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Potential Turkey Health Challenges

a turkey outside

Updated July 02, 2021

Unfortunately for the humans looking out for them, turkeys don’t tend to show any signs that they’re sick until it can’t be hid any longer, usually resulting in much more intensive treatment than an early diagnosis would have led to. If you want to ensure early disease recognition, you’ll have to spend a lot of time with the flock, so slight changes and symptoms are more apparent to you. By conducting regular full body health examinations, you’ll be able to know what healthy looks and feels (and smells!) like, and when you should be concerned.

Check out our guide to turkey health examinations to familiarize yourself with the signs that something may be amiss in a bird.

Animal Healthcare Disclaimer

This is not an exhaustive list of everything that can happen to a turkey, but can help you get a sense of what challenges a turkey under your care may face in their lifetime. If you believe a turkey is facing a health issue, always discuss with a qualified veterinarian as soon as possible. Reading about health issues does not qualify you to diagnose your residents!

Issues By Afflicted Area

Abdomen: Abdominal Fluid Buildup, Internal Laying, Omphalitis (Or, “Mushy Chick Disease”), Osteomyelitis

Appetite/Drinking Changes: Aspergillosis, Avian Influenza, Blue Comb Disease, Coryza, Coccidiosis, Crop Impaction, Sour Crop (Candidiasis), Fowl Pox, Gout, Mycoplasma, Osteomyelitis, Salmonellosis, Worms

Beak: Coryza, Mycoplasma

Breast: Osteomyelitis

Breathing/Mouth: Aspergillosis, Avian Influenza, Botulism, Sour Crop (Candidiasis)Coryza, Egg Binding (Egg Bound), Fowl Cholera, Fowl Pox, Gapeworm, Heat Exhaustion, Mycoplasma, Newcastle Disease, Worms

Crop Blue Comb Disease, CapillariaCrop Impaction, Sour Crop (Candidiasis)

Droppings: Blackhead, Coccidiosis, Fowl CholeraGoutHemorrhagic Enteritis, Worms

Egg-Laying Changes Or Issues: Blue Comb Disease, Coccidiosis, Egg Binding (Egg Bound), Egg-Peritonitis, Fowl Pox, Internal Laying, Newcastle Disease, Prolapsed Vent, Soft-Shelled Eggs, Worms

Energy/Movement: ArthritisAspergillosis, Avian Influenza, Blackhead, Blue Comb Disease, Botulism, Coccidiosis, Crop Impaction, Sour Crop (Candidiasis)Egg Binding (Egg Bound), Egg-Peritonitis, Fowl Cholera, Fowl PoxGoutHeat Exhaustion, Joint InfectionsMolting, Mycoplasma, Osteomyelitis, Salmonellosis, Spraddle Leg

Eyes: CoryzaMycoplasma, Newcastle Disease

Feathers: Feather Pecking And Other Bullying, Lice, Molting, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites

Feet And Toes: Arthritis, Bumblefoot, GoutJoint InfectionsScaly Leg Mites, Osteomyelitis, Scald

Head/Neck, Avian Influenza, Blackhead, Blue Comb Disease, Coryza, Fowl Cholera, Heat ExhaustionMycoplasma, Newcastle Disease, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Worms

Legs: ArthritisGoutJoint Infections, Scaly Leg MitesNorthern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Scald, Spraddle Leg

Preen Gland: Lice, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites

Skin: Flystrike, Lice, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites

Social Changes: Avian Influenza, Coryza, Feather Pecking And Other Bullying, Hemorrhagic Enteritis, Molting, Mycoplasma

Tail: Aspergillosis, Lice, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites

Vent: Egg Binding (Egg Bound), Flystrike, Lice, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Prolapsed Vent

Weight: Aspergillosis, Blue Comb Disease, CoryzaGoutMycoplasma, Crop Impaction

Wings: GoutJoint InfectionsLice, Molting, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites

Abdominal Fluid Buildup

Abdominal fluids might build up a turkey’s abdomen for many reasons, including cancer, egg yolk peritonitis, tumors, liver disease, Marek’s disease, and heart problems. If you notice a buildup, get the turkey evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. They can demonstrate how to drain the excess fluid and maintain the turkey’s comfort while providing appropriate care and treatment. Back To Top

Arthritis

Many turkeys, especially Large Breed turkeys, are prone to developing arthritis during the course of their lives. This can present itself far more early than one might expect of the ailment. You can help manage pain and inflammation using avian-safe NSAIDs or anecdotally, CBD oil, if legal in your area. Back To Top

