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Botulism

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

Overview


Botulism is a progressive, often fatal, neuromuscular disease that affects chickens worldwide. It is caused by ingestion of the toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum, which is the most lethal bacterial toxin known. The toxin is extremely potent, and acts by interfering with nerve function, resulting in respiratory and musculoskeletal paralysis. There are several different strains of C. botulinum which produce different types of toxins. Chickens are most often affected by Type A.

Affected chickens are often found recumbent and unable to move (characterized as "crawling" by some chicken owners), flaccid paralysis of the legs, wings, and neck. The most common classic symptom of botulism is chickens the inability for them to hold their necks up, as a result of flaccid paralysis. Sometimes the chickens are found dead, from accidentally drowning in the water they were trying to drink. Other, less frequently observed signs include diarrhea with excess urates (increased whiteness) and respiratory difficulty.

Transmission
C. botulinum is found widespread in the soil. It produces toxins during periods of warm weather, exposure to an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment, and protein source available to consume (decaying vegetation/feed materials or rotting carcasses). Chickens become infected by eating particles of contaminated soil or water, rotten food (such as that found in composts), or from ingestion of maggots which recently fed on decaying materials containing the toxin.

Incubation period
Clinical signs of botulism start to appear within a few hours if high doses were ingested and for low doses, it can take up to a few days.

Clinical Signs

Progressive paralysis involving the neck, legs, or wings
Accumulation of mucus in mouth
Eyes partially closed
Squatting with outstretched neck
Reluctance to move
Ruffled, loose feathers
Weakness
Sudden death
Trembling

Diagnosis

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

Treatment

NameSummary
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Botulinum antitoxin
Homeopathic remediesCarbo veg (30C for 1 dose) / Nux vomica (30C for 1 dose)K. Glos 2015

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.

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Risk Factors

  • Feeding spoiled or rotten food to chickens
  • Allowing chickens to have access to composts or other decaying vegetation.

Seasonality

WinterSpringSummerAutumn