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Turkey Diseases 


There are two groups of worms that affect turkeys: gape worms which live in the bird’s trachea (windpipe) and cause gasping (these worms are exceedingly rare) and intestinal worms.  There are three species of intestinal worm: Capillaria, Ascaridia and Heterakis.

Capillaria (Hairworm) are the smallest of these worms (up to 2.5cm in length) and can live in any part of the digestive tract from the crop to the intestine. These worms are the most harmful of the intestinal worms.

Chapter 15 Photograph WormAscaridia worms live in the small intestine and although the largest of the worms (up to 12cm in length) they tend to cause only moderate damage and inflammation.

Heterakis is a small worm(approximately 2cm in length) living in the caecum (blind gut). Whilst the worm is harmless in its own right, it can carry ‘Blackhead’ (a parasite that is carried by the worm and causes liver damage and diarrhoea in turkeys often resulting in sudden death).

Note it is a common misconception that only Free range Turkeys can get worms- housed flocks are at risk too!

Clinical signs of worms include:

  • Weight loss.
  • Dullness.
  • Lack of egg production (in breeding birds).
  • Mild diarrhoea.


Faecal worm egg counts are the best way to detect a worm burden in your flocks. This reduces the need for unnecessary worming. 


Flubenvet is currently the only licensed wormer for turkeys and should be given in feed daily for one week.


Either routinely worm your birds with Flubenvet every 10 weeks (starting approximately 2 weeks after being let onto the range) or alternatively sample you birds droppings every 10 weeks to avoid unnecessary worming.. 

Try to move your range area if possible to prevent a build up of worm eggs on the pasture.

Note: Never let turkeys range with chickens or on pasture that chickens have been on, as turkeys are extremely susceptible to blackhead and will readily die.



Blackhead is caused by a single celled parasite called Histomonas Meleagridis.  Blackhead is carried by the relatively harmless caecal worm (Heterakis). Heterakis worm eggs can be carried by earthworms which can live for up to 12 years. Blackhead will affect chickens, pea fowl and turkeys but turkeys and pea fowl are more vulnerable to infection than chickens. When turkeys ingest Heterakis worm eggs that are infected with blackhead, the blackhead emerges in the gut and burrows into the caecal wall causing inflammation and diarrhoea. Next the parasite migrates across the abdomen to the liver whereby the parasite burrows into the liver causing severe damage and usually death.

What to look out for

  • Sudden death.
  • Dullness.
  • Bright yellow diarrhoea.
  • In very exceptional cases, birds will develop a black coloured head.


The only way to correctly diagnose Blackhead is through post-mortem examination.


Since Emtryl was banned, all treatments are aimed at preventing secondary bacterial infections. It is essential that birds infected with Blackhead are wormed to kill the Heterakis worms that may be carrying Blackhead.

Oregano (Viovit) is widely used in the laying industry to reduce the chances of blackhead infection.


Ensure your turkeys are regularly wormed.

Never let turkeys or pea fowl range with chickens or on ground where chickens have ranged in the past ten years.



The most common cause of lameness in turkeys is Mycoplasma infection, which can be transmitted in several ways; through the air, through the egg and through mating.

In most cases, Mycoplasma causes swollen leg joints. Mycoplasma can also cause Respiratory Disease.

What to look out for

  • Lameness.
  • Swollen joints.
  • Sneezing.
  • Swollen sinuses.
  • Dullness.


Blood tests or PCR testing are the most common methods of diagnosis.


Antibiotics are recommended to bring the infection under control. However treatment will only temporarily improve clinical signs and will not permanently clear the affected birds of the disease. As such infected turkeys may redevelop clinical signs later on in life.


  • Prevention is based upon keeping the disease out.
  • Only buy poults or other birds from reputable suppliers.
  • Try to keep wild birds away if possible by keeping their access to feed heavily restricted.
  • Have a good cleaning regime between batches. Wash the shed with a good detergent (such as Cling 2), allow the shed to dry then apply a broad spectrum disinfectant such as TAD CID or Interkokask.

Haemorrhagic Enteritis

Chapter 15 Photograph 14- The haemorrhagic small intestine of an 8 week old turkey poult with HEV

Haemorrhagic Enteritis is a condition caused by an Adenovirus which infects mainly infects young turkeys from 6-12 weeks of age., causing a bloody diarrhoea and if untreated, death.

What to look out for

  • Sullness
  • diarrhoea (often with blood)
  • sudden death


A bloody diarrhoea in turkeys is highly suggestive of Haemorrhagic enteritis but blood testing can be used to confirm the suspicion.


In most cases antibiotics are prescribed to control secondary bacterial infections.


A good cleaning regime between batches is essential. Wash the shed with a good detergent (such as Cling 2), allow the shed to dry then apply a broad spectrum disinfectant such as TAD CID or Interkokask.

Vaccination is available.


