Gape worm infestation can occur either directly by birds eating eggs that have been swallowed or coughed up by infested birds, or indirectly by intermediate hosts such as earthworms or snails and young birds up to 8 weeks of age are particularly susceptible to gape worm. Gape worms normally live in the trachea (windpipe) but are also found in the bronchi and lungs.
Typically, eggs are picked up from the ground or intermediate hosts such as worms or snails and the eggs hatch and the larvae penetrate the intestine walls and move to the lungs and and bronchi.
It is here they go through a larval moult, before travelling up to the trachea. Male and female gape worms attach to one another once they arrive here. This process takes around 7 days, gape worm lay eggs that get coughed up onto the ground or swallowed and passed out in the faeces.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and Symptoms relating an infestation causes respiratory distress. Gasping for breath or 'gaping' as it is known is the biggest sign of gape worm. Shaking of the head and neck stretching are common. When birds are held, gurgling or a 'tracheal rattle' can often be heard. This can often be confused with respiratory infection, if in doubt, check for other signs of respiratory disease. If a heavy infestation occurs, death by suffocation will occur. Fully grown gape worms are 'Y' shaped and vary in size between 1 and 2cm long.
It is advisable to treat as chickens are particularly prone to respiratory diseases so it is important to ensure you have a good worming schedule to eliminate the possibility of a respiratory problem being confused with a gape worm infestation. Gurgling noises that come from the throat of the bird can be caused by gape worm and can be confused with other respiratory problems.
As with all internal parasites, there are many treatments that will kill these worms but rotating the grazing area will help to stop birds becoming re-infected. So we would suggest a worming treatment such as Flubenvet which is licensed for use in poultry and will kill gape worm, this is available from most Vets.
I hope the above helps and if you have any other questions please do let us know.