Aspergillosis

Aspergillosis is caused by a fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus which is endemic in our environment. Aspergillus spores form on moldy grains, straw, and wood shavings. Moldy seeds are a large vector of disease. More serious forms of the fungus can be found when grain is harvested wet (such as in the cold season); these forms are highly lethal in small amounts. Aspergillosis is typically an additional disease to a separate infection. A bird fighting an infection is vulnerable to additional ones. If a bird suffers from a long-term ailment, be aware of aspergillosis. It affects respiratory systems and tends to accumulate in the air sacs. Once infected, the fungus forms sticky and dense plaques, which are hard to remove. Telltale signs of aspergillosis include voice tone changes, voice loss, lethargy, decreased appetite, isolation, labored breathing, and later, tail bobbing. Don’t avoid any of these signals! The infection is fatal in chicks and dire in adults. Antifungal drug treatment can be intense and lengthy, with even successful treatment potentially taking up to six months. Clean housing and ventilation keeps Aspergillosis at bay, as well as the use of avian-safe fungicide spray after deep living space cleans. Avoid wet housing conditions, and don’t allow an avian living space to get too warm and humid in the winter as Aspergillus spores can grow and be released from straw. If a barn has to be warm for some reason, substitute straw with wood shavings and ensure that living spaces do not get too dusty, moist, or moldy. Aspergillus has also been known to impact humans, particularly the very young, old, or those in intense healthcare treatment regimens. In extreme cases, birds may need to be permanently separated from others to prevent disease spreading to the rest of the flock. Back To Top

Avian Influenza (Or, “Bird Flu”)

Humans are most likely not going to get the bird flu because humans and birds have different receptors so cross-species mutations are incredibly rare. It can still be a very serious disease for turkeys, though. Most strains are relatively benign (and always around us in the air), but a few are particularly dangerous. Some strains won’t present any symptoms in infected turkeys. Avian Influenza is a reportable disease, but the strain will dictate what happens next.  Low pathogenic strains of avian influenza present signs of respiratory illness like sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nostrils, and swollen sinuses.  Birds with high pathogenic strains may have trouble breathing, swollen neck or head, swollen and discolored feet and legs, uncoordinated motion, and they may develop bloody discharge from their mouth or nostrils. If many birds die without explanation, there might be an influenza outbreak. Passing wild birds tend to be the biggest vectors of the disease, attracted to food and water. Keeping these sources out of easy access can help prevent attracting them (without preventing ventilation of feeding areas). Always stay alert to avian influenza outbreaks in your region and speak with experts about how to keep your residents safe if there is an outbreak nearby.  You may be advised to keep all your avian residents indoors and may need to restrict visitation to your sanctuary to prevent exposure to your residents. Recovery and treatment of bird flu depends on the strain, so an expert opinion is necessary to evaluate the situation. Make sure to isolate an afflicted bird to prevent them from spreading it to the flock! Back To Top

Blackhead

Turkeys are particularly susceptible to this disease, and turkey chicks even more so. Blackhead or Histomoniasis is caused by Histomonas meleagridis, a protozoa spread by Heterakis gallinarum roundworms. Because chickens can spread this protozoa without being obviously affected, it’s recommended to house turkey chicks away from chickens or outdoor areas chickens have inhabited until they are at least 12 weeks old, as mortality from the disease is very high before this time. Affected birds may be more sluggish, have bright yellow diarrhea, develop a dark blue head (the name of the disease is somewhat of a misnomer), or die unexpectedly. Treatment typically includes an anti-protozoal, though many that have been proven effective are prohibited in turkeys. In some cases, antibiotics may be used to treat secondary infections. If you suspect Blackhead disease, talk to your veterinarian immediately for treatment recommendations. Regular fecal testing and deworming turkeys, as well as minimizing their contact with chickens, can lessen the likelihood of infection. While some recommendations stress never housing turkeys and chickens together, many sanctuaries do so with no issue as long as it is done thoughtfully. To prevent issues, we recommend waiting until turkeys are at least 6 months old and being vigilant about keeping living spaces clean and regularly checking fecal samples. Earthworms can also carry the parasite and infect birds if they are consumed. An old remedy for Blackhead includes treating affected turkeys’ food and water with a good deal of powdered cayenne pepper, though this has not been scientifically proven to cure Blackhead disease. Back To Top

Blue Comb Disease

Caused by an infection of the Corona virus, Blue Comb disease outbreaks occur most frequently in the summer months and affects younger birds more often than older ones. It has been thought that Blue Comb disease is a result of poor breeding practices imposed on turkeys. Symptoms include depression, loss of appetite, a blue or black caruncle, snood, or wattle, sour crop, and a quick drop in egg production. The disease is treatable with veterinarian-recommended antibiotics, but neglecting to treat this disease can cause it to quickly spread to the rest of the flock with fatal results. Back To Top

Infectious Bronchitis

A rare infection, Infectious Bronchitis in turkeys presents itself as sneezing, coughing, and snoring. Later symptoms include secretions draining out of their nose and eyes and a cease in laying. Like the name suggests, Infectious Bronchitis is a very infectious viral disease that spreads through the air, so you need to very quickly isolate an infected turkey to prevent further illness in the flock. Give them a warm, dry place to heal. There is a vaccine available for Infectious BronchitisBack To Top

