Parasitic diseases are some of the scariest and least understood diseases that Animal Health Services clients encounter. Because many external parasites are microscopic and internal parasites live in our pets’ bodies, many pet owners think they don’t have to worry about them because they can’t see them. This line of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth! Most parasites, directly or indirectly, can harm your pet whether you can see them or not. Way too often, pet owners lose their beloved pets because they don’t want to spend the extra money on parasite prevention. What they fail to realize is that parasite prevention is much less costly than treatment for the diseases they pass along. Plus, a pet’s health and well-being reduces when infected by a parasite.
Internal Parasites vs. External Parasites
Parasites can be classified into two major groups: external and internal. Most people are familiar with external parasites, like ticks and fleas, because they can be seen with the naked eye. They are less familiar with mites and lice, which usually require a microscope to see.
Internal parasites are almost never seen. If they are visible, it is usually because a pet has a horrendous amount of worms and they are shedding live worms via stool or vomit. Typically, these internal parasites are diagnosed via eggs in a fecal test or blood test. If a pet has a tapeworm, they will shed segments of the worm.
Wildlife: The Most Common Source of Parasites
Most external parasites are spread through contact with infected animals or the environment. In our area of Arizona, wildlife (coyotes, rabbits, mice, etc.) are the most common sources of parasites.
Heartworm is a particularly dangerous parasite spread more often around wildlife. This parasite is carried by mosquitoes (and yes, we do have mosquitoes here!). They are transmitted from mammal to mammal through mosquito bites, and once the worms develop and reach a new animal, they migrate for up to 6 months before ending up in the heart. By the time a worm reaches the heart or nearby blood vessels, it’s anywhere from 6 to 14 inches long! Heartworm disease will often cause dogs to experience heart failure. Cats are actually considered abnormal hosts for heartworms, and of those that become infected, 30% die suddenly with no prior warning signs.
Demodectic mites are one common exception. These mites are not considered contagious, so nearby wildlife doesn’t increase a pet’s risk of contracting them. These mites live in the pores of a dog’s skin, and they seem to have a symbiotic relationship with dogs, because they can be found in healthy dogs, too. However, if they are allowed to overgrow, these mites can cause severe skin problems, especially in puppies, so don’t let them become a serious problem.
Testing for and Treating Parasites
There are a lot of different parasite treatments available, but no single treatment covers all types of parasites. Medications used for preventing heartworm disease are also effective at treating a large majority of the parasites we most commonly encounter. Unfortunately, even these medications do not treat all types of parasites. The Companion Animal Parasite Council, responsible for monitoring parasite incidences around the country, recommends all pets to have stool samples checked two to four times every year. In our part of Arizona, we typically recommend twice-yearly samples.
The American Heartworm Society, which monitors heartworm disease, recommends annual heartworm screenings and year-round heartworm preventative medication for dogs. They also recommend year-round preventative medication for cats, regardless of whether they are primarily indoor or outdoor cats. Because cats are considered abnormal hosts, there unfortunately is no accurate test for heartworms in cats.
By testing for parasites regularly, not only do we check for potential breaks in medication, but we also make sure we are treating all parasites your pet may have acquired since their last test.
Your Pet’s Parasites and You
We often come into contact with parasites from our pets because of our close associations and close living quarters with our furry family members. Because we are abnormal hosts, many parasites do not survive in our bodies. However, many others can. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of pet parasites to humans because of the rise in incidence of human cases.
There are a whole host of parasites that can affect humans, but because of our limited exposure to the jungles of the Amazon and the swamps in Florida, we’re not as likely to be exposed to the parasites that are more common in these regions. However, pet owners are potentially exposed to multiple parasites every day just through our interactions with our pets.
Some common external parasites affecting humans include mites, fleas and ticks. Internal parasites we can contract include hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, heartworms and whipworms. There are certainly health concerns associated with all of these parasites. However, the CDC has recently become particularly concerned about the transmission of roundworms to people, as a human roundworm infection can lead to symptoms as severe as blindness and brain damage. This means preventing parasites in your pets protects your entire family.
