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Potential Turkey Health Challenges

Photo: James Gibson / We Animals Media

This resource has been fully reviewed and updated by a member of The Open Sanctuary Project’s staff as of March 9, 2022

Unfortunately for the humans looking out for them, turkeys tend to hide signs of illness and injury until they are no longer able to do so. In order to catch and respond to health issues as early as possible, you’ll need to spend a lot of time observing and getting to know your residents so you are better able to catch less obvious signs of concern. 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 with a turkey resident. For more information on health challenges that commonly affect turkey chicks, check out our resource here.


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 Body System

Circulatory: Heat Exhaustion

Gastrointestinal: Blackhead, Coccidiosis, Coronaviral Enteritis (Bluecomb Disease), Coccidiosis, Crop Impaction, Fowl Cholera, Fowl Pox, Hemorrhagic Enteritis, Newcastle Disease, Sour Crop (Candidiasis), Worms

Musculoskeletal: Arthritis, Bumblefoot, Fowl Cholera, Gout, Osteomyelitis

Neurological: Avian Influenza, Botulism, Newcastle Disease

Reproductive: Avian Influenza, Egg Binding (Egg Bound), Egg Yolk Peritonitis/ Coelomitis, Internal Laying, Newcastle Disease, Prolapsed Vent, Soft-Shelled Eggs

Respiratory: Aspergillosis, Avian Influenza, Bordetellosis (Turkey Coryza), Fowl Cholera, Fowl Pox, Gapeworm, Mycoplasma, Newcastle Disease

Urinary: Gout

Skin And Feathers: Flystrike, Fowl Pox, Lice, Mites, Molting, Scaly Leg Mites

Eyes And Ears: Fowl Cholera

Arthritis

Turkeys can develop various mobility issues, including osteoarthritis (also called degenerative joint disease) and septic arthritis (also called infectious arthritis). While any breed of turkey can develop arthritis, both types are especially common in large breed turkeys.

Osteoarthritis– This type of arthritis is often associated with advanced age, though it can also occur in younger individuals as well, especially large breed turkeys who are overweight. Signs of osteoarthritis include abnormal gait, bearing weight unevenly when standing, lameness, and reduced activity. You may be able to hear or feel crepitus (grating or crunching) in the hock (this can be more difficult to feel in the knee and hip). Turkeys with osteoarthritis may spend more time lying down. Ensuring large breed turkeys remain at a healthy weight can help prevent, or delay, osteoarthritis, but even turkeys who are at a healthy weight could develop this condition. Treatment with analgesics and creating a living space that is easy for arthritic turkeys to navigate can help keep residents comfortable.

Septic Arthritis– Septic arthritis is inflammation of the joint(s) due to introduction of an infectious agent, which may result following septicemia or a localized infection of the joint. Large breed turkeys appear to be more prone to septic arthritis than other turkeys. In some cases, the joint may be red, swollen, hot, and possibly open and oozing. However, in other cases, there may not be obvious outward signs of infection, such as heat or significant swelling, and the turkey may look like they have a non-infectious mobility issue. Be sure to work closely with your veterinarian if a resident is showing signs of mobility issues and to discuss the possibility of septic arthritis. While your veterinarian may decide to tap the joint during their physical evaluation, this should not be attempted by anyone other than a veterinary professional- doing so could introduce bacteria into the joint and/or damage the internal structures of the joint, causing further issues. A veterinary diagnosis is imperative. Caregivers sometimes confuse articular gout with infection, and the two conditions require different treatments, so be sure to work closely with your veterinarian. There are numerous pathogens that can cause septic arthritis including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Mycoplasma meleagridis. Septic arthritis can be difficult to treat and typically requires prolonged systemic antibiotic treatment along with analgesics. Regional limb perfusion or the use of antibiotic-soaked gauze or impregnated beads may be recommended to deliver the antibiotics to the infected joint. Septic arthritis can cause permanent joint damage and predispose the individual to degenerative joint disease. Even following resolution of the infection, the individual may continue to have mobility issues and may require ongoing analgesics.

Sources:

Geriatric Diseases of Pet Birds | Merck Veterinary Manual

Noninfectious Skeletal Disorders in Poultry Broilers | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Infectious Skeletal Disorders in Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Aspergillosis

Aspergillosis is a non-contagious fungal disease that typically manifests as respiratory illness in birds. While there are numerous species of Aspergillus that can cause aspergillosis, Aspergillus fumigatus, a ubiquitous soil fungus, is the most common cause in chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Aspergillosis is an opportunistic infection- while birds are constantly exposed to fungal spores, often without developing disease, immunosuppression (such as from stress, corticosteroid use, disease, or malnutrition) and being exposed to large numbers of aerosolized spores may result in disease. Poor ventilation, unsanitary conditions, wet bedding, moldy food, and warm, humid conditions increase the risk of aspergillosis. Therefore, you can help protect your residents by properly storing food, keeping living spaces clean and well ventilated, and ensuring spaces do not become warm and humid. Straw bedding can harbor mold and fungus, so wood shavings or other non-straw (and non-hay) bedding is a better option if aspergillosis is a concern. Aspergillosis typically causes acute signs in young birds (often called “brooder pneumonia”) and a more chronic condition in older birds. Signs of aspergillosis include open-mouth breathing, labored breathing, tail bobbing, gasping, and an elevated respiratory rate. Other signs include inappetence and lethargy. Be sure to contact your veterinarian if you suspect aspergillosis. Diagnosis can be challenging, so be sure to work with your veterinarian to see what diagnostics they recommend. Treatment is also challenging and often requires aggressive and prolonged antifungal treatment (such as itraconazole) as well as supportive care. In addition to treatment, be sure to take steps to reduce your residents’ exposure to spores by keeping living spaces dry, ensuring food and bedding are not wet or moldy, switching from straw to a safer bedding option, and improving ventilation.  

