Ammonia Toxicity in Chickens

Reviews etiology, risk factors, clinical signs, prevention, and treatment.
By Melky · Oct 25, 2018 · ·
Rating:
4.5/5,
  1. Melky
    Ammonia Toxicity In Chickens

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    Ammonia is naturally produced in poultry droppings and has a very pungent smell. Besides the challenge of a smelly coop, did you know that ammonia levels could build up in your coop without proper ventilation especially during the winter months when it is cold outside and everyone wants to close the chickens up inside the coop for warmth? Did you know that ammonia is an invisible, water-soluble, colorless alkaline gas and is listed as a toxic substance by the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry? Ammonia can also be found in common household or industrial cleaners such as window cleaning products and also some pesticides.

    Humans and chickens after repeated or prolonged exposure can develop reduced sensitivity to the odor of ammonia but the harmful effects can still lead to a chronic sinusitis. The ammonia odor can be an eye, mucous membrane, and respiratory irritant. As we prepare our coops it is important to think about types of bedding, frequency of manure removal, humidity level, surface area of stored manure, ventilation, manure handling, number of chickens, and the pH of the manure.

    Ammonia toxicity is noted by an inflammatory eye condition usually bilaterally in chickens, caused by exposure to prolonged or high amounts of ammonia fumes. It has been found that ammonia concentrations above 25 ppm are toxic to chickens and some have concern for toxicity or irritation at 10 ppm. The ammonia concentration (AMC) is higher in the morning and at night when the wind is not blowing and the heat index is extreme. Typically temperatures above 25°C (77° F) and humidity > 80% increase AMC levels. The main presenting symptom is conjunctivitis an inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva of the eye. Younger chickens are of course more susceptible than adult chickens and this is more frequently seen in the winter time due to increased time spent inside, with reduced ventilation, and accumulated manure. Many anticipate evaporative moisture losses assist in removal of moisture from litter but evaporation rates may be inadequate to remove quantity of water added to litter on daily basis from manure and drink spillage, which compounds the problem. If pH is 7 or greater this also will allow for conversion of ammonium to ammonia so reducing pH of litter to less than 7 becomes important.

    Cases of Ammonia Toxicity reported in flocks
    Ammonia Toxicity Chart.jpeg
    Clinical Signs

    Crusty eyes
    Swollen eyelids
    Rubbing heads against wings
    Gray-cloudy looking cornea
    Reddened eyes
    Sensitive to Light
    Blindness

    Diagnosis
    History
    Clinical signs
    Eye exam

    Treatment
    • Improve Management Practices
      Clean and change coop litter more often; consider switching to a different type of material. Peat works best for reduction of ammonia levels.
    • Supportive Care
      Isolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (e.g. chicken hospital or covered crate) with access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
    • Topical Antibiotics
    Risk Factors
    Build up of droppings in an enclosed area
    Poor ventilation
    Increased Moisture
    Increased time indoors, particularly the winter

    Prevention
    • Add 100 g/kg of natural zeolites (clinoptilolite) to the bedding litter, to reduce moisture, ammonia levels, and pH
    • Ensure proper ventilation and provide dry, clean bedding that is frequently changed
    • Do not overcrowd birds
    Product Resources
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    DooKashi Coop Odor Eliminator:
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B010TXIY1Y/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl? ie=UTF8&tag=dvmsites20&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B010TXIY1Y&linkId=f8c28bb7d46951c0cd3d5d44792c1596

    51syEhkYQ-L.jpg

    Manna Pro Coop Odor Eliminator:
    https://www.amazon.com/Pack-Manna-P...=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=manna+pro+odor+eliminator

    51AYqI9cJzL._AC_US218_.jpg

    Sweet PDZ Coop Refresher:
    https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-PDZ-Co...UTF8&qid=1540478893&sr=8-1&keywords=Sweet+PDZ

    Prognosis
    Depends on timeliness of diagnosis and treatment.

    References
    Agency for toxic substance and disease registry. (2011). Ammonia. Retrieved from
    https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp? toxid=2

    Arteaga, V., Mitchell, D., Armitage, T., Tancredi, D., Schenker, M., & Mitloehner, F.
    (2015). Cage versus noncage laying-hen housings: Respiratory exposures.
    Journal of Agromedicine, 20(3), 245-255.

    David, B., Mejdell, C., Michel, V., Lund, V., Moe, R.O. (2015). Air Quality in
    alternative housing systems may have an impact on laying hen welfare. Part II-
    Ammonia. Animals (Basel), 5(3), 886-96.

    Dunlop, M.W., Blackall, P.J., & Stuetz, R.M. (2015). Water addition, evaporation and
    water holding capacity of poultry litter. Science of the Total Environment, 538,
    979-85.

    Gutiérrez-Zapata, D.M., Galeano-Vasco, L.F., Cerón-Muñoz, M.F. (2016).
    Semiparametric modeling of daily ammonia levels in naturally ventilated caged-
    egg facilities. PloS One, 11(1): e0147135.

    Poultry DVM. (2018). Ammonia toxicity. Retrieved from
    http://www.poultrydvm.com/condition/ammonia-burn

    Schneider, A.F., Almeida, D.S., Yuri, F.M., Zimmermann, O.F., Gerber, M.W., &
    Gewehr, C.E. (2016). Natural zeolites in diet or litter of broilers. British Poultry
    Science, 57
    (2), 257-263.

    Shah, S., Westerman, P., & Parson, J. (2012). Air quality; Poultry litter amendments.
    Air Quality Education in Animal Agriculture. The USDA National Institute of Food
    and Agriculture. Retrieved from https://articles.extension.org/sites/default/files
    /Litter Amendments FINAL.pdf

    U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2014). Ammonia. Tox Town. Retrieved from
    https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/ammoni

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    About Author

    Melky
    Hi, I am striving to always lead an organic happy healthy life for me and my family supporting farm to table excellent quality food. I love going in my backyard to find what is for dinner combining the best of flavors for that perfect taste and aroma to put on my plate.
    breege and OlympicChick like this.

Recent User Reviews

  1. Shadrach
    "This is very good."
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 28, 2018
    This is a good article. It's well written informative and I like the references.
    It would have been good to mention a little more on how coop hygine can reduce the levels but overall I liked this a lot.
    Melky likes this.
  2. MROO
    "Good overview for ammonia issues"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Oct 27, 2018
    This article has some really good information, especially about the signs of ammonia overload in birds of different ages. Some of the information is wordy and difficult to interpret, so some simplification would be very helpful for most readers. The sentence about "anticipate evaporative moisture losses" is hard to decipher. It may have a simple typo (should it be anticipated?), but unless the reader already understands the concept, it's kinda hard to interpret properly.
    Other than that, this is a really good article, and with the quickly approaching winter weather, a very timely one! Thanks!
    1. Melky
      No typo. Correct tense in article. Thank you for the kind view.

Comments

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  1. Melky
    As I wrote this article many chicken keepers had questions for winterizing coops which made me think do people really know why it is important to reduce ammonia, moisture, and pH and how you do it. This is particularly important to do in winter but also throughout the year to eliminate disease. While other articles described the structure of a coop and ventilation, we really had not discussed bedding or odor elimination products that work. This article lets you know proven methods through research that work.

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