Coccidiosis In Chickens? {Prevention & Treatment}

What Is Coccidiosis In Chickens?

Coccidiosis is the most common affliction that can befall your chickens, with young chicks being especially vulnerable. It is an intenstinal disease that can rapidly spread and devastate an entire flock within days before you recognize that something is even wrong. Coccidiosis is the most common cause of death amongst brooder chicks and it is why medicated feed is so popular.

We don’t feed our chicks medicated starter and instead prefer using the deep litter method of coop management as a natural method of preventing coccidiosis deaths.

But more on that later in the article.

Let’s explore coccidiosis in chickens and all the options available.

a flock of orpington and bresse pullets rooosting on a fence post in a green landscape
Young chicks and pullets like these Orpington and Bresse are most vulnerable.

What Is Coccidiosis?

Coccidiosis, sometimes called cocci, is a disease caused by parasites of the Eimeria species.

These parasites, often called coccidia, quickly multiply in your chickens’ digestive tract, damaging the intestinal lining and harming their ability to digest and absorb nutrients from food.

Unfortunately, the microscopic parasites that cause coccidiosis are everywhere, making a coccidiosis outbreak common and often deadly, most especially in baby chicks.

They can infect chickens kept even in the most sanitary conditions.

While a preventative approach and clean husbandry are still crucial for preventing other diseases, like bacterial infections, your approach to managing intestinal coccidiosis should be quick intervention, quarantining, and treatment.

wyandotte rooster and hens on grass

Symptoms Of Coccidiosis

You can look for various symptoms to determine if any of your birds may have contracted coccidiosis, usually relating to their gastrointestinal function.

  • Unusual droppings, such as with diarrhea, blood, or mucus
  • Weight loss, particularly in older chickens
  • Chicks failing to grow and thrive
  • Reduced appetite and thirst
  • Pale color of skin or comb
  • Lethargy, weakness, or listlessness
  • Bloody vent
  • Unkempt feathers

These symptoms may progress slowly but can also cause rapid death in your flock. This risk is especially prominent with vulnerable younger chickens or older birds.

Sadly, if a baby chick contracts coccidiosis, its prognosis is grim, and it will usually pass away within a week of symptom onset.

Coccidiosis is the number one killer of baby chicks.

See Also:

Chick Care: Raising Baby Chickens The Right Way

When Can Chicks {FINALLY!} Go Outside?

a solitary chick in profile

How Does Coccidiosis Spread?

Coccidiosis is spread by microscopic eggs known as oocysts.

When these eggs are ingested, they cling to the digestive tract and quickly hatch. As they multiply inside your bird’s intestines, eggs are deposited into their droppings, and coccidiosis spreads.

These eggs can cling to anything, whether your shoes, the chickens, or even cleaning supplies, and will spread exceptionally quickly if they get in the food or water.

Oocysts can come from anywhere, even from the droppings of a wild infected bird. For this reason, it can be tough to prevent coccidiosis.

An action as simple as walking through infected soil and then walking through the soil near your chicken coop can result in the deposit and spread of oocysts. 

Fresh oocysts aren’t infectious until they sporulate, a process similar to germination, which takes place in temperatures of 70°F to 90°F in adequately damp and oxygenated conditions over the span of 1 to 2 days.

After sporulating, they remain viable for long periods. Therefore, oocysts can be discouraged from becoming infectious by keeping conditions suboptimally dry and cold, and sporulated oocysts can be killed by freezing or extremely high temperatures.

brooder full of baby chicks

How To Prevent Coccidiosis

While coccidiosis cannot be prevented through cleanliness alone, there are other measures you can take to prepare your flock and mitigate the damage these parasites can cause.

Aside from keeping a healthy and clean diet, you can consider offering medicated feed to your chicks or have your veterinarian administer a coccidiosis vaccine.

You can also try natural methods, like the deep litter method (more on that below).

Keep your Coops and Brooders Clean and Dry

Damp conditions allow the eggs to multiply quickly. Ensuring the coop is adequately ventilated is an integral part of keeping the conditions ideal and dry.

Also, you should consider keeping your birds separate from waterfowl if you can’t manage your humidity levels properly.

I talk about keeping ducks and chickens together in my article Keeping Ducks And Chickens Together {Yes You Can}.

Keep Your Water Clean and Add Probiotics

Offering probiotics in the water encourages competitive exclusion.

The good probiotics introduced to your chicken’s gut can fend off the coccidiosis-causing parasites and promote good gut health.

Nipple waterers can be an excellent way to keep the water clean since chicks will quickly adapt, and old hens can learn just as well.

They have been proven to reduce the spread of disease, and most commercial farms use nipple waterers for this reason.

You can also promote probiotic activity by fermenting your chicken feed.

I go into detail about that in The MANY Benefits Of Fermenting Chicken Feed {& How To Do It}.

Concentrated Oregano Oil

Adding oil of oregano into your poultry water can really boost their immune system alongside any probiotics.

You can buy a large quantity of oregano oil for chickens and turkeys online.

a group of geese, ducks, chickens on a green pasture

Ensure That the Coops Aren’t Overcrowded

Because coccidiosis spreads through feces, overcrowded birds will suffer a faster spread of coccidiosis. And it can spread incredibly quickly through feces.

If a chicken gets feces on its feathers and then grooms, this simple action can be sufficient for a coccidiosis infection to set in.

Vaccinate or Provide Medicated Starter Feed

A coccidiosis vaccine protects your chicks against multiple types of Eimeria oocyst species. As does medicated feed.

Choose one or the other, but don’t do both.

