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Wry neck is not an illness itself but rather a symptom used to describe an abnormal head and neck position. Other commonly used slang terms include 'twisted neck', 'stargazing', limber neck', 'crook neck', and 'crooked neck'. The correct scientific term is actually torticollis. Wry neck causes the bird's head and neck to appear twisted and tilted. Depending on the cause, affected birds may initially be unable to hold their head up on their own. There are multiple causes of wry neck in chickens.
Vitamin deficiency: Vitamin deficiencies are a common cause of wry neck in chickens, especially newly hatched chicks. However in newly hatched chicks, it is actually the result of a vitamin deficiency in the chick's adult parents.
Genetics: In some cases a chick may simply possess a genetic defect, resulting in wry neck.
Head trauma: Head trauma is fairly common in chickens, occurring in multiple presentations and severity, from mild to life-threatening. Head injuries may be outwardly apparent by the presence of hemorrhaging, loss of tissue, and in many incidences, complete exposure of the brain. In other cases, birds may not show any external evidence of a head injury, but will present with a wide range of temporary to permanent clinical signs of neurological impairment.
Botulism: 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.
Newcastle disease (ND): Newcastle disease is a highly contagious viral infection of domestic and wild birds worldwide. Since wild birds can sometimes carry the virus, outbreaks can occur anywhere poultry is raised. ND is caused by Newcastle disease virus (NDV), also known as Avian paramyxovirus-1 (APMV-1). The severity of ND varies widely and is dependent on factors such as: the strain of the virus, the age of the chicken (young chicks are more susceptible), concurrent infection with other organisms, stress and immune status. Some virus strains attack the nervous system, others the respiratory, or digestive systems.
Fowl cholera (FC): Fowl cholera, also referred to as avian pasteurellosis, is a contagious bacterial disease caused by Pasteurella multocida and affects domesticated and wild birds worldwide. FC usually appears as an acute, septicemic disease but it can also occur as a chronic disease. Mature chickens are more susceptible than young ones, and turkeys are more susceptible than chickens. Chickens less than 16 weeks of age generally are quite resistant.
Avian encephalomyelitis (AE): AE is an increasingly more common viral disease found in backyard poultry and poultry breeder farms worldwide. A survey conducted on backyard poultry farms in Finland between 2012 and 2013 revealed 86% of one or more tested chickens had antibodies against AEV. The disease is characterized by incoordination and rapid tremors, especially of the head and neck. AE is often referred to as 'epidemic tremor', due to the intense trembling and shaking observed in affected chicks. The disease is caused by an enterovirus, avian encephalomyelitis virus (AEV).
Aspergillosis: Aspergillosis is a common fungal disease of chickens caused by infection with the genus Aspergillus, which consists of approximately 600 different species. A. fumigatus is the most common species isolated from infected chickens. Aspergillosis manifests as two different forms in chickens. Acute aspergillosis, also referred to as brooder pneumonia is characterized by severe outbreaks in newly hatched chicks and is associated with high morbidity and high mortality rates. Chronic aspergillosis, which is the form discussed herein, is a disease that occurs usually in adult birds that are living in poorly ventilated, dusty or moldy environments.
Marek’s disease (MD): MD is a widespread, highly contagious viral disease of chickens caused by the Marek’s disease virus (MDV), also known as the Gallid herpesvirus 2 (GaHV-2). MD can develop in several different forms with the most common being as a lymphoproliferative syndrome, associated with the growth of lymphomas throughout the body, most commonly resulting in enlargement of the peripheral nerves, and the presence of lymphomas in various visceral organs and tissues, including the skin and eye.
Listeriosis: Listeriosis is an infectious and fatal disease of animals, birds, fish, crustaceans, and humans that is caused by infection with Listeria monocytogenes. L. monocytogenes is an intracellular pathogen which has a unique ability to spread from cell to cell, allowing it to cross blood-brain intestinal and placental barriers. The organism is widespread in nature, and has been isolated from animals, humans, food sources (milk, meat and meat products, seafood, fresh vegetables and fruits), and the environment (soil, decaying plants, water) and known for causing sporadic outbreaks worldwide.
Ear infection: The chicken's inner ear is considered to be a part of their nervous system, and helps the chicken with balance. This is why inner ear infections can cause neurological signs in affected chickens, in the form of head tilt, loss of coordination and balance, and torticollis (wry neck).
In newly hatched chicks, wry neck can occur if the chick is not positioned the correct way in the egg, lacking certain vitamins, or as a result of damage to the muscles or blood supply to the neck.
Disrupted amino acid metabolism of tryptophan or niacin.
Malpositioned in the egg: During incubation, the embryo experiences greater muscle pull on one side of the neck, which together with pressure from the amnion, resulting in the ‘apparent’ skeletal deformity.
Since wry neck prevents the chicken from being able to eat or drink on it's own, the bird can starve or become dehydrated without your help.