Sources:

Aspergillosis | Niles Animal Hospital And Bird Medical Center

Mycotic Diseases of Pet Birds | Merck Veterinary Manual

Current Therapy In Avian Medicine And Surgery | Brian L. Speer

Diseases of Poultry 13th Edition | David Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Avian Influenza (Or, “Bird Flu”)

The term “avian influenza” refers to any disease or infection in birds that is caused by Type A influenza viruses. Free-flying aquatic birds (such as migratory waterfowl and shorebirds) are the natural host of Type A influenza viruses, but these viruses can also affect domesticated farmed birds and other bird species. To read more about avian influenza (AI) check out our resource here. 

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Blackhead

Blackhead, or histomoniasis, is caused by Histomonas meleagridis, a parasitic protozoan that can be transmitted by the cecal worm Heterakis gallinarum. Turkeys are particularly susceptible to this disease, and turkey chicks even more so. While chickens can become ill from blackhead disease, they are often asymptomatic carriers and can spread H. meleagridis without being obviously affected. Because of this, most sources stress that chickens and turkeys should never live together. However, many sanctuaries have been able to house chickens and turkeys together without issue. If you decide to house your chicken and turkey residents together, we recommend having a discussion with your veterinarian about the risk of blackhead disease and how to best mitigate this risk (which may include frequent fecal testing and/ or routine deworming). While blackhead disease is a concern for turkeys of all ages, the risk of mortality is highest in poults under 12 weeks of age and, therefore, it’s recommended that poults younger than 12 weeks of age be kept away from chickens and spaces chickens have inhabited. Some sanctuaries have made it a policy to wait until turkeys are at least 6 months old before introducing them to chickens, while others feel it is best to always house chickens and turkeys separately so as to further reduce the risk of this serious disease.

Turkeys can become infected by ingesting food, earthworms, or feces containing H. meleagridis. Transmission is also possible through a process called cloacal drinking (rhythmic contractions of the cloaca carry contaminated fecal material from the environment into the colon). Signs of blackhead disease include decreased appetite, lethargy, drooping wings, ruffled feathers, and mustard-yellow droppings that may also contain flecks of blood. Sadly, mortality in turkeys is typically between 80% and 100%. In younger birds, the disease is acute and may result in death in only a few days, while adults may remain sick for some time and become emaciated before eventually succumbing to the disease. Currently, there are no approved treatments for blackhead disease in the US, but according to information provided by Merck Veterinary Manual, “Historically, nitroimidazoles such as ronidazole, ipronidazole, and dimetridazole were used for prevention and treatment and were highly effective.” Be sure to contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect a resident has blackhead disease.

Sources:

Infectious Enteroheptatitis (Blackhead) | C.D. LEE, D.V.M., M.S. (Non-Compassionate Source)

Histomoniasis In Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Blackhead Disease in Poultry | FDA (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Bordetellosis (Turkey Coryza)

Bordetellosis is a highly contagious disease of the upper respiratory tract that primarily affects young turkeys- evidence suggests that turkeys become more resistant to this disease at 5-6 weeks of age. While the bacteria Bordetella avium was once believed to be the only cause, B. hinzii is now also recognized as a potential cause of this disease. Bordetellosis is primarily a disease of turkeys, but it has also been reported in quail and ostrich chicks. According to microbiologist Dr. Karen B. Register, B. avium has also been identified in healthy individuals of other bird species, including ducks and geese, but has not been shown to cause disease. In chickens, B. avium is an opportunistic pathogen and could cause disease if the upper respiratory tract is damaged, which may occur due to a different disease or environmental irritant. Bordetellosis is spread through close contact with infected turkeys or by coming into contact with bedding, food, or water that has been contaminated by an infected individual, and these can remain sources of infection for up to 6 months. Within flocks of susceptible turkeys, infection typically affects 80-100% of the flock. On its own, bordetelloisis is rarely fatal and individuals usually recover within 4-6 weeks. Unfortunately, secondary infection, such as with Escherichia coli, is not uncommon and results in more serious disease and an increased mortality rate. Signs of bordetellosis include swelling around the eyes, bubbly or watery eyes, nasal discharge, sneezing, coughing, open-mouth breathing, labored breathing, abnormal breathing sounds, and a change in vocalization. Turkeys with bordetellosis may also be lethargic, show a decrease in appetite and water consumption, and may be seen huddling together. The nares, as well as the feathers on the head and wings of individuals with bordetellosis often become crusted with sticky discharge during the first two weeks of the disease. Contact your veterinarian if any of your residents are showing signs such as these. They can recommend diagnostic testing as well as treatment options. Unfortunately, antimicrobial treatment is rarely effective against B. avium (according to Dr. Register, there is no information about the efficacy of antimicrobial treatment against B. hinzii), but antibiotics may be recommended to treat secondary infection. B. avium can be killed by most common disinfectants, but we recommend talking to your veterinarian about how to decontaminate potential sources of infection and how to best protect other residents.

