How to Recognize Fungal Infections in Chickens: Molds and Yeasts
Sometimes your flock may come down with ailments caused by fungal infections. Fungi aren’t plants or animals; they’re a unique, primitive category of life all their own. Mushrooms, molds, and yeast are fungi. Molds and yeasts can infect and sicken backyard chickens under the right circumstances.
Brooder pneumonia (Aspergillosis)
Aspergillus mold organisms grow in every chicken’s environment, flourishing in damp bedding and rotten coop wood. Healthy adult chickens aren’t particularly bothered by a little mold, but when the environment is teeming with mold spores, young chicks or stressed, rundown adult birds can be overwhelmed.
Aspergillus causes different forms of aspergillosis. The most common form of Aspergillus mold infection is brooder pneumonia, a lung and air-sac disease of chicks. Less-common forms of aspergillosis affect eyes, skin, brain, or bones. Chicks affected by brooder pneumonia gasp, lose their appetite, and look sleepy.
The disease doesn’t spread from chick to chick, but the mold can infect many chicks in a group at once, and up to half may die from the infection.
Unfortunately no effective drug treatment or vaccination is available for brooder pneumonia. Good nursing care and eliminating mold from the environment helps chicks survive. You can prevent outbreaks of brooder pneumonia with these suggestions:
Start your chicks off right with a clean and disinfected brooder box or area. Check for rotten wood or moldy spots on the floor and walls of the building where you brood your chicks. Remove rotting wood or treat any moldy spots with a fungicidal disinfectant before moving chicks in.
Use clean feed, hay, or straw. Make sure none of them have any mold, which can lead to brooder pneumonia.
Clean chick feeders and waterers daily. You can sanitize drinking water with household bleach. Remove wet bedding promptly and replace it with fresh, dry stuff.
Candidiasis, also known as thrush, is caused by the yeast Candida albicans, and it affects the mouth, crop, gizzard, or vent of many types of birds, including chickens. Whitish, thickened patches form inside the crop or on the skin of the vent area of a chicken suffering from candidiasis. In a few cases, sores may develop in the gizzard’s lining.
The outward signs of candidiasis aren’t very obvious: Affected birds are thin, listless, and disheveled — they just don’t feel very good. The yeast organism takes advantage of young, old, and sick birds, and isn’t usually a problem for healthy adult chickens. Candidiasis and unsanitary, overcrowded conditions go together. Because the signs of candidiasis aren’t apparent on the outside of the bird, a diagnostic laboratory usually diagnoses the disease during postmortem examination.
Dirty feeders or waterers are excellent places for the yeast to grow. Long-term antibiotic use also encourages yeast infections. Candidiasis isn’t contagious between birds, but several birds living in the same filthy environment or exposed to antibiotics in feed or water can be affected at one time.
You can prevent candidiasis by having clean feeders, waterers, and coops, and by using antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. Candidiasis is treatable. If it’s diagnosed in your flock, try these treatment steps:
Separate affected chickens from the rest of the flock so that they can’t be picked on by flock mates.
If you’ve been treating the chickens with antibiotics, stop it.
Use a copper sulfate/vinegar solution in the drinking water. You can find copper sulfate crystals at farm stores.
Offer a probiotic (available at feed stores) or yogurt.
Clean feeders and waterers daily.
You’ve probably heard of (or had) ringworm, a fungal infection of the skin that people and pets can catch from each other. Chickens can also get ringworm and share the fungus with their flock keepers. (Here’s a tip for word game players: Favus is the name for ringworm when it affects poultry.)
Ringworm usually appears as white scaly or crusty patches on the comb and the skin of the head and neck. The chicken may lose its feathers, typically starting at the base of the comb and progressing down the back of the neck. Other than the skin problem, affected chickens are usually healthy. The infection is contagious and spreads from bird to bird, and rarely, bird to human.
Any practicing veterinarian can do a skin scraping and fungal culture on a chicken to diagnose ringworm, the same way the fungal infection is diagnosed in other animals. If you have a chicken with favus, isolate it from the rest of the flock to prevent spreading the infection. People should wear gloves and wash their hands after handling the affected birds.
Rubbing the affected areas daily with athlete’s foot ointment, or swabbing the spots with 2 percent iodine solution every other day should do the trick after about two weeks of treatment. Both medicines are available at any pharmacy. Ringworm fungus hates sunshine, so getting birds out of a dark shed and into the sunlight often cures favus without medicine.