sick chickens

Common Chicken Illnesses

Do you have a chicken that appears to be shutting down, behaving oddly, or separating itself from the flock and trying to hide? If so, you may have a sick chicken. Close observation of the chicken can help to identify the problem. Here's how to address common chicken illnesses.


Symptoms: A chicken with coccidiosis is afflicted with a protozoic parasite that wreaks havoc on the intestines of the bird. The main symptom of coccidiosis is loose droppings, to the extent of watery or bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms include lethargy, weight loss, loss of appetite, pale combs, and a rough-looking cape of feathers. Chickens pass the parasite to one another through infected droppings.

Treatment: Coccidiosis is a deadly disease that your chicken will not survive without treatment. An antibiotic or a commonly prescribed medication like Amprolium is used to successfully treat the illness.

Prevention: The best antidote to coccidiosis is a clean coop and, importantly, clean water. Cleaning a coop and run of excessive poop will help stem the spread of the disease. Chickens poop on everything, including in water sources, so change water regularly to avoid infecting your chickens with coccidiosis. If you are bringing new chicks into the flock, vaccinate your chicks if that’s an option. Otherwise, a commercial medicated starter crumble or adding probiotic supplements will help build immunity to coccidiosis. Finally, and it’s worth mentioning, a crowded coop allows coccidiosis to spread fast.

Infectious Bronchitis

Symptoms: Chickens get colds, and colds are highly contagious. An entire flock can catch the same cold, which affects a chicken with labored breathing, coughing, discharges from the eyes and nostrils, a drop in egg production, and poor appetite. For the common cases of infectious bronchitis, the cold lasts for up to two weeks.

Treatment: Most chickens respond well with a measure of care. Isolate the hen(s) in a safe, comfortable, warm location with ready access to food and water. An antibiotic can be administered to control secondary bacterial infections.

Prevention: Preventative vaccines are available but offer no guarantee. Keep the coop clean and the chickens well fed and watered to help keep the infection at bay.

Egg Binding

Symptoms: An egg-bound chicken is a bird with an egg stuck in her oviduct. The hen can be listless, waddling as she walks, pumping her tail, straining to force out something, showing little appetite, or just simply looking sick. If she’s all fluffed out with her eyes closed and sitting off by herself, she may be egg bound. If she’s waddling like a penguin and pumping her tail, she probably is egg bound.

Treatment: To confirm the hen is egg bound, put on a latex glove, apply a slick gel such as KY Jelly or Vaseline, and gently insert your finger into the hen’s oviduct. If you do not feel the egg within a depth of 2 inches, your chicken is not egg bound. If you feel the egg, you need to prepare a warm bath for the chicken. A small amount of calcium given to the chicken prior to the bath can help to strengthen contractions. Place the hen in 4 to 5 inches of warm bath water for 15 minutes or so. After her soak, dry the hen and place her in a warm, quiet place where she can lay the egg. To help the process, one recommendation is to gently massage the hen’s abdomen. Repeat the entire procedure if the egg remains bound in the chicken. After three or four attempts, it is time for more drastic measures including taking the hen to the vet or putting back on the latex glove and attempting to move the egg manually.

Prevention: Egg binding is largely preventable. A good diet with a blend of vitamins, minerals, and protein helps. Active, not sedentary, chickens are more likely to be healthy egg layers. If the coop lacks enough nesting boxes, a hen might hold an egg, which then gets bound. Elderly chickens can have weakened muscles, which contribute to egg binding. Also, parasite infestations and internal or external infections can trigger egg binding. However, there is not a lot that can be done to prevent an odd-shaped egg, a large egg with a double yolk, or a glitch in a reproductive system.

Pasty Butt

Symptoms: Also called pasting, pasty butt is one of the more common reasons for a sick chick. Brought about by stress, pasting is a condition where droppings cake to a chick’s vent area, which is located just below the tail. Typical causes of stress that bring about pasting include the rigors of travel through mail, extreme temperatures, and variances in solid foods. While stress triggers pasty butt, the chick’s physical reaction is a result of the lack of enzymes to break down certain ingredients in chicken feed, causing poor digestion and sticky poop. The sticky waste builds at the vent, eventually preventing the ability to poop. The condition can be fatal if not treated promptly. Pasting is not a contagious condition so pasting occurs on a bird-by-bird basis.

Treatment: At around 10 days of age, the chick has developed enough enzymes and the problem clears itself. Up to then, if you notice chicks have pasting, examine the vent. If the chick has pasty butt, either hold the chick and let warm water run over the dried poop to loosen it or clean the vent with a warm, wet wash cloth. Avoid pulling dried poop from the bird. You could damage the delicate skin of a chick. Once cleaned, dry the chick with a dry towel or hair dryer set on low. Keep the chick warm. A chill could bring on stress and more pasting.

Prevention: Stress is the culprit behind pasty butt, so the best prevention is to minimize stress. Have your brooder ready and at a good temperature before introducing chicks into it. Check the chicks for pasting as soon as possible after bringing them home. Check them daily and, if you detect pasting, address it immediately.

Marek's Disease

Symptoms: Marek's disease is a highly contagious viral disease caused by the herpes virus that can be difficult to diagnose and treat, and it can significantly impact flock health. While symptoms can vary depending on the stage of the disease, early symptoms may include depression, loss of appetite, labored breathing, and weight loss. As the disease progresses, chickens may develop diarrhea, tumors in feather follicles (and possibly internal organs), skin lesions, paralysis, vision impairment, or other neurological symptoms. In some cases, Marek's disease can be fatal.

Treatment: Treatment for Marek's disease is limited. Unfortunately, there is no cure. Supportive care includes providing electrolytes and ensuring chickens have access to clean water and a balanced diet.

Prevention: Taking steps to isolate your chickens from other birds is key. The virus spreads primarily when a chicken inhales infected dander from an infected bird. Also, vaccinating your chickens can help to minimize the impact of this highly contagious disease. Therefore, vaccines are recommended for all commercial poultry flocks. Additionally, quarantine and isolation of sick birds can help prevent the spread of the disease.

A Word About Biosecurity

First, what is biosecurity for chickens? Simply, it’s taking measures to protect your chickens from getting illnesses and diseases that are commonly spread in a flock.

This handful of biosecurity measures will help reduce the risks of illness, infection, and death in your flock.

Clean and Disinfect: Keep the coop, run, and all equipment within reach of your chickens clean and disinfected. This will help prevent the spread of disease and keep your birds healthy.

Quarantine and Isolate: If you're introducing new chickens to your flock or if you identify a sick bird, it's essential to quarantine and isolate them immediately. One sick bird can infect the entire flock. An initial measure you can take to boost their immune system is to consider adding probiotics and electrolytes to their diet. These beneficial supplements promote health and well-being by improving digestion, preventing harmful bacteria growth, and regulating fluid balance for proper muscle and nerve function.

Keep Out Wild Birds and Rodents: Wild animals that visit your coop to snack on free food can bring disease to your flock. Keep your coop secure and minimize any contact with wild animals.

Provide Clean Food and Water: Both food and water can be sources of contamination, so it's essential to provide your flock with clean options. Regularly check and clean their feeders and waterers to prevent bacteria growth.

Keep an Eye on Your Flock: Regularly observe your birds for any signs of illness or distress. Identifying a sick bird early can help you avoid a sick flock and keep your chickens healthy and happy.

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