Sources:

Bordetellosis in Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual

Diseases of Poultry 13th Edition | David Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Botulism

Botulism is more common in waterfowl, but can also occur in turkeys. It is caused by ingestion of neurotoxins produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. While this bacteria is found in the environment without causing issues, under certain conditions the bacteria multiplies and produces toxins. Common sources of these toxins are decaying vegetation and carcasses, as well as maggots feeding on decaying matter. Signs of botulism include progression from weakness to flaccid paralysis of legs, wings, neck, and eyelids. Botulism is sometimes called “limberneck” due to the neck paralysis associated with the disease. The feathers on the neck may also become loose and come out easily. The time between ingestion of the neurotoxin and onset of clinical signs, as well as the severity of those signs, is dependent on the amount of toxin ingested. High doses of toxin can result in clinical signs developing within hours, whereas clinical signs may take a few days to develop if lower doses are ingested. High levels of the toxin are lethal, resulting in respiratory paralysis. Treatment includes prompt administration of antitoxin and supportive care. If botulism is suspected, in addition to seeking urgent veterinary care, it is important to identify the source of the toxin and prevent residents from further access. Prevention includes keeping residents away from decaying foods and carcasses and ensuring they have ready access to fresh food and water.

Sources:

Botulism In Poultry | Poultry Extension

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

Botulism In Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Bumblefoot

Bumblefoot can affect all breeds of turkeys but is especially common in large breed individuals. Bumblefoot can be caused by many different factors including environmental conditions (such as poor sanitation or rough flooring or perching materials) or physical conditions (such as obesity or arthritis). Individuals who favor one foot over the other, due to pain or a mechanical leg issue, may develop bumblefoot on their “good” side. Because this foot has to bear more weight, the skin can become damaged over time. Without proper interventions, bumblefoot can progress from a minor issue to something far more severe.

Bumblefoot is typically categorized as mild, moderate, or severe, with severe cases involving infection in the bone (osteomyelitis). The following 1-5 grading system gives a good overview of the progression of this disease and how it affects the overall prognosis, but be aware that your veterinarian may use a different grading system to evaluate and talk about bumblefoot.

Grade 1– At this stage, only the outer skin is affected. It may be very smooth (due to the loss of the small papilla normally present), and it may also be shiny and red, but there is no open wound or sign of infection. With proper interventions, prognosis at this stage is excellent.

Grade 2– At this stage, there is damage to the skin and there may be a scab, callous, or open wound, but the foot will not be obviously swollen. With proper interventions, prognosis at this stage is good.

Grade 3– At this stage, the disease process, and possibly infection, have progressed deeper into the tissues of the foot. The foot will be swollen and painful, and there may be discharge. Prognosis at this stage is good to guarded.

Grade 4– At this stage, the infection has progressed to involve deeper structures within the foot such as tendons and bone. Individuals with this stage of disease may develop tenosynovitis (inflammation of the tendon sheath), arthritis, and/ or osteomyelitis. Prognosis at this stage is guarded to poor.

Grade 5– At this stage, the condition is so severe that it results in debilitating deformity and loss of function. Prognosis at this stage is grave.

It is important to address bumblefoot early before it becomes actively infected and to prevent the introduction of bacteria by keeping the area clean and covered. Depending on the underlying cause, when caught early, foot wraps and changes to the environment may be enough to prevent progression if there is no infection. However, if the primary cause is osteoarthritis in the opposite limb, it can be difficult to fully resolve bumblefoot and have the skin of the foot completely heal.

Be sure to work with a veterinarian if one of your residents has bumblefoot, especially if the affected foot is warmer than normal, painful, or swollen, or if it has discharge, an open wound, or a large scab. Your veterinarian can assess the foot to determine how severe the condition is (which may require x-rays), prescribe appropriate medications, and help create a treatment plan. Depending on the severity, treatment may include systemic antibiotics, analgesics, soaking the foot, various types of foot wraps, delivery of antibiotics directly to the affected area (for example, through the use of antibiotic-impregnated beads), and in some cases, surgical debridement (done by a licensed veterinarian with appropriate analgesics and anesthetics). Keep in mind that the individual’s good foot may be vulnerable to developing bumblefoot if they are especially painful and reluctant to bear weight on the affected foot. Be sure to keep a close eye on the other foot and protect it with a padded bandage as needed.

It is important to work with a veterinarian to determine which structures of the foot are affected, to establish an appropriate treatment plan, and if the treatment involves wound management or wrapping the foot, you must be shown how to do this properly. Left untreated, bumblefoot infections can have devastating consequences.

Sources:

