I’ve written a series of posts on chicken inputs (what to feed chickens; herbs; prebiotics and probiotics; manufactured feed) and here’s one involving outputs. Understanding how your birds’ digestive system works and interpreting their poop is helpful in diagnosing what is going on internally, including cloacitis, inflammation of the cloaca.
Most folks know cloacitis as vent gleet, meaning slimy matter oozing from the vent, one of its more common symptoms.
Let’s start with a little anatomy tour to better understand the functions of that area.
The cloaca (meaning ‘sewer’) is a three chambered structure located just inside the vent (anus) of the chicken and is part of the large intestine and rectum. Each chamber works to keep poop, urine and eggs from contaminating each other.
The vent, located at the end of the rectum, is the last stop for several systems: the digestive, urinary and the reproductive tract. It is the single opening for urine, poop and eggs to leave the body, and for sperm to enter a hen.
The largest part of the cloaca (coprodeum) receives poop and can hold it for relatively long periods of time, which is imperative for broody hens that may only get off the nest once a day.
Eggs and urine enter the urodeum, the smallest part of the cloaca. The last section (proctodeum) is where poop and urine are passed out of the body. Healthy poop looks like a large round mass with a white cap on top (urine). If you want to get a good idea of your flocks’ health study their poop.
Vent gleet can be caused by a number of stressors that alter the pH levels of the cloaca: fungi, protozoa, parasites, yeast, bacteria, contaminated food or water, intestinal or external parasites, bowel infection, hormone-related uterus issues, nutritional deficiency or stress associated with predator attack, injury or moving to a new flock. In short, just about anything that stresses your birds can result in vent gleet.
Whatever the origin, stress can weaken the tone and function of cloaca, allowing poop and urine to mix together, preventing the normal recycling of water back into the bowel. Stress also increases pH levels, making the entire cloaca, rectum and uterus vulnerable to infection. Indicators of increased pH levels within the cloaca are larger, more watery poop and vent gleet.
Vent gleet in roosters is usually associated with stress-related inflammation involving constipation and more likely to occur during summer because of heat stress. If you have birds of both sex showing signs of vent gleet the cause is often a combination of stress and bowel infections.
Transportation and adjusting to a new home create stress that may activate latent infections in otherwise healthy birds and result in vent gleet. Be sure to monitor new birds for signs of stress and illness.
Early symptoms often go unnoticed, which, of course, is the easiest time to treat it:
- Sudden dull feathers
- Pasting of vent feathers
- Soft, bloated abdomen
- Decreased egg production
- Lack of vitality and postural changes
- Normal appetite
- Smelly poop/vent
- Soiled vent feathers and slimy or bloody discharge coming from vent area
- Straining to poop
- The entire vent becomes red, swollen, often bloody and distorted in appearance
- Hard abdomen
- Decreased appetite
The aim of treatment is to counteract the effect of stress (i.e. acidify the cloaca), stimulate immunity, control secondary infections, identify and eliminate stress factors.
- Use an over-the-counter antifungal like Monistat or Canesten: apply cream externally to the vent area and give suppositories orally (cut each suppository into thirds and give one piece per day for six days).
- Isolate your bird to monitor input and output.
- Provide lots of fresh water and balanced feed.
- Give unsweetened, plain Greek yoghurt.
- Using warm, soapy water, gently clean any poop from their feathers and vent.
- Apply an iodine-based antiseptic (Betadine) to the vent. Repeat over several days to make sure the area is kept clean.
- Acidify drinking water by adding apple cider vinegar ( 1 tbsp/gallon of water).
- Keep patient warm and hydrated.
- In more severe cases, insert 3 millilitres of warmed citric acid or saline-solution into the vent twice daily and massage to help move poop out of the proctodeum. Repeat for 3-4 days.
- Seek advice from your veterinarian to diagnose possible underlying infection and if the use of antibiotics is warranted.
Any stressor which increases the pH levels in the cloaca (above 7.4) is the root cause of vent gleet.
- It’s not contagious, but could be an indicator of underlying health issues affecting the flock.
- If you have high pH levels in your drinking water add acidifiers like citric acid or apple cider vinegar to their water.
- Ensure an adequate amount of calcium and protein to support year round laying.
- Feed a balanced diet.
- Ensure that your birds don’t get dehydrated or chilled which can lead to constipation.