Botulism

Botulism is typically spread when a turkey consumes food or water infected with the disease. Symptoms include progressive tremors, lameness, neck paralysis, droopy wings and eyelids, muscle weakness, and difficulty breathing. The longer they go untreated, the tremors will eventually become full body paralysis, eventually preventing them from breathing. Their feathers might fall out very easily as well. It is a rapid and deadly disease (turkeys can succumb to it within 48 hours) and requires immediate treatment. You can treat it successfully with an antitoxin prescribed by your veterinarian. If a turkey in your care dies from this disease, you must seal in all of the birds in your care until you determine where the disease came from and remove the source. Back To Top

Bumblefoot

Bumblefoot (also called pododermatitis, foot pad dermatitis, and foot pad ulcers) can be caused by many different things including environmental conditions like poor sanitation or rough flooring or perching materials, or physical conditions such as obesity or arthritis. While this issue tends to be more of an issue in large breed turkeys, it can also affect other turkeys, especially those who favor one foot over the other due to pain or a mechanical leg issue. Because the “good” foot has to bear more weight, it can start to become damaged. Early signs of bumblefoot include reddening of the foot pad and possibly a small abrasion. It is important to address bumblefoot early before it is actively infected and to keep any open areas on the foot clean and protected to prevent the introduction of bacteria. Foot wraps and changes to the environment may be enough to prevent progression if there is no infection. If the affected foot is warmer than normal, painful, swollen, has discharge, has an open wound, or a large scab, you should consult a veterinarian. They can prescribe appropriate antibiotics (ideally based on culture and sensitivity results) and may need to perform x-rays to determine the extent of the infection. In some cases surgical debridement may be necessary. It is important to work with a veterinarian to determine the proper treatment and to learn how to properly wrap a turkey’s foot, as improper technique can cause severe health problems. Use of the wrong antibiotics or at the wrong doses can lead to antibiotic resistance which has devastating consequences. Untreated bumblefoot infections can spread to the legs and joints, causing severe mobility issues and eventually sepsis.  Back To Top

Capillaria

Often called threadworms or hair worms, Capillaria is an internal parasite that can infect turkeys. Some species of this parasite infect a turkey’s crop and esophagus, resulting in thickened and inflamed mucous membranes. Other species infect a turkey’s intestinal tract, causing inflammation, damage to the intestinal longing, and possible hemorrhage. Severe infestations can be fatal. There are treatments available if caught early. Back To Top

Coccidiosis

Many turkeys rescued out of commercial turkey farming might be Coccidia carriers without being symptomatic, which can cause problems to their new flock or if they are struck with another disease. Signs to look out for include bloody droppings, thin and low appetite birds, huddling together in groups, sluggishness and fewer eggs laid, or sudden deaths in the flock. Coccidia can spread through dirty and wet bedding and contaminated clothing, shoes, and equipment. Good hygiene can help prevent infection. Regular fecal testing can detect the disease. If detected, you should consult with your veterinarian about administering a deworming treatment. Depending on the levels present and whether or not the turkey is presenting signs of illness, treatment may or may not be recommended. Dewormers can be purchased at farm supply stores in simple formulas that are added to a turkey’s water. Coccidia is not easy to eliminate, so you may need frequent treatments to get rid of it. Back To Top

Coryza

A bacterial respiratory infection of Bordetella avium, Coryza’s symptoms include head flicking, huddling, a loss of appetite, loss of voice, discharge of the nose and eyes, labored breathing, eye inflammation, and excessive mucus. Coryza is typically a secondary or co-morbid infection to other respiratory infections and can spread to other birds. It’s important to isolate and treat the affected bird and make sure to thoroughly clean out their living space. Antibiotics are not very effective treatment. Back To Top

Crop Impaction

If a crop is not able to properly empty due to any degree of blockage, it will become impacted.  Crop impactions can be caused by a variety of factors. In some cases, birds will ingest materials that are not digestible such as feathers, long blades of grass, straw, wood shavings, foreign objects, or kitty litter.  Another cause, and one that is typically seen in large breed turkeys, is crop impaction resulting from gorging on large quantities of food. In some cases, the crop is not able to properly empty due to damage or disease, and crop impactions can also be secondary to another disease or intestinal thickening.  In addition to offering treatment, it’s important to also identify to underlying cause. In severe cases, a crop may need to be surgically emptied, and in some cases, most of the crop muscle may need to be removed. In more mild cases, your veterinarian may prescribe drugs that improve crop motility or flushing and massaging of the crop (this must be demonstrated by a professional as flushing the crop incorrectly can result in aspiration and death). Back To Top

Egg Binding (Egg Bound)

A hen who is egg bound has an egg stuck in her oviduct. Typical signs of egg binding include obvious straining, squatting, standing up oddly tall, open-mouthed breathing (from the pain and stress of pushing), and a lack of appetite, though sometimes the only sign something is wrong is that they are isolating themselves or not quite acting like themself. Egg-binding can lead to cloacal prolapse, a potentially fatal condition. Do not cut the bird to get the egg out, or break the egg. In some instances, holding the turkey in a warm bath can help her to pass the egg.  However, this doesn’t always work, so watch the turkey closely, and if she does not pass the egg while in the bath, or if her symptoms worsen at all, take her to the veterinarian as soon as possible- if left untreated, egg-binding can be fatal. If you suspect a hen is egg bound but the turkey is not showing any of the more serious symptoms described above, you can place her in an area with a safe heat source such as a heating pad or snuggle safe heat disc- always have a towel or other fabric between the bird and the heat source, make sure the space is set up so that the turkey can move away from the heat source if needed, and also make sure that they are well enough to move themselves away from the heat if desired. Talk to your veterinarian about providing an oral vitamin and probiotic supplement made specifically for turkeys and adding additional oral calcium to their diet during this time. If, over the course of the next 24 hours, the hen has not passed an egg or if she becomes progressively painful, she should be examined by a veterinarian. Back To Top

