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Gout and Kidney Stones in Chickens

Gout in chickens isn’t a single disease but a sign of dysfunctional kidneys. A long list of causes can lead to kidney disease, and high on the list are infections, nutritional imbalances, toxins, or water deprivation. If many birds in a flock are exposed to the same kidney-trashing circumstances, gout can kill a large proportion of a flock, maybe half of the birds.

Hens can do well with weak kidneys. They may look healthy and lay plenty of eggs, up to the point when kidney function is destroyed at 75 percent or more, and they can suddenly die without having shown any warning signs on the outside.

Inside a chicken with gout, however, the disease is obvious without a microscope. Healthy kidneys remove the waste products of the body’s chemical reactions from the bloodstream.

Diseased kidneys can’t remove the wastes, so the waste products aren’t removed and instead build up inside the body, deposited on and in various internal organs. The waste buildup creates a white, chalky coating to the internal organs. Tiny stones of the waste material can plug the urinary tract or accumulate in the joints.

You can prevent kidney damage and death from gout in your backyard flock by sticking to these tips:

  • Don’t feed layer diets to growing chickens. Layer diets contain far too much calcium for chickens that aren’t laying eggs, and the excess calcium is tough on the kidneys.

  • Don’t let the flock run out of water, ever. Dehydrated kidneys work poorly; they need plenty of water to filter out body waste products.

  • Don’t use baking soda long term in the chickens’ drinking water. Some flock keepers use baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in drinking water to combat heat stress. Long-term use of baking soda can lead to gout.

  • Don’t use antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. Some antibiotics can damage chicken kidneys.

You can attempt to treat gout in a flock with feed or water supplements that are mild acids. You can use vinegar in backyard flocks for this purpose, but the most effective dose and frequency haven’t been determined yet. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar per gallon of water and offer the solution as the flock’s drinking water for 1 day each week.

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