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Fowl Pox Virus | Prevention and Treatment for Backyard Chickens

Fowl pox is a fairly common in backyard chickens and is an easily spread virus that can plague flocks.

Closeup of chicken

Fowl pox is a fairly common, highly infectious virus that can affect chickens, ducks and other types of poultry and can spread through a flock quite easily through direct contact or through the air.  

Fowl pox is also called sore head, avian diphtheria or bird pox.  It is not the same as chicken pox and can't be transferred from chickens to humans or to other species of animals.

When you raise chickens, it's always a good idea to have a least a passing knowledge of the various illnesses and things that can go wrong, so knowing the signs of fowl pox are important.

Even though the vast majority of things that can go wrong will never befall your flock, being able to detect early symptoms will help you prevent and treat most things.

Fowl Pox Virus | 
Prevention and Treatment for Backyard Chickens

Gray chicken's head

Fowl Pox Symptoms

There are two types of fowl pox: wet and dry. A chicken can be infected with one type or the other, or even sometimes both at the same time.

Typical symptoms of either type of fowl pox include:

  • lack or loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • some lethargy
  • a reduction in egg laying

Some cases of both types of fowl pox will also result in red, irritated, weepy eyes that eventually crust over and puffy eyelids that eventually close, causing a temporary loss of vision. 

Dry Fowl Pox

The dry form of fowl pox is more common and manifests itself with small yellowish bumps or blisters on the areas on the chickens without feathers:

  • around the eyes
  • on the face
  • on the comb
  • on the wattles
  • sometimes on the legs or feet
These bumps grow in size and darken from yellow to brown to black as rough scabs form. 

The scabs will then dry up and fall off on their own, usually after two or three weeks, leaving behind smooth pink scar tissue. 

Those fallen scabs contain the pox virus which can then infect other flock members. 

Wet Fowl Pox

Wet Fowl Pox starts off as whitish, cheesy patches in the throat and mouth that spread and grow into bumps. These can cause problems including:

  • swallowing
  • eating and drinking
  • respiratory distress 
  • suffocation or asphyxiation in severe cases
Chicken scratching in the dirt

How is Fowl Pox Spread to Backyard Chickens?

Fowl pox is initially spread to chickens by mosquitoes biting them and is more prevalent in the early spring, although can be a problem in during the winter when chickens tend to be closed up more in their coops or houses. 

The incubation period after exposure to the infected mosquito is 10-14 days and then the fowl pox virus can take 3-5 weeks to work its way through the host chicken.

Fowl pox can also be introduced to a backyard flock through an infected chicken being added to the flock.

It is then spread throughout the flock through direct contact from other chickens pecking at the scabs on an infected chicken's face or comb. It can also be spread by chickens scratching on the ground where the scabs have fallen off.  

Since it's airborne, the virus can also be spread from an infected chicken when they breathe, and enter the other hens bodies through their mucus membranes in their eyes, nose and mouth. It can also infect chickens through cuts or scrapes on their skin,

The virus can live for months or even years in discarded scabs, infected feathers and dander in a chicken coop or run.  

Although fowl pox is contagious, it tends to spread slowly through a flock. Although it will only affect an individual chickens for several weeks, it can take months to work its way through the entire flock.

Women applying salve to roosters comb

Fowl Pox Treatment

There is no known treatment or cure for the fowl pox virus. Any treatment you might do is merely to make the infected chicken more comfortable and help the scabs heal. The scabs should NOT be removed, however.

More serious sores run the risk of getting infected, so try and prevent infection and encourage healing.

  • Apply some iodine to the scabs
  • Saline solution squirted into the eyes of a chicken infected with fowl pox can also help to provide some relief

Any infected chickens should be separated away from the rest of the flock until the scabs go away. 

If the breathing becomes labored, or the symptoms continue to worse and become severe, a vet visit for antibiotics can help to prevent infection, although antibiotics won't cure the fowl pox virus.

Bowl of fresh herbs and flowers

Fowl Pox Prevention

There is a fowl pox vaccination available that can be administered to chickens aged 12-16 weeks. Chicks can also be vaccinated right after they hatch.

Further prevention of the fowl pox virus includes removing standing water that might harbor mosquitoes and planting aromatic herbs around the coop to repel mosquitoes. 

Some good choices for herbs that repel mosquitoes are:

  • cat mint
  • citronella (lemon grass)
  • garlic
  • lavender
  • rosemary 

Other things that can be done to try to prevent fowl pox include:

  •  cleaning the chicken coop and run regularly to remove infected scabs and debris

Fowl Pox Mortality Rates

The dry form of fowl pox is rarely fatal (less than 5% of infected birds die), although cases can vary in severity. The wet form of fowl pox has a slightly higher mortality rate due to the chance of suffocation. 

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