Oct 15, 2013

Answers from The Chicken Vet on Bacterial Infections and Introduction to Dr. Mike Petrik, The Chicken Vet

Dr. Mike Petrik is a doctor of veterinary medicine with a masters degree in animal welfare.
Yesterday I told you how my affilation with The Chicken Vet came about and today I have the privilege of introducing you to him formally. Dr. Mike Petrik is a doctor of veterinary medicine with a masters degree in animal welfare. He graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1998 and began working as a mixed large animal veterinarian until 2000 when he began working as a laying hen veterinarian, a position he has held ever since. In 2013, he graduated from the University of Guelph with his Master of Science degree in Animal Welfare.  Dr. Petrik has worked on the scientific committee for both the Canadian meat bird and Canadian laying hens Codes of Practice, which are currently being updated.

He grew up on a professional poultry farm with laying hens, broiler chickens, turkeys and layer pullets where he gained an appreciation of the day-to-day care of the birds and an understanding of how things work, or don't, in the real world.  His family also raised pigs, beef cattle, and Standardbred race horses. In addition to his full time work as a poultry veterinarian, he plays hockey, teaches SCUBA diving, plays guitar, runs in obstacle races and has “2 awesome kids” that take up the rest of his spare time.

Dr. Petrik has generously contributed to my blog over the past year-and-a-half on topics requiring a medical expert’s insight, ranging from vaccinations to worming, crop problems and the risks of diatomaceous earth. I am grateful for his generosity and contributions to the education of backyard chicken-keepers through my blog. Dr. Petrik also has a blog entitled "Mike, The Chicken Vet," which I encourage you to follow for more of his witty and informative writings!
On a different note, when Brutus’ necropsy report came back with Pasturella/poultry cholera as the cause of death, it raised more questions about the implications of bacterial infection for my flock and backyard flocks in general, so I turned to Dr. Petrick for insight on bacterial infections in backyard flocks.
On a different note, when Brutus’ necropsy report came back with Pasturella/poultry cholera as the cause of death, it raised more questions about the implications of bacterial infection for my flock and backyard flocks in general, so I turned to Dr. Petrick for insight on bacterial infections in backyard flocks. The following is his reply. 
On a different note, when Brutus’ necropsy report came back with Pasturella/poultry cholera as the cause of death, it raised more questions about the implications of bacterial infection for my flock and backyard flocks in general, so I turned to Dr. Petrick for insight on bacterial infections in backyard flocks.
When Kathy asked me to write a segment on bacterial infections and chickens, I was overwhelmed.  I have books I have trouble lifting on the subject.  I couldn't decide how to approach such a wide, deep, complicated and important topic to make any real sense of it.  So, I decided to talk to my 7 year old.  I have found that if I can make her understand what I am saying, I am hitting the important parts....she is also very smart, and really makes me stretch sometimes to find answers for her. Here goes...

First of all, it is crucial to realize that bacteria are EVERYWHERE, and your flock has loads of them.  I guarantee that I can come to any flock in the world and find potentially devastating bacteria.....professional, backyard, it doesn't matter.  Every flock is exposed to, and at risk of bacterial infection all the time.  Instead of wondering why flocks get sick, I often wonder how any flocks are healthy! 
First of all, it is crucial to realize that bacteria are EVERYWHERE, and your flock has loads of them.
Maxim #1: Poison is in the dose.  
Too much water will kill you (no, not drowning, but if you drink too much water, it will destroy your kidneys).  So will too much salt.  The jury is out on hot sauce, but I'll get back to you on it.  The point is, a very few bad bacteria won't make your flock sick, and a tidal wave of normally benign bacteria will make the flock desperately ill.  Control the amount of bacteria your hens are exposed to by keeping the coop and yard clean, remove standing water (ideal place for bacterial "blooms") and be careful when you expose your hens to other flocks, even if you do it accidentally by visiting other chickens and not changing your shoes before you visit your own flock.
  If you cripple the immune system, the bacteria get a leg up, and a situation that would normally not result in sickness can become dangerous, especially if the stress is longer term, such a cold weather, introduction of new members of the flock, constant harassment by a predator outside the coop.
Maxim #2: Stress cripples the immune system
Fight or flight reactions divert body resources from long term survival processes (digestion, reproduction, immune function) to short term survival processes (increased blood supply to muscles, increased heart rate, wild and creepy look in her eye).  The problem is, there is a pretty much constant war going on in the hen's body between the immune system and the bacteria that surround her.  If you cripple the immune system, the bacteria get a leg up, and a situation that would normally not result in sickness can become dangerous, especially if the stress is longer term, such a cold weather, introduction of new members of the flock, constant harassment by a predator outside the coop.