Parasites in Your Pet’s Environment
Once your dog or cat has had parasites, often your home and yard are seeded with parasite eggs. Many parasite eggs have the ability to survive harsh temperatures and the strongest cleaning chemicals. Unfortunately, this often means that even after being treated for parasites, many cats and dogs will become reinfected from eggs in the home or yard.
To put things in perspective, a recent study performed on two puppies with roundworms found that each puppy would shed a couple of million eggs per week. This study also showed that normal environmental conditions (drying, heat, freezing) did not kill the eggs.
The general recommendation for decontaminating the environment is to cover your entire yard with 6 to 12 inches of straw and burn it or to remove 12 to 18 inches of dirt. Preventing parasites in the first place with twice-yearly fecals and appropriate preventive medications is much easier, of course.
Have your pets tested for intestinal parasites twice every year and for heartworm once a year.
Keep your pets on oral and topical parasite prevention medications all year.
To learn more about parasite prevention, or to find out which parasite prevention medications are best for your pets, call Animal Health Services at 480-488-6181.
We require blood work prior to every anesthetic procedure. Blood work will ensure that your pet’s liver and kidney function, clotting factors and immune system are normal.
The liver and kidneys are responsible for metabolizing the anesthesia, and if they are not working properly, your pet could have complications with the anesthesia. Everyone has heard a story about a veterinarian giving a pet “too much anesthesia,” and their pet died or took a long time to recover. More likely, the pet had an underlying problem with their liver and/or kidneys and could not metabolize the anesthetic properly. It is very uncommon for a veterinarian to give “too much anesthesia” to a pet.
The clotting factor is controlled by platelets. We ensure that your pet has an adequate number of platelets to clot their blood. A low platelet count could result in bleeding problems.
The immune system is checked by ensuring a normal count of white blood cells. An animal with a low white blood cell (WBC) count may have trouble healing. A high WBC count indicates an infection is present, which may require postponing the surgery to allow the pet to fight the infection first.
Pre-anesthetic blood work also checks other internal levels and functions like blood sugar, electrolyte levels and red blood cell levels. With a pre-anesthetic blood panel, we are able to ensure that it is safe to proceed with a surgical procedure and minimize the risks associated with anesthesia.
IV Catheter and Fluids
We require an IV catheter with every anesthetic procedure. An IV catheter establishes a life-line. Not only can we administer fluids during the procedure, we are also able to administer life-saving medications should a problem arise during anesthesia.
A normal side effect of anesthesia is low blood pressure. By administering IV fluids, we increase the volume in the bloodstream, which in turn increases blood pressure. This way, we are able to maintain a normal blood pressure during anesthesia so vital organs are not damaged from a lack of blood flow.
We never expect an animal to have problems during anesthesia. However, we always want to be well prepared should a problem arise. An IV catheter allows us to give IV injections to help increase the heart rate, slow the heart rate or even start the heart back up if there is a cardiac arrest. It is nearly impossible to place an IV catheter on a patient that has decreased blood pressure from anesthesia and/or is in cardiac arrest. By placing it at the start of the operation, we further minimize the risks associated with anesthesia.
Lasers are great in surgery because they cause less trauma than scalpel blades. They make the incision while cauterizing nerve endings and blood vessels at the same time. This allows for less bleeding and less pain post-surgery and also allows for a quicker healing time.
Typically, medications are used to reduce the inflammation that is causing pain. In more severe cases, we administer narcotic agents. Pain management not only helps your pet feel better during recovery, it also aids in the healing process. A pet that is in pain is more likely to be stressed and to lick or chew at the incision. If we are able to keep them from licking and keep them comfortable, pets heal at a much faster rate.
Surgery costs vary depending on the length of the procedure.
Operating Room Usage Fee
The O.R. usage fee is for the multiple suture packs we use during surgery, surgical instrument use, sterilization fees, sterile gowns, gloves, caps, masks, shoe covers and monitoring fees. Each patient that is anesthetized is monitored closely by a trained technician. We monitor blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, temperature, Oxygen levels and anesthetic levels.
If your pet has been bitten by a snake, call Animal Health Services immediately at 480-488-6181.
