Gapeworm is a parasite that lives in the flesh of the bird’s throat and causes intermittent wheezing and gasping.
Many people mistake the difficulty a bird has with breathing as some kind of respiratory infection and may give their birds an antibiotic. This won’t help if it’s gapeworm and the bird will continue to deteriorate.
The first sign is a bird that is breathing with its mouth open (gaping), usually with its neck extended upward as it literally gasps for breath, often making a hissing sound.
Healthy adult chickens can cope with a certain level of internal parasites before their health is affected. However, if birds are showing apparent symptoms of gapeworm it is essential to treat them with a dewormer.
Gapeworm can become so numerous they actually block the throat of an affected bird, stopping feed, water, and eventually air from passing through, causing death.
Typically, eggs are picked up from the ground or from intermediate hosts such as earthworms or snails. Male and female gapeworm spend their lives joined to each other, embedded in the throat of a bird. They feed off it, creating eggs that pass through the bird or are coughed out so the next generation can be eaten up by flies, earthworms, slugs, and snails. These then infect more members of the flock when they are eaten.
If one bird is showing signs of a gapeworm infestation, your whole flock will be carrying the parasite and should be treated.
Not all avian dewormers available in Australia will treat birds for gapeworm. Therefore choose your wormer carefully, and always follow the instructions for use. We recommend Avitrol Plus Tablets, which provide effective treatment of gapeworm and a broad range of other common internal parasites.
Gapeworms spread through the ingestion of eggs that are coughed up by infected birds or present in their faeces. Therefore, it is necessary to treat birds for gapeworm twice. Around 2 weeks apart is ideal.
To learn about Respitorary Illness which can have similar symptoms read here.