Egg Peritonitis

Egg Peritonitis (Or Egg Yolk Peritonitis) occurs when an egg bursts inside of a turkey’s body. Bacteria quickly grow in the resultant environment. This is an unfortunately common disease in laying turkeys and typically does not end well if left untreated. Any turkey with low calcium or vitamins or who has difficulty laying can be affected by Egg Peritonitis. On a veterinarian’s recommendation, Egg Yolk Peritonitis can be treated with antibiotics, Metacam, and potentially implantation to give the turkey time to heal. Back To Top

Feather Pecking And Other Bullying

Feather pecking and other bullying can result from housing problems, disease, or simply being at the bottom of the pecking order. If you provide enough food, daytime space, and sleeping spaces, the turkeys will be less inclined to compete out of scarcity and less likely to turn to bullying. Turkeys also risk feather pecking if injured. Toms will be a bit more confrontational towards one another during spring when mating season arrives. Make sure turkeys have plenty of space and entertainment as well, and check their health frequently to avoid bullying or worse tragedy. Back To Top

Flystrike

Flystrike refers to the presence of maggots, typically in a wound.  There are various degrees of severity of flystrike, and the quicker you catch and treat the issue, the better.  Though mild cases of flystrike aren’t likely a health emergency, it is imperative to remove the maggots immediately and address what attracted the flies in the first place (broken egg yolk or clumps of feces on feathers or an open wound).  Often you will find flystrike in or near the vent. If maggots appear to be in the vent or burrowed deeply into the body (likely in the case of advanced flystrike), you should bring the bird to the veterinarian to be assessed and to ensure all maggots are removed. A safe and effective way to kill maggots in a bird suffering from flystrike is to dissolve a tab of Capstar in a syringe of water and then spray the dissolved Capstar onto the affected area.  However, manual removal of the maggots is often the most efficient way to treat this issue. Unless the flystrike was caused by something easily remedied like a bird covered in broken egg who simply needs to be cleaned off, keep the turkey indoors until the underlying issue has resolved. Consult with your veterinarian about administering antibiotics or pain medications based on the severity of the issue. Back To Top

Fowl Cholera

Fowl Cholera is a bacterial disease whose signs include green or yellow diarrhea, joint pain, mouth and nasal discharge, breathing struggles, and a darkened, swollen head, snood, and wattle. It can be contracted from wild animals or contaminated food or water. There is a vaccine for it, but unfortunately, it has no known treatment once infection strikes and a surviving turkey will always be a carrier of the disease. Back To Top

Fowl Pox

There are two forms of fowl pox, the dry form and the wet form, and turkeys can be affected by just one form or by both at the same time. Dry, or cutaneous, pox causes raised scabs and wart-like lesions on the turkey’s head and upper neck. These lesions can easily be mistaken for fighting injuries. This form of pox generally does not make birds clinically ill; however, the lesions can be painful and lesions on or near their eyelids can result in damage to the eye. Keeping lesions clean and covered with an antibiotic ointment can help prevent secondary infections. Use caution around eyes- it may be best to use an antibiotic eye ointment for lesions on or near the eyelid. Dry pox typically resolves on its own. Wet, or diphtheritic, pox can cause lesions and canker-like growths in the mouth and upper airway. Wet pox can cause respiratory distress from mechanical blockage of the airway by these lesions and can also develop into issues lower down the respiratory tract in the air sacs and lungs. Fowl pox is a viral disorder that is transmitted through direct contact between birds and also through mosquitoes. The scabs contain the virus and will spread the disease when they fall off. There is no definitive treatment for fowl pox. If you suspect that one of your turkey residents is suffering from the wet form of pox, we strongly recommend you contact your veterinarian. Thankfully, fowl pox is relatively slow spreading. There is an attenuated (live) vaccine available that is administered with a double-pronged wing stick that can help prevent the spread of the disease, but anecdotally, some sanctuaries who have used this vaccine in chickens found that some of their older residents, especially large breed chickens, appeared to have an adverse reaction to the vaccine. If you have residents with fowl pox, you should discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with your veterinarian. Back To Top

Gapeworm (Syngamus trachea)