Geriatric Diseases of Pet Birds | Merck Veterinary Manual

Pododermatitis In Birds And Small Mammals | Schoemaker and Van Zeeland

Bumblefoot Surgery And Management | Great Western Exotic Vets

A Multifaceted Approach to the Treatment of Bumblefoot in Raptors | J. David Remple (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis in turkeys refers to disease caused by the protozoal parasites Eimeria spp. While turkeys of all ages can become infected, disease is most often seen in younger poults. Turkeys who have a weakened immune system due to disease or stress are also at an increased risk of developing coccidiosis. Eimeria oocysts are spread in the feces of infected turkeys, which can result in contamination of food, water, soil, and bedding. Oocysts can also be spread by mechanical means on shoes, equipment, and other fomites. After being shed in the feces, oocysts sporulate and become infective. Other turkeys become infected by ingesting infective oocysts, with clinical disease occurring in susceptible individuals who ingest relatively large numbers of infective oocysts. Following infection, the turkey develops protective immunity against the particular species of Eimeria they were exposed to. Of the species of Eimeria that affect turkeys, four are considered pathogenic: E. adenoides, E. dispersa, E. gallopavonis, and E. meleagrimitis. Signs of coccidiosis in turkeys include diarrhea, bloody feces, loss of appetite, weight loss, ruffled feathers, droopiness, and other more general signs of illness. Eimeria oocysts can be detected via a fecal float. If Eimeria oocysts are detected on a routine fecal examination and the individual is not showing signs of clinical disease, we recommend consulting with your veterinarian about whether or not treatment is necessary. Coccidiosis is self-limiting and treatment may not be recommended; however, individuals showing clinical signs of disease may require treatment as prescribed by your veterinarian. You can reduce your residents’ exposure to Eimeria oocysts by properly quarantining new residents, regularly removing feces and soiled bedding from living spaces, and by keeping food and water sources clean. 

Sources:

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

Diseases of Poultry 13th Edition | David Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

Overview Of Coccidiosis In Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Overview Of Coccidiosis | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Coronaviral Enteritis (Bluecomb Disease)

Coronaviral enteritis, also called bluecomb disease, is a highly contagious disease caused by Turkey Coronavirus (TCoV). It is believed that turkeys are the only natural host of TCoV. While turkeys of any age can become infected, clinical disease is most commonly seen in turkey poults who are less than a few weeks old. The onset of symptoms is sudden and includes inappetence, reduced water consumption, dehydration, depression, hypothermia, weight loss, and watery diarrhea that may be frothy and contain mucus. In turkey hens who are actively laying eggs, coronaviral enteritis often causes a drop in egg production and the eggs that are laid will lack normal pigmentation. Coronaviral enteritis can be fatal. TCoV is spread in the droppings of infected turkeys, and those who have recovered from the disease continue to shed the virus for weeks after clinical signs of disease have resolved. It is believed that turkeys who survive TCoV infection develop protective immunity and will not develop clinical disease or shed the virus if exposed to it again. In flocks of turkeys who have never been exposed to this virus, the entire flock will typically become infected due to the contagious nature and rapid spread of this virus. The virus can also be carried to other flocks on fomites (such as shoes, tools, or equipment) that comes into contact with the droppings of an infected turkey, and it’s possible that mechanical vectors (such as houseflies and wild birds) can contribute to the spread of this virus as well. Contact your veterinarian if one of your turkey residents is showing the symptoms listed above. There are a variety of diseases that produce similar symptoms, so diagnostic testing will be necessary. There is currently no treatment for coronaviral enteritis, but your veterinarian may recommend antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infection. Supportive care will be necessary if the individual is not eating or drinking. If you care for multiple turkey flocks, talk to your veterinarian about biosecurity practices that can reduce the risk of spreading TCoV to other flocks.

Sources:

Coronaviral Enteritis Of Turkeys | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Infection With A Pathogenic Turkey Coronavirus Isolate Negatively Affects Growth Performance And Intestinal Morphology Of Young Turkey Poults In Canada | M. H. Gomaa, D. Yoo, D. Ojkic & J. R. Barta (Non-Compassionate Source)

Diseases Of Poultry 13th Edition | David E. Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

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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). 

Source:

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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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  

Source:

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Egg Yolk Peritonitis/ Coelomitis

Peritonitis is inflammation of the peritoneum (the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity). Egg Yolk Peritonitis (also called EYP or Egg Peritonitis) occurs when there is egg material present in a turkey’s abdomen causing the inflammation. Egg material can enter the abdomen in various ways, either from being released from the ovary directly into the abdomen, by being expelled back out of the oviduct for some reason, or from a ruptured oviduct (often due to a severe oviductal impaction). Bacteria quickly grow in the resultant environment. Depending on the underlying cause of the inflammation/infection, it is not uncommon for the bird to make a full recovery with appropriate treatment, especially if there was not an underlying infectious process causing the issue. On a veterinarian’s recommendation, Egg Yolk Peritonitis can be treated with intervention (draining of abdominal fluid), antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and potentially Suprelorin implantation to give them time to recover, though prognosis is highly dependent on what caused the egg material to end up in their abdomen in the first place. If abdominal fluid is collected, it can be cultured to identify bacterial causes and to determine what drugs the bacteria are susceptible to. It’s a good idea to request a complete blood panel if egg yolk peritonitis is suspected.

Sources:

Coelomitis In Birds | Brian Speer, DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice), DECZM (Avian) Medical Center For Birds

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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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.

Source:

