Wet droppings or chicken diarrhea are an early warning sign of intestinal distress that can provide a producer an invaluable insight into the overall gut health of their birds
The normal intestinal transit time of commercial poultry is fairly fast, only about 4-8 hours, thus serious situations can arise very quickly. Moreover, wet litter is associated with numerous concerns including animal welfare issues such as contact or footpad dermatitis and reduced air quality due to increased ammonia concentrations. (Read 5 tips to successfully manage poultry house ammonia levels).
Wet litter could also present a food safety concern as it provides an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
Diarrhea can often be a complex issue as it can be caused by a variety of means including both non-pathogenic and pathogenic agents. Due diligence on behalf of the producer is necessary to identify the underlying cause of the disturbance and take corrective actions as soon as possible in order to return to optimal gut health.
Excessive water intake has a direct correlation with the incidence of wet droppings. High temperatures and humidity within the house can lead to heat stress in birds and cause them to drink more and eat less in attempts to regulate their body temperature. Moreover, heat stress has been shown to impair intestinal integrity and lead to a leaky and inflamed gut. Compromised gut integrity will reduce net water absorption from the intestinal tract, thus resulting in watery excreta; alternatively, excess nutrients will increase renal outputs of water.
High intake of the minerals potassium, magnesium, sodium, sulfate, or chloride through the feed or water can cause increased water consumption as birds try to maintain their electrolyte balance, thus leading to wet droppings. Feed levels of salt should be evaluated to insure that a mixing error has not occurred and mineral concentrations in the water should be tested regularly. Poor quality or rancid fat can also lead to diarrhea. Additionally, certain feed ingredients, particularly those high in Non-Starch Polysaccharides (NSP) such as wheat, barley, and rye, are often associated with incidence of wetter and more viscous excreta as these components trap water and prevent it from being reabsorbed. For diets high in these feed ingredients, it is common practice to use commercially available NSP-degrading enzyme preparations.
Moldy feed or feed ingredients can also be a source of mycotoxins. Mycotoxins – toxic fungal metabolites produced by common molds found in many components of poultry diets— can directly reduce gut integrity, thus leading to decreased absorption and digestion of dietary nutrients and increased intestinal barrier permeability, which in turn can lead to wet litter. Furthermore, some mycotoxins, like ochratoxins, can cause damage to the kidneys and lead to increased diuresis.
Coccidosis, caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Eimeria, is the most frequently cited disease associated with increased incidence of diarrhea. Coccidial infection, resulting either from natural disease outbreak or from introduction at low levels through live coccidiosis vaccination, can damage the intestinal epithelium, allowing the leakage into the intestinal lumen. Moreover, the leakage of plasma proteins can provide a rich nutrient substrate that Clostridium perfringens can exploit for proliferation and toxin production, hence leading to necrotic enteritis.
Bacterial diarrhea or dysbacteriosis, a non-specific bacterial enteritis, is another highly cited caused of wet excreta. Dysbacteriosis is an imbalance of the intestinal microbiota caused by several non-infectious and infectious factors such as high inclusion of NSP in the diet, coccidia, and C. perfringens. Dysbacteriosis may also be a result of an abrupt change in feed or other stress factors, which upset the usual microbial balance in the intestine.
Pathogenic bacteria, like Escherichia coli, Campylobacter jejuni, and spirochaetes, as well as several viruses, such as adenovirus, coronavirus, reovirus and rotavirus are known to have been implicated as a causative agent of diarrhea.
- Diarrhea is a common occurrence in the poultry industry that can provide valuable insight into the overall health of the bird.
- Wet droppings are a sign that the gut is not able to work at full efficiency and feed conversion and thus profits are not where they could be. Determining the underlying cause of wet droppings can often be multi-factorial and complicated, but uncovering these issues and implementing a targeted mitigation strategy will foster a quick return to optimal gut health, which will ultimately pay dividends in the long run.
Butcher, G. D., and R. D. Miles. 2018. Causes and Prevention of Wet Litter in Broiler Houses. University of Florida IFAS Extension.
Dunlop, M. W., Moss, A. F., Groves, P. J., Wilkinson, S. J., Stuetz, R. M., and P. H. Selle. 2016. The multidimensional causal factors of ‘wet litter’ in chicken-meat production. Sci Total Environ. 562: 766-776.