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Botulism

Other Names: Limberneck, Western Duck Sickness, Bulbar Paralysis, Alkali Disease.

Botulism is a life-threatening disease caused by the toxin produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Once ingested by the bird, the toxin binds to the nerve endings, which interferes with muscle movements.

Chickens will develop paralysis and weakness of the muscles, usually of the neck. They may also have difficulty swallowing, drooping eyelids, and weakness of the tongue. Affected birds may appear lame and only able to stand up and walk a few steps before falling. When the wings are affected, the bird may have both of their wings drooped to their sides. 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

Limp neck
Paralysis/muscle weakness
Difficulty swallowing
Droopy eyelids
Weakness (drooping wings)
Difficulty breathing

Diagnosis

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

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Botulism in a Chickens Botulism was diagnosed in a flock of backyard chickens. 14 out of 16 backyard chickens were found dead or recumbent and barely able to move (“crawling” according to owner). No significant gross or microscopic lesions were seen in birds submitted for necropsy. Clostridium botulinum toxin type A was detected in the liver of one chicken, confirming a diagnosis of type A botulism. Ref

  • Case 2: Botulism in a Ducks Botulism was diagnosed in ducks from three different locations in southern California; at each location several birds were affected. In one outbreak, type C botulism was confirmed while the type of botulism could not be determined in the other two outbreaks. Ref

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.
  • Low and fluctuating water levels

Seasonality

WinterSpringSummerAutumn

Also Consider