Worms in Poultry - Recognising and Treating Worms
Learning about the life cycle of worms may not seem pleasant but it is one of the most common problems/ailments for poultry and it is really important that you know what to look for and how to treat the birds, as well as learn what preventative measures you can take.
I am not going to blind you with Latin names, there are plenty of books and web pages to do that, but I will try and explain simply what they are, how to recognise the symptoms, how to deal with them and how to prevent them ...
Worm infestations should be thought of as 'one of those things' that chickens get, but for the sake of the bird, they should be dealt with so that they do not become life-threatening.
In any kind of poultry, worms will impair the health of the bird to a degree because the worms are taking the nutrients out of the food of their hosts and you will see weight loss in your birds, or they may not be growing at the rate they should be.
Worms can damage the digestive tract of the birds which can lead to other infections. There will also be a drop in egg production and the birds may seem 'unwell' and listless.
Photo: our lovely, healthy, Lemon Cuckoo Pekin Bantam Cockerel.
There are three main internal parasitic worms that affect poultry:
Roundworm, Gapeworm, Tapeworm
Roundworms are the most common type of intestinal worm; they look like spaghetti and live in the intestine of the bird. They can affect chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.
There are several types of roundworm e.g. hairworms, threadworms, but the most common is the Large Roundworm. Most birds can live with some infestation but it can result in a drop in egg production and weight loss.
Roundworms normally follow a direct life cycle i.e. an infected bird releases worm eggs in its dropping where another bird can pick up the eggs; or, they can be picked up by a carrier like an earthworm.
They have a 28-day life cycle and can be found not only in the intestine but also in the crop, gizzard or oesophagus. They can even infect the oviduct and be passed out inside the eggs. At maturity, they are 3 inches long and can be seen in the dropping if expelled by the bird.
Gapeworms are a type of roundworm; however, they attach themselves to the trachea (throat) of chickens where they impair breathing resulting in the birds gasping (gaping).
Young birds are particularly susceptible and can become infected by sharing space with wild birds such as pheasants. Gapeworm can be fatal if not treated.
Gapeworm is often brought about through an intermediate host. Earthworms, snails and slugs can all be carriers of larvae and once ingested by the bird have a life cycle of 14 days.
It can also be picked up directly from another bird coughing up the worms onto the ground and then your birds picking it up when scratching the ground.
Tapeworms are less common and are segmented, ribbon-like, worms. They attach themselves to the wall of the intestine by burying their heads in the lining of the intestine.
Their eggs are carried by slugs and snails so free-ranging birds are more susceptible than indoor birds. Heavy infestation can reduce the bird's ability to fight other infections.
Reproduction is from segments of the worm that break off and are passed through the chicken in its droppings where it contaminates the ground for other birds to pick up. They are very hard to see with the naked eye and have a life cycle of 6 weeks.
Check the droppings ... ... It really is worth a regular (even if it seems unpleasant) hard look at your chicken's droppings. Always think of the adage 'You are what you eat'!
On the right, is an image of what healthy dropping should look like so you can make a comparison. Healthy chicken droppings should be fairly firm and rounded with two distinct sections. The largest darker portion should be black, brown and/or grey in colour and the smaller portion should be white (this is the urine) and it will form a cap at one end.
As with all advice we give, it is not a precise diagnosis so if you are at all concerned, you should consult a vet who can arrange a worm count of the droppings.
If the droppings are:
Green coloured - this could be a dietary imbalance caused by too much green matter or too much protein, or can also be indicative of a more serious internal infection. Veterinary diagnosis is recommended if you have reduced the green vegetables in their diet but it makes no difference.
Yellow coloured - loose yellow droppings, which will normally stick to the feathers of the birds bottom, are most often a sign of internal worms. It can also be that the birds have a diet rich in corn or maize but in our experience, it is usually worms. It could also point to a respiratory infection but there would be other signs with this kind of problem. This is not to be confused with Caecal droppings which are brown and foamy and expelled roughly every 7-10 droppings - perfectly normal.
Black, runny and sticky - Can point to nutritional deficiency. Revisit their diet and feed only layers pellets ad-lib, with treats of corn twice a day, for two weeks to see if this improves their droppings. Stop all other treats for this period.
Other signs to be aware of: worms visible in the droppings; mucky bottoms; dishevelled, depressed appearance; weight loss; drop in egg production; pale comb.
Treatment of worms
If you suspect worms then the veterinary answer is to use a recognised, licensed, anthelmintic (poultry wormer) like Flubenvet or Solubenol. These are the only wormers licensed for poultry through the Animal Veterinary Medicines Authority and you will need a prescription from a vet, or have to complete a POM-VPS declaration form on a website.
