Sick Chicken Symptoms You Should Recognize

sick chicken symptomsWhile it is good to recognize sick chicken symptoms, it might be more valuable for new chicken owners to know normal, healthy chicken behavior. If you know how your chickens act when they are feeling good and healthy, you will notice when your chicken in acting peculiar. 

How does the chicken look and act?

A healthy chicken is a busy chicken. It is aware of what the other chickens are doing. The healthy chicken is pecking the ground, scratching the dirt, and chasing others away from a tasty morsel. When you first open the coop in the morning, the chickens should eagerly exit the building, raring to start a new day. They should be happy to see food added to the bowls or feeders and start eating. Any chickens who stay on the roost, or worse, are hiding in a dark corner should be immediately and gently checked over.

When you look at a healthy chicken it looks  – healthy! Feathers are glossy and in place, the comb and wattles are waxy looking and full color, and the eyes are bright and clear.

sick chicken symptoms

Healthy Chickens are Communicating

Chickens talk to each other during the day, and some chickens talk a lot! When you spend time with your chickens you will start to recognize certain sounds that are made repeatedly. While my chickens are free ranging, I am often doing cleaning chores around the barnyard. But, sometimes I hear a certain sound coming from my chickens and I just know it is an alarm of some sort. Whether they saw a predator, noticed a hawk in the sky, or were injured by another flock member, the sound is unmistakably alarming. It differs greatly from the regular clucking and squawking that they make.

 Another alarming sound is any respiratory sound. A healthy chicken doesn’t make noise while breathing. Coughing, heavy breathing sounds and raspy sounds are signs of serious illness and should be evaluated quickly. With the current wave of avian influenza sweeping the country, it would be good to familiarize yourself with avian influenza symptoms.


Healthy Chickens have Healthy Droppings

Some may feel this goes a bit too far, but notice the chicken’s droppings. Their are two basic types of droppings that are excreted daily. One type is often seen first thing in the morning. It is firmer and capped with white urine salts. Less frequently, the chicken will expel a runnier brown or green, cecal dropping. While both of these droppings will  have a slight odor, you should notice if the odor is extremely bad or the appearance is really out of the normal range for your flock. Keep in mind that certain vegetables, such as beet greens may turn the droppings a different color temporarily, without the chicken appearing ill. 

sick chicken symptoms

Healthy Chickens have Healthy Appetites

Chickens who are unwell do not eat much. Sometimes they stop eating completely. This is another reason it is good to observe your flock when you are feeding. If a chicken does not come for food, stays off to itself, and is not pecking at the ground for insects or morsels, something could definitely  be wrong. What follows next is weight loss, another sign of illness. Young chickens are continually growing and maturing. A young chicken who does not eat enough will not gain weight like the others in the flock. The young birds continue to fill out in size for the first 6 months. Even after egg laying begins, some growth and weight gain can still be occurring. 

Older hens and roosters should be able to maintain their weight. The older hen that begins to look scrawny and small, may be suffering from an undetected illness. Some of my chickens prefer to eat from the feeder and some prefer to free range while I am supervising. Knowing what is normal for them is also a good indication of how they are doing health wise.

Healthy  Young Hens are Laying Eggs

Many factors can influence egg laying, including age, molting, weather, stressful environment, and placement of nesting boxes. If you reliably get an egg a day from a good laying hen, and then she stops laying , you may wonder why have my chickens stopped laying? The quality of the egg shell can also be a sign of problems. Thin, weak shells can be caused by inadequate nutrition or inadequate mineral absorption. Knowing what to feed chickens will help you avoid any illnesses due to inadequate nutrition.

sick chicken symptoms

Assessing Sick Chicken Symptoms

Chicken diseases and illness can be caused by a number of things. Viruses, bacteria, molds, fungus, and parasites are the infectious type of illness. Often, if one of these occur, more than one bird will be affected. Some sick chicken symptoms are mild, leading to a day or two of not feeling up to par and exhibiting a low appetite. Other diseases, such as avian influenza can and will wipe out the flock in a matter of days. My recommendation is to not panic when signs of illness are observed. When you see sick chicken symptoms in your flock, assess the birds overall health. First, isolate the sick chicken, to help prevent the spread of any possible contagious illness.

