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How to Tell if a Chicken is Sick

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Chickens are relatively hearty pets, but they can be affected by a number of diseases. Typically, you'll look for changes in their behavior, as well as changes in their skin, feathers, and feces to determine if they're sick. Many symptoms are common to a variety of diseases, so it's always a good idea to have a sick bird checked by a veterinarian before you begin treatment.

EditSteps

EditWatching for General Signs of Sickness

  1. Look for chickens that hide in the roost and aren't active. Chickens who are happy and healthy are on the move during the day. If 1 or more of your chickens is trying to hang out in the roost instead of coming out, you should check the chicken for further symptoms.[1]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 1 Version 2.jpg
    • For instance, when you open the door to the roost in the morning, your chickens should want to walk out.
    • Instead of sitting on the roost, they may also sit around with their feathers puffed out to keep warm.[2] When chickens become ill, they commonly sit around and try to keep warm in order to conserve energy.
  2. Check if the chickens are eating. Keep an eye on your chickens when you feed them. If you have any that hang back and don't eat, that could indicate sickness, particularly if it's a food your chickens enjoy.[3]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • If you have one you suspect might be sick, try feeding it a special treat to see if it shows interest. If it doesn't, that will confirm your suspicions. For instance, try cooked oatmeal or corn. Chickens also love mealworms.
  3. Watch for any behavior out of the ordinary. Maybe your bird is holding its wings in a funny position. It might stand away from the rest of the flock. Alternatively, you may notice it's limping or has trouble standing up. Anything different could be a sign that your bird is having a problem.[4]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • You may also smell an odor coming from the chicken that's not normal.
  4. Notice stomach problems like vomiting and diarrhea. Though some vomiting is done for courtship reasons, vomiting can also indicate sickness, particularly along with other symptoms, so keep an eye out. Similarly, a very bad odor in the chicken's feces could also indicate a problem, as could an unusual color or texture to their feces.[5]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 4 Version 2.jpg
    • Loose stools are also a problem.
  5. Pay attention to the chicken's coat and eyes. If your chickens are sick, their coats are going to suffer. Look for disheveled, dull-looking coats, as that could indicate your chickens are under the weather. Similarly, watch for cloudy or runny eyes, another indication of sickness.[6]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • Chickens may also close one or both eyes more often instead of being alert.
    • Ragged feathers mean your chickens aren't feeling up to preening themselves.[7]
  6. Examine the chicken's wattle, comb, and facial skin for changes. Sometimes, these areas will go pale or change to purple. Other times, they may swell or get lesions. Any change from bright red with the wattle or comb is likely a sign of sickness.[8]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 6 Version 2.jpg
  7. Check the egg quality. If a chicken is sick, her eggs are going to suffer. They may have a soft shell or have problems inside the egg, like being too watery. Alternatively, the eggs may come out misshapen.[9]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • You may also notice the chicken has trouble laying eggs. She may strain while trying to pass an egg.
  8. Contact the vet if you notice one or several of these symptoms. If you have a veterinarian on call, have them come visit your flock, especially if multiple chickens are having issues. Otherwise, take the sick chicken in to a large-animal veterinarian if they start showing these symptoms. It's a good idea to take precautions, as well, such as quarantining chickens who are showing signs of illness and making sure common areas are cleaned out regularly.
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • The veterinarian can help you narrow down what the problem is and point you to an appropriate treatment. They can also tell you whether your whole flock needs to be treated or not.
    • If you see signs of specific illnesses, contact your vet immediately.


