Chickens make amazing pets and, of course, the benefits of having free eggs on demand cannot be understated. However, you also need to make sure that your chickens are healthy and cared for and you may be wondering whether chickens need vaccinations if you’re keeping them as pets. We’ve put together everything you need to know about chicken vaccinations.
Do pet chickens need vaccinations? Well, it depends on where you are and how your chickens are too but you might need to vaccinate your chickens for any or all of the following: Encephalomyelitis, Fowlpox, Infectious Bursal Disease, Layrngotracheitis, Marek’s Disease, Mycoplasma Gallisepticum and Newcastle Bronchitis (Infectious Bronchitis). It can help to talk to your vet to find out what’s most appropriate for your chickens.
Vaccines That Can Be Given To Chickens And What They’re For
We’ve rounded up the seven most common conditions that pet chickens can be vaccinated for but it’s worth noting that if you’re buying from a reputable breeder, they will usually arrange for the vaccinations as needed. If, on the other hand, you’re breeding them yourself or buying from another source – you may need to take charge of your chicken’s vaccinations and get a vet in to handle it.
In chickens, Encephalomyelitis is commonly referred to as Tremorvirus. That’s because the virus results in damage to a chick’s nervous system which results in them suffering from severe tremors, it can also cause drooping wings, paralysis, and blindness. It can also result in the death of the chick or chicken.
In laying hens, it will result in a temporary (assuming the hen survives) reduction in egg production.
Unfortunately, once your chickens are infected there is no effective treatment for Encephalomyelitis and any infected chickens will need to ride out the infection. Mortality rates are expected to be anything from 25% to 60% of infected chickens.
However, any chicks that survive are immune to future infections and infection can be prevented by the use of a vaccine. This is given either in the drinking water or via eyedrops (which is a more effective vaccination method but more difficult to deliver).
Fowlpox comes from the Poxviridae family of viruses (which means it is a distant relation of both cowpox and smallpox), it is only contagious to birds and cannot be contracted by human beings. There are two ways to catch Fowlpox – insect-borne transmission (bites and especially those from mosquitoes) and wound contamination.
The symptoms of insect-borne Fowlpox are unpleasant lesions on the beak, wattles, and combs. Most chickens infected will recover from this. Those infected via wound contamination, however, are less likely to survive as this leads to the formation of what’s known as a diphtheritic membrane in the mouth and throat.
Fowlpox is a very common disease in birds that aren’t vaccinated. Vaccination should be given via wing web injection when birds are between 8 and 14 months of age. If you choose not to vaccinate, it’s important to focus on mosquito management in the area if insect-borne Fowlpox is prevalent in your area.
Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD)
IBD or Infectious Bursal Disease is a viral condition that suppresses the immune system and can result in death. It was once a relatively insignificant condition but sadly, in recent years, there have been emerging strains of this virus across the world with high mortality rates and thus vaccination is recommended against IBD.
The disease comes on suddenly and with morbidity rates hitting 100% – it can completely wipe out your chickens. Birds that are affected usually collapse and are severely dehydrated. They may also produce copious amounts of diarrhea.
It is possible for your chickens to develop passive immunity to this condition if they survive the infection and pass on the antibodies to their chicks. However, it is highly recommended that you vaccinate as this virus can survive for a long time in water and on chicken housing.
As the name suggests, Layrongotracheitis, is an infection of both the larynx and the trachea. It is caused by the Gallid alphaherpesvirus 1 which only affects chickens and, as far as we know, it only has one other form – which only affects parrots, believe it or not.
Unlike many of the other diseases which affect chickens it has a low morbidity rate and fewer than 15% of infected birds will die. However, it may cause severe disruption to egg laying and result in deformed eggs. Chickens infected will cough, sneeze, shake their heads, dispel mucus and may have breathing problems.
It’s serious enough that if your chickens get infected a quarantine zone will need to be established. Vaccination is available but it won’t be effective if a chicken is already infected even if it is currently asymptomatic.
Marek’s disease is named after Jozsef Marek, the Hungarian vet that discovered it. It’s a very contagious viral condition which can cause nerve destruction (including paralysis of limbs), organ failure and other unpleasant symptoms in up to 80% of the infected birds. Since the introduction of a vaccine the death toll from Marek’s in chickens is 100% in unvaccinated birds.
The vaccine is given below the skin and usually to chicks that are only a day old. This can be arranged at a hatchery where they train the handlers to administer this vaccine. It’s a difficult treatment to give though and sometimes a chick can be hurt during the vaccination process.
Unfortunately, this vaccine does not prevent the transmission of Marek’s disease in your chickens, it just prevents it from becoming symptomatic. This means that if a Marek’s vaccination is required, it will be required for every chick that you produce, every time that you produce one.
The Mycoplasma Gallisepticum bacteria is one of over 100 species of this bacteria almost all of which cause symptoms in different bird species. It causes a chronic respiratory disease (CRD) in both chickens and turkeys (it can also infect pigeons and game birds).
The disease was first diagnosed in 1905 but it took nearly 50 years to identify the culprit and cultivate it to create a vaccine. In chickens, there are many symptoms of infection, respiratory distress, swollen eyelids, discharge from the eyes, blindness, reduced chick viability, stunting, lower hatching rates and more.
There is an injectable vaccine for this condition which is almost certainly cheaper than treating the condition which can be kept at bay with the judicious use of antibiotics but as it can never be cured, you must keep giving the infected chickens antibiotics throughout their life time which can work out expensive.
Newcastle Bronchitis (Infectious Bronchitis)
Another serious problem in chickens is infectious bronchitis which has a morbidity rate of 100% in unvaccinated flocks. The infection initially causes bronchitis symptoms (similar to those in humans) which include coughing, sneezing, gasping for breath, etc. and in young chicks it may lead to severe respiratory distress.
The condition also has an impact on the quality of egg-laying, and it can reduce the amount of egg white produced as well as change the quality of the actual eggshell. Even if the respiratory condition abates it may lead to kidney infection or failure which can kill the bird from a form of toxemia (blood poisoning).
This condition is untreatable though antibiotics may be utilized in infected birds to try and prevent them from picking up other infections. There is, however, an efficient vaccination program which is very effective. Infected flocks are subject to full biosecurity protocols.
How Often Should Chickens Get Vaccines?
This is a complicated question that cannot be easily answered. Chickens should get vaccines as often as recommended by a local veterinarian.
Each vaccine may have several different formulations and methods of administration. This, in turn, can mean that one vaccine for a condition may only need to be given once whereas another vaccine for the same condition may need to be given again at some point in the chicken’s life.
Make Sure You Keep Records Of Your Chicken’s Vaccinations
For this reason, it’s important to keep good records for your birds, identifying when they were vaccinated, what they were vaccinated for and the type and batch number of the vaccine applied and when giving a vaccine – you should always check that the expiry date on the vaccine has not been passed.
If in any doubt about vaccinations, you should always consult a veterinarian in your area – they will have the best ideas as to what vaccines are required and in which formulation to have the best impact on your flock. Different conditions are more prevalent in different parts of the world, so local advice is essential.
Do pet chickens need vaccinations? It depends on where you live and your flock as to what exactly a chicken will need in terms of vaccinations, but most pet chickens will benefit from some vaccines. Chicken diseases are highly contagious and many of them result in large numbers of deaths in a flock, it’s better to prevent these diseases than to deal with the aftermath.
The best place for advice for your flock is always going to be a local veterinarian who has an understanding of which conditions are prevalent locally and how to treat them in the most effective manner.
Here are some of my favorite products for chickens and their coops: