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Game birds


Covering a large part of the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, Chipping Norton Veterinary Hospital is a rural practice with 40 years experience of game bird work. Supporting keepers with many services we can help to ensure that your game season is a successful one.

Game birds suffer a range of diseases and, because of the way game birds are reared in large numbers, a quick diagnosis is vital to minimise losses due to spread of the disease. Some Game Bird diseases are notifiable and all illnesses should be taken seriously for flock health. Diagnostic post-mortems are done at the practice and we also carry out site visits and supply drugs and feed prescriptions (veterinary written directives).

Keepers please note that, for post-mortem examinations, the chances of reaching a diagnosis for any disease spreading through your birds are greatly increased if you can bring us a few obviously sick but alive birds rather than birds that are already dead.

Topical items

Reducing antibiotic resistance

As you will be aware, the government is - rightly - clamping down very hard on overuse of antibiotics in order to minimise the development of antimicrobial resistance.  Antimicrobial resistance is a major threat to human health, and to the health of animals, including game birds.  It is clear that if antibiotic use in agriculture is not reduced now, regulation will follow which may greatly limit the availability of antibiotics.  The game bird sector has by far the highest usage of antibiotics (per kg of meat) of any farming sector, so keepers need to make large reductions now.  Chipping Norton Vets, along with many other game bird practices, representatives of the feed mills, and others, have been at the meetings organised by the Game Farmers Association to address this issue.  As a result of actions decided at those meetings, antibiotic use in the sector has reduced greatly (see here).  That is an excellent start, but the game bird sector remains by far the highest usage sector so far more needs to be done.  It is notable that there was no great increase in game bird diseases in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, clearly implying that a huge amount of the antibiotics used previously were unnecessary!  The Spring 2018 version of the 'Joint Communication' from BASC, BVA, BVPA, Countryside Alliance, GWCT, GFA, GFTA, NGO, RUMA and VMD, and supported by all the major game bird veterinary practices, is here:  Reducing Antibiotic use in Game Birds.  All keepers and shoot owners should read this.  To be blunt, the days of treating the flock with antibiotics - whether in food or in water - to try to prevent disease are gone, and you need a veterinary diagnosis of a disease requiring antibiotic treatment before a feed prescription for antibiotics can be issued.

Avian influenza

There have been localised outbreaks of avian influenza in the UK over the last few years, as well as the major problems in France in 2016. These outbreaks provide a reminder of the importance of maintaining the best possible biosecurity. Information on avian influenza and on biosecurity measures can be found here: An article about the notifiable diseases of gamebirds, written by Chippy vet Martin Whitehead and which appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of the NGO Magazine, can be dowloaded here.

Improving survival of your birds after release

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, along with researchers from the University of Exeter, have shown that some simple changes to rearing practices can improve the fitness of pheasants, and increase the number of birds that survive after release. They have published two studies, one of which (here) shows that adding some berries and mealworms to the standard diet increased survival after release by improving the birds' foraging efficiency, and the other (here) shows that adding some perches to the rearing pens increased the birds' fitness. These manipulations are also a kind of environmental enrichment, likely also improving the birds' quality of life while in the rearing pens. Perhaps something worth keepers looking into?

Web resources for game bird keepers


The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust:

The Game Farmers Association:

The National Gamekeeepers Organisation:

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation:

The Countryside Alliance:

The NFU:

The National Animal Disease Information Service (NADIS) game bird page is here.

A download of a formal report about the UK game bird industry in 2006 is herePDF document. This report was commissioned by DEFRA and carried out by ADAS and gives a good overview of the UK industry.

A download of a recent report, carried out for the RSPB, on the impact of gamebird hunting and management practices on the countryside in the UK, Europe and the USA is here. It provides a more recent overview of the industry but from a different perspective, and compares the situation in the UK to that in other countries.

Diseases of game birds

The National Animal Disease Information Service (NADIS) website provides an excellent guide to the individual game bird diseases here. The list below gives an idea of the frequency of the diseases we see each season in our area. There are many diseases of game birds, and this is not an exhaustive list. If you feel that your birds are exhibiting any signs of illness, please call us.

Diseases we see commonly:


Avian Tuberculosis





Hexamita (Spironucleus)

Mycoplasma gallisepticum (Bulgy Eye)

Necrotic enteritis and ulcerative enteritis


Roundworms (Ascarid worms)

Yolk sac infection / Omphalitis

Diseases of game birds we see occasionally:

Avian encephalomyelitis (Epidemic Tremors)

Capillaria (Hair worms)

Carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty heaters / ventilation

Heterakis worms

Histomoniasis (Blackhead)

Marble Spleen Disease

Pheasant ataxia

Staphylococcal tenosynovitis


Avian pneumovirus (TRT ' Turkey Rhino-tracheitis)

Poisoning by ingestion of toxins

Problems caused by incorrectly produced feed


Salmonella (Pullorum disease)

Diseases we see rarely or have never seen:

Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) - NOTIFIABLE


Newcastle disease - NOTIFIABLE

An article about the notifiable diseases of gamebirds, written by Martin Whitehead and which appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of the NGO Magazine, can be dowloaded here.

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