Maxim #3: You will never get rid of an infection
Because bacteria occur in such huge numbers, it is all but impossible to completely rid a flock of them.  A dentistry site estimates 20 billion microbes (bacteria) live in a healthy mouth.  Even if we had you gargle with Lysol (you know, kills 99.9% of bacteria), you would still have 20, 000, 000 bacteria in your mouth....consider that the next time your 2 year old wants to plant a wet one on you.  The really bad news is that when you have a bacterial infection, the numbers will go up substantially.  The good news is that hens (and us) have the ability to ramp up our defenses to get rid of even these massive numbers of bacteria (exception, see Maxim #2). 

Maxim #4: There are ALWAYS resistant bacteria.
Because of the massive number of bacteria present in an infection, there is a fair amount of variability in their metabolism.  If you treat with anything...an antibiotic, vinegar, Lysol....some of them will not be affected.  These bacteria will then attempt to expand into the area where the other bacteria used to live before you killed them....except all the ones that now live there will have grown from bacteria that the agent couldn't kill.  This is how antibiotic resistance develops.  The unfortunate thing is that, as you select for tougher bacteria, they are more and more difficult to kill, even if you use another agent, and become more pathogenic (ie they become tougher for the animal to fight off as well).

With these maxims in mind, your approach to bacterial infections should start with:
1) Isolate sick hens from healthy ones.  The greatest source of bacteria for healthy hens is a nearby sick hen.  The bacteria that have made one sick have already proven that they are pathogenic and capable of causing disease.  Reduce the risk of the disease spreading.
Isolate sick hens from healthy ones.
2) Try to find how the bacteria got past the first line of defense of the bird.  Her skin, nasal passages and GI tract are very specialized in keeping out bacteria....there is a reason they failed, and if you can discover it, it will go a long way to helping treat her and prevent further infections. 
Brutus' infection likely entered through his esophagus, which may have been injured, although injury was not confirmed at necropsy.
Brutus' infection likely entered through his esophagus, which may have been injured, although injury was not confirmed at necropsy.
3) Try to identify the bacterial culprit.  Hens try to fight off all bacteria in similar ways....they get a fever, they produce a cheesy form of pus around the infection, and try to protect the area.  If the infection is in the lung, or internal, you might not see the pus, but only notice that the hen isn't doing well.  Try to identify if it is a gut, respiratory, reproductive or skin infection, and get the bug identified through culture at a vetclinic.  Sometimes you can take swabs yourself if you can work with your vet to get appropriate swabs to use.  Treating blindly is sometimes all that is available to us, but if you have a chance to swab the area, your treatment will be MUCH more likely to work.
Try to identify the bacterial culprit.
During Blazes's illness, massive amounts of solidified pus were extracted from the wattle.
4) Get an antibiotic sensitivity test done to find what type of antibiotic works best for that bacteria.  Treating E. coli with penicillin not only will not work, it will create a whole bunch of penicillin resistant bacteria elsewhere in the body, that may become a problem later.  Treat aggressively to knock back the bacterial load, and nurse the patient as best you can by keeping her warm and hydrated.  Remember.....all antibiotics will do is knock back the numbers a bit so that the hen can win the war.....if she can't fight, your antibiotic treatment will NEVER clear the infection.
Get an antibiotic sensitivity test done to find what type of antibiotic works best for that bacteria.
Antibiotic sensitivities were done on the bacterial specimens take from Brutus.
5) Use antibiotics sparingly.....the more you use them, the less well they will work in the future because there will be a more resistant population of bugs around your flock due to previous treatments.
Use antibiotics sparingly...
6)  Do your best to clean the areas the sick birds were in contact with.  Talk to your vet and find out which bacteria like to live in the soil, or in the water, or wherever, and do your best to reduce the numbers there.

This only scratches the surface of how bacteria behave and how chickens and bacteria interact, but it will give you some basic outlines to help reduce the bacterial load in your hens.
Hope that helps 
Dr. Mike Petrik, DVM, MSc
Mike, The Chicken Vet
Mike, The Chicken Vet
 The Chicken Chick is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com


This post was shared here: Down Home Blog Hop Homestead Barn Hop

36 comments :

  1. 'Mike The chicken Vet' I want to THANK YOU for being willing to help Kathy get credible and attainable info to us all.
    Oh it's nice to 'meet' you, :)

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  2. Flock Mistress10/15/13, 12:17 PM

    Brilliant and well said. I want to further add that you CAN use too much DE. I was paranoid about getting mites when I first got my hens so I'd put DE in their dust bathing areas. Well, I lost two hens to inhaled the DE. Now I might put a teaspoon in their favorite spot once a year and that's it. I keep them rotating to other spots to dust bath. And I've had hens for 3 years this month and have yet to ever see a mite on a hen. So do be careful w/ the DE.

