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Dr. Pat
Dr. Pat, Bird Veterinarian
Category: Bird
Satisfied Customers: 4244
Experience:  25+ years working primarily or exclusively with birds
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We had two chickens, one of which started to lose feathers

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We had two chickens, one of which started to lose feathers (not a normal moult) and was not laying. She was very poorly for a day, but then picked up and seemed fine for a couple of weeks. When we checked the other hen, she was completely bald on her belly, but otherwise seemed fine and continued to lay. The chicken was not egg bound and our vet could find no mites or other obvious problems and thought it may be an allergy to the bedding (Bedmax shavings). We changed the bedding to straw/hay. We also treated for red mite just in case.
In the meantime we got two more hens from a different source. The first chicken became poorly again 2 days ago and died that evening. The second one is still fairly bald on her belly. We have checked the 2 new chickens and they are now also losing feathers on their abdomens.
It seems to be contagious therefore, but our vet has no idea what might be the cause. The two original chickens came from a friend locally and all her chickens are fine.
Our vet has suggested that all he can do is a post mortem if/when the other(s) die. Can you give us any suggestions as to what may be the problem and the best treatment? Should we just get him to jab them with an antibiotic to cover any infections?
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Hello Shantal,

If you can find someone who can give us some idea of what it might be and how to keep the other birds well, we would be very grateful. Our vet here appears to be stumped and our only solution at present is to get a post mortem done on one of the others should they die.

Sorry I haven't replied for a few days, but we have had some computer problems.

With regards

Janette Scantlebury

Greetings, I am Dr. Pat. I have worked with birds for many years. I will do my best to help you.

The problem you have here is to find out what exactly is the cause. There is nothing specific in what you describe, quite literally 100 different diseases can have the same presentation. Luckily there are labs that work with small producers and start ante-mortem diagnostics for a very reasonable fee. Post-mortems are offered from these labs and would be valuable to diagnosing the problem(s).

Toxins, infections, feed contamination, local pesticides, etc. may be factors.

What kind of set up do you have? Do they have access to the garden/free range? Any treatments of the premises (fertilizer, weed control, etc)? Any noxious weeds or insects?

The straw, premises and environment should be checked for irritants, toxins and mold.

Red mites live in the coop and not on the bird, so if these are a possibility the entire premises need treatment.

Nutrition can be a major factor. They need to be on top-quality hen crumbles and extra greens and forage.
IMPORTANT Check the website for the feed you give, there have been many recalls.

These signs arenot specific to any one disease. And that means it is not fair to you to guess, there are so many possibilities.

You can examine the birds thoroughly again, including opening the mouth and having a good look in there for mucus, redness, masses or anything else unusual. You can take the temperature gently with a rectal thermometer. Anything above 105F/40C is significant. Palpate the tummy for an egg, fluid, lumps or anything else. Check all the joints for swelling, pain, and mobility.

Move the birds indoors to an aquarium, box or carrier with soft towels or hay in the bottom, no perch, and food and water in low bowls that can be reached easily. Keep her partially covered, warm and quiet.

The bird, bowls and unit must be kept very clean.

Do not try to force food or water. You can offer warm cooked rice, pancakes, cornbread, grapes, melon, greens in addition to normal food.

You should consult a vet that is experienced with backyard poultry flocks.Treatment is only as good as the diagnosis.
To see an avian/poultry-experienced veterinarian ASAP for complete examination, diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
The expense for this is going to be a lot less than inefficient, ineffective, dangerous treatments, guesswork, and loss of the flock; not to mention possible implications to human consumption of tainted eggs. Many states/governments have poultry diagnostic labs that charge very reasonable fees to test for common diseases. In the UK, check:
Because you have others and presumably use the eggs, it is important to have a solid diagnosis and treatment safe for egg consumption. You can check with the closest Ag university with a poultry department, or with the closest vet school for a local referral.

If these were my patients, I would start with complete fecal analysis and direct smear, stained with Sedi-stain and unstained for multiple parasites, fungi, spirals; direct smear stained with Sedi-stain and unstained of the oral cavity; bacterial culture and sensitivity of the feces and choana. Depending on the case I might do a fungal culture. Routine blood work is necessary to rule out other issues. There are MANY DNA/RNA tests for Poultry diseases. Generally I start them out on medications as indicated by the tests.

Pet/feed store medications and home remedies are harmful, ineffective, immuno-suppressive, and make them much worse and may interfere with the veterinarian's diagnosis and treatment. Do not use them.

The flock should be on a high quality pelleted diet with extra greens/pasturage. Overcrowding, cleanliness, proper water, environmental temperature, humidity, ventilation, photoperiod, and toxic exposures should be addressed.
You need to check for fly and mosquito access, as they can carry certain diseases, and check for external parasites. Mites, lice and fleas (in some areas, ticks) can contribute to over-all health issues, anemia, and disease transmission.

They may need injectable antibiotics, calcium and many other medications. Act quickly and good luck.
Dr. Pat, Bird Veterinarian
Category: Bird
Satisfied Customers: 4244
Experience: 25+ years working primarily or exclusively with birds
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for your reply Patricia.

Our problem is that we live on a remote island with no poultry vets available. Our vet recommended that if another dies, we get a post mortem done, but perhaps we will see if we can persuade him to send samples to either the labs in Aberdeen or the vet school in Edinburgh. We checked about using eggs meantime and the vets said we can carry on using them, though obviously this might change if they need antibiotics or whatever.

In the winter they were free-ranging, but to avoid damage to our (and our neighbours') gardens in spring/summer, they are in a good size run which we move every second day. Our hope is to get the garden area they are in fenced with a higher fence before next spring so they can continue to free range. As our ducks and chickens are on there, we have not used fertiliser or weedkiller of any sort there. As a result there are lots of docks which they love and we give them extra greens from our vegetable garden/weekly veggie box. They are on a good quality layers pellet and mixed grain mix. Food and water is fresh every day.

On our vet's advice when they started losing feathers, we changed the bedding from woodshavings to straw in the nesting boxes. We could try hay now and see if that helps.

When the problem started, there were only 2 chickens in the shed. Now there are 3, but the house is designed for 4-6.

We used to worm them with a wormer available from our local agricultural supplier which is mixed with their food. However this relies on them eating the food in proportion to their size, so when last wormed we used syringes of worming paste from the vet and did them individually. Our vet did a thorough examination and could find no sign of any mites/fleas etc. He also found no sign of being egg-bound or any other abdominal abnormality.

We'll see if we can get the vets to send off samples and maybe get a better idea what is going on. If so, we can put them in a separate house one-by-one to overnight to check which sample comes from which hen.

Thanks again for your time and trouble.


Thank you again for your time.