Paralysis in broiler chickens has been a reoccurrence issue with broiler chickens, which has become a nightmare to farmers. The main reason why farmer dreads this condition is that paralysis in broiler is a multifactorial condition, and you need to fully understand these various causal factors for proper treatment of paralysis in broilers and management.
Paralysis in broiler chickens is more than leg issues. It can also be the inability to move ( and sometimes to feel anything ) in part or most of the body (neck, leg, wing, etc), typically as a result of illness, poison, or injury, While lameness is a state of being unable to walk because of leg or foot pain. And lameness is a type of paralysis that is most common in broiler chickens and birds in general. In fact, when farmers talk about paralysis in their chickens they are mainly referring to lameness. So, in this post, I am going to use both words interchangeably to mean the inability to walk in broiler chickens.
Having understood the differences between paralysis and lameness let talk about paralysis in the broiler, then will look at various causes of paralysis in broilers, symptoms, and suggested solutions and treatment.
Paralysis in broiler is the inability of broiler chicken to walk due to diseases, toxins, injury, malnutrition, etc.
Before now, I always link the cause of paralysis in broilers to overweight, which might seem justifiable because the rate of growth in broilers is not proportional to the strength of the leg, so they tend to sit often on their hocks and, subsequently develop arthritis and then paralysis. But paralysis is just more than overweight in broiler chickens.
However, I have had my own ugly experience with broilers having leg issues and this can be so frustrating even when the fault is not from you. Within the past few weeks, I have been treating and nursing two of my broiler chicks having leg issues. One of the chicks recovers after a few days, while the other is still in isolation.
So, in this post I am going to share with you some of the tips and treatment I used in stopping paralysis in broilers, although not all leg paralysis is fixable, some may remain permanent for life while some may recover if discovered early and treated.
Paralysis in broiler has a wide variety of causes, this include
Apart from signs and symptoms that could be specific to a particular disease/condition, you can also examine and use the age of the broiler chicken to narrow down the possible cause of the paralysis.
Whenever I am presented with a paralyzed broiler chicken, my first suspect is overweight, and Marek disease. However, most paralysis in broilers develops with age at various stages. Knowing the age at which a particular disease-causing paralysis starts to manifest will help you to eliminate other suspected options. For instance, Marek disease can be caught in the first 2-3 weeks and manifest at 10-24 weeks. So, if the paralysis is older than 24 weeks, it is unlikely to be Marek’s disease. Although, they are exceptional but rare.
You have to examine the chicken for any abnormalities. Firstly, you have to know the recumbent of the bird (the way the bird is lying down). The way a paralyzed bird is lying may indicate the particular disease or condition responsible for the paralysis. For example, a broiler chicken suffering from Marek normally lies on its side with one leg outstretched, the same posture can be seen in broiler chicks suffering from Aspergillosis favus. While in broiler chickens suffering from curled toes, overweight or bumblefoot normally sit on their hocks for support with a lot of pains.
In some cases, you have to examine for an injury that may result from transportation or when trying to catch the bird. Check the wings and legs for any sign of pain, dislocation, or arthritis. Broilers with injury-related paralysis normally feed well when it can access feed and water.
Next, I have to narrow these possible causes listed above into 3 categories for easy decision-making.
Note: For proper diagnoses, you have to visit a Vet because most of these paralysis related diseases have some symptoms in common, therefore, there is a need for differential diagnoses
These are nutritional-related paralysis, mostly due to a condition known as avitaminosis- a condition resulting from a deficiency of a particular vitamin like Vitamin E, D3, B2, etc This category also includes paralysis due to lack of some elements like calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium. Etc.
Here, the broiler chicken can fully recover if discovered early and given the right medication and supplements.
These are paralyzes caused by viral, fungi, or bacterial infection. Most of these infections are not curable, especially those caused by viruses. Viral infections are mostly prevented by vaccination and biosecurity, while some of the bacterial and fungi infections are curable and some are not, but can prevented with proper medications and biosecurity. Examples of these infections are Newcastle disease, Marek disease, mycoplasmosis, reoviral arthritis, and Staphylococcus arthritis.
Here, vaccination and biosecurity are the safest ways to prevent these viral infections. Some people might try to sell you into buying all sorts of medications just for their own selfish interest. Save yourself the stress, of course, there are other signs to affirm your observations, these signs will be briefly explained – your sure bet will be an examination done by an expert or a Vet if you can afford it. But we know the Vet will not be available all the time, and we are left to do things ourselves. A whole lot of good books online on poultry diseases can be handy when the Vet is not available. You can check out the one got I from Amazon here
this category includes those paralyzes caused by external factors such as injury, toxins, and parasites. The broiler chicken can fully recover with proper care and medication, except in some extreme cases.
