Friday, April 18, 2014

Tapeworms & Chickens... Advice Needed!



Two weeks ago, I decided to call my veterinarian about my flock of 19 chickens.  My old hen, a 5-year-old Rhode Island Red who is the only one left from our previous flock, was having diarrhea and, as a result, skin scald.  (Sorry about the nasty photo of her problem!)  Many of the others were having strange patterns of feather loss: on their backs as well as underneath between their legs and up the chest.  At first, I thought they were simply molting or our one rooster, Fabio, was pulling their feathers out during mating.

I know... pretty gross!  Poor Mrs. Chicken  before
her bath.  She had diarrhea and then skin scald.
I'm all for trying natural home-remedies when possible, but I looked through my two chicken-raising books and reputable online sites, and couldn't pinpoint the problems.  My veterinarian suggested I bring in my Rhode Island Red and another one with the worst feather loss, plus several droppings samples.  He couldn't find any trace of external parasites (mites/lice) and it did not look like molting.  We came to the conclusion that the feather loss was due to either the rooster mating or hens picking at each other, or a combination, and suggested we try to get more space for them.  This made sense, since they do have an outdoor run but refused to go outside in the snow all winter.  So project number one for this summer: build a bigger coop.

Mrs. Chicken getting a bath in the utility tub.
She was really calm and I think she liked the bath.
I had to get all of the matted droppings out of her feathers
and off her skin.
My Rhode Island Red (named "Mrs. Chicken" by our kindergartener) was having some kind of intestinal problem with the diarrhea and we hoped that the droppings sample might tell us more.  The vet recommended I bathe her to help the skin scald, which I did that night.  In fact, she seems to have gotten past the diarrhea and her "rear-end" feathers have remained fluffy and clean since.

However, we got very bad news when the fecal sample test came back.  They had tapeworms.  Apparently, many types of worms are fairly common in chickens, but tapeworms are unusual.  They could have gotten the tapeworms from being in contact with mice or eating earthworms and other insects.  I have seen the occasional little field mouse in the coop, but the chicken feed is kept in closed garbage cans.  The flock also has daily access to an enclosed outdoor run and I give them arm fulls of weeds and lots of table scraps.  So while their access to insects and mice is limited, it's clear that they came into contact with something that carried the tapeworms.

After talking to my vet several times and doing my own research, I'm still indecisive on our next steps.  There is a wormer called Praziquantel which will kill tapeworms (tapeworms are not killed by most wormers, but they are killed by this specific one).  It can be purchased as "GTWormer" or "Worm-Out Gel".  Worm-Out Gel can be added to the drinking water.  It's approved for human use when people get tapeworms, so it's pretty safe.  I have found some information (below) which says there should be a 7-day withholding period before eating the eggs again.  However, with trying to give my kids organic foods, having eggs with traces of medication in them seems to defeat the purpose of raising our own chickens.

A nice fluffy, clean rear end after the bath!




While I appreciate natural cures, I obviously don't want to take the chance with myself or my kids getting tapeworms.  To make things more complicated, tapeworms often do not show up in fecal testing, so just bringing another dropping sample to the vet, after treatment, would not prove
that they are free of tapeworms.  In the future, there are some natural ways to prevent worms, such as pumpkin seeds and nasturtium, that I will use as well.



This information about tapeworm treatment is from an avian veterinarian at www.birdhealth.com:
"A high percentage of chickens may be infected with tapeworms if they are reared on range or in backyard flocks. These parasites are found more frequently during warmer seasons when intermediate hosts are abundant. Tapeworms may obstruct the intestine of an infected bird in the same way as roundworms. Tapeworms are more ribbon like and clump together in a tangled mass of thin strands whereas roundworms are more spaghetti like in appearance. 
Worm treatments containing praziquantel are used to kill tapeworms. Two follow up treatments at 3 week intervals are then recommended. Routine three monthly seasonal treatments together with control measures against flies, beetles, slugs, snails, earthworm ingestion is necessary to prevent further infection. 
Tapeworm problems are more widespread when insect activity peaks during the warm spring, summer and autumn months. Insect control is a necessary part of tapeworm treatments if recurrent outbreaks are to be avoided...
...Moxidectin and Praziquantel - GTWormer (5mls/2 litres of drinking water for 2 days) This is a combination tapeworm, general worm and lice treatment...
... Adult chickens
Adult chickens do not require as frequent worm treatments as the young chickens. Instead they should receive strategic treatments at times when worm infection is most likely to occur. Worm treatments are recommended each 3 months at the beginning of spring, summer and autumn when warm wet conditions favour worm infections in adult chickens. Many of the worms that infect adult chickens require an intermediate host before they are able to infect them. A large part of worm prevention involves the control of these creatures that include cockroaches, beetles, houseflies, slugs and snails. Cleaning away any uneaten table treats each evening and applying insecticides to the surfaces of pens are a recommended routine used to help prevent these type of worm problems.

Recommended Adult Chicken Worm Routine:

Beginning spring - Levamisole or Prazole treatment
Beginning summer - GTWormer
Beginning autumn - Levamisole or Prazole treatment 

Withholding Period

There is a 7-day long withholding period following the administration of worm treatments. For those with back yard chickens I suggest you boil the eggs and feed them back to the chickens during this period of time. The benefit for the chickens following the worm treatment far outweighs the inconvenience of not having perfectly fresh eggs."

The Mississippi Sate University Extension Service website had this information, which lists other medications and good preventative methods, but no information about a withholding period:
"Tapeworms or cestodes are flattened, ribbon-shaped worms composed of numerous segments or division. Tapeworms vary in size from very small to several inches in length. The head or anterior end is much smaller than the rest of the body. Since tapeworms may be very small, careful examination often is necessary to find them. A portion of the intestine may be opened and placed in water to assist in finding the tapeworms.
The pathology or damage tapeworms produce in poultry is controversial. In young birds, heavy infections result in reduced efficiency and slower growth. Young birds are more severely affected than older birds.
All poultry tapeworms apparently spend part of their lives in intermediate hosts, and birds become infected by eating the intermediate hosts. These hosts include snails, slugs, beetles, ants, grasshoppers, earthworms, houseflies and others. The intermediate host becomes infected by eating the eggs of tapeworms that are passed in the bird feces.
Although several drugs are used to remove tapeworms from poultry, most are of doubtful efficacy. In general, tapeworms are most readily controlled by preventing the birds from eating the infected intermediate host. Tapeworm infections can be controlled by regular treatment of the bird with fenbendazole or leviamisole."

So, I have decided to reach out to the chicken-keeping community that I have come to know through my blog!  Have you dealt with tapeworms in chickens?  What is your advice?  Please leave a comment if you have!

And specifically...
After her bath, Mrs. Chicken got to spend the night
in the shower stall because it was frigid outside.
A bathed chicken can get chilled
and sick in the cold.

- Have you used Praziquantel or Worm-Out Gel?   What were the results?

- Have you come across any other reputable information about a waiting period for eating eggs after using Praziquantel?  (From a veterinarian, university, or other reputable source?)  And, if possible, could you share the source?



Thank you!
Katie (& chicken flock)





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