Botulism; also known as Toxicoinfection, food poisoning, or Western Duck sickness; is a rare disease in chickens. This is a disease humans can get, although when humans get it, we call it, “food poisoning.” Botulism is a bacteria-causing, nervous-system-affecting sickness, which can have deadly symptoms and can be dangerous.


An illustration of Botulism under a microscope. (Picture provided by: Wikipedia)

Chickens receive this sickness by consuming rotting food, parts of decaying organisms, or drinking organic, filthy materials in water. The bacteria causing Botulism, Clostridium Botulinum, is in phylum Firmicutes (meaning it is Gram-Postive under a microscope) and itself does not cause the disease. The toxin it produces causes Botulism. Unfortunately, Clostridium Botulinum‘s endospores are heat-resistant, meaning that they can survive in hot conditions. Because of this, it is easier to cause food poisoning in humans, if food is not cooked properly.

The symptoms of Botulism are fairly lethal. They include: lack of strength in legs, paralysis (usually of legs, neck, and/or wings), lying on side, ruffled feathers, trembling, diarrhea, a coma, and death (sometimes sudden). The percentage of birds affected by Botulism depends on the number of birds that were exposed/consumed the toxin, which is usually a high percentage. The mortality rate is also high, but it depends on the amount of toxins engulf. Sometimes the mortality rate can reach 100%.

Botulism is preventable and treatable. Preventing the sickness includes: rid chicken’s access to dead or decaying organisms (including plants), control flies and other pests, acidify soil, avoid wet litter, keep birds away from ponds and marshy areas, and don’t let chickens scratch through compost litter. Treating for Botulisms includes: eliminate the source of the toxin, flush birds with Epsom salts/molasses*, inject antitoxin, disinfect, and remove possibly-contaminated litter.

It is important to prevent Botulism in chickens, but the knowledge can also be useful to humans, as the bacterium can infect them too.

*”Flushing” chickens is giving them a laxative to eliminate toxins from their body. You can do this with Epsom salts (Also known as Magnesium Sulfate. Recommended use: one teaspoon in a half a cup of water and squirt down the bird’s throat twice a day for several days) and molasses (one pint per five gallons of water, give for no more than eight hours).


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