Understanding Botulism in Chickens

Understanding Botulism in Chickens

Chickens seem to be able to ingest just about anything, don't they? But if they contract the Clostridium botulinum bacteria while foraging or by eating contaminated feed, they can get botulism, which is also known as food poisoning. Botulism is more or less dangerous, depending on how much of the contaminated food they ingested. Thankfully, this issue is rare, and there are steps you can take to protect your flock. Read on to find out more:


Also called: Food poisoning

Prevalence: Infrequent


General signs:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Diarrhea
  • Sudden death

Cardinal or diagnostic signs:

  • Neurological symptoms, including flaccid (floppy, not stiff) paralysis of limbs and neck
  • Eyes partially closed
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Stumbling
  • Torticollis (wry neck)

Your vet may be able to determine what was eaten from an analysis of crop or stomach contents.


Botulism in chickens is caused by:

  • Eating rotten or spoiled food contaminated with Clostridium botulinum bacteria
  • Eating bugs or grubs (particularly maggots) that have been feeding on contaminated material
  • Drinking from water or eating feed soiled with botulism-containing matter, such as dirty litter

It is not actually the bacteria that causes an infection; instead, it is the toxin produced by the bacteria which causes poisoning. The type that affects poultry needs warm temperatures to reproduce, so most cases occur in summer and fall.


Botulism is not passed from bird to bird, but if your flock is eating or drinking from the same sources, several or all might come down with botulism at once.

Communicability to Humans

No. Humans can suffer from botulism from consuming spoiled food, but it is not passed to them by pet chickens. However, practice good biosecurity and wash hands after contact with chickens to prevent inadvertently putting soiled hands in your mouth.

Prevention and Treatment


  • Practice good biosecurity
  • Keep coop clean and dry
  • Remove wet litter promptly
  • Control flies
  • Consider iodine as a sanitizer


  • Flushing the crop with an Epsom salts or molasses solution
  • Veterinary care for antitoxin injection or detailed instructions on flushing

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Recovery depends on the amount of toxin ingested and how quickly treatment begins. Small amounts may lead to spontaneous recovery, while large amounts may result in rapid death.

Other conditions with similar signs:

  • Marek's Disease
  • Other types of poisoning may show similar signs.

Understanding botulism causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment is crucial for protecting your flock from this rare but serious issue. If you suspect botulism in your chickens, seek veterinary care promptly for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

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