Getting Help for Respiratory Diseases in Small Poultry Flocks

If your poultry show signs of respiratory disease, learn what you should do, where to find help, and the resources available to owners of small flocks.
Getting Help for Respiratory Diseases in Small Poultry Flocks - Videos


When your poultry have symptoms of respiratory disease, it may be hard to find help because most private veterinarians don't have training in poultry medicine. This video describes the special resources available to small flock owners through state and university animal diagnostic laboratories, and how to find these laboratories.


Biosecurity and disease prevention in backyard and small commercial Flocks Poultry diseases and management interactions Avian toxicology Diseases of game birds,pigeons, exotic and pet birds Poultry Handling and Transportation Animal Welfare

More by Eva Wallner-Pendleton, DVM, MS, ACPV 

View Transcript

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- So, your birds have symptoms suggesting a respiratory disease and you're looking for help.

You need to find out what is making them sick, treat them if possible, and hopefully prevent the problem in the future.

There are many causes for respiratory illness in birds including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even parasites.

Unfortunately, it is usually impossible to diagnose the specific cause of the illness just by looking at the animal.

More testing is usually necessary.

Most respiratory diseases can be either treated or prevented through vaccination and proper biosecurity.

The best course of action is to get your birds tested as soon as you notice a problem.

Virus isolation, bacterial cultures, parasitology, and testing for serum antibodies are just some of the tests that may be needed.

When the illness results in some death loss, also known as mortality, in the flock, a diagnostic necropsy can determine the cause of death.

So, how do you go about getting your birds tested?

Where can you go for help?

The first step is to find a knowledgeable poultry veterinarian to advise you.

Typically, a private veterinary practitioner doesn't have much training in poultry medicine nor do they have the testing capabilities to diagnose common poultry respiratory diseases properly.

The good news is that most states have resources devoted to poultry health.

Often, animal diagnostic laboratories associated with the state, a state university, or a veterinary school employ poultry veterinary specialists who can help you determine the tests you need to diagnose the disease.

They can also offer practical recommendations for preventing these problems from recurring.

The tests offered by these diagnostic laboratories are often cost subsidized and reasonably priced for owners of small flocks.

For example, currently in Pennsylvania, a necropsy examination with complete testing for up to 10 chickens cost about $42 for small flocks from Pennsylvania.

You can find more information about services on the website of the lab.

For example, this is the website of the Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at Penn State.

To see a current list of diagnostic laboratories by state, go to and search for NAHLN Laboratory List.

NAHLN stands for National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

Note that some states such as Pennsylvania have multiple laboratories that can do poultry testing.

Once you found a laboratory in your state, you can call the laboratory directly and ask to speak to a poultry diagnostician who can help you determine which samples and tests would be the most helpful in your particular situation.

When you know the test you need, you can refer to the laboratory website for details on shipping samples, the required paperwork to accompany the samples, and the costs.

Once the testing is complete and you have a diagnosis, the poultry veterinarian at the diagnostic lab can work with your home veterinarian to determine the best treatment plan for your flock.

Working with a diagnostic laboratory is your best course of action if a few birds are exhibiting minor respiratory problems.

But what about more serious situations?

If most of your birds are acting sick and there is a high death loss, it is important that you get immediate help for the flock and take precautions to prevent spread of the illness.

In this case, contact your State Department of Agriculture and speak with someone in the Bureau of Animal Health as soon as possible.

Most states have a 24-hour telephone hotline listed on their website that you can call to report diseases of serious concern in poultry and other agricultural animals so that the problem can be promptly investigated.

If you're having trouble determining whom to contact, you can ask your local extension agent or search online for the office of your state veterinarian.

Dealing with respiratory symptoms in your poultry may seem intimidating at first, but with the guidance of a poultry veterinarian from your state's Animal Diagnostic Lab, you can have your animals tested and get a diagnosis often at a minimal cost.

Once you have a diagnosis, the poultry veterinarian from the lab can work with your veterinarian to come up with a treatment plan and you can be well on your way to a disease-free flock.


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