Respiratory Disease  

The main causes of Respiratory Disease in turkeys are Mycoplasma and Avian RhinoTracheitis virus (ART). Often these agents occur together.

Mycoplasma can be transmitted through mating, through the air and can be transmitted from the hen to the chick. Mycoplasma can cause snicking, swelling of the face and joint infections leading to lameness. It is important to note that Mycoplasma is carried by the bird for life and will remain dormant with little damage caused, however it can flare up during times of stress. 

ART/TRT is a viral infection that can occur with Mycoplasma. ART causes snicking and swelling of the face. ART is transmitted through the air or through contaminated objects such as dirty boots or equipment.

What to look out for

  • sneezing/snicking
  • watery eyes
  • nasal discharge
  • lameness/swollen joints


In mild cases the birds will recover.  However, if the birds appear dull or the condition does not improve then antibiotics will likely be needed. 


  • Only buy poults from reputable suppliers
  • Vaccination against ART/TRT is available
  • Ensure your birds have good ventilation



Coccidiosis is caused by a single celled parasite which enters the cells of the turkey’s intestine to reproduce.  The parasite destroys the cells lining the intestinal wall leading to damage. The degree of damage will depend on how many coccidial eggs (oocysts) are eaten, which in turn will depend upon how contaminated the environment is with oocysts.

This damage reduces the gut’s ability to absorb nutrients leading to weight loss and diarrhoea. The damaged gut allows harmful bacteria to reproduce causing a secondary bacterial diarrhoea and in severe cases this can cross into the blood causing blood poisoning.

Coccidiosis eggs (oocysts) have a very thick wall and as such can survive years in the environment.  The oocysts can be resistant to many disinfectants so ensure that your disinfectant is licensed against coccidiosis.

Note: The coccidial species which infects chickens and turkeys are different.  They cannot infect each other but if you keep chickens and turkeys together, if the conditions are right for cocci to take hold in your chickens, then conditions will be perfect for the cocci species that infects your turkeys.

Which birds are at risk

Turkeys will pick up the eggs from faeces and bedding. As they become exposed to coccidiosis they will develop immunity against it (with or without clinical signs depending on the number of oocysts they consume). Birds that come into contact with their own droppings for the first time such as poults from 2 weeks to 2 months of age have no immunity and as such are vulnerable.

What to look out for

  • dull, hunched birds with ruffled feathers
  • sudden death
  • diarrhoea (often watery and can contain mucus) – blood is rare compared to chicken coccidiosis


Either faecal testing or post-mortem examination can be used to diagnose coccidiosis.


Treatment involves the use of an anticoccidial agent such as Amprolium or Baycox to control the coccidiosis along with the use of antibiotics to control secondary bacterial infections.


A good cleaning regime between batches is essential. Wash the shed with a good detergent (such as Cling 2), allow the shed to dry then apply a licensed anti-coccidial disinfectant such as Interkokask. Coccidiosis is resistant to many disinfectants- if a disinfectant doesn’t explicitly state that it destroys coccidiosis on the label then it must be assumed it won’t destroy coccidiosis.

Coccidiostats can be included in the feed but these must not be fed to older turkeys as they can be poisoned by coccidiostats which cause muscle paralysis.



Chapter 15 Photograph 16- Frothy yellow droppings caused by Rotavirus


Diarrhoea in turkeys can be caused by a number of harmful agents including bacteria, viruses (such as haemorrhagic enteritis virus) and coccidiosis.  These agents damage the intestine wall and can cause reduced absorption of nutrients leading to weight loss and a reduction in the amount of water absorbed by the gut, leading to dehydration. Depending on the cause, the diarrhoea may be contagious to other birds.

Poor quality feed or excessive/inappropriate treats can also lead to diarrhoea.

Dirty drinking water can harbour lots of bacteria to cause diarrhoea- clean drinking water is essential. Over time bacteria numbers will build up in your drinker lines, especially after vitamins are used or in warm weather. These bacteria can trigger a bout of diarrhoea. The drinker lines should be sanitised by a Hydrogen Peroxide water sanitiser at turnaround such as Aqua Clean. A low dose of Aqua Clean can safely be given to your turkeys in their water and this should be given one day per week or after the use of vitamins or medications.

What to look out for

  • Wet litter.
  • Loose droppings.
  • Weight loss.
  • Dull hunched up birds with ruffled feathers.
  • Pasted vents.


If you are concerned that your turkeys have diarrhoea contact your vet or send in a faecal sample (Link to faecal sample ) to rule in/out worms or coccidiosis. Alternatively a post-mortem examination on any fresh dead or ill birds can be used for a diagnosis. Water samples can also be taken from the drinkers to ensure there are not high levels of bacteria in your birds drinking water. Severe infections may require antibiotic therapy.


  • Ensure feed is clean, dry, and within use by date.
  • Ensure clean drinking water is available.
  • Keep bedding clean and dry at all times through regular re-bedding.
  • Consider the use of organic acids and probiotics.


