The Omlet Blog

How to Prevent Avian Flu in Chickens 

Different types of chickens all in Eglu Cube Chicken Coop and Run

As a chicken keeper, you’re probably familiar with the disease known as avian flu, but have you taken steps to prevent the illness in your hens during the current outbreak? With so many flocks being affected, both small and commercial-sized, it raises many questions about the safety of our chickens. The most pressing question being: what can I do to protect my chickens from avian flu? 

Thankfully, there are precautions that can be taken to minimize the risk of infection in backyard chickens. As with any viral outbreak, reports of avian flu often come with misinformation and fear-inducing articles on their heels. But with education, preparation, and helpful information, chicken keeping can be just as enjoyable during this avian flu outbreak as it was before. 

A large chicken coop with a covered walk in chicken run  is one of the best combinations to house your chickens during this current outbreak of bird flu. With the right equipment, your chickens’ chances of contracting avian flu can be greatly mitigated. 

What is avian flu? 

Avian flu (also known as “bird flu”), is an influenza virus that affects birds of all species. The origination of these types of viruses in the US can be dated back to the early 1900s, though they would not be identified as influenza strains until the 1930s. The current strain in circulation is H5N1, which is also known as “Hong Kong bird flu”, as it was first documented in China in 1996. It has since been labeled a HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) virus, differentiating it from LPAI (low pathogenic avian influenza viruses). LPAI viruses cause little to no symptoms in birds, but with the high mortality rates associated with HPAI in poultry especially, preventing avian flu in chickens is of the utmost importance. 

The method of transmission for both LPAI and HPAI viruses is the same: through wild migratory birds. Waterfowl in particular have been found to be carriers of the latest avian influenza outbreak. The virus does not cause severe symptoms in wild birds, and is shed through nasal discharge, saliva, and feces of infected fowl. Once infected, H5N1 avian flu has nearly a 100% mortality rate for domestic chickens and turkey. Keeping your hens in a proper chicken setup can protect them from this statistic.

6 Ways to Prevent Avian Flu in Chickens 

The adage: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is fitting for avian flu, and there are multiple preventative measures you can take to protect your backyard chickens. When creating an environment that will protect against the virus, first and foremost you will want to bring in any free-ranging chickens and keep them contained in a space that is easier to shield against bird flu. 

To take the best stand against avian flu: 

  1. Invest in a well-made, large chicken coop such as the Eglu Cube Chicken Coop. Cleaning will be a regular part of keeping pathogens at bay, and having a coop that can have all  components removed and washed will go a long way in keeping your hens’ house disinfected
  2. Keep your chicken tractor inside or attached to a chicken run that has plenty of space, such as a walk in chicken run. Your chickens will be spending lots of time in their run, so space is essential. The more space you can offer, the better! If you need help deciding what size run to get for your chickens, feel free to contact our team of experts in customer service and we will be happy to help. 
  3. A cover for your chicken run one of the most important products you’ll need to keep your chickens as safe as possible. Since avian flu is spread through the droppings, nasal discharge and saliva of wild birds, preventing these substances from entering your chicken runs will be instrumental to their safety. Weather-proof chicken run coverings are the best option, as they will not allow any fluids to penetrate them.
  4. Wild animals such as foxes and skunks have been documented to carry avian flu after coming into contact with diseased birds. Consider increasing the security of your backyard fence to prevent wildlife from passing through your yard. If your chickens are housed in an Omlet chicken coop and run with anti-dig skirting they’ll be safe from wildlife tunneling in, but if you don’t already have a perimeter fence, you can create an extra barrier around your chickens’ area with chicken fencing.
  5. Advocate for your chickens. Discourage visitors from entering your flock’s area – especially those with their own chickens. Shoes can carry the virus, so even visits of your own warrant a wardrobe change before entering your chickens’ run. Bleaching the bottoms of your shoes or boots routinely will keep them clean for your chicken-visits and could prevent avian flu. 
  6. Quarantine any new chickens for a minimum of 10 days before introducing them to the rest of your flock. Be sure that your separate coop and run have the same measures to prevent avian flu in chickens as your primary setup to avoid infection during their quarantine period. 

Keeping your flock busy

While your chickens are adjusting to being contained in a run, be sure to give them stimulating activities that will foster natural instincts. Boredom is a real issue for chickens, but a busy chicken is a happy chicken!

Some ideas for keeping your hens entertained throughout the day include: 

  • Keep food and water under cover of the coop, or purchase covered feeding dishes and waterers with drinking cups to prevent drawing attention from aerial guests.
  • Give your hens some chicken toys, chicken perches, or a chicken swing to keep them occupied in their run. This is especially important for chickens who are used to free-ranging, as adjusting to boundaries can be frustrating to them initially. Offer special treats tossed into a pile of straw or hay to encourage natural foraging behavior, or configure several chicken perches into an aerial playground to keep them active. 
  • Offer hay or straw in piles to toss chicken treats or kitchen scraps in. Your chickens will enjoy scratching and pecking around in the textured substrate!

Once your chickens are safely within the boundaries you’ve set, monitor for any signs or symptoms that could indicate infection with avian flu. 

