During the summer of 2003, two flocks of commercial broiler chickens experienced unusually high death losses following caponizing at 3 wk of age and again between 8 and 14 wk of age. In September, fifteen 11-wk-old live capons were submitted to the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for assistance. In both flocks, the second episode of elevated mortality was associated with incoordination, flaccid paralysis of leg, wing, and neck muscles, a recumbent body posture characterized by neck extension, and diarrhea. No macroscopic or microscopic lesions were detected in affected chickens. Hearts containing clotted blood and ceca were submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI. Type C botulinum toxin was identified in heart blood and ceca by mouse bioassay tests. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay tests on heart blood samples were also positive for type C botulinum toxin. Clostridium botulinum was isolated from the ceca and genes encoding type C botulinum toxin were detected in cecal contents by a polymerase chain reaction test. Chickens are less susceptible to botulism as they age, and this disease has not previously been documented in broilers as old as 14 wk of age. Wound contamination by spores of C. botulinum may have contributed to the unusually high death losses following caponizing.
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Vol. 49 • No. 2