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Fowl Cholera

Caused by Pasteurella multocida, fowl cholera is a contagious bacterial disease that can affect both wild and domesticated bird species, including turkeys, ducks, geese, and chickens. Fowl cholera typically occurs in late summer, fall, or winter, and can manifest as acute, chronic, or asymptomatic infection. Acute infection is often fatal, and unfortunately, signs of illness usually only manifest a few hours before death. Signs of acute fowl cholera include fever, inappetence, increased respiratory rate, puffy feathers, and oral mucous discharge. Cyanosis is typically seen at the end stages. Individuals will also have diarrhea, which starts out whitish and watery and later contains mucous and turns a greenish color. Individuals who survive an acute infection may remain chronically infected. P. multocida strains with low virulence may cause chronic infection without acute infection. Signs of chronic infection may include swelling of the sinuses, wattles, foot pads, along the keel, or in the joints of the wing or legs. If infection in the ear occurs, the individual may develop torticollis (wry neck). Respiratory infection may cause open-mouth breathing and tracheal rales. Turkeys with P. multocida infection may develop pneumonia. P. multocida can be introduced to a flock by an asymptomatic or chronically infected individual, but it’s also possible for wild birds to transmit this infection to sanctuary residents if they are able to come into contact with one another. While some mammalian farmed animal species can be carriers of P. multocida, according to Diseases of Poultry, 13th Edition, these organisms do not typically cause disease in turkeys, with the exception of P. multocida from pigs. Infected individuals spread the bacteria in discharge from the eyes, nares, or mouth, which then contaminates the environment as well as food and water sources. The bacteria can also be spread in feces of infected birds. Contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect a resident has fowl cholera. Diagnosis is confirmed with bacterial culture. Your veterinarian can recommend treatment, but successful treatment is dependent on how early and aggressively treatment is initiated and whether or not other infections are present. There are vaccines available, but these do not offer complete protection. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about whether or not vaccination is recommended and which vaccine is most appropriate. The bacteria can be killed by sunlight, heat, drying, and common disinfectants.  

Sources:

Diseases of Poultry 13th Edition | David Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

Fowl Cholera | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

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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.

Sources:

Fowl Pox In Chickens And Turkeys | Merck Veterinary Manual 

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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.

Sources:

Session 3: Respiratory, Neurological And Musculo-Skeletal Diseases | Backyard Poultry Online ‘Mini Series’

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

Helminthiasis in Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Gout

Gout is caused by hyperuricemia, an excess of uric acid in the blood, which can develop if a turkey produces more uric acid than their kidneys can excrete or if they have kidney issues that impair their ability to excrete uric acid normally. This results in uric acid deposits within the body. There are two forms of gout that affect birds- visceral and articular gout.

Visceral Gout– Turkeys with visceral gout develop uric acid deposits around their visceral organs. Common areas affected include the liver, spleen, and pericardium. Possible signs of visceral gout include lethargy, poor appetite, weight loss, ruffled feathers, and abnormal droppings. However, individuals with visceral gout may die suddenly without showing obvious clinical signs and a diagnosis of visceral gout may be made during a post-mortem examination.

Articular Gout– Turkeys with articular gout develop uric acid buildup in their joints, typically in their feet, resulting in soft, painful swelling. Articular gout is sometimes mistaken for bumblefoot, but a key difference is that swelling from articular gout will not be hot. Your veterinarian may take a sample of the material for diagnostic purposes, but you should not attempt to drain affected areas yourself.

Individuals showing any of the signs listed above should be seen by a veterinarian for evaluation. There are a variety of factors that can contribute to the development of gout, including dietary-related issues (ex. prolonged vitamin A deficiency, excess dietary calcium, diets with excessively high levels of protein), infectious diseases that result in kidney damage, and toxins (ex. mycotoxins, certain antibiotics, overdose of insecticides or disinfectants). Your veterinarian can recommend further diagnostics and appropriate treatment which may include fluid therapy, medications to manage hyperuricemia (such as allopurinol and colchicine), and possible dietary changes and/ or supplementation (such as with vitamin A). Treatment will depend on the specific situation, so be sure to defer to your veterinarian. In the case of articular gout, your veterinarian may also recommend surgery. This is a painful procedure that can result in profuse bleeding and secondary infection and should only be done by a licensed veterinarian using appropriate anesthetics and analgesics.

Sources:

Avian Renal Disease: Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, And Therapy | Michael Lierz, Dr. Med. Vet.

Evaluating And Treating The Kidneys | M. Scott Echols, DVM, Dipl ABVP- Avian

Gout Management in Poultry | The Poultry Site (Non-Compassionate Source)

Avian Urolithiasis (Visceral Gout): An Overview | The Poultry Site (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Heat Exhaustion

When it’s hot out, be sure to monitor turkeys closely for symptoms of heat exhaustion, especially large breed turkeys who are more prone to heat-related illness. During warm weather, you must implement appropriate strategies to keep indoor living spaces cool and offer other opportunities for residents to get relief from the sun and heat. It’s important to note that as humidity rises, the temperature at which a turkey is likely to develop heat-related illness lowers. Therefore, the most dangerous times for turkeys are periods of high humidity and high temperatures.

It’s important to watch for signs that a turkey is too warm, and make adjustments to their living space BEFORE the condition progresses to dangerous heat exhaustion. A turkey who is too hot, but not yet suffering from heat exhaustion, will stand with their wings held away from their body and will breathe with their mouth open. As the condition progresses, what starts as slight open-mouth breathing will become more exaggerated panting, possibly with their neck extended, and their respiratory rate will increase. Their head may become dark, they may develop diarrhea, and will appear lethargic. In advanced stages, the turkey may collapse or even have seizures.

Call your veterinarian immediately if one of your residents appears to be suffering from heat exhaustion. It’s important to gradually lower their body temperature- this can be done by moving them out of the sun (but keep handling to an absolute minimum), misting their feet and legs with cool, but not ice-cold, water, and positioning a fan to cool them off. In addition to cooling them off, your veterinarian will be able to advise you about how to safely address their dehydration and possible electrolyte imbalance and may also recommend other treatments, including antibiotics to address secondary immunosuppression and bacterial translocation.

