by Dr Rob Marshall
Wayne Ingleton wishes to know about "that disgusting disease Vent Gleet that plagues us all at one time or another. He has acquired a female that has this disgusting, stinking white discharge oozing from her vent. The problem is that she is a very good female and I would like to cure her so that she can be used in the breeding pen without fear of spreading this disease through the rest of the stud. What causes this problem? How is it spread from bird to bird? What can be done to cure this problem?
Vent Gleet literally means a slimy matter oozing from the vent. It is an old expression used to describe the symptoms associated with a condition called cloacitis (an infected cloaca). There are several possible causes and different infections associated with a cloacitis which means the treatment used for Vent Gleet will vary according to the underlying cause and particular infecton. The underlying causes of the condition are complicated and in order to gain a better understanding of Vent Gleet, knowledge of the function and anatomy of the cloaca is required.
The cloaca (meaning cesspool) is a three chambered structure that is located immediately inside the vent (anus) of the chicken and is an extension of the large intestine and rectum. The cloaca appears as a bell shaped dilation at the end of the rectum. It is the emptying place for several systems, the digestive, urinary and the reproductive tract and is an evolutionary development allowing birds (and some mammals) to urinate, defaecate and lay eggs using a single external opening (orifice).
The part of the cloaca that receives the food excrement (coprodeum) is the largest and is situated towards the head end of the structure. This is the part of the cloaca that allows the chicken to withhold excretory action and to retain considerable volume of excrement in the cloaca without relief. You will have seen this effect when roosting hens leave the nest and produce a very large strong smelling dropping. This ability is beneficial for breeding success as it enables the hen to brood upon the nest without leaving it for a long period of time. When a bird is deprived of water or is chilled, constipation may also occur in the coprodeum and produce signs of cloacitis ("soft bloated belly", sudden onset of dry feathers, and pasting of the feathers around the vent). This part of the cloaca is seen in the advanced form of Vent Gleet when the entire vent presents as a red swollen and often bloody mass.
The part of cloaca where the egg and urine enter is the smallest part of the cloaca called the urodeum. The end part of the cloaca is called the proctodeum. From the proctodeum, the food excrement and attached urine portion are passed directly to the exterior through the anus as a well formed dropping .
Each chamber is separated from the other by a complex array of membranes that act like valves allowing the bird to produce a dropping where the food excrement (dropping) and urine (white cap on dropping) are separate from each other.
A healthy cloaca is responsible for the passing of a round, tight, well-formed dropping that is capped with a neat white urine (urates) topping. This type of dropping is a reliable sign of good health in chickens.
In a healthy chicken the cloaca keeps the urine and dropping (food excrement) separated from each other preventing the dropping from contaminating the urine. During a stressful period, the tone and function of the cloacal membranes are weakened allowing droppings and urine to mix together in the cloaca and preventing the normal recycling of water back into the bowel. This situation results in the less frequent production of larger and more watery droppings. This type of dropping indicates the chicken is experiencing stress and its health is failing. The conditions within the cloaca become unhealthy as stress has the effect of increasing pH which impairs its function and predisposes the entire cloaca and nearby organs especially the rectum and uterus to infection. It is infection associated with an original stressful factor and a rise in pH levels in the cloaca that causes the symptoms of Vent Gleet.
Vent Gleet is therefore the end result of a stressful episode which alters the pH of the cloaca predisposing it and associated organs to infection. Consequently, Vent Gleet is not a contagious condition although the underlying stress factor may cause illness throughout the flock. As well, Vent Gleet should be considered a condition of circumstance and not a sign of inherent weakness in an individual bird.
Early Symptoms of Cloacitis (Vent Gleet)
Early symptoms of cloacitis (Vent Gleet) often go unnoticed. However, there is a far greater likelihood of curing Vent Gleet when treatment is initiated when these early signs are first noticed.
- Sudden loss of feather colour and shine(see photo 1).
- Pasting of vent feathers (see photo 2).
- Soft Belly. The abdomen will soften and bloat.
- Lack of vitality and postural changes (see photo 3).
- Birds are still eating at this stage.
Treatment administered at this early stage of cloacitis is usually successful. The aim of treatment is to counteract the effect of stress (i.e. acidify cloaca), stimulate immunity, control secondary infections, identify and eliminate the stress factor.
Treatment of Early Stage Cloacitis:
Crop feed with Emergency First Aid Treatment (40mls ER Quick, 1ml Gel Formula, 2mls liquid calcium) twice daily for 2 days to counteract the effects of stress and acidify crop.
Wash the vent feathers and remove any accumulated droppings from around the vent area.
Instil 3mls warmed Quik Gel solution into the vent and then massage area to reduce pH of cloaca and help break up constipated mass in the proctodeum. This action should produce a dropping or hard constipated matter of food and urine excrement within a few minutes.