Arizona is home to 18 of the 30 types of rattlesnakes. It is important to understand how to help your pet if they are ever bitten by a snake. Though it is a rare emergency, it can be fatal if it’s not handled properly.
Home remedies and over-the-counter gadgets are not effective at treating snake bites. The best time spent treating a snakebite is looking for your car keys so you can seek professional medical care as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the longer the toxin works against your pet.
We treat snakebites with aggressive fluid therapy and antiserum/antivenin, and we monitor for blood changes. Antivenin is the most important aspect because it neutralizes the toxin, preventing further damage to the tissues and minimizing blood loss. Most animals need one to two vials to counter the effects of the venom.
Clear away undergrowth, debris, tools, toys and similar items in your yard.
Make sure shrubs, bushes and flower plants do not encroach on your pathways and walkways so you have clear vision of anything in your path.
Clip bushes so they are at least 10 inches off the ground to remove hiding spots.
Pick up bird food and fallen fruit, and try to keep feeders on the perimeter of your property instead of close to your home or yard. Rodents are attracted to these foods, and rodents attract rattlesnakes.
Always peruse your yard before letting pets out to play.
When trail riding or walking, keep your eyes on the path and brush. Snakes like to warm themselves on pavement.
Keep a cell phone on you so you can call for help in case of an emergency.
Arizona law requires all dogs to be vaccinated against rabies and licensed.
All dogs in Arizona need to be vaccinated against rabies and licensed. Many pet owners do not know this! Arizona law mandates that all dogs over three months of age need to be vaccinated against rabies and licensed by the county in which they reside. Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (MCACC) sends regular reminders to dog owners to license their pets. These reminders are sent to all those who have not licensed their pets within 30 days of vaccination.
Our rabies laws are strict because rabies is still prevalent in Arizona. By keeping pets vaccinated against rabies, we keep our pets and our communities safe from this deadly disease.
Licensing is more than a tag. Tags let animal control officers know that the pet is up-to-date on its rabies vaccination. It also is a wonderful identifier. If the dog gets lost, animal control officials can look up the pet’s information from the tag number and get the pet home without the pet even reaching the shelter.
In bite cases, a current vaccination and license provide the pet owner an opportunity to quarantine the dog at home for the necessary 10-day period. This may save a significant amount of money in boarding fees. As you can see, besides it being the law, purchasing a dog license for $16 (altered) or $40 (unaltered) a year in Maricopa County provides dog owners peace of mind. Veterinarians report all rabies vaccinations administered to MCACC, and this requirement is critical for protecting public health and the well-being of the community’s pets. MCACC maintains a centralized database on all pets’ rabies vaccinations, and this database has proven to be an invaluable resource in bite cases, helping numerous victims to avoid post-exposure vaccinations.
Dog licensing fees support shelter operations. In Maricopa County, these fees allow MCACC to provide shelter and care for over 60,000 animals a year. At this time, MCACC is the number one pet-adoption and life-saving agency in Arizona, and MCACC’s shelters depend solely on licensing and shelter fees to support their operations.
Healthy, well-bred puppies are the result of research, planning, love and hard work. But infertility issues can affect even breeders who do everything “right.” At Animal Health Services, we will work with you to diagnose infertility problems in both stud dogs and brood bitches, and we will do everything we can to help your dogs deliver happy, healthy puppies.
Frequently asked questions about infertility consultations at Animal Health Services:
What happens at an infertility consultation at Animal Health Services? The first step is to get a complete history of reproductive and general health and a comprehensive physical exam. Further diagnostics may include bloodwork, ultrasound, biopsy or other testing depending on the veterinarian’s findings.
What is the first thing you do to determine why my dog won’t get pregnant? This depends on the dog’s history. Was progesterone testing done when she was bred? Was she bred to a proven stud? There is no single answer for this.
What is the normal cycle for a dog? Typically, dogs are in heat every six months, and the cycle lasts roughly three weeks. The most common days for breeding are from days 11 to 14, but ovulation may occur as early as day two and as late as day 21.
How do I know if my dog is having normal cycles? Progesterone testing throughout the cycle will tell us if and when ovulation has occurred and whether the progesterone level stays elevated after ovulation.
My bitch is fertile but won’t accept the stud. What do I do? Bring them both in and we’ll do an artificial insemination.
