Possible stroke in young Cockerel. PLEASE HELP!!!


In the Brooder
Apr 21, 2018
A couple of days ago my gorgeous light Sussex Cockerel Brian had suddenly went a bit droopy and lethargic. One of his wings and one of his feet he doesn't seem to have much control over (his foot is sometimes curled up but can't bear much weight, his wing just hangs down to his side) so I suspect he has had a stroke. Over the past two days he has slept away from the girls in an old dog kennel we have and I have been trying to get him to walk (he can only walk properly if I am balancing him ) I really don't know what to do so if anyone could help please do. I really don't want to put him down but if it is the right thing to do I will. Xxx


Free Ranging
5 Years
Feb 14, 2014
Consett Co.Durham. UK
I'm afraid the symptoms you describe are almost certainly caused by Marek's Disease. Thinking it is a stroke is a common misdiagnosis. Adolescent birds are particularly at risk of an outbreak but it can affect them as young as 3-4 weeks and fully mature adults. Asymmetrical neurological problems in the limbs or neck are one of the commonest symptoms but there are a huge range of other signs and an even greater variation in severity, that the bird can suffer with Marek's. It can be as discrete as being unable to keep one eyelid fully open or the bird floundering on it's side with it's legs forward and back in the splits unable to get up. It can cause changes in the eye colour or pupil shape, or skin lesions or visceral tumours as well as suppressing the immune system so that the bird is vulnerable to secondary infections like coccidiosis or respiratory problems or even worms.
If he is still eating then there is hope as I have had some be severely lame or unable to stand for a few days and suddenly and dramatically improve like you would never know anything had been amiss but they still have the virus and will be prone to future outbreaks at times of stress. He is also actively shedding the virus whilst he is symptomatic. The means of transmission is via infected dander dust which is inhaled to infect other birds. The chances are that all your flock were exposed to it at the same time as he was infected and others will be harbouring the virus but are not yet symptomatic. It has a dormant phase after infection of a minimum of 3 weeks but it can be months or even years before it exhibits and outbreaks are usually triggered by stress.... what stresses one bird will not necessarily stress another. The confusion and surge of hormones at adolescence is a key trigger hence adolescent birds being the most vulnerable group. Sometimes it is when chicks are moved outside from the brooder or their broody hen weans them, or they are introduced into a larger flock , or adults during moult etc. Keeping the reservoir of infected material in their environment as low as possible will help prevent others that have not yet been infected from becoming so. Some people therefore cull the sick bird and others isolate.

I have the disease in my flock and I used to support the bird within the flock assuming that they had already been exposed but I am coming around to the idea of at least partial isolation to reduce that level of infected material building up in their environment. I have had a number of birds recover from quite severe debilitation with the disease and live a good quality of life until the next episode and if they are bright eyed and keen to eat then I give them supportive care. Putting them outside in the sunshine on grass in a secure cage or run whenever possible is one of the things that has helped the most. A good quality poultry vitamin supplement will also help boost their immune system and aid them to fight it. Good nutrition is important with egg and a little meat or fish or cheese as treats but if they become fussy I will give them whatever they will eat. Marek's causes muscle wastage so you don't generally have to worry about an inappropriate diet making them fat and once they stop eating y go downhill fast so keeping them enthusiastic about food is important.

I wish you luck with him. If you have him isolated a mirror and/or chicken sounds may help him not to get depressed. If you decide to cull him for the sake of your remaining flock, that is probably a wise choice but my preference is to offer supportive care up until the point that they lose interest in food and then I euthanize, because it is downhill after that. be aware that the infected dander can be carried on your clothes/shoes, hair and skin and even the wind so take care not to spread it to other people's flocks although it is a very common and widespread disease and some schools of thought are that it is present is a high percentage of flocks and many people just do not recognise it. The reason for that is the huge range of symptoms it can cause and that some birds suddenly recover and it is usually only diagnosed by necropsy after a bird has died. Many people do not get necropsies unless a number of birds die at the same time, so only the most severe strains of the disease are pinpointed and documented and people assume that that lame young bird must have landed badly off the roost or the wry necked bird has a vitamin deficiency. Since you have a leg and wing affected it is harder to write it off as an injury.

Will you keep us updated with his progress if you don't cull. There are mild strains like I have which don't always kill them and it is useful for others to read about these cases, but entirely understand if you do decide to cull.
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