Examine the droppings microscopically to help identify the type of cloacal infection (bacteria, parasite, fungus or yeast).
Move bird to heated area and provide fresh food.
Acidify drinking water with citric acid (Megamix 10mls per litre) and energy supplement (Quick Gel 2mls per litre).
Administer metronidazole tablet (100mg tablet per kilogram body weight) and penicillin-type antibiotic (50mg tablet per kilogram body weight) twice daily for 4 days.
Return to flock as soon as possible.
Cull birds that do not respond to treatment within 4 days.
Treat the flock with Quickgel for 2 days to reduce the effects of stress.
Advanced Symptoms of Cloacitis (Vent Gleet)
Without early treatment the cloacal inflammation worsens and causes severe discomfort and straining symptoms that are quickly followed by the more advanced signs of Vent Gleet. These are:
- Typical offensive odour
- Soiled vent feathers and slimy discharge coming from vent area.
- Straining to defaecate.
- The excrement is voided frequently and is foul smelling.
- The entire vent becomes red swollen and often bloody and distorted in appearance.
Treatment of Vent Gleet
Outlook is poor when advanced symptoms of Vent Gleet have been present for more than 2 days. Treatment is similar to the above treatment for early cloacitis and is directed to cleaning up the vent and adjacent regions, providing emergency first aid treatment and treating the infection in the cloaca.
Crop feed with Emergency First Aid Treatment (40mls ER Quik 1ml Gel Formula 2mls liquid calcium) three times daily until the smell disappears and the droppings improve in consistency.
Wash vent feathers and remove any accumulated droppings around vent area each day using a disinfectant.
Instil 3mls warmed citric acid into the vent twice daily and then massage area to help evacuate fermented material in the proctodeum.
Examine dropping microscopically to help identify type of cloacal infection (bacteria, parasite, fungus or yeast).
Move to heated area with fresh food.
Acidify drinking water with citric acid (Megamix 10mls per litre) and energy supplement (Quik Gel 2mls per litre).4.
Administer metronidazole tablet (100mg tablet per kilogram body weight) and penicillin-type antibiotic (50mg tablet per kilogram body weight) twice daily for 7 days.
Cull birds that do not recover in 7 days.
Treat remainder of flock with antibiotics that have been prescribed following the diagnosis of the exact infection(s).
Infections associated with Vent Gleet
The exact type of infection varies according to the origin of the cloacitis. The origin of cloacitis is either an acute stressul episode, bowel infection, hormonal related uterus problem or a combination of one or all of these problems.
Vent Gleet occurs most frequently in hens and is associated with malfunctioning egg laying behaviour. The outlook is good when treatment is initiated early. Vent Gleet occurs most often in hens following cold spells in June, July and August. Cross breed hens - such as Isa Browns - between the age of 3-5 years are at most risk to vent gleet. Cross breed hens of this age require additional calcium and protein in their diet to support their all year round egg laying behaviour. A sudden cold spell or another type of acute stress (e.g. fright, injury, contaminated food or drinking water etc.) may interrupt the breeding hormones of hens and as a result, infection within the cloaca enters the vagina and infects the uterus. Treatment success is limited when Vent Gleet has advanced to an infection of the uterus. Outlook is poor when typical Vent Gleet symptoms have been present for longer than 2 days. Infected hens are usually poor breeders following recovery. Intestinal parasites, nutritional deficiencies, contaminated food or water are the more likely causes when Vent Gleet occurs in hens between September and January. Outlook for a full recovery in these birds is optomistic.
Vent Gleet in male chickens is usually as a result of stress related cloacitis and often involves constipation. This type of Vent Gleet is more likely to occur during the heat of summer associated with heat stress.
Vent Gleet is often related to a combination of stress and a latent bowel infection when several birds of either sex are affected. Transportation and adjusting to a new home are conditions of stress that may activate latent infections in otherwise strong healthy individuals and result in Vent Gleet. Quik Gel is recommended to prevent Vent Gleet under these circumstances as it reduces the effect of stress and reduces the likelihood of cloacitis.
Prevention of Vent Gleet
There are several different disease processes that result in Vent Gleet (cloacitis) and it is necessary to identify the underlying cause of each if prevention is to be successful. Irrespective of the type of infection involved it should be noted that a stress factor that alters the pH of the cloaca is the root cause of Vent Gleet. Citric acid (Megamix) in the drinking water will help prevent Vent Gleet outbreaks when bore water or town water has high pH levels (above 7.4). Vent Gleet is not a contagious condition, but the underlying causes may affect the health of the entire flock and initiate Vent Gleet outbreaks. When Vent Gleet occurs in an established flock it may indicate contaminated food or water, intestinal or external parasites or a nutritional deficiency. Vent Gleet under these circumstances will be prevented by introducing a Nutritional Health Programme (see chart 1).