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Botulism

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

Botulism is a severe neuroparalytic disease caused by exposure to botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs), which are produced by anerobic, spore-forming, ubiquitous microorganism called Clostridium botulinum. There are several different strains of C. botulinum, with each strain producing its own type of toxin---categorized as type A through E. Certain strains are more abundant in particular regions and cause infection to specific species. Chickens are most commonly affected by type C and C/D, although type A and E toxins have also been reported.

C. botulinum is widespread in soil however requires certain environmental conditions to be met in order for it to produce toxins; these conditions include:
  • Warm temperature (optimum growth temperature is between 25°C and 42°C)
  • An anaerobic environment (absence of oxygen)
  • A high protein source

Clinical Signs of Botulism in Chickens


Characteristic clinical signs of botulism in chickens is a progressive, symmetrical, flaccid paralysis with weakness, muscle tremors, stumbling, and recumbency. The bird's legs are usually affected first, progressing to the wings (presented as drooped wings), neck (presented as the inability to hold their head erect), and eyelids. Chickens may appear lame and often might stand up and walk a few steps before falling. Others may be found sitting and reluctant to move. 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 Chickens Get Botulism


Chicckens can get botulism through eating contaminated soil, water, decaying matter, spoiled feed, or from eating maggots harboring C. botulinum toxins. Decaying animals or vegetation provide both a protein source as well as an anaerobic environment to C. botulinum. Botulism Type C spores exist along the bottoms of various water sources, which begin to thrive as oxygen levels drop and water temperatures rise.

Clinical Signs

Progressive paralysis involving the neck, legs, or wings
Accumulation of mucus in mouth
Droopy eyes
Squatting with outstretched neck
Limb neck (unable to hold head upright)
Using wings to move
Weakness
Muscle tremors
Stumbling
Recumbency
Death

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.

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.

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.

Seasonality

WinterSpringSummerAutumn