Chickens absolutely love worms.
From creepy-crawly mealworms to deeply submerged nightcrawlers, there is nothing a chicken loves more than to feast on a scrumptious worm. And eating worms is great for chickens, too, providing them with a healthy dose of protein, fat, and essential vitamins and minerals.
When it comes to other types of worms and your chickens, though, it’s a completely different story.
Like most birds and mammals, chickens are susceptible to developing internal parasites (commonly referred to as worms). They can cause a wide range of short- and long term health issues for your chickens – if left untreated, some can even be fatal.
Luckily, there are some easy ways you can keep parasite problems at bay. You might be taking some of these steps already without even realizing that you are doing it! Here are some of the easiest ways to address, prevent, and eliminate worms in chickens in worms – as well as some of the best chicken dewormers you can use.
What Are Chicken Worms?
Chicken worms are small, sometimes microscopic parasites that live inside the body of a chicken. Most can possess either direct or indirect infestation and life cycle patterns.
Worms with direct life cycles live their entire life cycles inside a chicken’s body. When your chickens poop, they discard the eggs. When another chicken happens upon the poop and, as chickens tend to do, eats it, that chicken also becomes infected. An indirect life cycle generally involves an animal of another species, like a snail, slug, or earthworm. The worm is introduced to the body of the chicken when it eats it.
For the most part, you don’t need to know whether the worms causing your chickens grief operate directly or indirectly. All you need to know is that it’s important to keep them away!
6 Most Common Chicken Internal Parasites
There are many types of internal parasites that can affect chickens (in addition to a whole host of those that affect the outside of a chicken-like lice and mites – but we won’t get into those!).
Knowing what kind of worms are giving your chickens trouble is important so that you know exactly how to treat and prevent them.
Roundworms are parasites that have direct life cycles – one of the few that affect chickens. These parasites live their entire lives within chickens, with infected chickens shedding eggs in their poop before another chicken picks them up and becomes infected themselves.
Roundworms are some of the most common internal parasites in chickens, and they can luckily be seen without any kind of microscope. They are exceptionally long and can reach six inches in length, living in the small intestines of your chickens.
These pests can cause a whole host of problems, including a decreased appetite, poor appearance, diarrhea, stunted growth, wasting, and a pale wattle and comb. Sometimes, they can be fatal, too, as they can create such severe intestinal blockages that your chickens can no longer eat or defecate.
There are really three main types of roundworms: large roundworms (which exhibit characteristics most like those described above), small roundworms (which are less common in chickens and more common in turkeys and game birds) and cecal worms.
Cecal worms are exceptionally common in chickens – which is the bad news. The good news is that they don’t usually cause very many problems. These pests are found in the ceca of chickens and have direct life cycles.
When chickens become overloaded with cecal worms, they will look depressed and again, have a shabby-looking appearance. They are transmitted to other types of poultry, too. This is one reason why it’s not recommended that you raise turkeys and chickens together – cecal worms in turkeys can cause a more dangerous condition known as black head.
2. Gape Worms
Gape worms, as the name implies, are quite unpleasant little creatures. Also known as Syngamus trachea, these worms live in chickens’ windpipes and eat the blood from tiny blood vessels there.
If you have a chicken with a severe infection, it may appear as though it is choking or even wheezing. This is because the worms lock together in a Y shape, partially obstructing the windpipe and making it tough for your chickens to breathe. Your chickens may also lose their appetite or seem shabby or tattered in appearance.
Chickens will cough up the parasite eggs or poop them out. The next chicken can then easily pick them up, continuing the life cycle of this irritating pest.
If young chickens contract tapeworms, it can lead to a permanent reduction in your chickens’ growth and development.
3. Hair Worms
As the name suggests, hair worms, or capillary worms, are extremely thin. Smaller than a couple of centimeters long, hair worms are difficult to see with the naked eye. Sometimes you will be able to see them when they are mixed up with water, where they will look like narrow white threads.
They’re also known as capillary worms. They are tiny, thread-like creatures. They are so small, in fact, that you will need a magnifying glass to see them – this is part of what makes them so hard to detect. There are multiple types of hair worms, all of which live in the ceca, intestines, and crop.
In bad infestations, however, capillary worms can move as far up as into the mouth and throat of the chicken. These parasites are indirect, moving into the body of a chicken when it eats a slug or earthworm or picks through built-up bedding.