Seed Feed Weed

Turkeys can suffer from enteritis, and on some farms this can be severe with Poult Enteritis Syndrome, leading to stunting and severe diarrhoea. On many farms however the symptoms are a lot milder with the main issue being the effect of caustic droppings on foot pads leading to possible lameness and welfare problems. The use of straw as a bedding for traditionally produced birds has many advantages, but as a product it only poorly absorbs liquids and faeces tend to accumulate on the surface of the bedding , with effects on skin quality and overall bird health.

The conventionally the treatment for wet litter and diarrhoea would involve antibiotics, usually in the water. Whilst this is often effective, there is a risk that the ‘’friendly’’ bacteria are destroyed as well as the ‘’harmful’’ bacteria. The ‘space’ provided in the intestine due to the loss of the ‘friendly’ bacteria can be taken up by bacteria which are more likely to cause disease and are resistant to antibiotics. With Christmas turkeys we are aiming to produce birds which are of a high quality , and have had minimal antibiotic treatments (this fits in with the ‘Farm Fresh Free Range Image). For organic turkeys a given condition, such as diarrhoea,  can only be treated once or the turkeys can no longer be classed as Organic. The use of alternative therapies to antibiotics has been used widely in broiler production , and similar approaches can be used in turkey production where  diarrhoea or foot pad dermatitis is a historical issue.

There are three main areas to consider. Firstly the aim is to improve the environment of the intestine to encourage the ‘’friendly’’ bacteria’’  and to discourage the ‘’harmful’’ bacteria. The bird normally gets its gut bacteria from its mother, but with modern hatchery systems this is not possible, and the early bacteria a poult  comes into contact with can be strains present in the hatchery. Recent work suggests that the bacteria are developing in the intestine of the bird before it hatches and these bacteria must have originated from the mother or her environment. Of course the problem occurs when we treat early mortality in chicks with antibiotics and have a negative effect on these bacteria

To help develop the correct gut flora we suggest :                  

Seed the Intestine

The plan is to start the birds intestinal ecosystem with a starter pack of natural bacteria from turkeys. There are various products on the market , but we prefer a product produced in Germany which is from turkeys and contains Lactobacillus bacteria which form the majority of bacteria in the intestine in the first 20 days. This product should be given after day old delivery for 5 days , or after antibiotic treatment to aim to re-colonize the gut. This is not expensive  and is given for 3-5 hours per day in the water. The next stage is :

Feed and Weed the Bacteria

In general, the bacteria we want to encourage are the acid loving bacteria , not the alkaline types such as E. coli and Clostridia. Therefore we need to supply (short chain) fatty acids to the water or feed . These short chain fatty acids feed the acid loving ‘’good’’ bacteria whilst discouraging (weeding out) the ‘’harmful’’ bacteria.

By treating the water we also reduce bacteria in the water, but have a risk of biofilm (a mucus like substance produced by bacteria to protect them from drying out and disinfectants)  development and therefore we must be sure the water system is clean. The water treatment has been used on many turkeys with great success. In small batches it is possible to use products such as Ultimate acid in the water at a cost of about £3 to treat 1000 litres. We can set up schedules to treat lines for various periods of time depending on the farm issues

The overall plan, Seed Feed Weed ( SFW ) has been implemented in many turkey and broiler farms with great success, and is not expensive. It needs attention to detail and we as a practice have pioneered this in the UK. For more information please contact any of the vets or field staff



Whilst Salmonella infections are not usually harmful to turkeys themselves, from a human health point of view, Salmonella is highly important. For Breeding turkeys and meat turkeys in flocks of over 250 birds Salmonella testing is required. If meat turkeys are being sold locally to butcher shops or from the farm gate, then testing is not required. Testing is done through the use of two pairs of boot swabs per group of turkeys, which are hairnet like covers worm over your boots as you walk around the shed. These are sent off to an external lab for testing. Samples should be taken within three weeks of Slaughter. 


Beak Treating 

Beak treatment in poults is necessary in some cases. This must be carried out by a trained operator and done before the poults are 21 days of age. We can provide pain relief for your poults when they are being beak treated.


Aortic Rupture 

Fast growing stags can suffer from a tear in the main blood vessel (the aorta) that comes out of the heart. In such cases the bird will bleed to death. Our staff can give management advice on slowing your poults’ growth rate to reduce the chances or aortic rupture.



Erysipelas is a bacteria that lives in the soil. It can enter your turkeys’ blood stream through wounds. In severe cases the infection causes sudden death and in less severe cases it can lead to poor growth and lameness.

What to look out for

  • Lameness.
  • Sudden death.
  • Hunched up poults with ruffled feathers.


Diagnosis is made through swabs taken on post-mortem examination.


A course of antibiotics are the best treatment for erysipelas.


Vaccination is the best method of preventing erysipelas

Never keep poultry on ground on which pigs have been on as they can carry erysipelas.