Quarantine New Birds

Quarantine new birds for at least three weeks and at a distance of at least 12 yards before introducing them to the rest of the flock.

This is adequate time to observe the new birds and see if coccidiosis or another disease develops.

In addition to the above methods, you can also introduce your chicks to a clean chicken yard and flock early to promote immunity, and give food and treats in dedicated bowls, rather than on the ground or dirt where oocytes could be lingering.

If you visit or work on other chicken farms, you should take extreme precautions to ensure that you don’t spread coccidiosis to or from the other location.

You should avoid wearing the same clothing or shoes or using the same tools or equipment at different locations.

You should instead keep separate outfits and equipment for each farm you work with.

a flock of orpington and bresse pullets rooosting on a fence post in a green landscape

The Deep Litter Method For Natural Coccidiosis Prevention

Since coccidiosis can spread through feces, you might be wondering about substrate options that would effectively reduce the spread of coccidiosis.

Deep litter is one of the best scientifically proven methods available!

By keeping the litter dry and regularly turning it over it, you can maintain a very natural microbe presence in your coop that contributes to your flock’s health.

As the bedding absorbs their droppings and is stirred frequently, the waste will break down and form compost.

The microbes will develop a natural balance like they would in nature. And since the droppings are distributed deep into the soil, the low exposure to the oocysts already existing on your land will promote natural immunity in your flock. 

I love the deep litter method for multiple reasons and this is just one of them.

Read all about how to easily and successfully implement this in your own coop in my thorough guide on the subject: The Deep Litter Method {Why I’ll Never Do Anything Else}

a wooden bowl with eight rustic ranger chicks waitin to be weighed
A bowl full of my Red Rangers as chicks.

How To Diagnose Coccidiosis

If you’re worried that one of your birds has coccidiosis, you may wonder how to diagnose the disease.

While the disease can only be diagnosed through a fecal float test by a veterinarian, the process is cheap and can be performed by most veterinarians.

Getting coccidiosis diagnosed as soon as possible is essential since you can reduce the risk of coccidiosis spreading to the rest of your flock and can give your infected birds a better chance of recovering from the disease.

If you notice any abnormal or bloody droppings, you should do a fecal test as soon as possible. 

Can Coccidiosis Be Treated At Home?

Unfortunately, there’s no practical way to treat coccidiosis at home once it hits unless you can get your hands on some amprolium. This is not always available depending on where you live and your regulations.

Find Amprolium Online & In-Store

Call your local feed stores and livestock veterinarians.

Or even better, get onto your local Facebook chicken groups and ask if anyone has some available.

In the USA you can get amprolium online at Amazon under the name CORID.

Several DIY treatment plans out there should be avoided using common substances like yogurt, vinegar, or garlic.

While substances like yogurt and vinegar can be used to promote your poultry’s health, these substances have no proven record of curing coccidiosis.

Additionally, at-home treatments like milk flushes have the consequence of dumping massive amounts of oocytes that will only perpetuate the infection of your flock further.

Instead of using ineffective at-home methods, following a proven treatment plan and using coccidioides like amprolium to eliminate the parasites from your flock is essential.

These medications are safe, extremely effective, and well worth the price.

a basket with 6 azure blue baby chicks
A basket of my Azure Blues, a phenomenal egg layer breed.

How To Treat Coccidiosis

If one of your chickens has been diagnosed with coccidiosis, all your birds need treatment.

The oocytes contaminate other areas too quickly, so taking an all-encompassing approach is the simplest way to eradicate coccidiosis from your flock completely.

Veterinarians can provide a treatment plan that uses coccidioides, which you can add to water and give to your flock as prescribed. 

When adding coccidioides to water, it should be the only water offered to your birds. All of your birds must be medicated.

While the medicated water may initially deter some birds, thirst will eventually catch up and encourage them to drink.

That is why making the medicated water the only water available is essential. If any other water is available, some birds may avoid medicated water and become reservoirs of coccidiosis, ultimately reinfecting your flock.

Coccidioides like amprolium are highly effective. It’s what is in medicated chick starter and it is not an antibiotic like some mistakenly believe.

While treatment can take place over a week or other timespan, you will likely notice improvements following the first 24 hours of treatment.

It is essential to complete the treatment as instructed and give a second dose if instructed to ensure complete eradication and discourage drug-resistant strains of coccidiosis. 

Coccidioides should always be given for treatment but never as a preventative medication (outside of medicated chick starter) since long-term continuous use of anticoccidial drugs can promote drug-resistant strains.

Shuttle programs, which treat flocks with several types of coccidioides in a sequential progression, can help slow the development of drug resistance.

an apron full of different colored eggs

Can I Eat Eggs From Hens Recovering From Coccidiosis?

The FDA approves the consumption of eggs from hens treated with amprolium so that the eggs can be eaten during and after treatment with no recovery period.

Whether you choose to do so is up to you. You can always feed the eggs, scrambled, back to your flock.

Caring For Chickens Recovering From Coccidiosis

If your flock is recovering from coccidiosis, it’s crucial to provide them with the nutrients needed to make a full recovery.

Many vitamin supplements on the market will work perfectly. For example, Nutri-Drench is excellent for replacing the vitamin B1 your birds may have lost during treatment. 

Other Chicken Illnesses & Health Issues

Treating Sour Crop in Chickens {Easy & Quick}

Treating {& Preventing} Pasty Butt in Chickens

Everything You Need to Know About Wry Neck in Chickens

How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens? Get Your Flock Ready For Winter

What’s New At The Homestead

a flock of chickens on green pasture.

The Ultimate Guide to Homestead & Backyard Chicken Keeping 

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