Sources:

Turkey Care | Farm Sanctuary

Research Note: Evaluation Of A Heat Stress Model To Induce Gastrointestinal Leakage In Broiler Chickens | Poultry Science (Non-Compassionate Source)

The Effect Of Heat Stress On Intestinal Integrity And Salmonella Invasion In Broiler Birds | Journal Of Thermal Biology (Non-Compassionate Source)

How To Spot Signs And Prevent Heat Stress In Chickens | VPSI (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Hemorrhagic Enteritis

Hemorrhagic enteritis (HE) is a viral disease caused by Hemorrhagic Enteritis Virus (HEV). Transmission of HEV is primarily via the fecal-oral route or through a process called “cloacal drinking” (rhythmic contractions of the cloaca carry contaminated fecal material from the environment into the colon). Clinical HE is rarely seen in turkeys younger than 4 weeks old, primarily due to maternal antibody protection. Most cases of HE occur in turkeys between the ages of 6 and 11 weeks old. Acute HE causes a rapid onset of depression, bloody droppings, and potentially death, all within 24 hours. Turkeys who recover from HE develop temporary immunosuppression and may develop secondary infections within 10-14 days of exposure to HEV. Secondary Escherichia coli infection is especially common following HE. Subclinical HE does not present the same clinical signs as acute disease but can cause immunosuppression and secondary infection. Be sure to contact your veterinarian if you suspect your residents have HE. If initiated early during an HE outbreak, vaccination can reduce clinical signs. In the past, HE has also been treated with antiserum from recovered turkeys. Secondary infections that develop should be treated based on your veterinarian’s recommendations. Immunity against HE following infection is long-lasting and may provide lifelong protection.

Sources:

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

Diseases of Poultry 13th Edition | David Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

Haemorrhagic Enteritis Of Turkeys – Current Knowledge | Kuldeep Dhama, Vasudevan Gowthaman, Kumaragurubaran Karthik, Ruchi Tiwari, Swati Sachan, M. Asok Kumar, M. Palanivelu, Yashpal Singh Malik, Raj Kumar Singh (Director) & Muhammad Munir (Non-Compassionate Source)

Hemorrhagic Enteritis / Marble Spleen Disease In Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Hemorrhagic Enteritis Virus (HEV) | Poultry Health Services (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Internal Laying

Internal laying refers to the accumulation of egg follicles in the turkey’s abdominal cavity. This happens when follicles 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 (or following a salpingectomy if the ovary does not regress). Sometimes, internal yolk can be reabsorbed by a healthy hen, especially if it remains intact and does not rupture, but shell membranes, hardened egg masses, and ruptured follicles can quickly cause secondary problems, and repeated internal laying quickly compounds health risks including egg yolk peritonitis. In severe cases, surgery may be required to save the bird’s life, though this intervention can carry significant risk. You can potentially help a bird who is recovering from internal laying with implantation.

Source:

Internal Layer (Poultry) | Merck Veterinary Manual

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Lice

The most common type of lice that affects turkeys is the Chicken Body Louse (Menacanthus stramineus). Turkeys can also be infested with other types of lice such as the Large Turkey Louse (Chelopistes meleagridis) and Slender Turkey Louse (Oxylipeurus polytrapezius), but compared to the chicken body louse, much less is known about these types of lice. Poultry lice are different from the head lice that affect humans and the types of lice that affect other mammals, and 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. Adult chicken body lice are yellow, oblong, and about 3-3.5mm long. Lice move quickly, so it can sometimes be difficult to find them if a turkey only has a few. The chicken body louse lives on the host’s skin, typically around the vent or on the breast or thighs. This chewing louse feeds primarily on feathers and pieces of skin, but can also feed on the blood inside of new feathers (blood feathers). Lice lay their eggs in clusters at the base of the host’s feathers, and these egg clusters can look like sugar particles. Turkeys with lice might appear itchy and have poor feather condition. Severe infestations can cause skin irritation, scabbing, and secondary infection. Lice spread through contact with infected birds. Treatment options include ivermectin and a topical treatment such as Frontline spray or a permethrin spray or powder- be aware that some treatments require extra-label use. Be extremely cautious using topical treatments such as Frontline, and follow your veterinarian’s recommendation or package instructions regarding how much to use in order to prevent an accidental overdose. Ask your veterinarian if you’ll need to administer a second treatment since many treatments do not kill louse eggs. 

Sources:

Lice Of Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Mites

Turkeys can be affected by a variety of mites, including the Northern Fowl Mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum), the Poultry Red Mite (Dermanyssus gallinae), the Tropical Fowl Mite (Ornithonyssus bursa), and the Scaly Leg Mite (Knemidocoptes mutans). For information on the Scaly Leg Mite, please follow the link above. 

Northern Fowl Mite– This blood-sucking parasite affects numerous species of birds, including turkeys and chickens. Northern fowl mites live on the feathers of the host, laying their eggs at the base of the feather, and traveling to the host’s skin to feed. The vent area is the most common site for northern fowl mites, but they may also be found on the legs, around the preen gland, or on other areas of the body. Patches of mites create a “dirty” appearance, similar to that of feathers caked with feces or mud, but upon closer inspection, you will be able to detect movement within the mite cluster. Heavy infestation can cause considerable damage to the skin, such as crusting and scabbing, and can also cause anemia, which in severe cases can be life-threatening. Northern fowl mites can live off the host for weeks depending on the temperature and humidity. 

