Tuesday, 20 October 2015

5 Common Diseases that Affect Turkeys

After doing the piece 5 Deadly Diseases that Affect Turkeys, I have been inundated with requests to do a follow up with more common diseases. I always love to hear from my readers! I encourage you to keep all comments and suggestions coming up because I love to read them!

Upon receipt of so many requests I decided to do this piece and highlight 5 of the commonest, yet deadly diseases, which affect turkeys. Every experienced turkey farmer can relate to the list in this piece.

1.       Blackhead Disease

                                i.            Description: More commonly known as blackhead, the disease is a form of condition collectively termed as histomoniasis.

Characteristically, an infected bird may develop dark red discoloration of the head and skin thus the name ‘blackhead’.

The disease is very dangerous with high mortality rate.

                              ii.            Causes: The disease is caused by a parasitic protozoan called Histomonas meleagridis. Another parasite Heterakis gallinarum, which is a worm, plays host to the protozoan. Matured Histomonas meleagridis is secreted in the eggs of the worm into the soil.

When the secreted egg or larvae is eaten by a turkey, the bird becomes infected. Infected birds in turn may pass the parasite onto others in the flock.

Chicken have improved immunity to the disease and are common carriers of the disease. They can also pass the infection through their droppings.

                            iii.            Incubation Period: Infected birds start showing symptoms of the disease 15 to 20 days after ingesting the egg.

                             iv.            Symptoms: Some of the symptoms of the disease include
1.  Listlessness
2. Cyanosis (dark-red discoloration) of head
3. Loss of appetite
4. Stunted growth
5.  Depression
6.  Diarrhea (Yellow-colored droppings)

                               v.            Diagnosis: Laboratory investigation is needed to confirm the disease. Several other diseases may mimic some of the symptoms and should not be relied on solely for diagnosis.

                             vi.            Prevention: Prevention is your sure best against blackhead. Good biosafety measures are needed to combat the condition. Wild birds and chickens should be kept away from the flock.

Worms and other nematodes should also be controlled around the brooder house. Feed and water should be kept clean and away from the droppings of the birds.

Free ranging should be restricted in areas of outbreak.

                           vii.            Treatment: The bad news is that there is no authorized medication to effectively treat the condition. The FDA’s approved arsenicals can be used to treat the condition but they are not known to be that effective against the condition.

Historically drugs were furazolidone, dimetridazole and nifursol were used to successfully treat the condition. Approval for those drugs has however been removed leaving farmers with very few options.

2.       Coccidiosis in turkeys

                                i.            Description: There are about five species of Eimeria that causes infection in turkeys. Three of the species E. meleagrimitis, E. gallopavonis and E. adenoides are known to cause the most serious damage to the birds.

                              ii.            Causes: Each of the three species of coccidia affects different part of the intestinal track of the bird. E. meleagrimitis affects the upper part of the small intestines causing it to thicken.

E. adenoides affects the caecae, small intestine and rectum of young poults. The parasite causes severe enteritis of the affected organs.

E. gallopavonis affects the lower part of the small intestine, caecae and the rectum.

                            iii.            Incubation Period: Incubation period for the infection is usually between 5 and 8 days.

                             iv.            Symptoms: Symptoms of coccidiosis in turkeys include
1.       Loss of weight
2.       Loss of appetite
3.       Occasional bloody droppings
4.       Diarrhea
5.       Ruffled feathers
6.       Occasionally sheds mucosa in droppings

                               v.            Diagnosis: Scientific vet analysis is required to positively confirm the condition.

                             vi.            Prevention: Vaccines against the condition are available. The use of lasalocid and monensin which are part of the medications called ionophore coccidiostats are used in the first few weeks of the poult.

                           vii.            Treatment: Treatment of the condition is by the use of drugs such as Sulphaquinoxaline(or other Sulphonamides ), Amprolium and Toltrazuril.

3.       Escherichia coli(Colibacilliosis)

                                i.            Description: This may come as a surprise to many people but the much dreaded E. coli is actually kept harmless in the gut of poultries for most of the time! The bacterium is mostly regarded as an opportunistic pathogen due to the fact that it strikes when the host’s immunity is down.

                              ii.            Causes: As indicated earlier, E. coli is an opportunistic pathogen. It is not a disease unto itself. However when the immune system is suppressed in any way, the bacterium will strike and leading to serious consequences.

                            iii.            Incubation Period: Incubation period for the bacterium is between one and three days.

                             iv.            Symptoms:  Birds infected with the bacterium will show the following symptoms

1.  Decreased appetite
2. Soiled vent region
3. Ruffled feathers
4. Listlessness
5. Sudden death

                               v.            Diagnosis: Scientific vet analysis is required to positively confirm the condition.

                             vi.            Prevention: Wet litter creates the right environment for the development of the E. coli bacterium. Ensure dry litter and keep the brooder clean at all times. Dead birds should be quickly removed from the house.

As much as possible the birds should be kept away from wild and other stray birds. All foreign materials and visitors should be properly disinfected before entry into the brooder house.

                           vii.            Treatment: Wide range of antibacterial are used to treat the condition. The FDA has however banned the use of Fluoroquinolone. Available treatment includes the use of streptomycin, tetracycline and sulfa drugs.

4.       Mycoplasma gallisepticum infection

                                i.            Description: This respiratory condition affects the upper respiratory track of the bird.  The infection is caused by Mycoplasma gallisepticum and has low mortality rate but recovered birds are carriers for life. The disease can re-occur in recovered birds if stress conditions returns.

                              ii.            Causes: Infection can occur through contaminated feed or water. Transmission can occur through the air which can greatly speed up the rate of infection.

                            iii.            Incubation Period: Incubation period is from 6 to 10 days.

                             iv.            Symptoms: Symptoms of the infection includes

1. Nasal and ocular discharge
2. Stunted growth
3. Coughing
4. Loss of appetite
5. Swollen sinuses

                               v.            Diagnosis: Scientific vet analysis is required to positively confirm the condition.

                             vi.            Prevention:  To prevent the outbreak of the disease in your farm it is important to obtain your poults from farms where biosafety standards are high.

                           vii.            Treatment: Treatment is by the use of broad spectrum antibiotics. Tetracyclines are effective against the infection.

5.       Necrotic enteritis

                                i.            Description:  Caused by the anaerobic bacteria Clostridium perfringens, Necrotic enteritis affects birds between the ages of 7 and 12 weeks. The disease can cause lesions on the liver, damage the small intestine and eventually kill the bird. The disease has a mortality rate range of 2% to 50%.

                              ii.            Causes: Infection is by the ingestion of feed and water contaminated with infected droppings.

                            iii.            Incubation Period: Incubation period for the disease is 5 to 10 days.

                             iv.            Symptoms: Symptoms of the infection includes

1. Ruffled feathers
2. Darkened diarrhea
3. Loss of appetite
4. Depression
5. Listlessness
6. Closed eyes
7. Sudden death

                               v.            Diagnosis: Smear observation of the affected tissues is required to make conclusive diagnosis.

                             vi.            Prevention:  Probiotics, Penicillin and normal levels of ionophore anticoccidials help to prevent the multiplication of the bacteria and acts as preventive measure in the flock.

                           vii.            Treatment: Use of Penicillins such as amoxicillin and phenoxymethyl administered in water effectively treats the condition. An alternative treatment is the use of Bacitracin in feed.

Treatment should be continued for 3-5 days when used in water. The treatment days should be 5-7 days when administered in feed.


  1. please for infectious sinuses caused by Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Can I cup the abscess with blade then apply the tetracycline.or just orally? coz I noticed its becoming bigger evryday and almost closing the turkey's eyes

  2. I would also want an answer to the above question. Also the tetracycline is it the regular one we buy from drugs store that humans also use?