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Botulism

Limberneck, Western Duck Sickness, Bulbar Paralysis, Alkali Disease.

Botulism is a life-threatening disease caused by ingestion of a potent neurotoxin produced during growth of the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. C. botulinum are a rod-shaped, anaerobic (meaning they live and grow in low oxygen conditions), spore-forming (meaning they are able to survive for years in the environment) bacteria. This neurotoxin is one of the most toxic substances known; even very small amounts can cause illness or death.

What are the symptoms of botulism?


Botulism causes chickens to develop paralysis by affecting the nerves which allow the brain to stimulate muscles and part of the central nervous system. It initially affects the nerves in the skull and may cause blurred vision, difficulty swallowing, drooping eyelids, and weakness of the tongue. Weakness in the legs, neck and wings follows. Chickens may appear lame and/or stand up and walk a few steps before falling; eventually progressing to reluctance to move. Once their neck is affected, the bird won't be able to hold their head upright any longer. When the wings are affected, they'll present with dropped wings. The speed of progression varies, depending on the amount of the toxin ingested and the form of the disease. Usually botulism signs develop within 24 hours to 17 days after exposure to the toxin.

How do chickens get botulism?


Botulism spores are widespread in the environment and can be found in dust, soil, untreated water, decaying matter, spoiled feed, and the digestive tracts of animals and fish. Maggots can also harbor C. botulinum. Foods that have led to botulism outbreaks include vegetables preserved by canning or stored in oil, baked potatoes, and honey. Wound botulism usually happens from inoculating botulinum spores which then grow in the inoculation wound and produce toxins.

Clinical Signs

Limb neck
Difficulty walking
Drooping wings
Droopy eyelids
Muscle tremors
Difficulty swallowing
Facial weakness
Respiratory problems

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Laboratory tests
  • Necropsy

Treatment

NameSummary
Supportive careRelocate your bird to a quiet, isolated area such as a dog kennel or cat carrier. Provide fresh water in a small container, however making sure it's not too large as birds can easily drown. Limit stress.
Call your veterinarianObtain and administer an antitoxin, toxoid vaccine for botulism
Homeopathic remediesCarbo veg (30C for 1 dose) / Nux vomica (30C for 1 dose)K. Glos 2015
Activated charcoalAdministered orally at 1 g/kg of body weight, twice a day for the first 24 to 48 hours.Desta, S., Melaku, M., & Abdela, N. (2016), Buckley, Nicholas A., et al (2016)

Support

Prevention

  • Do not feed chickens spoiled feed or maggots
  • Clean up any spilled feed from the pen at the end of each day
  • Do not allow chickens access to areas of standing water, such as that found in deep mud, swamps, or wetland areas
  • Don't allow chickens access to composts
  • Properly dispose of dead animals by promptly burying them at least a foot into the ground or by burning them.
  • Do not feed chickens rotting vegetables, particularly cabbage.
  • Be careful about feeding chickens home-preserved and/or fermented foods

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Risk Factors

  • Hot weather combined with strong rain showers
  • Exposure to decaying carcasses or vegetation (aka compost piles)
  • Drinking stagnant water puddles or slow moving water sources.
  • Letting chickens eat maggots, especially those that have just came from decaying vegetation or a decomposing body.
  • Feeding chickens home-preserved or fermented foods.

Seasonality

WinterSpringSummerAutumn