Sick Chicken Symptoms

Is the chicken:

  •  active or listless
  •  grooming or is it unkempt with ruffled feathers
  •  interested in eating
  •  coughing or expelling fluid
  •  able to stand on its own


  • Is the hen still laying eggs
  • Is the bird excreting normal or abnormal droppings


Prevention and a healthy diet will go a long way to warding off serious illness. Feeding an appropriate healthy diet, supplementing with herbs, and treating the chickens with probiotic rich foods will help them preventing many minor illnesses. Fermented feed, apple cider vinegar (2 tablespoons in a gallon of water), garlic powder added to the feed(sprinkled on top), will all help build a strong immune system in your flock. Clean and sanitary conditions are also important. Removing droppings that attract flies, keeping the coop dry and well ventilated, replace soiled wet bedding immediately will all help the birds stay healthy.


sick chicken symptoms




4 Bacteria that Make Chickens Sick

bacteria that make chickens sick

Bacteria that make chickens sick can come from many sources. Bringing in new flock members, wearing shoes to another poultry farm and then into your coop, are some of the ways bacterial infections can enter your flock. Many of the bacterial infections can result in loss of members of the flock. Prevention and cleanliness would be the key to naturally avoiding bacterial infections. Once a bacterial infection is present, proceed carefully in eradicating it. In many cases, bacteria that make chickens sick, can also make people sick. Wearing gloves, and practicing good handwashing after caring for the chicken are good precautions. 

Four Bacteria that Make Chickens Sick

Infectious Choryza

Infectious Choryza looks like severe cold symptoms. Unfortunately, the disease is caused by a bacteria. Any age chickens can become ill from it. The usual course is 2 to 3 weeks. In many instances mycoplasmosis complicates the healing. Antibiotic treatment is effective on this highly contagious bacteria. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, difficulty breathing and swollen eyelids. Antibiotics are successful in controlling the outbreak and there are preventive vaccines available in areas where outbreaks are common. This is a serious illness, and commercial poultry business has largely eradicated it by using the all in – all out approach. Searching the internet for instances of natural treatment of Infectious Choryza, I came across this rather involved and detailed treatment of a flock using many extracts and herbs.  

Staphylococcus Aureus

Staph infections can be a big problem in a chicken coop or any poultry flock. The bacteria can cause a range of problems but the most common for ducks and chickens would  be the condition commonly referred to as bumblefoot. This is an infection on the bottom of the foot that abscesses. It makes walking on the foot painful for the bird. Cleaning and soaking the foot in an antibacterial solution may help the abscess to clear up. More stubborn cases may require surgery to eliminate the core in the abscess and allow the infection to  heal. Prevent bumblefoot by managing the coop flooring and with regular cleaning. In addition, make  sure that the roost bars do not have splinters or rough patches. If you would like more information on treating Staph infections in chicken and duck feet, read this post.

bacteria that make chickens sick


Escherichia Coli is present in the environment. E.Coli is also present in the intestinal tract of all living birds and animals. Foods that can lead to an unhealthy digestive tract, such as fatty foods, sweets, and too many baked goods can throw off the balance of your chickens’ digestive tract. If the digestive tract gets out of balance, then E.Coli can take over and become a big problem. 

Stress and unsanitary conditions can lead to an outbreak of E.Coli. I believe that probiotics given regularly will help the digestive tract stay healthy. We add homemade apple cider vinegar to the chickens water a few times a week. People often ask me how much ACV to add. My usual answer is about a tablespoon to a gallon of fresh water. However, when I change out the water every day, I estimate the tablespoon amount. Just don’t add too much. You want it in the water but not to change the taste of the water completely. Cleaning water bowls and feed pans regularly, keeping droppings cleaned up and not allowing the poultry area to stay wet and damp will also help prevent an outbreak.

Salmonella Pullorum

 I hope you never have a case of Salmonella Pullorum. Salmonella can affect any species of fowl but is usually limited to turkeys and chickens. The bacteria is then transmitted through the egg to the chick from infected hens, and from chick to chick in the incubator. It is deadly in young chicks, with many dying early with no symptoms shown. There can be carriers of the bacteria too. The recommendation is to not keep a flock that has experienced an out break as the recovered flock members will be carriers. I realize that this is a very painful decision to make. If you get a confirmed diagnosis of Salmonella, it is very dire. 

bacteria that make chickens sick

Some tips for reducing stress include:

  • On a happier note, when feeding a good quality ration, adding herbs and natural probiotics to the diet, and reducing stress in the flock will keep them more resistant to bacteria that make chickens sick.
  • Wearing different shoes when visiting anyone with a flock of poultry
  • You keep a strict quarantine of at least 30 days for any new chickens being added to the flock
  • Utilizing a routine
  • Making sure the coop is well ventilated and fresh smelling
  • Removing and quarantining any chickens who appear ill
  • Providing  a safe place from predators

As we head into the colder months in many parts of our country, I hope you have a safe and healthy winter. Please add any suggestions you have for keeping your flock free from bacteria that make chickens sick.

bacteria that make chickens sick

Chicken Disease and Illness in Your Flock

chicken disease

There are people won’t raise chickens because of chicken disease and illness that may strike the flock. This is a valid concern for every chicken owner. We should be aware of the common chicken diseases, but, I don’t feel it is a reason to avoid raising backyard chickens. There are health benefits in fresh eggs. Chickens who eat only healthy food and free range goodies provide us with good nutrition. Also, the free compost from feeding the flock, when carefully tended, will keep your garden soil full of healthy nutrients. This will enable you to raise healthier vegetables. While those healthy chickens are out foraging, they will more than eat their weight in insects, including ticks. You can build your own ecosystem in your backyard. However, chicken diseases do exist and can make your flock ill. Knowing the signs and symptoms of chicken disease and how chickens appear when ill is important.

chicken disease
a healthy chicken is usually busy all the time.

