequently unsuitable since they are often front loading and not tall enough. Disposable top-opening cardboard pet carries, however, are often an ideal size and have the advantage of better hygiene as result of their single use. Wooden boxes, whilst durable, can be more difficult to thoroughly disinfect between uses.

Wood shavings or straw can be used to line the container to increase the bird’s grip and reduce the risk of foot injury. It will also provide some environmental enrichment and will help to reduce mess from droppings.

Multiple birds can be transported together which may help to reduce stress levels although birds should be from the same flock. Individuals vulnerable to pecking (for example those with an open wound) are best transported alone. Cockerels should not be transported together in the same container. Particular attention should be given to the temperature inside the box when multiple individuals are carried since it is likely to rise more quickly. It is important that boxes are properly secured in the vehicle to prevent excessive movement. If birds from different flocks are transported in different containers but in the same vehicle, careful consideration of biosecurity is needed and boxes should be placed as far apart as possible to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Hypothermia can be a problem when transporting chicks. This is primarily controlled by using a relatively smaller box with a larger number of chicks to conserve heat. An external heat source may be required. It is usually appropriate not to use bedding since there is a risk that the chicks might eat it.

Diagnostics

The most important diagnostic steps for the veterinary surgeon is a thorough clinical examination of the bird. This together with complete history of the bird and its flock is vitally important to be able to make diagnostic and therapeutic plans. It is crucial for the veterinary clinician to be familiar with the normal parameters for the species and breed being seen as especially in chickens there are wide variations even between breeds.

When appropriate there are a range of diagnostic procedures that help with obtaining a diagnosis on a case by case basis

  • Ultrasound
  • Radiography
  • Endoscopy
  • Haematology and biochemistry
  • Serological tests
  • Faecal tests

Plus a range of specialist tests pertaining to various areas of the body.

Examination Protocol

Chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks and geese all come under the poultry category.

A thorough clinical examination is essential, and together with information of diet, husbandry and progression of the clinical signs will help in arriving at a diagnosis. Sometimes further diagnostic tests are required.
During the examination we will collect medical history, record the relevant biometric data and then, following the examination, we will discuss treatment or a diagnostic plan. After this we will either:

  • Collect samples
  • Diagnostic tests
  • Hospitalisation for critical care or
  • Home on treatment

We are actively involved in educating vets on poultry medicine by lecturing at continuing education events, writing chapters in poultry medicine textbooks and by providing webinars.

Preventative Medicine

The aim of a preventative health care plan is to maximise welfare and prevent avoidable disease.

Correct nutrition and good husbandry are essential prerequisites for preventative health care. Vaccination and parasite control are also important aspects of health care plans.

A health plan should consider the following areas:

  • Housing
  • Outdoor ranges
  • Feeding and water
  • Flock behaviour
  • Procedures for introducing new stock
  • Hygiene practices
  • External disease risks
  • Identification of health issues

 

When formulating a preventative medicine health plan we advise poultry keepers that where these measures require a one-off action, a target deadline for completion should be proposed.

Regular measures, such as cleaning and disinfection, a routine with daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal jobs should be drawn up.

A target date should be set for review of the health plan. The time interval between reviews will vary according to the needs of the flock, but a suggestion of an initial six month health plan reviews accompanied by a site visit would be appropriate in many cases. This would then be followed by a yearly review.

Plans vary widely depending on the needs of the flock.

Reproductive Problems

Reproductive problems are very common in poultry, especially in the more productive egg laying breeds and also in ducks.

Speak to one of our vets for more information about potential reproductive problems in poultry.

Surgery

The most common surgeries in poultry are repair of skin wounds, surgery of the crop, reproductive surgery and surgery to flush the sinuses.

Speak to one of our vets about common surgeries for poultry.

Necropsy

A necropsy is especially important when one or more individuals in a flock die for the reasons below.

  • Identify the cause and answer questions about the health of the individual animal
  • Allow more targeted treatment of the other individuals in the flock
  • Make any husbandry changes necessary
  • Validate adequacy of any parasite control and other preventive medicine practices
  • Indirectly learn the health status of the group/flock
  • Make changes to the preventative medicine protocol
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