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What is Coccidiosis?

Chicken health

Have you heard of Coccidiosis (coke-si-di-oh-sis)?

Coccidiosis is an avian intestinal disease that occurs in typically young chickens when a microscopic parasitic organism (called protozoa) attaches itself to the intestinal lining. It damages the tissue of the gut, causing bleeding (which can be evident in their droppings), prevents the chicken from absorbing nutrients, and creates an environment in which bacteria can thrive. 

Coccidiosis (Cocci) is the most common disease in chickens and is fatal if untreated. Generally, an active and healthy adult bird will be able to tolerate cocci as they usually develop resistance over time.

Coccidiosis works quickly as the incubation period is only about eight days. Caecal Coccidiosis: 5 – 6 days
Intestinal Coccidiosis: 5 days. Symptoms can present either gradually or suddenly – it’s not uncommon for a chicken to appear fine one day and very sick or even dead the next. The most common symptom you might notice is blood or mucous in the droppings.

Unfortunately, it’s easily spread. The oocyst can be transmitted via shoes, shovels, contaminated water, food, and poop.

Healthy chickens will build up a natural immunity to coccidiosis if they’re exposed to low levels of it over time. However, they’ll only build up an immunity to the particular strain they’re exposed to.

Signs include:

🦠 a hunched appearance

🦠 mucousy or bloody diarrhea

🦠 dehydration

🦠 anemia

🦠 listlessness

🦠 ruffled feathers

🦠 stunted growth, and death.

One of the first signs of coccidiosis is blood in your chickens’ droppings. 

Coccidiosis is especially prevalent after prolonged heavy rain. Warm and wet conditions are the perfect breeding ground for coccidiosis, causing coccidia to breed.

Coccidiosis outbreaks are associated with:

  • Warm, wet conditions
  • Unsanitary and overcrowded coop
  • Stress caused by illness, high parasite loads, malnutrition
  • Environmental changes

Like most intestinal parasites, the spread of coccidiosis is from the eggs (oocysts). These are laid in the gut of the infected host and passed out through their feces. The life cycle begins again when these eggs are consumed and hatch in the new host’s intestine. The parasite burrows into the gut lining and impairs digestive function as it multiplies and produces more oocysts.

Chicken and wild bird feces spread oocysts. A stray wild bird can introduce new oocysts to your flock. The eggs survive for up to a year in warm, wet conditions. Maintaining a clean, dry coop can significantly reduce coccidia exposure and parasite loads in your birds.

Because chicks are the most commonly affected, I recommend giving them a medicated chick feed from the beginning. This will provide a low level of resistance to cocci, but not full protection. I personally like to add Cocciprol to their water as a preventative until they are around 10 weeks old. This can also be used as a treatment.

Adding probiotic supplements to your chick’s and chicken’s water can help create the conditions for competitive exclusion – a process where good bacteria compete for the resources of bad bacteria inside the gut. This can reduce the chances of infection with coccidiosis and improve immunity to other infections as well.

Ways to reduce Cocci:

🐥 avoid overcrowding

🐥 keep humidity in the cage/area as low as possible – using our chick nipple waterer helps with this.

🐥 Keep bowls and trays clean and regularly changed

🐥 Prevent contact with wild birds (if possible)

🐥 Keep a close eye on your flock after periods of rain

If you suspect you have coccidiosis in one chick or chicken, you need to treat the whole flock. If one becomes infected then it’s highly likely to spread through your entire flock. Treat urgently with medication for Coccidiosis (links below). These medications block the parasite’s ability to uptake and multiply.

Secondly, clean and dry as much as you can and follow the reduction tips above.

If you are worried, I recommend taking the sick chicken to a vet.

➡️ Cocciprol
➡️ Sulfa 3
➡️ Amproulium
➡️ Coccivet

Coccidia can survive for up to a year in soil and warm, humid environments

If you’re unsure that you’ve been able to remove all traces of the coccidia protozoa, consider giving your chickens Amprolium regularly for a year (but always ask your vet first).

Coccidiosis can do a lot of damage to your chicken’s intestines, and if they contract the parasite often, they may experience long-term side effects, including decreased egg production.

Remember, a damaged digestive system does not absorb nutrients effectively.

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