Fowl Cholera in Chickens

Spread by wild birds and farm vermin, this disease poses a serious risk to your flock.

Fowl cholera is a bacterial disease that is caused by Pasteurella multocida. There are two forms of this disease: acute and chronic.

Fowl Cholera Symptoms
Acute fowl cholera causes sudden death, sometimes without signs of infection. Signs of infection can be severe depression, cyanosis (dark-purple discoloration of skin) and mucus coming out of the beak. The chronic form of this disease is usually characterized by localized infections in the face, wattles, sinuses or joints. Infection in the cranium can cause twisting of the neck, called torticollis.

Can it spread?
Like mycoplasmosis, chickens or flocks that recover from a fowl cholera infection become lifelong carriers. Carriers of fowl cholera are yet another important reason to reduce the number of new introductions to your flock. However, wild birds can also be a source of infection. Many animals found on the farm, such as cats, rats or vermin, can become carriers of fowl cholera without exhibiting any symptoms of disease. In turn, if they feed on contaminated carcasses, they can then spread fowl cholera to susceptible chickens through feces or animal carcasses.

Fowl Cholera Prevention
Fowl cholera can be prevented by reducing your chickens’ contact with wild birds and predators.

Fowl Cholera Treatment
Fowl Cholera can be treated with sulfa drugs or tetracyclines. These medications will reduce chicken fatality but will not cure carrier birds. Live and inactive vaccines are available, but their use may not be practical for a small backyard flock. Live vaccines should be used with caution, as some can cause a milder form of the disease and are best used to protect long-lived chickens, such as egg layers and breeding stock.  

About the Authors: Dr. Jose A. Linares, DVM, ACPV, is the Resident Director of the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, Poultry Diagnostic Laboratory in Gonzales, TX. Dr. John El-Attrache, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University.

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