EditChecking for Avian Influenza and Respiratory Diseases

  1. Look for coughing and sneezing. The symptoms of these diseases in chickens are similar to the symptoms in humans. Chickens will normally sneeze every once in a while, but if you notice persistent sneezing throughout your flock, that could be a sign of a respiratory disease.[10]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • You may also notice coughing spreading through your flock.
    • You'll see these symptoms in diseases like avian influenza and infectious sinusitis.[11]
    • Some of these illnesses are treated with antibiotics, but some are caused by viruses that can't be treated with medication.
  2. Check for drainage from the eyes and nose for infectious sinusitis. Infectious sinusitis can cause clear drainage from the eyes, as well as foaming discharge from the nose. These areas may also be swollen and stuffy.[12]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • You may also notice raspy breathing.
  3. Watch for a purple color in the comb, wattles, and legs with avian flu. Sometimes, this disease can cause these areas to take on a purple hue. They may be tipped with blue or purple while the rest of the area looks paler than normal, for instance. While this condition isn't unique to this disease, it can be a symptom.[13]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 11 Version 2.jpg
    • The comb may also flop over.
    • With pox, you may notice lesions on the face, comb, and wattle.
    • Avian flu is a virus that cannot be treated with medications.
  4. Check the egg quality. All of the respiratory diseases can cause changes in egg quality. For instance, eggs may come out in funny shapes or not have hard shells. Different changes in eggs can point to different diseases.[14]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 12.jpg
    • For instance, if egg laying slows down and you notice a decline in the shell quality, that could be infectious bronchitis. This disease can be treated with antibiotics.
    • Newcastle disease will cause a decline in egg laying as well as in the inner egg quality. This disease cannot be treated with antibiotics, but your vet may give you some to prevent other infections.
  5. Pay attention to sudden deaths with avian flu. The avian flu, in particular, can cause some birds to die even if they aren't exhibiting other symptoms first. If you have an unexplained death in your flock, you may want to check your other birds for this disease.[15]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 13.jpg
    • Infectious laryngotracheitis can also cause a large number of bird deaths, and it cannot be treated with antibiotics, as it's a virus.


EditLooking out for Coccidiosis and Other Intestinal Diseases

  1. Watch for a light-colored comb and skin. The stomach disease coccidiosis stems from a parasite in the intestinal tract, and like many diseases, it can cause changes in the chickens' comb and wattles. Typically, with this condition, these areas will look paler than normal.[16]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 14.jpg
    • A healthy chicken's comb and wattle will be bright red.
  2. Look for bloody droppings and other changes in this area. Intestinal diseases like coccidiosis can cause blood in the stool, though not every infection will cause this symptom.[17] In severe cases, it can lead to yellow defecation that has a foamy texture and appearance.[18]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 15.jpg
    • Keep in mind that chickens do shed their intestinal linings from time to time, which is perfectly normal. That will be more brown-red rather than bright red.
  3. Be aware of bird deaths. Coccidiosis, as well as other types of intestinal diseases, can also cause fairly sudden deaths, and it could have already spread to the rest of your flock. While that's a scary thought, it's treatable, as long as you start immediately and separate out the birds you believe are sick for treatment.[19]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 16.jpg
    • A necropsy can be performed on a dead bird to determine if it's coccidiosis or another condition.

EditNoticing Specific Signs of Other Diseases

  1. Look for itchy birds and ruffled feathers to detect lice or mites. While not a disease per se, lice and mites can cause problems for your chickens, such as anemia. If you think your chickens might have lice or mites, inspect the base of the feathers near the back end of the bird to look for lice or mites.[20]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 17.jpg
    • You may notice clusters of tiny white eggs. Alternatively, you might see parasites moving around on the bird, either small black specks or white parasites the size of rice.
    • Lice and mites can be treated by dusting the birds a parasite powder or spraying them with a parasite solution for chickens.
  2. Notice birds who are thin with bad feathers, which could indicate roundworms. This intestinal parasite can make your chickens lose weight, and they may not feel like taking care of their feathers. Also, the skin around their mouths may be paler than normal.[21]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 18.jpg
    • This parasite may cause diarrhea, and you may see matted feathers near their rear ends.
    • If one bird gets this, you'll need to treat the whole flock.
  3. Pay attention to a bird having trouble laying eggs. This condition is called being egg-bound. You may notice the bird hanging out in the coop more. Its behavior may be erratic. You may see her straining to lay the egg. Think of someone with constipation and how that would look in a chicken. It may make noises while trying to lay the egg.[22]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 19.jpg
    • There's not a lot to be done for egg-bound chickens, though a warm water bath around her back end or applying lubricant may help.
  4. Watch for temporary paralysis for Marek's disease. This disease is caused by a herpes virus, and it is fairly widespread. In some cases, it can cause lymphoid tumors that press on or enlarge nerves.[23] In turn, that can cause paralysis, which may only be temporary or could be permanent.[24]
    Tell if a Chicken is Sick Step 20.jpg
    • This condition can't be treated.

EditTips

  • If you think your chicken is sick, contact a veterinarian to have it examined.

EditWarnings

  • Put your sick chickens in quarantine so that the disease cannot spread to the rest of your flock.

EditSources and Citations

EditQuick Summary


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