Gapeworm is a parasitic nematode that can cause respiratory illness in turkeys.  Gapeworms migrate to the turkey’s tracheal mucosa layer where they feed off the turkey’s blood and reproduce.  This attachment leads to nodules and inflammation in the trachea and sometimes can then result in pneumonia. Occasionally, as the worms multiply, they begin to block the turkey’s trachea and severe infestations can cause the turkey to suffocate.  Turkeys with gapeworm are often seen extending their necks, shaking their heads, and gasping for air (or gaping). In some instances, you might even be able to see the worms if you look down the turkey’s throat.  Turkeys can be exposed to gapeworm through other infected birds who cough them up into the environment and shed the eggs in their feces (after coughing up eggs and then swallowing them), but they can also become infected by ingesting earthworms, slugs, snails, or flies who are intermediate hosts.  Turkeys presenting clinical signs of gapeworm can be tested with a fecal float, but your veterinarian may recommend starting treatment before the fecal results are back. Gapeworm infestations can be treated with certain de-wormers including the avermectin family (ivermectin, moxidectin, etc.) and the benzimidazole family (fenbendazole, oxfendazole, albendazole, etc.) or a combination of the above mentioned.  There are also some other families of de-wormers that are effective against gapeworms, your veterinarian will best advise you. Turkeys with severe clinical signs should be seen by a veterinarian even if it is confirmed to be a gapeworm infestation- turkeys with heavy parasite loads could require additional treatment to prevent suffocation as the worms die off. Because infected turkeys spread gapeworm eggs in the environment and because intermediate hosts such as earthworms can spread infection, you may need to rotate pastures and till the soil once the birds have been removed or restrict the flock’s access to contaminated outdoor spaces to prevent reinfection. Back To Top

Gout

If a turkey develops hyperuricemia, an excess of uric acid in the blood, which can be the result of improper diet, dehydration, or renal issues, uric acid deposits can develop in their joints or internal organs.  Turkeys with visceral gout develop uric acid deposits around their organs. Turkeys with articular gout develop uric acid build up in their joints. Symptoms include enlarged and painful joints, a turkey constantly shifting their weight from foot to foot, a shuffling walk, inability to perch, possible decrease in appetite, lethargy, weight loss, and abnormal droppings. Gout symptoms in feet are sometimes mistaken for Bumblefoot, but the key difference is that the affected area will not be hot.  Never drain a swollen foot or joint if you suspect gout. Treatment includes putting a bird on a low protein diet, proper hydration, Vitamin A, and pain management. Once manifested, gout must be treated for life as it can quickly come back. Talk to a veterinarian about your best treatment options for afflicted turkeys prior to changing their nutrition or supplementation. Back To Top

Heat Exhaustion

When it’s hot out, be sure to monitor turkeys closely for symptoms of heat exhaustion, especially your larger friends! Ensure that their living space is properly ventilated and cooled. Heat exhaustion looks like excessive panting, drooping, a dark-colored head, and collapse. The moment you suspect heat exhaustion, take the turkey inside immediately, fan them, and mist them lightly with water or rubbing alcohol on their legs and under their wings, avoiding their face. If the condition doesn’t improve, contact your veterinarian. Make sure to keep the turkey quiet and calm and don’t handle them more than necessary as they recover. Feeding turkeys during the hot season during cooler times of day can help prevent heat exhaustion, as can the placement of foot baths for turkeys to stay cool in. Back To Top

Hemorrhagic Enteritis

Hemorrhagic Enteritis (HE) is a viral infection that mostly affects young turkeys (between 6 and 12 weeks old). This disease can cause depression and bloody stool. It has a high fatality rate, so any suspicion of this disease must be evaluated quickly by a veterinarian. There are both preventative vaccines and antibiotics available for this disease. Back To Top

Internal Laying

Internal laying refers to the accumulation of eggs in a turkey’s abdominal cavity. This happens when eggs change direction and are discharged internally instead of exiting out of the oviduct and being laid. This could be caused by a number of conditions, such as inflammation, infection, or cancer. Typically, internal yolk should be reabsorbed by a healthy hen, but shell membranes or hardened egg masses can quickly cause secondary problems, and repeated internal laying quickly compounds health risks. In severe cases, surgery may be required to save the bird’s life, though this intervention may be more damaging to their quality of life than the internal laying itself. You can potentially help a bird recovering from internal laying with implantation. Back To Top

Joint Infections

Due to their larger size, turkeys can be prone to joint infections throughout their life. They can be caused by too much weight and infected pressure sores that get bacterial infections. Early symptoms include too much time sitting, trouble standing, or limping and using their wing tips on the ground to stay balanced while standing. If they have a swollen, reddened, or hot joint, have a veterinarian evaluate them immediately, and never tap a swollen joint yourself. If untreated, the infection can spread to the bone or cause permanent damage and death. Back To Top

