Main causes of watery feces in poultry
Watery feces may be related to excessive secretion of water from the urinary system, due to excessive drinking or to kidney malfunction, or to poor gut health.
Causes related to the urinary system
Whenever animals drink more than normal or there is kidney damage, polyuria will appear (polyuria is an excessive or an abnormally large production or passage of urine).
In chickens, the ureter carries the urine into the cloaca, where the urine is mixed with feces, making it difficult to determine if wet feces are caused by a kidney disfunction or a digestive problem. As a general rule, watery feces related to a kidney disturbance are very wet, clear, and don’t have the typical white parts (urates).
The main causes related to the urinary function are the following:
Heat stress: when the environmental temperature is high, birds tend to drink more and, as a consequence, more water is excreted through the kidneys. Heat stress also damages the intestinal epithelium, the intestine fails to absorb water and feces become watery.
Excess protein in the feed, that increases water intake.
Low feed intake: If feed intake is reduced for some reason but animals keep drinking normally, droppings are likely to become watery. Whenever watery feces are observed, it is advised to check the water and feed intake of the flock.
Viral infections: kidney damage produced by Marek’s disease, Newcastle disease, Infectious bronchitis, etc.
Mycotoxins: kidney damage produced by ochratonin A, citrinin, aflatoxins.
Overdose of salts and/or minerals: salt or minerals fed at high levels, by accident or intentionally. Drinking water with a high amount of soluble salts, especially sulfates and magnesium, also may lead to watery feces. In both cases, the loss of water can happen in the kidneys but also in the intestines due to osmotic stress.
Watery feces related to digestive problems
Damage to the intestinal epithelium (rancid fats, mycotoxins, heat stress, anti-nutritional factors, etc): during digestion, water absorption happens in the distal part of the small intestine and in the large intestine. Epithelial damage prevents water from being absorbed, and the intestinal content and feces become watery. A less known cause of damage to the epithelium is the particle size of feed: if it is very fine, it results in digestive irritation.
Feed that contains viscous cereals (wheat, barley, and rye) with a high content of water soluble non-starch polysaccharides -NSPs): as we discussed in this article, water soluble NSPs form a gel that traps water and prevents it from being absorbed. Feces are not only watery, but also gummy, often described as “sticky droppings”.
Infections, mainly coccidiosis, necrotic enteritis and dysbacteriosis, but also infections caused by E.coli, Campylobacter jejuni, spirochaetes or virus. For a differential diagnosis, it is recommended to observe the presence of the following:
- Blood or think mucus: coccidiosis
- Undigested feed: dysbacteriosis
Investigating the cause of watery feces...
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