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What is Gapeworm?

A gapeworm (Syngamus trachea), also known as a red worm and forked worm, is a parasitic nematode worm infecting the tracheas of certain birds. The resulting disease, known as "gape" or "the gapes", occurs when the worms clog and obstruct the airway. The worms are also known as "red worms" or "forked worms" due to their red color and the permanent procreative conjunction of males and females. Gapeworms are common in young, domesticated chickens and turkeys. When the female gapeworm lays her eggs in the trachea of an infected bird, the eggs are coughed up, swallowed, then defecated. When birds consume the eggs found in the feces of an intermediate host such as earthworms, snails, or slugs, they become infected with the parasite.

As the parasites grow, they block the trachea, which will cause infected birds to gasp for air. They stretch out their necks, open their mouths and gasp for air producing a hissing noise as they do so. This "gaping" posture has given rise to the common term "gapeworm". Signs first appear approximately 1–2 weeks after infection. Birds will show signs of weakness and emaciation, usually spending much of their time with eyes closed and head drawn back against the body. An infected bird may give its head a convulsive shake in an attempt to remove the obstruction from the trachea so that normal breathing may be resumed. Severely affected birds, particularly young ones, will deteriorate rapidly; they stop drinking and become anorexic. At this stage, death is the usual outcome. Adult birds are usually less severely affected and may only show an occasional cough or even no obvious clinical signs. A treatment regimine with camvet can be very successful in breaking the reproductive cycle of the parasites. This medication must be obtained from a veterinary clinic.

As with diseases and other types of parasites, a clean coop is one of the best preventatives. You may not be able to control what is outside your coop, but you CAN control what is inside. Keep nesting boxes filled with clean straw, keep water and feed containers clean, and remove animal waste regularly.

Healthly hens make happy hens.


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