Lice

There are numerous types of lice that can affect turkeys, but the most common is the Chicken Body Louse which is typically found around the vent or on the breast or thighs of a turkey. Turkeys with lice might appear itchy and seem to scratch or shake their heads often. They may also have poor feather condition, and severe infestations can cause scabbing. Lice move quickly, so it can sometimes be difficult to find them if a turkey only has a few. Their bodies are translucent yellow and oblong.  There might also be white sugar-looking particles around the base of the feathers which are lice eggs.  Poultry lice is different from the head lice that affects humans and the types of lice that affects other mammals. While poultry lice can live on turkey host a few months, they can only survive for about a week off of their host. This means, while humans can have poultry lice on them (and this is quite common after handling a turkey with a lice infestation) the lice cannot survive on a human for long. Chicken body lice spread from bird to bird primarily through contact with affected birds.  Treatment options include ivermectin (in most cases injectable ivermectin can be given orally to turkeys) and a topical treatment such as Frontline spray (be aware this is off-label use) or a permethrin spray or powder. Be extremely cautious using topical treatments such as Frontline and follow your veterinarian’s recommendation or package instructions regarding how much to use to prevent an accidental overdose. Back To Top

Molting

Turkeys naturally lose and replace their feathers through a process called molting.  This process typically happens annually in mature turkeys and usually occurs in the late summer or early fall when the days begin to get shorter. Be aware that stress, illness, and other environmental factors can cause a turkey to molt, regardless of the time of year. The molting process can take weeks or months, and while molting does not make a turkey sick, it is an uncomfortable process and requires a lot of additional energy (which is why molting typically occurs when egg production drastically slows or stops for the season). New feathers are called pin feathers.  When they first come in, pin feathers resemble a porcupine quill. These new feathers can be very uncomfortable to turkeys when they are coming in. Pin feathers also have a blood supply and will bleed if they are broken (pin feathers are sometimes called “blood feathers”). A broken pin feather can bleed quite a bit and should be addressed immediately. In addition to being an uncomfortable process, the creation of new feathers uses a lot of energy. Feathers are comprised mostly of protein, so feeding protein-rich treats or temporarily switching molting turkeys to a higher protein food may be beneficial. It is not uncommon for a molting turkey to be a bit less active or eat a bit less than normal, but if they are acting sick or not eating at all, there could be something else going on, and they should be seen by a veterinarian.  Also keep in mind that not not all feather loss is caused by molting- external parasites, bullying, obsessive preening, and being mounted can also cause feather loss. Back To Top

Mycoplasma 

Mycoplasma is a typical highly infectious disease that can cause severe respiratory problems in turkeys. The disease requires weeks of antibiotics, but Mycoplasma is very difficult to completely eliminate and might resurface later. For this reason, if you suspect Mycoplasma, immediately get a veterinary opinion. Common signs include clear discharge from the nose and eyes, sneezing, puffy eyes, and a swollen head due to full sinuses. Turkeys may also become lethargic, lack appetite, and seem depressed. Their head may also turn blue. If the bird has many symptoms, it means the disease has progressed to a dangerous infection. If caught early, antibiotics are effective, but they may need to be provided for the whole flock; all of the birds have likely been exposed to the pathogen. A bird can be infected while still in their egg, and it can also be spread in the air.  It’s crucial to finish the antibiotic treatment even if the bird appears to have made a full recovery because Mycoplasma hides effectively and can resurface quickly. Back To Top

Newcastle Disease

This is a highly contagious viral disease that is a worldwide problem and primarily presents as an acute respiratory disease. However, it can occasionally cause diarrhea or skin disorders. Infected birds will shed the virus in their respiratory discharges and feces. It can also be present in eggs that are laid by infected birds. Clinical signs typically appear about five days after exposure. Respiratory signs can include coughing, sneezing, gasping for air, audible and abnormal breathing sounds, and swelling of the tissues of the head and neck. Very young birds as well as older birds with decreased immune systems are the most severely affected. There are different forms of this disease which affect different areas of the turkey’s system. Nervous signs can occur following respiratory symptoms and may include depression, paralysis, tremors, and circling. Unfortunately, there is not a specific treatment for this viral disease, but antibiotics to help fight secondary bacterial infection are most commonly used. Vaccines are available for this disease, but are not typically recommended in a sanctuary setting because they will cause the turkey to test positive for the disease. Virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) is a reportable disease.  In addition to the concern regarding how this disease would affect your residents if they became infected, is the concern regarding how your residents could be affected by regional efforts to eradicate the disease. During the recent outbreak of vND in California, immediate efforts to contain the disease included quarantining affected areas and compulsory mass killings of birds regardless of whether or not they had actually been infected. After push back from the community, some exemptions were granted for birds who were not showing symptoms of disease so long as their human companion kept them indoors where they could not come into contact with other birds, agreed to regular vND testing, and agreed not to move them out of the area. These exemptions were made on a case-by-case basis, but the important point is that they became available because people advocated for birds who had not been infected to be spared. When faced with a decision that you are uncomfortable with, always reach out to other veterinarians or sanctuaries to figure out if there are other options that may be available, and always advocate for your residents. Back To Top