If your chicken has capillary worms, its comb will become pale. It may have a decreased appetite, have diarrhea, or look exceptionally thin. It will also become very weak, and in extreme cases, it can die. To treat capillary worms, you will need to use a dewormer medication. Don’t just run to the store and buy the first one you see, though, because some are not approved for poultry applications. You will want to consult with your veterinarian first.
4. Eye Worms
If you live in a colder, northern climate, you luckily don’t have to worry much about eye worms. Also known as Manson’s eye worm, this problem was once excluded to tropical areas only. However, in the last few years, it has migrated north into some more temperate zones, like the southern portion of the United States.
Eye worms are incredibly unpleasant to deal with. They live in the eye of the afflicted bird, with infection generally caused and transmitted by cockroaches. However, infected birds can also spread eye worms to each other through bedding, poop, or feed, too.
These parasites cause an unpleasant, cheese-like ocular discharge, which often leads to the eyelids sticking together. Your chicken might scratch or dig at her eye or experience symptoms like blindness, a droopy head, decreased appetite, or conjunctivitis, too. You’ll need special medication from your vet in order to treat this disease.
5. Tape Worms
Tapeworms tend to be the parasite that most people have heard of. These flat, segmented worms look like ribbons. They’re quite long, attaching themselves to your chicken’ intestinal lining. They are some of the easiest to see, as they are long, flat, white, and rectangular. However, tapeworms are relatively rare in chickens (they are far more likely to appear in other species of livestock).
They usually are contracted when a chicken eats an egg that has been shed from the tapeworm’s many segments. They can also eat a snail, slug, or beetle that has eaten one of the eggs (which is more likely). This results in the continuation of the life cycle, which in chickens, can lead to depression, emaciation, and a failure to put on weight.
Another parasite that you won’t hear a lot about is the protozoa. Protozoan parasites are very common in backyard poultry species, but they are usually lumped into their own category separate from internal parasites because they are so malignant.
The most common protozoan parasites in chickens are coccidia. There are nine different species that affect chicken, and they are species-specific despite the fact that coccidia can affect all kinds of animals.
Coccidiosis, which you’ve likely heard of, is the result of a coccidia infestation. It can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and other symptoms. It is most common in young birds, as chicks develop immunity as they age. Therefore, you’re most likely to see issues before your chicks reach six years of age. Many people feed their chicks medicated feed to prevent this problem while other hatcheries vaccinate against it.
First Things First: Contact a Veterinarian!
Before you decide to treat a case of worms yourself, particularly if you are going to be using chemical-based medications instead of natural remedies, make sure you contact a veterinarian. You can quickly gather up some feces from your chickens and bring it over there for afloat or smear test, which will tell you whether warming is actually necessary.
Not only is this test cheap and effective (sometimes even free), but it will eliminate the need for you to purchase and use costly medications that, if not necessary, can harm your chickens. There have also been several documented cases of chicken worms becoming resistant to worming medications – so don’t use them if they aren’t necessary!
It’s also important to note that if you do have to treat your chickens with medications, that you contact your veterinarian to make sure the drugs are approved for use in poultry. You cannot eat the meat or eggs for a certain amount of time after you have treated chickens with medication, either.
This information will usually be specified on the administration information for the medication, and it’s important that you adhere to it. There’s a chance that your body could have an allergic reaction to the medication, and repeated exposure to these medications can also cause microbe resistance – which is something you don’t want to have to deal with if you are battling a more serious disease of your own.
How to Prevent Internal Parasites in Chickens
The easiest way to prevent worms from becoming problematic in your backyard flock is to practice good principles of animal husbandry. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and nowhere is that truer than in preventing health problems with your animals.
Practice Good Animal Husbandry
Start by maintaining a clean, sanitary coop and run. Don’t let chicken waste pile up to the point where it starts to stink. This is a surefire way to develop problems with parasites along with a whole host of other health problems.
Cleaning your coop on a regular, weekly basis is recommended.
However, if you use the deep litter method of bedding your chickens (by which you leave a large pile of chicken bedding and manure to compost down, only changing it once or twice a year), that’s fine, too. Just make sure you’re adding fresh bedding each and every week.
If you do develop a problem with parasites, it may be necessary to do a deeper cleaning. In any case, a monthly deep clean can be incredibly beneficial.
To do this, make sure you scrape out the nesting boxes and roost bars, wash the waterers and feeders, and even scrub things down with vinegar to get rid of pests. This is an excellent way to get rid of flies, too.