Please be careful when buying online that the company you buy from actually have an SQP (Suitably Qualified Person) to dispense Flubenvet. Beware of any online company that does not ask you to complete a form or give the SQP information before purchase.
We recommend Flubenvet should be used at least twice a year, spring and autumn, to rid your birds of worms - or more often if advised to do so by your vet. It is the only wormer that will kill Gapeworm and if this is suspected, give Flubenvet immediately. Follow any instructions for meat or egg withdrawal given by the dispenser, although the Flubenvet 1% does not now need an egg withdrawal period.
Other products are available e.g. Ivermectin drops and Piperazine. These are not licensed for poultry at this time but are widely prescribed by Vets for poultry (and do not need to be dispensed by an SQP). Ivermectin is a spot-on treatment applied with drops to the skin and works against internal and external parasites whilst Piperazine will kill roundworm.
The natural answer, which many people prefer, is the regular use of a herbal product. No licence is required as they contain no 'chemicals'. These will not kill Gapeworm but can help prevent other worms.
Opinion is divided as to the effectiveness of herbal products with the Janssen Company (makers of Flubenvet) saying it does not kill worms, and Paddocks Farm (makers of Verm-X Pellets for Poultry) producing lots of evidence that it does. Verm-X for Poultry does have some well-known poultry experts and vets supporting it.
We offer 3 brands on this website. Herbal remedies cannot be 'licensed' as a poultry 'wormer' so manufacturers cannot label the product as such simply because herbal products do not need licenses.
The Verm-X for Poultry range is the most widely used, especially in organic systems, and comes in liquid or pellet form. It is administered for 3 days out of every month throughout the year.
The Net-Tex Company offer a product called Herbal Gut Conditioner which again, does not need a licence and Net-tex say it works on the gut to make it inhospitable for worms.
Thirdly is Battles Easyverm Parasite Pellets. You would add these pellets to feed for 1 week per month.
We think the best approach is to use one of the herbal products on a regular basis as per instructions and then, if worms are still suspected, especially Gapeworm, use the chemical answer of Flubenvet. Herbal products will not kill Gapeworm.
Leaving your chickens, or any poultry, on the same small area of ground for prolonged periods is one of the primary causes of worms (and many other diseases). Moving birds to fresh ground regularly and using a ground sanitiser to prevent build-up of worm larvae is a solution. Net-Tex Ground Sanitising Powder, or our own Flyte Coop & Run Sanitising Powder, can be sprinkled regularly on the ground used by the birds, this will kill the worms from larvae stage to full grown.
Prevention is better than cure
These simple preventative measures against worm infestations can help save a great deal of worry and loss of birds.
- Give them clean ground regularly. Never allow them to stay on bare earth for long periods, the ground will become 'fowl sick' and harbour countless worm larvae, bacteria and potential infections.
- If in a fixed Run then move it regularly to new ground, or if you are not able to move the run then consider a surface that can be cleaned with disinfectant (not concrete please, it's not a natural surface at all). Using a loose Hardwood Woodchip for example, then make a watering can mix of Virkon S Disinfectant, or Bi-OO-Cyst Coccidial Disinfectant to regularly 'water' the ground is a good solution (note: do not use on grass or near watercourses). When dry, follow up with Net-Tex Ground Sanitising Powder. Use disinfectant regularly inside the henhouse too as contaminants can be carried inside.
- Use Apple Cider Vinegar in your birds drinking water regularly (plastic drinkers only). This changes the balance of acid in their gut so that it becomes a less hospitable place for worms to live and breed. One teaspoon per litre of water is all that is needed.
- Keep grass relatively short as sunlight destroys worm eggs.
- If your birds free-range and come into contact with wild birds, like pheasants and rooks for example, as well as having regular treats of slugs, earthworms and snails, then more vigilance is needed. The herbal answer is Verm-X Pellets for Poultry, Herbal Gut Conditioner or Battles Easyverm Pellets (links above) every month, or the chemical answer is Flubenvet twice a year.
To conclude ... ... it is important to get rid of or prevent, internal worms to have healthy happy hens, and for your own peace of mind. A few simple tasks and vigilance is all that is needed.
We hope that helps to simply explain what can often be very worrying for new chicken keepers. If you have any questions please feel free to email us: email@example.com
Poultry Worms - Treat & Prevent ©Flyte so Fancy 2011 Author: Anne Weymouth. Reproduction of part or all of this text is only possible with the express permission of Flyte so Fancy Ltd.