My dog has gotten pregnant, but she keeps aborting. Can we find out why? We can certainly try! There are many different conditions and issues that can contribute to infertility, including endocrine (hormonal), congenital and environmental. We are equipped to pursue many avenues to get an answer, but just as in human obstetrics, there are times when even our best efforts fall short.
Frequently asked questions about pre-breeding examinations at Animal Health Services:
What should my dog be checked for prior to breeding? Conscientious breeders obtain all appropriate health clearances on their dogs before breeding. The most common of these tests are hip and elbow clearances, but there are a variety of other tests that may be recommended depending on the breed.
How long is the appointment? The pre-breeding exam generally lasts around 30 minutes. OFA or PennHIP radiographs usually take about one hour.
Should I bring anything? Any previous medical records, including general health, reproductive health and vaccination history. If the dog has been bred previously, records specific to the breedings (like progesterone test results, days bred, etc.) are very helpful. For PennHIP or OFA radiographs, we need a copy of the AKC registration certificate.
What is involved in a pre-breeding examination for a stud? General physical examination plus checking the testicles, prostate and penis for any abnormalities. We also recommend brucellosis testing.
What is involved in a pre-breeding examination for a bitch? General physical examination plus checking for vaginal strictures. We also recommend brucellosis testing.
Is a pre-breeding examination required before breeding? No, but we do highly recommend it.
Can the stud/bitch’s owner require a pre-breeding examination before exposing their pet to a potential partner? Many stud owners require a brucellosis test, but typically the exam is not required. Health clearance requirements vary widely from breed to breed.
What happens if there are negative findings during a pre-breeding examination? It depends on what we find. Some diagnoses require breeding the dog via artificial insemination instead of natural breeding. Dogs may need antibiotics or nutritional supplements to treat other conditions.
Are the findings made public? The results of all examinations and diagnostic tests and any treatments recommended or performed are strictly confidential. Clear results from OFA tests are posted on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website. Affected results may be posted at the owner’s discretion. At this time, PennHIP data is not publicly available.
Eye clearances for the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) can only be completed by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Please contact Animal Health Services for a referral to a specialist for this test.
While the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) continues to place most of its attention on hip dysplasia, today’s OFA mission, “To improve the health and well-beings of companion animals through a reduction in the incidence of genetic disease,” reflects the organization’s expansion into other inherited diseases.
OFA orthopedic evaluations take about one hour at Animal Health Services. Your pet may be given a mild sedative and will then proceed to our digital radiology department, where a doctor and technician will take radiographs of your pet’s relevant body parts. Once the radiographs are complete, we allow your pet to recover from the sedative until they are ready to walk out of the office.
Once the digital radiographs are taken and reviewed by OFA, we will notify you of the results within 14 to 21 business days.
Hip dysplasia is a terrible genetic disease because of the various degrees of arthritis (also called degenerative joint disease, arthrosis and osteoarthrosis) it can eventually produce, leading to pain and debilitation.
No one can predict when or even if a dysplastic dog will start showing clinical signs of lameness due to pain. There are multiple factors that can affect the severity of clinical signs and phenotypic expressions (radiographic changes), such as caloric intake, level of exercise and weather. However, radiographic changes won’t necessarily reflect changes to the dog’s pain levels. Many dysplastic dogs with severe arthritis still run, jump and play as if nothing is wrong, and some dogs with barely any arthritic radiographic changes are severely lame.
Elbow dysplasia is a general term used to identify an inherited polygenic disease in the elbow. Three specific etiologies make up this disease, and they can occur independently or in conjunction with one another.
These etiologies include:
Pathology involving the medial coronoid of the ulna (FCP)
Osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle in the elbow joint (OCD)
Ununited anconeal process (UAP)
Studies have shown the inherited polygenic traits causing these etiologies are independent of one another. Clinical signs involve lameness, which may remain subtle for long periods of time. No one can predict at what age lameness will occur in a dog due to a large number of genetic and environmental factors, like the degree and severity of changes, rate of weight gain and amount of exercise. Subtle changes in gait may be characterized by excessive inward deviation of the paw, which raises the outside of the paw so that it receives less weight and distributes more mechanical weight on the outside (lateral) aspect of the elbow joint, moving weight away from the lesions located on the inside of the joint. Range of motion in the elbow is also decreased.