You can also add a sprinkle or two of diatomaceous earth to the coop. This should help keep down the number of internal parasites that are found there, and it will also help keep certain external parasites, like mites and lice, at bay, too.
If you let your chickens free-range (which is an excellent way to improve their overall health and reduce their susceptibility to most types of parasites), you can still do this even if you’re worried about worms. However, you should move your chickens to new pastures on a regular basis so that parasites don’t accumulate in the soil.
A good rule of thumb is to let a piece of land set for at least six weeks before allowing chickens to graze on it if you know that there were parasites present there. Many people also incorporate chicken tractors, which are small, mobile pens that you move each day.
The parasites never really get a chance to build up in the soil because your chickens are moved so frequently.
Most worms thrive in warm, humid environments – you aren’t as likely to have a parasite infestation in the middle of a cold, dry winter.
If you can, keep your chicken’s run and coop as dry as you can. If you have a lot of mud puddles or mucky areas, try filling them in to discourage the development of standing water.
Reduce vegetation as much as possible, too. Weeds and brush not only harbor parasites that can harm your chickens, but pests that can harm you, too – ticks! Cut grass short, as the sun’s UV rays can destroy a lot of different pests and their eggs.
Natural Chicken Wormers
When you feed your chickens, make sure all feeding is done off the floor. This will prevent contamination, as will placing your feeders and waterers in places where your chickens cannot poop on or in them (using hanging feeders and enclosed drinkers can really help with this).
You should also make sure your chickens have plenty of fresh, clean water available all the time.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Some people swear by supplementing with apple cider vinegar, which can be added to the water. This can discourage the growth of mosquitoes and algae and is said by some to reduce the likelihood of internal parasites, too.
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Apple cider vinegar is natural and will boost your chickens’ overall immunity, so there’s really no reason not to give it a try.
One word of caution, though – if your waterers are made out of galvanized steel (and not plastic), you will want to steer clear. When exposed to the sun, the drinkers will begin to wear away at the drinkers and can cause contamination of the water.
Adding garlic to the chicken’s water or food supply is another great way to prevent parasites. You can add this to the food or water.
Your chickens will love the taste, and garlic is an excellent way to prevent parasites and boost immunity. All you need is a few cloves for each full drinker or feeder to do the trick.
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Another natural dewormer you might consider is pumpkin. Pumpkin – in particular pumpkin seeds – have compounds that are incredibly effective at helping a chicken prevent internal parasites.
You can feed out pumpkin free-choice or even just sprinkle some seeds atop the food.
Finally, you might consider diatomaceous earth. Just as diatomaceous earth can help keep the coop clean, it can also be useful when fed directly to the chickens, too. Sprinkle it just enough so that the grain has a light sheen, and you’ll find that your parasite problems are greatly reduced.
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There are plenty of medications on the market that you might try, too. Again, it’s best to consult a veterinarian if you plan to do this. Not all are chemically-based, however.
Other common chicken wormers include Ivermectin, Wazine, and Avitrol.
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How to Deworm Your Chickens
How to deworm your chickens will vary depending on which kind of dewormer you use. For most natural treatments, like diatomaceous earth or garlic, you can just sprinkle it on the food or put some in the water.
Some people sprinkle these items directly on the ground, but there are some risks to doing that. Your chickens will go nuts if you sprinkle pumpkin seeds or garlic on the ground, and what will they do? They’ll begin scratching and pecking the ground…where you have a known parasite problem. You might end up having to do even more work to get rid of the worm problem as a result!
Other medications are meant to be administered in the water or by oral distribution to affected chickens only.
How Often to Deworm Your Chickens
If you’re doing everything right – that is, maintaining clean, sanitary conditions and feeding your chickens natural supplements to help maintain optimal nutrition and keep pests at bay – you may not ever need to deworm your chickens.
In fact, there are some chicken owners who have never had to apply any kind of medication to their flock, and have chickens that are close to a decade in age!
Otherwise, dewormers should be used with caution. While natural remedies can usually be fed out as often as you like, you should avoid using any kind of chemical dewormer with abandon. It does not need to be part of your regular care regimen and should only be used if there is a documented and severe problem that can’t be addressed with other modifications.
Don’t Bug Out Over Chicken Worms
While the thought of a worm crawling through your chicken’s digestive tract might be enough to make your skin crawl, don’t let chicken worms get the best of you. In most cases, with a little bit of thoughtful management and preventative care, you can keep these pests away so that you never have to worry about them.
Last update on 2020-08-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API