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  3. Lori Westerman Falkenstien10/15/13, 1:26 PM

    You are by far my favorite chicken blogger. One thing I have always respected about you is you embrace the "natural" side of things but don't completely rely on it. You know there is a time and place for medicine and vet care. Also, you put a huge amount of research into everything you teach us about. I trust that when I read tips from you I can just implement them without having to spend a ton of time checking out the facts, you've already done that for us. The addition of Mike the Chicken Vet just makes all that even better. I didn't have to know his name to trust his advice. The fact you trust him is good enough for me! :) Thank you for all you do!

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  4. Thanks so much for getting his help on this topic. I believe the most helpful for many will be to understand bacteria are everywhere and while yes we should take them serious, the hen can live alongside them as long as she is well kept in all manners. I believe many people may not understand many are helpful, they take up valuable real-estate keeping everything in good balance. Also, that the overuse of antibiotics causes more problems. Plus, you can't treat a nosebleed with Novocain.
    I'm glad we also finally got to get his formal introduction!

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  5. Cyn Van Antwerp10/15/13, 9:28 PM

    Thanks so much for this info from your "fantasy" vet lol. It sounds like our chickens' immune systems are fighting daily just like ours, and can get overwhelmed in similar ways, also.
    So helpful to know all this!

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  6. Donna McGlasson10/15/13, 9:30 PM

    Outstanding Kathy! Thank you so much for being our advocate with Dr. Mike! There may be some people and bloggers who malign others. But when we fellow chicken lovers come to your blog, we know we are getting well researched and professional advice. If others doubt you that is there problem, I for one am thankful for your sound advice and straightforward help. Thank you!

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  7. TheChickenChick10/15/13, 9:37 PM

    Well said, Donna. And thank you for the vote of confidence. ♥

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  8. TheChickenChick10/15/13, 9:37 PM

    LOL Cyn. More like dreamy, don'tchathink? ;)

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  9. Kathy thank you so much for that information. In Alaska I was familiar with what ailed chickens most. Now in AZ and back in the business of chickens for a hobby it has been hit or miss when looking for information. While you can use the usual - such as BYC AZ - you cannot stop there without a bit of independent investigation to show the real truth. I almost always come here first - then go look in other places and usually go with what you have spent so much time researching already AND putting the word out so Susie lay-person can understand what is being said. Thank you again and again and again!

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  10. Thank you for the information. Living in an area where we do not have a chicken vet, it is great to be able to get some advice from the experts.

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  11. Donna McGlasson10/15/13, 10:56 PM

    Always, my friend!

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  12. Dr. Mike's words and Kathy's pictures combine to create an excellent article. I'm a hospital pharmacist and I love reading a concise, accessible explanation of microbial resistance to antibiotics. Just makes me want to stand up and holler "amen!", lol. I'll sit back down and be quiet until it's time to sing the hymn, but this was a mighty fine sermon :)

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  13. I'm close to 70 years old, and have had chickens since I was born, and my advice rather than speaking with a vet about chickens' ailments would be to talk to old timers who have had hundreds of chickens on their farms in their lifetimes and find out what they have found to work best. They'll help you for free, often even give you free chicks along with their advice, and they're full of knowledge. Another source that's invaluable is your local extension serviice at your county courthouse. They'll hook you up with experts who often have been judging chickens at county fairs and state fairs for many years, and their advice is always free. I have an organic farm, my chickens along with every critter here (including me) only eats organically raised food, and I NEVER use chemicals, antibiotics, etc. I only use natural methods to deal with issues that come up. The main thing to remember when raising chickens is to talk often to them, give them fresh water regularly (preferably from a well or spring) with vinegar with a mother in it), keep everything clean always, have the chicken house and brooding house well ventilated, free range is always best, and feed organic feed if at all possible. Oh, and as you gather eggs, always thank the pullets and hens for the eggs.


    \

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  14. TheChickenChick10/15/13, 11:51 PM

    You're preaching to the choir, Tricia. Dr. Mike rocks!

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  15. TheChickenChick10/15/13, 11:52 PM

    Thanks Mary. ♥

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  16. thanks Mike,i wana ask that how mucus can be removed from the roosters throat. my rooster had a lot of mucus may be lungs problem cuz hehad heavy breathing.he had this heavy breathing problem for about 2 yrs.but on running.but now he had persistent heavy breathing may be asthama. , i gave him a lot of antibiotics that worked temoraraly,n then again mucus increased.

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  17. Outstanding. Thanks.

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  18. Thank you for these wonderful insights and information. Great info to help us through tough times with our flocks!

