How to spot, prevent and treat worms in chickens

Worms! They make many of us squirm, don’t they? Most hen owners will have come across something wiggling in their hens’ droppings or litter at some point. Just as cats and dogs pick up worms so do our pet poultry. A quick check on Dr Google will produce a myriad of reasons why hens get worms and a variety of home remedies for dealing with the nasty critters, anything from daily garlic to positive thinking!

There are a number of different worms that hens can get, often linked to eating slugs and snails in the garden which act as intermediate hosts. But there are really only three that commonly occur.

Firstly, caecal worms are more commonly called roundworms. These look a lot like garden earthworms but are usually white and have a more pointed appearance at each end, often they are described as spaghetti-like – yuck! Hens pick them up by swallowing worm eggs passed in droppings by another hen. You may notice weight loss and lack of vigour in your hens.

Like chalk and cheese tapeworms could not be more different. These present as tiny segments that resemble a moving grain of rice The segments are only a tiny part of the whole worm which remains inside your hen, and you only see the whole worm very occasionally when treated. Finally, comes the gapeworm which you seldom see but it manifests itself by the hen coughing and taking on a wide-mouthed gape. The worms live in the trachea where eggs are laid, coughed up, and swallowed.

Worming in wartime

We are so much luckier than our hen-keeping predecessors who had many things to contend with. In the late 1940s, not only were they recovering from a World war, but also having to keep hens fit on a diet of mostly scraps; often relying on the few eggs that the hens produced to boost their own fairly meagre rations. Unlike their modern counterparts, they had almost no access to effective worming treatments and had to rely on recipes handed down through generations to deal with what we now consider routine and easily treated issues.

The wartime guide to keeping poultry and rabbits on scraps lists the following treatments – don’t try these at home! For roundworm, a rectal injection of 12 drops of a mixture of one dracham of oil of chenopodiumin in six oz of olive oil.

Whilst Gapeworm necessitated passing a feather dipped in equal parts of turpentine and olive oil up and down the windpipe! (Goodchild & Thompson. 1949)

cartoon hens looking at a kitchen waste bin. wartime worming advice
From The National Archives

The good news is that effective licensed treatments are available for the modern hen keeper in the form of powders and medicated pellets. These are only available on prescription or by completing an online form at your online supplier or local pet medicine pharmacy.

Gaynor Davies, our in-house vet nurse, recommends:

As an SQP (Suitably Qualified Person) I strongly suggest setting up a flock health routine which should involve using ground sanitiser and maintaining your hen run to stop worm eggs building up, daily poo picking and occasional worm egg testing using a simple to use no touch postal kit.

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