Poultry Red Mite (also known as Red Mite, Chicken Mite, Roost Mite, or Poultry Mite)– This blood-sucking mite affects numerous avian species, including turkeys, chickens, and pigeons. While red mites can bite other animals, including humans, they cannot survive on them. Red mites are nocturnal, feeding at night and spending the day off of their host in cracks and crevices in the living space, on roosts, or in nest boxes. Unlike northern fowl mites, red mites lay their eggs off of the host. Red mites are small, but visible to the naked eye. However, detection of red mites, especially at low levels, can be difficult since they are not on the host during the day. If you suspect red mites, you can check your residents at night, or you can thoroughly examine nest boxes, roosts, and other likely daytime hiding spots. Some sources suggest taping a piece of corrugated cardboard in the area where residents roost, as red mites will likely move to the cardboard during the day, making detection easier. Signs of a red mite infestation include general irritation/ agitation and birds changing where they roost at night. Turkeys may become anemic due to blood loss, and in cases of severe infestation, this anemia can be life-threatening. Red mites can live off the host for months.

Tropical Fowl Mite–  This mite affects various wild and domesticated bird species, including turkeys, chickens, and ducks, and if a bird host is not available, this mite will bite humans. Tropical fowl mites are similar to northern fowl mites, but lay eggs both on the host and in the bird’s nest. As its name suggests, it is found most often in warm regions.

Turkeys become infected with the above mites through direct contact with infected birds (including wild birds), from other animals (including humans) who have come in contact with the mites, or from fomites or an infested environment. Proper quarantine procedures play an important role in preventing the introduction of mites to your residents and their living spaces, though wild birds can also be a source of infection. Eradication of mites can be difficult and should involve treatment of the individual birds as well as the environment (treatment of the environment is especially important when dealing with red mites). Your veterinarian can make treatment recommendations, which may include Ivermectin and/ or Frontline (Fipronil) spray- some treatments may require extra-label use. Be aware that some insecticide treatments are effective against mites but dangerous (both to birds and humans). Always use caution and be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions regarding application to avoid accidental overdose. While diatomaceous earth is often recommended as a safe and “natural” treatment, it is rarely enough to treat a mite infestation and is harmful if inhaled. There are various premise treatments that can be used to treat the habitat, but be sure to read all instructions and remove birds for as long as necessary based on package instructions (and do not return them to the space until all fumes have dissipated).

Sources:

Red Mites | The Chicken Vet

Mites Of Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Chicken Mite | Veterinary Entomology (Non-Compassionate Source)

Northern Fowl Mite | Veterinary Entomology (Non-Compassionate Source)

Northern Fowl Mite | The Chicken Vet (Non-Compassionate Source)

Tropical Fowl Mite | University Of Florida(Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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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.

Source:

Turkey Care | Farm Sanctuary

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Mycoplasma 

The term Mycoplasmosis is used to refer to infectious diseases caused by micro-organisms called Mycoplasma. Turkeys can be affected by numerous mycoplasmas, but one of the most common is Mycoplasma gallisepticum which can cause chronic respiratory disease in turkeys, as well as other birds such as chickens and gamebirds. This condition is spread from bird to bird through respiratory secretions and aerosols and can also be spread by contaminated clothing, equipment, or other fomites. Clinical signs can range from very mild to severe respiratory distress, but turkeys are often more severely impacted than chickens. You may note nasal discharge and bubbles around the eyes in addition to swelling around the eye. Birds affected by mycoplasma can become vulnerable to secondary viral or bacterial infections. Your veterinarian can perform laboratory testing for an official diagnosis. Thankfully, successful resolution frequently occurs with early identification and proper antibiotic treatment. Your veterinarian may recommend a flock-wide treatment in addition to treating symptomatic residents individually. More advanced cases sometimes require surgical debridement of the sinuses in addition to antibiotic treatment. Birds infected with Mycoplasma gallisepticum often have future episodes of illness, especially during times of stress or sudden temperature fluctuation.

Sources:

Mycoplasma gallisepticum Infection in Poultry | Merck Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Newcastle Disease

This is a highly contagious viral disease that is a worldwide problem and primarily presents as an acute respiratory disease. Severity of disease is based on many factors including the virulence of the virus. The World Organisation For Animal Health (OIE) describes three forms of the disease: lentogenic (or mild), mesogenic (or moderate), and velogenic (or very virulent). Lentogenic strains, while widespread, cause few disease outbreaks, according to the OIE, and are not reportable. Virulent Newcastle disease (vND, sometimes referred to as Exotic Newcastle disease) is a reportable disease. 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. Birds may become infected through direct contact with infected birds or by coming into contact with food, water, equipment, or other fomites contaminated with the virus. Clinical signs typically appear 2-12 days after exposure, with the average being 5 days following exposure. There are different forms of this disease which affect different areas of the bird’s body. Respiratory signs can include coughing, sneezing, gasping for air, and audible and abnormal breathing sounds. Very young birds as well as older birds with a weakened immune system are the most severely affected. Nervous signs may include depression, paralysis, tremors, and circling. In females who are actively laying, they may lay abnormal eggs, lay fewer eggs, or stop laying all together. Typical signs of vND include respiratory illness, watery green diarrhea, depression, and swelling of the tissues of the head and neck.

In addition to the concern regarding how vND 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 a recent outbreak of vND in California (2018-2020), 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. We recommend you pay attention to vND outbreaks and have a plan in place to protect your residents should it be detected in your area. Vaccines are available for this disease, but are not typically recommended in a sanctuary and are not guaranteed to prevent infection.