Signs and symptoms of avian flu in chickens 

As with any illness, any unusual symptoms or signs of illness should be monitored and reported to your veterinarian. The following symptoms are seen in chickens with avian flu, and warrant a call to the vet right away: 

  • Swelling of wattles and combs, head or neck, or around the eyes
  • Discolored (mottled, blotchy, or blue) combs or wattles 
  • Purple, red, or blue-tinged legs or of the visible skin on the head
  • Extreme diarrhea
  • Labored breathing, sneezing, coughing, or wheezing 

H5N1 avian flu causes death very quickly in chickens and turkeys in particular. If you have other birds such as ducks or geese, they are the ideal hosts for avian flu. They may display mild to no symptoms when infected with H5N1, but can easily pass it to your chickens. Be sure to house any waterfowl far away from your chickens with no contact between the two. 

What to do if you suspect bird flu 

Other illnesses can mimic the symptoms of avian flu in chickens, so be sure not to jump to conclusions if one or more of your hens appear under the weather! Always contact your veterinarian if you suspect illness in your flock. You’ll also want to keep some PPE (personal protective equipment) items on hand in case you need to care for sick chickens. Have disposable gloves, masks, and gowns along with your chicken first aid kit. 

After putting on your PPE, relocate any sick chickens to a quarantine coop far away from the rest of the flock. Keep notes of when the symptoms started, along with their severity, changes, etc. The more information you can give your veterinarian, the better! 

Dispose of PPE after each visit to ill flock-members. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and clean the bottoms of your shoes with bleach after exiting the run. While extremely rare, humans can contract avian influenza after handling or caring for chickens infected with the virus. Use caution when handling sick or deceased chickens, and call your doctor should you notice any concerning symptoms of your own. 

If avian flu is suspected in your flock, your veterinarian will take samples to send out for laboratory testing to confirm a diagnosis. Should your flock be infected, your state will inform you of next steps. 

Is there a cure for avian flu?

As of now, supportive therapy is the only treatment for chickens once they become infected. However, the virus progresses so rapidly that there is often not enough time to begin treatment. No vaccines are currently approved for use in chickens against H5N1 in the US, but trials are underway to create an effective vaccine for domestic poultry. 

The best cure is preventing avian flu in your chickens, as once they have contracted the virus it is nearly 100% fatal. Until the US approves a vaccine to prevent avian flu in poultry, we must remain vigilant in preventative care. 

The dos and don’ts of chicken keeping 

Even in the worrisome climate that 2022 has brought for chicken keepers, it’s important to remember the positives that come along with owning chickens! Chickens provide fresh eggs, rewarding animal-husbandry opportunities, and enjoyment to people all across the world. If you remember and employ the tips to prevent avian flu in chickens, the rest of your chicken-keeping habits remain the same. 

The dos of keeping chickens 

  • Create an environment that makes caring for your chickens easy and safe
  • Use common sense when caring for your chickens
  • Call your veterinarian with any questions or concerns 
  • Take necessary precautions when they are warranted
  • Enjoy visiting with and caring for your flock

The don’ts of keeping chickens 

  • Panic or stress over the current events
  • Avoid your chickens or dread caring for them 
  • Assume the worst when a chicken appears “off” 
  • Add new flock members without first quarantining them
  • Forget to continue having fun with your chickens! 

Can my other pets get avian flu? 

There have been documented cases of mammals other than humans contracting avian flu, but it is rare. Don’t let your other pets enter the chicken run, and keep them away from wild birds when possible. Do you take hikes at the lake, a walk around a neighborhood pond, or any other locations where your dog may encounter the feces of waterfowl? Be sure to wash their feet thoroughly with a dog-safe shampoo or regular dish soap before heading back home. 

If a dead bird is found by your dog or cat, discourage them from approaching it. If you’re at home, put on your PPE before disposing of any dead wildlife. Wash your hands, and then bathe your dog or cat if you suspect they touched the animal in question. Contact your veterinarian if your pet exhibits any concerning symptoms within the following days of potential exposure. 

If your chickens have been diagnosed with avian flu, discuss with your veterinarian what you should watch for in your dogs, cats, or any other pets that may have had contact with your chickens. 

Don’t assume your chickens have avian flu  

There’s an expression that began in the medical field that says: “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” This phrase is used as a reassurance that just because certain circumstances or symptoms may look or act like something terrible, the usual situation is usually much less dire than initially assumed. Horses are much more common than zebras! 

When taking precautions against avian flu, don’t assume that your chickens will be infected, or that it’s a looming threat over your flock. While there is a certain amount of urgency associated with modifying your chickens’ housing to keep them safe, approach it with the mindset of bettering the health and security of your chickens, and not out of fear or the feeling of impending doom! 

The reality is that there is an avian flu outbreak, and it can infect your chickens. But, with level-headed preparation, you can rest easy knowing you’ve done all that you can to protect your feathered-family members from this disease!  

Omlet can help keep your chickens safe from avian flu 

A quality hen house will go a long way when taking precautions against avian flu. Enclosed, well ventilated chicken coops promote good respiratory health and well being in chickens year-round. Easy-to-clean components will make sanitizing your hens’ house a breeze, while ensuring cleanliness and safety. 

Providing enrichment for your chickens and maintaining a safe environment will keep chicken-keeping enjoyable – even during an avian flu outbreak. Now more than ever is the time to focus on the positives of chicken ownership and not dwell in fear. Create an avian flu-free space for your chickens, sanitize regularly, and report any symptoms to your veterinarian for a worry-free chicken-keeping lifestyle.

Two chickens perching on the Omlet Chicken Perch in their Walk in Chicken Run

This entry was posted in Chickens

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