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How to Easily Diagnose and Treat Fowl Pox

How to Easily Diagnose and Treat Fowl Pox

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Flock owners, both new and veteran, will likely at some time in their fowl-keeping experience walk out to their coops and find birds that seem to suddenly have developed sores all over their combs, wattles, face, and legs and who may obviously seem generally sick with no explanation.   This moment is never a welcome one and leaves many a new chicken owner wondering “What on earth has happened to my birds and what do I do to fix this?”
The veteran chicken owner will recognize some tell-tale signs of Fowl Pox (FP), a virus that affects chickens, turkeys, and other birds.  Fowl Pox is annoying but thankfully one of the easiest illnesses a flock-owner can face with a little effort and a good bit of knowledge.

 

Symptoms of Fowl Pox

 

Some common signs of the various forms of Fowl Pox include:

  • White, cigarette ash-like dots on non-feathered areas – eventually becoming wart-like and raised.
  • Scabs appearing ashy or blackened.  These are not to be confused with flattened marker-like black marks which are, instead, sores from fighting and injury.
  • Sores, sometimes purulent or infected, particularly around the eye lids and corners of the mouth and even the vent or legs.
  • Listlessness and other signs of the birds simply not feeling well.
  • Loss of appetite or thirst.
  • Decrease in egg production.
  • Breathing difficulty or respiratory distress (wet form).
  • Bumps and plaques of flattish yellow or white lesions within the mouth, particularly around the roof of the mouth near the slit to the sinuses (wet form).  When removed these lesions tend to leave small craters.

 

turkeypoxheadmerckveterinary

 

The Good and Bad News about Fowl Pox

 

Pox is like an annoying old acquaintance one hopes never returns to the farm after its first visit.  Unfortunately, FP does tend to return but with limits.  Both the wet and dry forms of FP are spread via mosquito bite or by the scabs which drop off and remain infectious for months.

 

 

 

 

 

The good news is that once birds contract FP they will never have another case of that pox for the rest of their lives, rather like chicken pox in humans.  The risk of FP can be reduced by pin-prick inoculation into the webbing of young birds’ wings or a thigh-prick in turkeys over 2-months of age.  The vaccine and is readily available at most online poultry supply houses.  The dry form tends to only last 2 weeks and resolve on its own.

 

The bad news is that while pox is active, the flock will be vulnerable to secondary infections – both cutaneous (the skin) and systemic (their whole system).  The wet form can be particularly difficult, sometimes even deadly, without a good effort at boosting immune systems.  The dry form, however, is rather easy to handle.

 

fowl pox

 

Caring for a Pox-Infected Flock

 

The biggest concern when Pox infects the flock is to keep immune systems running at their best.  Depending on the size of the flock, birds can and should be given vitamins that strengthen the defenses of the skin and mucous membranes, boost respiratory and ocular health, and promote rapid healing.

 

 

 

 

 

Vitamins A, D, and E are marvelously handy any time a flock is ill and particularly for pox cases.  These oil vitamins are most effective in an oil form such as a liquid drop.  Vitamin B12 or the range of B vitamins should also be provided as they give the birds energy, willing birds to thrive and fostering a healthy appetite.  A bird that does not feel well will not heal well so helping them to feel better encourages healthy eating and drinking and reduces dehydration and malnutrition.
Individual birds can easily be given liquid baby vitamins such as Poly-Vi-Sol for human babies at a few drops per bird.  This product is inexpensive and readily found in a no-iron-added form in the vitamin section of many stores.

 

Many wonderful drenches and vitamin products are also produced specifically for poultry; simply read the label for vitamins A, D, E, and B.  Ideally these vitamins should be given in a quickly-eaten treat or by drops individually, not in water as sick birds can be reluctant to drink; however, the owner of a large flock may have to choose a water-soluble vitamin package and certainly will find them beneficial.

 

fowl pox beginningwhite form

Feeding the FP-Infected Flock

 

Care should be taken at this time not to change the basic diet the digestive tract, already vulnerable, is no shocked.  That being said, there are foods that provide nutrients that really help jump-start healing to supplement the regular diet.  For example, boiled and crushed eggs are a wonderful source of vitamins, minerals, and proteins that truly provide the building blocks for cells to replace the damaged, sick cells.  The nutrition in an egg is concentrated, which can certainly help when birds are not eating as much as usual.  Thankfully, most birds find this food very tempting even when sick.

 

 

 

Mashed egg yolk also provides a perfect hiding place for liquid vitamins.  Adding a little chick starter-grower to the mix (less than 10%) can also boost protein and over-all nutrient levels. Water quality is particularly important to a flock affected by pox.  Birds should always remain hydrated and do best with clean, fresh, untreated water.

 

Medicating the FP-Infected Flock

 

Fowl Pox is a virus and cannot be treated with any antibiotics (which are all designed to fight bacteria not viruses); however, secondary infections are common with FP.  For the dry form, triple antibiotic ointments and creams can be priceless in treating the external sores.  Dotting troublesome sores with an iodine-soaked cotton bud can penetrate deep into the core of these sores, fighting bacteria and sterilizing in areas other than those around the eyes.  Regular triple-antibiotic ointment can be used even in the corners of the eyes and mouth as long as the ointment does not contain pain-killers.

 

In the case of wet-pox, it is rarely necessary or effective to treat with a systemic antibiotic as the respiratory problems are caused by lesions that are viral in nature.  If severe respiratory distress happens, a veterinarian should be consulted.  In the meantime, products like VetRx can help soothe the irritated airways and help birds to breathe and feel somewhat better.

 

Husbandry for Healing and Prevention

 

When possible, fresh air and sunshine always help birds to breathe and feel better as well as helping the body to fight illness with more vigor.  After the disease has passed, a change of bedding may help reduce the number of infective scabs present.  Where possible, keeping mosquito populations reduced by preventing standing water is always helpful as well.

 

In the long run, managing a flock with FP is mostly an exercise in watchfulness, husbandry, prevention, and of course patience!  Given time and a bit of effort, a well-managed flock will usually see little to no casualties and the owner can breathe a deep sigh of relief that this batch of birds, at least, will never be visited by pox again.

 

Turkey photograph courtesy Merck Veterinary Manual, two chicken photographs courtesy Nathalie Ross.

 

Nathalie (Ross) Norris is a writer, animal lover, and native Texan. Her love of keeping chickens started at a young age. Many years later, she find that her favorite part of keeping chickens is helping others to enjoy it as well.

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