Sources:

Newcastle Disease | World Organisation For Animal Health (Non-Compassionate Source)

Newcastle Disease in Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) | USDA APHIS (Non-Compassionate Source)

Diseases of Poultry 13th Edition | David Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis, infection of the bone, can be caused by various pathogens, but Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli are often to blame. While osteomyelitis can occur following a compound (or open) fracture, in large breed turkeys, it is often caused by an advanced case of bumblefoot or a chronic keel sore. Turkeys may develop a keel sore as a result of lying down more than usual due to illness or injury, and/ or due to obesity or lying down on hard, abrasive surfaces. Prognosis of osteomyelitis depends on which bone(s) and how much of the bone is infected. Surgical debridement of infected bone may be possible, but if the entire bone is affected, prognosis is poor. Treatment may include antibiotic-impregnated beads or regional limb perfusion, depending on the location of infection.

Sources:

Top Ten Orthopedic Diseases- Avian | VetFolio

Infectious Skeletal Disorders in Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Prolapsed Vent

If you see tissue protruding from a turkey’s vent, this is a prolapse. Severity depends on the amount of tissue that has prolapsed, whether the tissue is damaged or necrotic, whether or not the tissue can easily be reinserted, and how the turkey is behaving overall. Be aware that other birds will likely peck at another bird’s prolapsed tissue (especially if there is any sign of blood in the area), causing damage, so a turkey with a prolapsed vent should be kept away from other birds. When moving a turkey with a prolapsed vent, do not lift them. It’s safest to guide them into a carrier or use another device to move them out of the area with minimal handling. Sometimes the stress of handling causes the bird to further strain and prolapse more tissue. Because of their large size, a turkey could disembowel themselves due to straining.

A very small prolapse of healthy-looking tissue may go in on its own with little intervention. You can try gently blowing on the tissue, and if that doesn’t work you can use a sterile glove and lubricant and try to gently reinsert the tissue. If the tissue does not go in easily and stay in, the turkey should be moved to a safe space away from other birds.

Work with your veterinarian to have the turkey assessed, both to have the prolapse itself addressed and also to determine the underlying cause of the prolapse. In addition to ensuring birds are not able to peck at the exposed tissue, the other important thing is to keep the tissue from drying out. This can be done by applying a lubricant, such as KY Jelly, to the exposed tissue multiple times during the day. Your veterinarian will likely recommend an anti-inflammatory medication and an antibiotic. If the turkey does not have a Suprelorin implant, you should discuss this option with your veterinarian.

Sources:

Turkey Care | Farm Sanctuary

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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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 are 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.

Source:

Mites Of Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Soft-Shelled Eggs

Turkeys who are actively laying eggs need a balanced diet to meet the demands of egg production. Poor nutrition can cause soft-shelled and malformed eggs, which can cause cloacal prolapse and egg-binding. 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 for actively laying turkeys. If your residents are laying soft-shelled eggs, be sure to consult with your veterinarian as additional calcium supplementation may be necessary. Be aware that soft-shelled eggs could also be a result of an issue in the oviduct or infectious disease.

Source:

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Sour Crop (Candidiasis)

Sour crop is a yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of Candida, often Candida albicans, which is commonly present in the GI tract of healthy birds. There are a variety of factors that can cause an overgrowth of Candida- these include certain medications such as antibiotics or steroids, unsanitary drinking water, diets high in sugar or carbohydrates, and even excess stress. Sour crop can also be secondary to food fermenting in the crop due to a crop impaction or other disease processes that cause crop stasis. A turkey with sour crop will have a fluid-filled crop that is slow to empty. You may also notice a sour smell on their breath. Treatment typically includes the use of an antifungal treatment, such as Nystatin, and/ or an apple cider vinegar water treatment. Remember- 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.

Sources:

Candida Infections in Birds | Niles Animal Hospital And Bird Medical Center

Overview of Candidiasis in Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Worms

There are many different parasitic worms that can affect turkeys, so it’s important to talk to your veterinarian about common worms in your area and to work with them to establish preventative strategies, as well as fecal testing and deworming protocols for your sanctuary. Worms that can affect turkeys include large roundworms, or ascarids, (Ascaridia spp.); threadworms (Capillaria spp.); cecal worms (Heterakis gallinarum, which can carry Histomonas meleagridis, the causative agent of blackhead); gapeworms (Syngamus trachea); and multiple species of tapeworms. (Turkeys can also be affected by parasitic protozoa such as Eimeria spp. which causes coccidiosis.) While low levels of parasitic worms may not cause an issue, higher levels can cause weight loss, depression, and other symptoms depending on the specific worm species. Parasitic infection can also make residents vulnerable to other diseases. Without treatment, severe infestations can be fatal. By performing routine fecal testing, you will get an idea of what parasitic worms, if any, your residents are harboring even if they are not showing clinical signs. Additionally, be sure to test individuals who are showing potential signs of internal parasites. Depending on the fecal test results and the individual’s clinical signs, your veterinarian may recommend treatment. The overuse of deworming medications (anthelmintics) can result in parasitic worms that are resistant to some or all medications, so be sure to work with your veterinarian to determine when deworming is necessary, and assess if the treatment worked by comparing post-deworming fecal egg counts to pre-deworming counts. 

Sources:

Internal Parasites Of Poultry | Poultry Extension

Deworming Backyard Poultry | Penn State Extension

Internal Parasites | University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension (Non-Compassionate Source)

Diseases of Poultry 13th Edition | David Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

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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.