Upper Respiratory Challenges – The two main culprits and how to manage them

Air is the most basic need of life. Humans can live for three days without water, a couple of weeks without food, but less than five minutes without air. For this reason, respiratory challenges are both challenging to witness because of the mortality and satisfying to solve due to the rapid decrease in mortality.

Upper respiratory disease is the focus of this article. The two main culprits are Bordetella Bacteria and New Castle Disease (NCD). Within infected flocks, you’ll hear the birds snicking, sneezing, wiping their beaks and faces on their shoulders and wing bows, and often see almond-shaped eyes due to the inflammation and eye discharge. If you pick up a poult and hold its beak shut, a healthy bird should be able to breathe naturally. If it is struggling with something, it will try to free itself, and/or you will see the sinuses or “cheek” of the bird move as it tries to breathe while its airflow is obstructed by inflammation.

When a respiratory disease is present, the best short term action is to adjust the environment. When humans are sick, we may hang out on the couch with a blanket. Give these sick turkeys a blanket – increase the temperature and walk them often to motivate them to eat and drink. The source of the inflammation doesn’t matter at this point – we are treating the symptom, not the disease.

Why don’t we treat the disease? Viruses are not treated by antibiotic; if your flock has New Castle Disease, treatment is futile. Antibiotic treatment will not work to fight Bordetella either. The antibiotic enters the body and then gets into the bloodstream, and there’s not much blood flow into the area with the Bordetella unless there’s a bloody nose or a beak situation. All humor aside, this is not a great plan as the medication cost is high compared to the efficacy. This leaves us with the TLC treatment plan.

Once the birds get over the challenge – there are two
things to do. The first is to bleed the birds to confirm the cause – NCD or Bordetella. And the second thing is to work with your veterinarian to make a vaccine and sanitation program that will hopefully avoid or decrease the severity of this issue in the future.