While the exact mode of inheritance is unknown, osteochondrosis (OCD) is considered to be an inherited disease. Affected individuals show a disruption in ossification of the cartilage mold beneath the articular cartilage of the joint. This results in aseptic necrosis, and when the weakened area collapses, the articular cartilage fractures cause lameness.
OCD has been reported to occur in the shoulder, elbow, stifle, hock and spine and can be unilateral or bilateral. Most affected dogs that develop clinical signs are less than one year of age.
OCD is seen in many breeds, but it appears to be more common in breeds with larger body types. It is also seen more frequently in males than females.
The patella, or kneecap, is part of the stifle joint (knee). In patellar luxation, the kneecap luxates, or pops out of place, either in a medial or lateral position. Bilateral involvement is most common, but unilateral is not uncommon. Animals can be affected by the time they are 8 weeks of age.
The most notable finding is a knock-knee (genu valgum) stance. The patella is usually reducible, and laxity of the medial collateral ligament may be evident. The medial retinacular tissues of the stifle joint are often thickened, and the foot can be seen to twist laterally as weight is placed on the limb.
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease (LCP)
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease (LCP) is a disorder of hip joint conformation. In dogs, it is most often seen in miniature and toy breeds between the ages of 4 months to a year.
LCP occurs when the blood supply to the femoral head is interrupted, which results in avascular necrosis, or the death of the bone cells. Followed by a period of revascularization, the femoral head is subject to remodeling and/or collapse, creating an irregular fit in the acetabulum, or socket. This process of bone cells dying and fracturing, followed by new bone growth and remodeling of the femoral head and neck, can lead to stiffness and pain.
LCP is believed to be an inherited disease, although the mode of inheritance is not known. Because there is a genetic component, it is recommended that dogs affected with LCP not be used in breeding programs.
Breeds most at risk for Legg-Calve-Perthes disease:
Affenpinscher, Australian Terrier, Bichon Frise, Border Terrier, Boston Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Chihuahua, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Fox Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, Lakeland Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Miniature Pinscher, Pomeranian, Pekingese, Poodle, Pug, Schipperke, Scottish Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Silky Terrier, Welsh Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier.
Addressing your cat’s physical and emotional needs enhances its health and quality of life.
Behavior problems are a leading cause of pets being surrendered or euthanized. These problems often occur in cats because their needs have not been fully met. Cats need resources to perform their natural behaviors and have control over their social interactions. As owners, we can enhance our cats’ health and wellbeing by ensuring all their needs are met in the home environment. You might ask: “What can be stressful for a beloved cat with food, water, and a roof over its head?” Read on to find out.
FACT: Less than 3% of dogs demonstrating allergies show allergies to corn, while 58% show allergies to beef. Beef, wheat, dairy, chicken, chicken egg and lamb constitute 93% of all allergies in dogs.
MYTH: Dogs are carnivores (meat eaters).
FACT: Dogs are actually omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. They need both plant and animal material in their diets. In the wild, predators (like wild dogs and coyotes) often go for the internal organs (stomach, intestines, etc.) of their prey first, which many believe is because they are going after the plant material that has been eaten by the prey first.
MYTH: The pet food industry is well regulated.
FACT: There is very little regulation in the pet food industry and almost no quality control. It is a “buyers beware” industry, and the FDA only gets involved if there is a major incident.
MYTH: Pet food labels are good sources of information.
FACT: There is only one aspect of pet food labels that have any legal significance, and that’s the AAFCO statement. This statement should tell you two things: 1) How the diet was derived (i.e. formulated or through animal feeding studies) and 2) what life stage it was designed for. The life stages currently recognized in the pet food industry are puppy/kitten, pregnant bitch and maintenance. Diets that claim to be for “all life stages” must meet the needs of puppies or kittens and pregnant pets.
MYTH: The list of ingredients on the bag represents what is in it based on quantity (weight).
