I’ve never seen tapeworms in my chickens, but I certainly have in various dogs I’ve owned. These worms look like grains of rice wriggling out of the rectum or in their poop. If you haven’t seen them, tapeworms are flat, ribbon-shaped, segmented intestinal worms. There are more than 4,000 species of tapeworms that affect a wide range of animals, with several that can infect chickens.
Unlike roundworms, which live freely in the chicken’s intestinal tract, tapeworms anchor themselves into the wall of the bird’s small intestine with their hook-like mouth. Tapeworms also differ from roundworms in the way their bodies grow, which occurs as increasing segments. Most tapeworms won’t actually cause physical damage to the intestinal wall; however by taking all the nutrients away from the bird it’s still damaging to their health, resulting in stunted growth, weight loss, nutritional deficiencies and increased risk of infection or disease.
One species, Davainea proglottina, can cause damage to the intestine, leading to peritonitis. If the infection spreads to involve the head and sinuses, affected chickens may present with neurological signs such as torticollis (wry neck).
Tapeworms have an indirect life cycle meaning they require another species as intermediate hosts: snails, slugs, beetles, grasshoppers, ants, earthworms, termites, and houseflies.
Chickens become infected by eating the intermediate host: once ingested, the tapeworm larvae get released into the chicken’s gastrointestinal system. From there, the tapeworm larvae attach themselves to the intestinal wall, where they absorb nutrients from food eaten by the chicken.
Once the tapeworm has matured it sloughs off part of its segments, containing egg that gets passed out of the intestines into chicken poop and contaminates the surrounding environment. Intermediate hosts will consume the sloughed tapeworm and its eggs, where the eggs will grow into larvae, and the cycle repeats itself.
- Weight loss
- Dull Feathers
- Wry Neck
- Stunted growth in chicks
- Decreased Egg Production
- Heavy worm load lowers resistance to other illnesses
Obviously we’re not going to prevent our birds from eating potential hosts – earthworms, beetles, ant, slugs, grasshoppers, and flies. In fact, foraging for these things is, for the most part, healthy for them and one of the reasons we allow chickens to clean up pests in the garden. The good news is that tapeworms are less common in chickens than other species of worms.
- Keep your run and pen areas dry and not muddy
- Worm and quarantine new birds
- Practice good hygiene practices (i.e. clean your coop regularly)
- Dispose of coop shavings and bedding where your birds don’t have access to it
Treatment (I live in Canada. Different jurisdictions may recommend and have different medications available. Often wormers for chickens are used off-label. Talk to your vet for advice about the most appropriate product and egg withdrawal periods).
- Treat all birds at the same time
- Fenbendazole/Panacur (powder, liquid, paste)
- Flubendozole /Flubenvet
- Ivermectin does not kill tapeworms
I’m not very knowledgeable in the use of herbs to treat parasites, but there is clear evidence that many alternatives to insecticides are effective, including the use of turmeric and wormwood. This article provides more detailed information.