3 com­mon health prob­lems in older birds

These is­sues may be found in young birds too, but are a com­mon cause of death in old birds.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Your Poultry -

Vis­ceral gout

also known as avian urolithi­a­sis Af­fects: kid­neys, eg toxic nephri­tis, kid­ney stones, nu­tri­tional gout, nephro­sis Signs: chalky white de­posits, es­pe­cially in­side the kid­neys. Cause: ex­ces­sive di­etary cal­cium with low avail­abil­ity of phos­pho­rus; us­ing feed with more than 30% pro­tein; short­age of wa­ter. Older hens and roost­ers don’t need the high lev­els of cal­cium in Layer feed, which can cause kid­ney dam­age. Feed them a Pul­let or Grower feed, if you can feed them sep­a­rately from your lay­ing hens. A 16% pro­tein ra­tion also re­duces the like­li­hood of vis­ceral gout. Don’t of­fer ad­di­tional oys­ter grit or egg shell sup­ple­ments.

Ex­cess pro­tein, in the form of amino acids, can build up in the blood. This uric acid crys­talises as a white de­posit over the mem­branes sur­round­ing the heart, joints, air sacs, liver, and in­side the kid­neys. This can be fa­tal, caus­ing sud­den death when kid­ney tubes be­come com­pletely blocked. Stresses, like a move, a short­age of wa­ter, or start­ing to lay, can ex­ac­er­bate a block­age.

A bird with­out wa­ter for 24 hours or longer can suf­fer kid­ney fail­ure.

An­other is­sue is ar­tic­u­lar gout, which is sim­i­lar to vis­ceral gout. Chalky urate de­posits cause joints – most no­tice­ably the feet and legs – to swell and ap­pear de­formed. It re­stricts a bird’s mo­bil­ity, caus­ing weight loss (as they are phys­i­cally un­able to reach their feed), and de­pres­sion.

Older poul­try don’t need the high lev­els of cal­cium in Layer feed.


Poul­try are quite prone to var­i­ous types of tu­mour. The like­li­hood of tu­mours in­creases as a bird gets older.

Mareks disease can pro­duce tu­mours in nerves, eyes, and ovaries, and is more com­mon in young birds (un­der six months).

Lym­phoid leu­co­sis is a virus which causes tu­mours in birds, usu­ally in those six months and older. It can be trans­mit­ted from hens to chicks via the egg, and be­tween birds.

One man­i­fes­ta­tion – called Big Liver disease – causes the liver to swell with white nod­ules of tu­mours. It can be­come so big, it fills the ab­domen. The bird may have a very pale comb, de­pres­sion, ap­pear very full in the ab­domen, and be un­usu­ally heavy com­pared to birds of the same breed/size.

There is no cure, and it’s of­ten not de­tected un­less a necropsy is done.

Re­pro­duc­tive fail­ure

This can cover a range of con­di­tions which may af­fect the ovaries, the shell gland, and the oviduct.

The rate of egg pro­duc­tion slows year on year from the first lay­ing cy­cle, when egg num­bers will be at their peak.

Older hens be­come more prone to re­pro­duc­tive prob­lems, which are of­ten fa­tal.

Egg peri­toni­tis can be caused by egg yolks which, when re­leased from the ovary, slip into the ab­dom­i­nal cav­ity instead of go­ing down the oviduct. The yolks can ac­cu­mu­late in the ab­domen, and of­ten cause an in­fec­tion.

Some birds cope, but usu­ally the egg ma­te­rial be­comes in­fected and the bird gets sep­ti­caemia.

In­flam­ma­tion of the ovaries or oviduct can some­times be suc­cess­fully treated with vet-pre­scribed an­tibi­otics.

The lay­ing of mis­shapen, thin-shelled, or shell-less eggs can be an in­di­ca­tion of fail­ing re­pro­duc­tive or­gans. How­ever, if the hen re­mains alert, happy, and is eat­ing well, it’s pos­si­ble she can carry on.

A non-func­tion­ing ovary (hens have two ovaries but only one works) may re­sult in a hor­mone im­bal­ance. Her be­hav­iour and ap­pear­ance may be­come more rooster-like, and she may at­tempt to crow.

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