FACT: This is actually true, but because the rules are vague, companies often manipulate the system. For example, a reputable company that includes chicken would measure only the chicken meat they put into the diet. A less reputable company will include whole chicken with internal organs, bones, etc. They may even inject the chickens with water so they weigh more to move it up the list of ingredients.
MYTH: My dog loves the taste of this diet, so it must be a good diet.
FACT: There are three things that make diets palpable: sugar, salt and fats. Even though diets filled with these taste good, they can be bad for your pet’s long-term health. We all love fatty fast foods and candy bars, but we all know what happens when we eat too much of them.
MYTH: BARF (bones and raw food) diets and other raw food diets are always better than commercial diets.
FACT: There could be some benefit to a diet of freshly killed meats balanced with other nutrients, but there is no data to prove it. Unfortunately, all the commercially available raw diets go through slaughterhouses and, in turn, can have high levels of salmonella and E. coli. Dogs are susceptible to salmonella just like people are. Their digestive tracts do not kill salmonella, and if a dog is infected with salmonella, they can shed it around the house. These diets also often contain ground up bones, and ingesting these leads to high ash ingestion (calcium, phosphorus), which can lead to early kidney disease. These diets can also contain shards of bone, which can cause intestinal obstructions, fractured teeth and gastrointestinal perforation.
MYTH: Grains and carbohydrates are not digestible by domestic dogs.
FACT: Dogs are quite capable of gaining large amounts of energy from grains. Nearly 99% of the starch fraction and 60 to 84% of the protein fraction of commonly used grains is digestible in dogs. The difference is in the type of grain used. For example, corn gluten is very digestible, while whole corn is not.
MYTH: There is no difference between diets that are formulated using the AAFCO guidelines and those that have used the AAFCO feeding guidelines.
FACT: In some cases, this may be true, but there is no way of knowing. A diet of old shoes, oil, coal and water could technically be made to meet the formulated standard, but we all know it would not pass a feeding trial.
MYTH: Meat by-products in pet foods are bad and should be avoided.
FACT: By-products by definition are secondary products produced in addition to the principle product. Some common by-products we consume as humans are vitamin E, Jell-O brand gelatin and beef bouillon. Examples in pet foods are lamb meal, fish meal, salmon meal, vitamin E, chicken liver, whey, beet pulp, chicken fat, rice bran and tomato pomace. Good pet food companies will use by-products to enhance the product; lesser companies may use these as cheap substitutes or fillers.
MYTH: Organic pet food is always healthier.
FACT: Unless the pet food has the USDA label for organic diets, it is not 100% organic. Many companies will use one organic product in the formula and then claim the whole diet is organic. If it is not outrageously expensive, it is probably not organic. That is why most companies do not have full organic lines: these foods are expensive to produce. There are new regulations in place for how foods with organic ingredients can be labeled:
“100% organic” – This is the USDA’s certification. Food with this label must truly be 100% organic.
“Organic” – The food must be at least 95% organic by weight.
“Made with organic ingredients” – The food must be at least 70% organic.
If food is less than 70% organic, it cannot be labeled organic on the main panel.
Organic does not denote quality or research, only that the ingredients used are organic.
MYTH: All-natural pet food is better.
FACT: “All-natural” means that all the ingredients came from nature without chemical alteration. Coal, oil, feathers and hemlock would all qualify, so calling a food “all-natural” doesn’t really mean anything. Marketing departments like buzzwords that impress us, even though they have limited value in helping us pick diets for our pets.
MYTH: Holistic pet diets are better.
FACT: There is no legal definition of holistic in the laws regulating pet foods. Any manufacturers could make claims of making “holistic” food in their literature and brochures regardless of the ingredients they use. It’s another marketing buzzword that doesn’t reflect the quality of the product.
MYTH: I bought a huge bag of dog food for a low price, so I got a great deal.
FACT: The only way to know if you got a good deal is to look at relative cost. A good example is the cost per day to feed your dog. A lot of cheaper diets add fillers and other nondigestible material to their diets to make it seem like they’re providing more food. But actually, this just equates to more feces and clean up. Good diets use ingredients that are more digestible, which minimizes feces and keeps your pet satiated.
Still need help debunking pet food myths? Talk with your Animal Health Services veterinarian.