Northern Fowl Mites

Northern Fowl mites (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) are tiny black bugs (about the size of pepper). Turkeys with Northern Fowl mites may look like they have patches of dirt or feces under their vent (one of their favorite spots- though they can affect any area of a turkey’s body) but upon closer examination you will see that the dark patch is actually a cluster of mites. Mite infestations tend to be more damaging to the skin than lice infestations. Northern Fowl mites can be spread through bird-to-bird contact or by other animals or inanimate objects that come into contact with affected birds. Severe infestations can cause anemia, and and if left untreated, this anemia can be fatal. Unlike Red Mites, Northern Fowl mites spend most of their time on the turkey, which makes infestations easier to identify. The turkey’s living space will need to be treated alongside the chickens, but because they can exist in the environment for weeks without any food source, the residents should be treated and moved elsewhere. Ideally, the living space should be treated and then left empty for at least 6 weeks, and you should ensure birds are no longer infected before returning them to the newly cleaned living space.  Be extremely cautious using spray pesticide such as Frontline around birds as it can cause death if they absorb too much. Back To Top

Omphalitis (Or, “Mushy Chick Disease”)

Omphalitis is a bacterial infection of the navel in newly hatched turkey chicks. The abdomen of infected turkey chicks becomes enlarged and the navel will remain unhealed. The turkey chick will feel “flabby”, and there will be a putrid odor from the turkey chick. Death can begin within the first 24 hours of hatching and there is a high mortality rate. This issue generally starts with poor incubator hygiene. If you receive newly hatched turkey chicks, this is something to be aware of. Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect this disease. Back To Top

Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection. This most commonly appears on the keel because only a thin layer of skin covers this bone. If a bird is weak due to another illness or can’t easily raise themself off the ground, their keel is always abrasively touching the floor. This can damage their skin until sores develop, where infection can enter and spread to the bone. The skin might heal again over the keel, trapping the infection inside and making it difficult to diagnose. The turkey will likely develop a fever, leading to lethargy, lowered appetite, and decreased water consumption. You might find visible sores or scars over the keel area, or possibly on their feet if it’s a secondary infection to Scald. It can also be contracted without any external damage. Bone infections are painful and can be hard to treat, with better outcomes resulting with early detection and treatment. Back To Top

Prolapsed Vent

In birds, eggs and droppings come out in the same place, but never at the same time. In order to lay an egg without fecal contamination, birds safely invert their oviduct to block out waste until they’ve laid their egg. If a bird has a calcium or vitamin deficiency, a muscle weakness, too much weight, eggs that are too large, soft-shelled eggs, an internal mass, or no time to recover from egg-laying, their oviduct may come out of their body, known as prolapse. It looks like a pink or red structure visible at their vent. This should always be treated as a serious health issue. If the bird strains too hard, they could disembowel themselves, and other birds may peck at it and cause serious injury. An expert can reinsert a less-severe prolapse with a sterile glove, but a more major prolapse may require surgery. If there is an egg in the prolapse, you should drain the egg using a needle before attempting to remove the shell. If the prolapsed oviduct is contaminated by droppings, damaged, doesn’t go back in, or if it grows bigger, you must take the bird to a veterinarian and they might require surgery. In cases like this, do not lift the prolapsing bird, put the carrier around them and then carefully lift the carrier out. Someone needs to keep the prolapse in place and keep the bird calm en-route to the medical center. In other cases, the prolapse might heal itself. Prolapse is very often a secondary issue, so even a self-healed prolapse sufferer should be taken into the veterinarian to determine why they prolapsed. Due to the nature of prolapses, it’s almost certain that recovering birds will require anti-inflammatory and antibiotic treatments. A bird suffering from prolapse could potentially be given a Suprelorin implant to give them time to heal. Back To Top

Red Mites

Red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) are nocturnal bloodsuckers who mostly feed on birds at night as they sleep. Red mites (also called Chicken Mites or Roost Mites) spend a significant amount of time off of the bird and can survive for months without a host, making detection and eradication difficult. These mites can also bite humans and other animals. Turkeys with red mites may show signs of anemia, may appear restless, and may change where they roost. Both the turkeys and their entire living spaces need treatment for red mites. These mites tend to hide under furniture or in wood in the daytime. Because they can exist in the environment for months without any food source, the residents should be treated and moved elsewhere if possible. The living space will need to be treated with a turkey-safe product and, ideally, then left empty for as long as possible, and you should ensure birds are no longer infected before returning them to the newly cleaned living space (and watch closely for signs of re-infestation when they return to the space). Be extremely cautious using spray pesticide such as Frontline around birds as it can cause death if they absorb too much. Back To Top

Salmonellosis

The bacteria Salmonella is in most bird intestines. Usually this is not problematic to turkeys, but it can infect humans if they eat food with contaminated hands. To avoid salmonellosis, ensure good hand hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly in warm soapy water after touching turkeys, their eggs or their bedding. If the turkeys suffer from salmonellosis, they can be successfully treated with antibiotics recommended by your veterinarian, but it can take months before they are free of the infection. Back To Top

Scald

Scald is the name of the condition when a turkey’s leg or foot skin turns a reddish raw color and becomes painful. This is entirely a housing sanitation problem. Wet bedding and flooring causes ammonia in their droppings to burn through their skin. Scald is very painful and requires treatment, but it’s easily prevented by cleaning living spaces regularly and providing plenty of space. Good ventilation is also very important as ammonia off gases toxic vapors that injure lungs! Back To Top

