Algae Poisoning in Chickens – Signs of Intoxication & Treatment

By Chicken Fans Editorial Team

Algae Poisoning > Symptoms | Causes | Treatment | Prevention | FAQ

Algae poisoning is a severe condition causing several health problems and even sudden death. We discuss the risks, symptoms, and what to do when you suspect your chicken is intoxicated.

Key takeaways:

  • Algae in stagnant water can produce very dangerous toxins
  • Chickens get poisoned when they drink toxic water
  • Different toxins cause different symptoms
  • Some toxins can already affect chickens after 30-60 minutes

What is Algae Poisoning in Chickens?

Algae poisoning is intoxication with poison produced by blue-green algae that grow in slow-moving water. The algae are cyanobacteria and produce the most powerful natural toxin known. When chickens drink the water, some toxins can cause organ failure and result in sudden death in less than an hour.

Symptoms of Algae Poisoning in Chickens

The symptoms of intoxication depend on the type of cyanotoxins the algae produce:

  • Neurotoxins infect the nerve tissue in the nervous system
  • Hepatotoxins inflict chemical liver damage
  • Cytotoxics kill cells and cause irritation and sickness

Symptoms of algae poisoning in chickens include:

  • General weakness, lethargy, loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea, dark droppings or blood in the droppings
  • Pale combs and wattles
  • Drooling, collapsing, and paralysis
  • Seizures and sudden death

The clinical signs can develop fast in the course of several hours after consumption. Neurotoxins can already cause serious issues after 30 to 60 minutes.

Hepatotoxins cause liver failure. As the liver plays a central role in the body, this can result in various health issues. Common signs of liver failure are yellow diarrhea and bloody stool.

Causes of Algae Poisoning in Chickens

Chickens can get poisoned when they drink water with bacterial colonies of algae.

The cyanobacteria are green-blue algae that live on the surface of stagnant water, such as backyard fountains, garden pots, birdbaths, and backyard ponds. The bacteria use sunlight and nutrients from the water to produce their own food.

Chicken coop next to a pond with dark water in direct sunlight. The pond has fencing so the chickens can't drink from the water.

These algae can spread quickly and create large blooms, especially in late summer. Some of the blooms float on the surface and look like blue, green, or brown foamy debris on the water.

Sometimes the bloom looks like paint or oil on the water, but it’s also possible that you can’t see it at all. Oftentimes, the water also smells bad.

Treatment of Algae Poisoning in Chickens

Unfortunately, there is no specific antidote for cyanotoxins, so the first focus is supportive care.

If you suspect algae poisoning, contact your poison center or veterinarian as quickly as possible. Separate the bird and place it in a clean environment with clean drinking water.

A veterinarian might use:

  • Activated charcoal to prevent the stomach from absorbing the ingested toxins
  • Oxygen, IV fluids, electrolytes, and glucose
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Liver supplements

The crop and stomach can also be emptied to decontaminate the bird.

Prevention of Algae Poisoning in Chickens

To prevent algae poisoning:

  • Keep chicken waterers out of direct sunlight
  • Add a tablespoon of vinegar to your drinking water to lower the pH levels
  • Use commercial natural water solutions to keep the waterers clean from algae
  • Make sure you don’t have any containers, pots, birdbaths, or fountains in the backyard with still water
  • Prevent your chickens from accessing any backyard pond, especially if there are visible blooms
  • Be wary of any water that smells or has a strange odor
  • Check and follow up on local authorities and advisories

You can reduce the number of algae by:

  • Limiting the number of fertilizers you use in the garden
  • Keeping the environment clean
  • Use natural vegetation as a buffer surrounding ponds to filter incoming water

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if water has algae toxic to chickens?

There is no way to know if the water contains toxic algae that can affect your chicken other than getting the water tested.

What can I add to the chicken’s drinking water to keep it clean from algae?

You can add a tablespoon of vinegar to each gallon of drinking water. There are many commercial alternatives on the market. Never put bleach into the drinking water, as it harms chickens.

Chicken Fans Editorial Team

The editorial team consists of 3rd generation chicken owners Kat, journalist, editor-in-chief, and Nick, working with illustrators and specialists in the field.

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