As the cooler weather approaches us here in Arizona, you may be thinking about adding chickens to your yard. Backyard chickens have become increasingly popular over the last few years and have many benefits including daily fresh eggs, insect and pest control, and hours of entertainment. Many current and future chicken owners may like the idea of raising their flock from chicks, but raising newly hatched chicks may seem overwhelming at first. Here are some tips for success with raising baby chicks to be happy, healthy chickens.
One of the first steps in raising baby chicks is choosing a breed. Future owners should keep in mind the intended purpose for their flock (i.e. eggs, pets, show, meat) and research appropriate breeds. Some breeds make better egg layers and others are known to be calmer which make them easier to handle. Other breeds offer unusual qualities like silkies and naked necks that can add variety to a flock.
Once you have chosen a breed, the next step is deciding where to purchase them. It is important to keep in mind the future purpose of the chickens. Chick hatcheries offer a nice option for those that are looking for pets and egg layers. Hatcheries generally have a large variety of breeds and allow owners to purchase sexed chicks. Sexing chicks at a young age requires very specific skills, but allows for a lower chance of receiving extra roosters. Breeders also offer a nice option for those that may be planning to breed or show their birds. When choosing a source of chicks, you want to purchase from clean, reputable sources. This will reduce the risk of spreading disease, especially in existing flocks.
Many seasoned poultry owners will often joke and say that having chickens is a lot like eating potato chips – you can’t have just one! Deciding on a flock size can be difficult task, but a good starting number is three to six birds. When planning to build a coop, it is always a good idea to build it larger than expected. That way adding new birds in the future will be possible without adding to the coop size. Many owners also enjoy the sounds of a rooster in the morning and may want to hatch their own eggs in the future. If so, one rooster for every 12 hens is a recommended ratio.
Some hatcheries and breeders may offer a variety of different vaccinations for their chicks before sending them off with their new owner. One of the most important vaccines for chicks is for Marek’s disease. This is a disease that is found in many flocks, spread through feather dander, and can cause devastating paralysis in growing birds. The disease is less likely to affect older birds but can be spread to younger birds from an existing flock. When combined with good hygiene, this vaccine can help protect young birds from Marek’s.
Nutrition plays a very important role in growing animals. Luckily, commercially available chicken feed takes the worry away from owners and provides birds with very balanced nutrition. Chick feed is usually available as a crumble and the small size makes it easy for young birds to swallow and digest. Some owners may wonder about the importance of medicated vs. non-medicated chick feed. Medicated feed contains amprolium which helps prevent disease caused by a commonly found organism called coccidia. This parasite can cause bloody diarrhea and GI disease. Coccidiosis can also lead to secondary bacterial infections and high mortality in flocks where the disease is uncontrolled.
Sufficient heat is important for young chicks as they are unable to regulate their own temperatures well on their own. When raised by a hen, chicks will often be found snuggled beneath the hen’s wings to keep warm. In a brooder situation, chicks need an environment kept at roughly 95-100ºF for the first two weeks. After that, the temperature should be dropped approximately five degrees until close to room temperature. It is recommended to provide both warm and cool areas in the brooder so that chicks can have options of different temperatures. This means the brooder should be large enough to give chicks enough room as they grow and should have some sort of covering to prevent chicks from flying out of the brooder and into a heat lamp. It is important to pay attention to how chicks distribute themselves in a brooder. If huddled together under the heat lamp, the brooder is likely too cold. If positioned away from the heat lamp, they are likely too hot. The source of heat should be adjusted as needed.
Feeders and waterers are an important aspect of raising chicks. Waterers should be raised enough the chicks can reach the water but are unable to walk through it. Placing the waterer on a flat rock or piece of wood often works well. Chicks should not be able to sleep or roost on their feeders to prevent contamination of fecal material. Changing water and feed often is important to prevent disease and to ensure chicks are receiving proper nutrition.
Providing a strong start for your baby chicks will help maintain your flock health, enhance productivity, and increase the time you are able to enjoy your birds. The veterinarians at Animal Health Services are more than happy to assist you with individual bird and flock health including parasite testing, disease management, and poultry emergen