Now, I am going to cover the following in a tabular form for easy scanning and understanding
|Condition||Cause||Age||Mortality||Signs and Symptoms||Control/Suggested treatment|
|Vitamin E Deficiency||Lack of complete nutrition||Any||High in broilers and young birds, but low in free-ranging birds||Encephalomalacia (crazy chick disease), ataxia, disequilibrium, falling on the back, frequent movements with the wings, strongly stretched legs, and twisting of the head||
Administer vitamin E through the feed or drinking water.
Administer a dose of Vitamin E ( 300 IU per bird ) remission.
Add antioxidants to feed.
|Vitamin D3 Deficiency||Lack of complete nutrition||4 to 7 weeks||Usually low in free-range birds. May be moderate to high in young, confined broiler chicks||
Majorly rickets; these are the signs below
-weak bones causing curving and bending of bones,
-enlarge hock and knee joint
-tendency to drag hind legs, and
-beaded ribs and deformed thorax
Supplement Vitamin D3 ( 3300U/kg q7d prn) or (6600 U/kg once)
Provide access to sunlight
|Calcium and Phosphorus deficiency||Lack of complete nutrition||Any||Usually low in free-range birds. It May be moderate to high in young, confined broiler chic||Similar signs (rickets) with Vitamin D3 deficiency, since vitamin D3 is responsible for the complete absorption of calcium and phosphorus||Dietary supplement of calcium and phosphorus|
|Vitamin B2||Lack of complete nutrition||Usually 15 – 30 days of age||
Vitamin B2 supplement in feed and drinking waterGive 100-mcg dose twice daily for complete treatment followed by an adequate amount in the feed.
|Disease||Cause||Age||Mortality||Signs and Symptoms||Control/suggeted treatment|
Mortality is due to the viral disease not as a result of the paralysis.
Mortality may reach 100%.
Paralysis: Balance and walking problem, twisted neck.
Other signs: gasping, difficulty in breathing, sneezing and coughing, swelling of the head, greenish poop.
Sudden death, often with few or minimal signs
Vaccination and biosecurity.
Give them medications to enable them to stabilize before vaccination
|2.Marek’s Disease||Virus||3 – 30 weeks of age||0-30% in unvaccinated flocks||
Paralysis: paralyzed in one or both leg(s), lies on its side, difficulty in standing. Pale eyes
Skeletal: Joint swelling, blister, walking problem,
Others: Facial swelling, nasal discharge, coughing, foamy eyes
Inflammation of the tendon sheath arthritis of the hock, stifle joint, reluctant to walk
Soak the affected foot in warm water containing Epsom salts, dry out the pus and apply antifungal, antibacterial, and antiseptic ointment or spray with Vetericyn, cover with gauze.
|Avian Encephalomye-litis||Virus||Any, except newly hatched||May reach 50% in young birds||
Paralysis: difficulty in walking, tremors
Common in chickens lacking vitamin E
|Condition||Cause||Age||Mortality||Signs and Symptoms||Control/suggested treatment|
|Aflatoxicosis||Toxin from fungus||Young birds more severely affected||Variable||
Remove contaminated food
|Botulism||Toxin from a fungus that grows in rotting material||It depends on how many birds consumed the toxin||Any||Paralysis, especially of the neck. Birds will be flaccid||Removed source of the toxin, pick up carcasses, control flies, fix leaking water|
|External parasite||Scaly leg mites||Common in Growing and adult broilers||Low||
Limping and lameness-roughened scale, which may bleed in severe cases
Cover the legs in a thick barrier of grease, oil, or petroleum jelly and frequently (every 1-2 days) over 10-14 days.
Don’t use kerosene or diesel- can burn the skin of the chicken
Another cause of paralysis in broilers is the developmental etiology, which is mainly caused by poor hatchery management. Poor hatchery management could result in twisted legs, rotated tibia, and crooked toes in young chicks. Some of this poor management include substandard equipment, lack of proper medication, and high temperature at the end of incubation. Reducing temperature at the end of incubation will help prevent lameness issues.- Dr. Edgar Oviedo (Extension Poultry Specialist, Broiler Management)
Leg issues will always be there. The solution to leg issues is to find the conditions that are causing the problem in the hatchery, transport vehicle, and farms- Oviedo
On the other hand, overcrowding can also cause paralysis, especially when they are scared by noises, which may lead to a stampede and follow by paralysis and in some cases death. And it is harder to manage leg issues in a very large flock. Therefore, it is important to secure a manageable number of chicks from a reputable hatchery to avoid untold heartbreak.
Handbook of Poultry Diseases Important in Africa.
Edited by: Carol Cardona and Peter L, Msoffe. Handbook of Poultry Diseases Important in Africa.
Developed by: Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Sokoine Univ. Of Agriculture, Tanzanian
Department of Animal Science, University of Ghana, Legon
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Makerere University, Uganda
faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Nairobi, Kenya and
The School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California
Lotta Waldenstedt. Nutritional factors of importance for optimal leg health in broilers.
Animal Feed Science and Technology. Volume 126, Issues 3-4, 9 March 2006, Pages 291-307
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