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  19. Kathleen Cole10/16/13, 9:35 AM

    I love your website! Something new to learn everyday. I have had chickens for 40 yrs, and there is always more to learn. Great to meet Mike the Chicken Vet!

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  20. Canada Goose10/16/13, 1:41 PM

    hey, is he married?

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  21. I just love the old fashion advice you shared here.

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  22. Chiefbuzzbee10/16/13, 8:44 PM

    Kathy, This was a great Blog and again I learned a lot and put it to practice today. I'm in the process of building another coop so I removed the dirt 6 to 8 inches down in the old coop and added some new soil and sand. I graded it so no water will be able to stand and added a way for any rain or melting snow will run off. I plan to rototill the run and keep it clean. My wife who is a avid reader of your blog and told me you do this so I guess I wasn't the first one to think of it. Thanks again and keep it up, we are planning on getting some more ladies this Spring.

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  23. jane stanford boozer10/17/13, 1:05 PM

    love your blog...thanks for all the info
    boozer@farmerstel.com

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  24. I have only used antibiotics when i had to cut the toenail off my favorite pullet. my vet i showed him the photo and he gave me lidocane and just told me to cut fast and stop the bleeding. i was too squeamish to hurt my favorite bird, mom cut it. I am not sure if the lidocane numbed it any.. since i don't think chicken leg scales are that permeable... but he was walking fine right after that... the nail still grew back upside down but she doesn't gallop anymore... i was funny to see her have a different run gait than normal chickens.
    I gave her a general antibiotic in her water while i had her separated. and 4 years later she is doing great.




    I do have a curiosity question for Mr.Chicken Vet.
    Its odd... but considering many chicken owners get many different birds from many different sources.... and as i thought about it quarantine wouldn't do anything about it either.


    the question:
    do chickens get STDs? I know their reproductive system is different from mammals, but it is still and exchange of fluids. (that and my ducks and chickens keep trying to create cross species offspring...) since some diseases can be passed on in the egg it got me thinking.
    If you think about how a human male sleeping around like a rooster.. wouldn't you be wary of what cooties he has and be worried about your hens?

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  25. John Dunning10/21/13, 1:09 AM

    October 20

    We have 3 Buff Orpington hens that are
    8 months old now. They started laying at 20 weeks on July 2. In
    mid-August one hen started brooding. We have no rooster so there was
    no need. I placed some fertile eggs under and they hatched but I
    didn't remove the chicks after two days so they got trampled.
    (Lesson learned)

    When days started shortening all the
    hens stopped laying. On Oct 2 I hung a light in the hen house timed
    to go on for 15 hours each day. After 2 weeks one hen started laying
    and now all three are laying each morning. Success! I keep layer
    crumbles available all the time but they always are begging for
    snacks, so, my observation, “they've had a break, now it's time to
    work! Comments?

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  26. goldenvalley10/21/13, 8:45 AM

    Oh my goodness, mouth watering. So delightful.
    http://www.goldenvalleypoultry.co.uk/

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  27. Hi Kathy, would love to win the Treats and/or the Predator Pee.. My chickens love love the treats and sure do need the Predator Pee as we have raccoons that love my chicks :>(
    Thanks, Ellen

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  28. Love your blog...thanks for all the information. I've had chickens for about 10 years now & am still a newbie, there is so much to learn.

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  29. Thanks for all you do for us fellow chicken addicts! Love all the contest. I'm never sure if I entered correctly, but I keep trying.

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  30. It is assumed that the sole reason farmers keep hens in cages is to extend profits and satiate their greed. In reality, particularly in Canada, there's way more profit to be created farming cage free or organic hens . You can go to http://housecallingvet.ca/ for more vet related inquiries.

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  31. hello does anyone know if it is dangerous to raise a rooster inside the house. it poops everywhere. is that hazardous to our health??
    its still a baby

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  32. TheChickenChick3/19/14, 9:27 PM

    Yes, chicken droppings are a human health hazard. Many people keep house chickens and chicken diapers are available to address that issue.

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  34. hi, i hope can find answers here, i have four hens,young, just 18 weeks old, but since i bought from farm, one of them seems sick, sound in throat, big airbag in upper front of body, sleepy, not eating. i do not konw what to do.

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  35. I gave my chickens Sulmet for MG. It said to wait 10 days after giving to butchering, but it doesn't say how long to wait before eating the eggs. How long do I have to wait before eating the eggs??

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  36. Lynette's ladies11/9/14, 5:56 PM

    am struggling with a coughing, sneezing, barking, breathing problem with my hens and the strange issue of having their eyes closed. Have been searching the web and not finding much but treating with antibotics...My rooster now has all of the above plus the inability to stand. The threads that I have been reading also indicate a product called Tylan which is injectable. Where do I even inject a hen with treatment

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