Review of Mortality and Effectiveness of Neonatal Treatment in Captive Attwater’s Prairie Chickens (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri)
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2017
Lauren Mulreany1, BS; Joseph Flanagan2, DVM; Christine Molter2, DVM, DACZM; Lauren Howard2,3, DVM, DACZM; Maryanne Tocidlowski2, DVM, DACZM; Stephen Werre1, PhD; Stanley Vanhooser4, DVM, MS; Michael Morrow5, PhD
1Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA; 2Houston Zoo, Inc., Houston, TX, USA; 3San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Escondido, CA, USA; 4Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA; 5Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, Eagle Lake, TX, USA


A retrospective study of mortality and neonatal treatment of 975 captive Attwater’s prairie chickens less than 8 weeks old at the Houston Zoo was conducted from 2009–2015. Birds were reared in communal groups and moved sequentially from brooders to juvenile cages (both with reusable substrate matting) to outdoor pens with nonorganic substrate (gravel) prior to transport to pre-release sites.1 Diet included a custom formulated dry meala, greens, and small insects.5 Chick mortality rate was 36% (n=352) with over 75% of all deaths occurring before 10 days of age. Severe weight loss that required treatment was associated with a significantly reduced chance of survival (p<0.0001); however, treatment with gavage feeding of a highly digestible formula (15 ml/kg PO BID into the crop)b-d had no effect on mortality rates (47%; n=154) (p=0.4005).6 The most common cause of death was bacterial gastrointestinal disease (44%; n=156) including yolk sac infection, necrotizing enteritis, and mucoid enteritis. Gavage feeding correlated with a significantly higher proportion of necrotizing enteritis (n=32) (p=0.0003). Necrotizing enteritis has been associated with Clostridium perfringens type A infection and is transmitted via the fecal-oral route. Limiting fecal contamination is imperative to reducing transmission of clostridial spores.3,4,7 Treatment with meloxicam (0.2 mg/kg SID–1 mg/kg SID)e was associated with a significantly reduced proportion of mucoid enteritis (p=0.0483). Mortality due to avian pathogenic Escherichia coli yolk sacculitis is a point of future investigation for this species.2


a. Attwater’s Prairie Chicken chick starter, Mazuri ®, Brentwood, MO, USA
b. Emeraid® LLC, Cornell, IL, USA
c. Compounded suspension, BCP Veterinary Pharmacy, Houston, TX, USA
d. Penicillin G benzathine and penicillin G procaine, Combi-Pen-48® 300,000 IU, Bimeda, Inc., Le Sueur, MN, USA
e. Metacam® 1.5 mg/ml oral suspension, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, St. Joseph, MO, USA


The authors would like to thank the dedicated staff of the bird department of the Houston Zoo, the pathology department of Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff at the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge for their years of service to the APC captive breeding program.

Literature Cited

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2.  Barnes JH, Nolan LK, Vaillancourt J. Colibacillosis. In: Saif YM, ed. Diseases of Poultry. 12th ed. Ames, IA: Blackwell; 2008:691–716.

3.  Opengart K, Songer JG. Necrotic enteritis. In: Swayne D, ed. Diseases of Poultry. 13th ed. Ames, IA: Wiley-Blackwell; 2013:950.

4.  Keyburn AL, Boyce JD, Vaz P, Bannam TL, Ford ME, Parker D, Di Rubbo A, Rood JI, Moore RJ. NetB, a new toxin that is associated with avian necrotic enteritis caused by Clostridium perfringens. PLoS Pathog. 2008;4(2):e26.

5.  Morrow ME, Chester RE, Lehnen SE, Drees BM, Toepfer JE. Indirect effects of red imported fire ants on Attwater’s prairie-chicken brood survival. J Wildl Manage. 2015;79:898–906.

6.  Radko D, Koddebusch L, Günther R, Rekhter G, Liesner VG, Kamphues J. Investigations on effects of different diet compositions on the quality of excreta in fattening turkeys with special emphasis on Clostridium perfringens prevalence. Archiv für Geflügelkunde. 2010;74(4):240–248.

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Speaker Information
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Lauren Mulreany, BS
Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA, USA

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