Scaly Leg Mites (Knemidocoptes Mutans)

Scaly Leg Mites, or Knemidocoptes Mutans (sometimes spelled Cnemidocoptes Mutans), is caused by a microscopic mite that burrows between the scales on a turkey’s legs. A telltale sign of scaly leg mites is raised scales on the legs and feet. While raised scales can be the result of an old infestation or other issue, it’s a good idea to treat turkeys with raised scales as if they have scaly leg mites just to be safe unless you know that raised scales is normal for a particular individual.  Other signs are crusty scales, missing scales, and thickened skin in the area. Scaly leg mites are spread through contact with an affected bird. Covering a turkey’s feet and legs in petroleum jelly will suffocate scaly leg mites.  Depending on the severity and damage done to the legs, soaking and gently removing dead scales and tissue from the feet and legs first may be advised.  This treatment should be demonstrated to you by a veterinarian or expert before attempting to take it on yourself. Your veterinarian may also recommend administration of ivermectin, moxidectin, or a 10% Sulphur solution. Back To Top

Soft-Shelled Eggs

Egg-laying turkeys need a balanced nutritional diet to lay eggs without damaging their health. Poor nutrition can cause soft-shelled and malformed eggs, which can cause cloaca prolapse and egg-binding. Egg production demands a lot of calcium, and egg-laying turkeys can be deficient in calcium. The eggshell is developed last, and consists mostly of calcium carbonate, absorbed through diet and taken from their bones, so appropriate amounts of calcium are essential to the turkey’s health, especially if they overproduce eggs. If you feed the turkey’s eggs and shells back to them, they can replenish some of the lost calcium. Be aware that soft-shelled eggs could also be a symptom of an oviduct issue. Back To Top

Sour Crop (Candidiasis)

Sour crop is caused by an overgrowth of candida.  This can be caused by a variety of factors including antibiotic or corticosteroid use, unsanitary drinking water, or stress, but can also be secondary to another condition such as a crop impaction.  Turkeys with sour crop will have fluid-filled crops that are slow to empty. You may also notice a sour smell on their breath. Treatment can include the use of an antifungal treatment, such as Nystatin, and/ or an apple cider vinegar water treatment.  Never use a galvanized metal waterer to administer apple cider vinegar water, as the acid can damage the metal and contaminate the water. It’s important to also identify if the sour crop is secondary to another issue so that the underlying cause can be addressed as well.  If intubation is recommended to remove the liquid or administer medication, you must be trained by an expert before attempting this technique as it could potentially kill the bird. Back To Top

Spraddle Leg

Spraddle Leg can be caused by an issue during incubation or hatching, or by housing turkey chicks on a slippery floor. If a turkey chick cannot get proper traction on the floor, their legs will slide to one side, preventing them from developing their leg muscles. Rubber drawer or cabinet mats can help ensure chicks have enough traction. Back To Top

Staph Infection

Turkeys are prone to Staphylococcus infections in their respiratory system. This tends to happen to turkeys who are debeaked or detoed, though it can also be from other wounds where the bacteria finds its way. Young turkeys from highly stressful situations tend to be even more prone to infection. Symptoms include lameness, ruffled feathers due to being cold, swollen joints, or unexpected death. A veterinarian can treat with a strain-appropriate antibiotic if caught early. Back To Top

Upper Respiratory Infections

Turkeys who are intensively bred are highly prone to upper respiratory infections from a variety of sources. Symptoms can include coughing, (typically foul-smelling) nasal discharge, eye discharge, sinus swelling, eyelids swollen closed, lack of appetite, mouth plaques, and ruffled feathers due to being chilled. Treatment depends on the infection source, so you must get a diagnosis from your veterinarian. Back To Top

Worms

There are a variety of both roundworms and tapeworms that impact turkeys, residing in the intestines, crop, stomach, and windpipe. In a windpipe infection (typically a Gapeworm infection), the bird might also suffer from respiratory illness or decreased appetite. If they have a heavy Gapeworm infection, they must be treated very mindfully because if many worms die in their trachea, it can stop their breathing. Infected turkeys lose weight over time and may become anemic if it’s a large enough infection. Anemia can be diagnosed by a pale snood or wattle. Worms also cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies in turkeys. This may impact their egg-laying ability and the thickness of their eggshells. Brittle shells can lead to egg peritonitis, which can be deadly. Worms can be spread between residents, from wild visitors, and from environmental sources. You should schedule regular fecal examinations for all of the birds in your care (every 3 to 6 months) to ensure that they are not infected. Treatments depend on the type of worm. Deworm turkeys at least twice a year on a veterinarian’s recommendation to avoid these problems. Back To Top

SOURCES:

Turkey Health And Common Diseases | The Chicken Vet

Common Chicken Problems & Diseases | Darwin Vets

Poultry |  Merck Manuel 

Common Chicken Diseases | Morning Chores (Non-Compassionate Source)

Turkey Diseases And Problems | Modern Farming Methods (Non-Compassionate Source)

The Ultimate Guide To Red Mite | Poultry Keeper (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on July 2, 2021

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