The earlier you notice a symptom or sign of chicken disease in your chicken, the better your chance of correcting the problem and saving the chicken’s life. Lets not kid around. We all get attached to our laying hens and their protective roosters. These birds supply us with eggs on a daily basis and we get to know their individual behavior and personalities. It is hard to see them feeling poorly, and it’s natural for us to want to help them feel better.
The first sign of chicken disease or illness could be anything out of the ordinary behavior for your chicken.

If your chicken is usually the dominant hen and you notice it being picked on, or withdrawing from the flock, something is probably wrong. The chicken may be unwell and trying to stay away from the other chickens. It takes effort to maintain a high place in the pecking order and a sick chicken may not have the strength or energy to do this. Chicken disease and illness can vary from mild to severe. The chicken disease can be metabolic, viral or bacterial.

Signs of Chicken Disease and Illness

  • Ruffled or unkempt feathers
  • Chicken is self isolating from the flock
  • Chicken is not pecking, scratching and eating
  • Egg laying in hens has ceased
  • Pale comb and wattles
  • Cough, watery eyes, raspy breathing
chicken disease
healthy chickens take dust bathing and grooming very seriously

Viral Illness in Chickens

Since there are no known cures for viruses, supporting the bird while it attempts to recover is the best you can do. First, and most important, isolate any chicken that appears sick. You need to do this quickly, as it is your only means of keeping the spread of chicken disease at a minimum. I keep extra dog crates and carriers on the farm for this purpose and for transporting a sick or injured animal.

There are products available that may help support the immune system of the chicken. Vet RX is one product that is herbal and natural and widely available. A few drops are added to the drinking water. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) can be added to the drinking water too. I use one or the other, not both at the same time. ACV helps maintain a healthy digestive tract because of it’s probiotic properties. I use it regularly and especially when runny poo is accompanied by an unwell looking chicken. VetRX is my go to remedy for upper respiratory symptoms and general unwell appearing chicken.

Fresh and dried herbs are useful against viral illness too. Herbs have so much nutrient and vitamin value. Thyme, mint, lavender, and oregano are part of my first response when a chicken is ill. I add them to the isolation coop/crate, so they add healing aroma therapy and some nutrition if the hen decides to eat the herbs. Do not return a sick hen to the flock.

Chicken Disease
Check fluffy butts for runny poop or clogged vents which could indicate an illness

Bacterial and Parasitic Chicken Disease

Staphylococcus, E. Coli, and Salmonella can all cause serious chicken illness and also make humans and pets sick. These can be treated with antibiotics designed for poultry and naturally, using herbs and probiotics. Oregano has natural antibiotic properties and is useful in the fight against these bacterial diseases. Keeping the chickens in your flock healthy with the use of herbs, apple cider vinegar and other probiotics, and using fermented chicken feed will help prevent illness from taking hold. Adding fresh vegetables as a treat adds more health producing vitamins, fiber and minerals. Allowing your chickens to forage and free range in a safe environment or while supervised will also help them stay healthy. If a bacterial illness makes your chickens sick, you might choose to use a chicken antibiotic to cure the illness and then reinforce this with healthy herbs and nutrition. 

Parasites such as worms, protozoa, mites, lice and microorganisms such as cocci, also affect the chicken flock’s health. Similar treatments to bacterial infections may help the flock return to health or keep them healthy in the first place. Keeping the immune system of your chicken healthy will lesson the chance that illness will happen. 

chicken disease
Ms. Featherfoot was ill and wanted to be by herself

Metabolic Disease and Other Health Issues

Even healthy chickens can end up with a problem. The crop can become impacted leading to illness or a condition called sour crop. Food can become packed in the crop and the crop won’t empty. This can lead to yeast buildup in the crop. Long grass is often a culprit in my flock. We attempt to keep the grass trimmed to avoid this happening. The chicken can be made to throw up impacted feed by massaging upwards from the crop and then turning the chicken upside down to help her throw up the contents of the crop.

When the impacted crop is full of long grass, massaging downwards to try  to help the crop empty may help. A few drops of olive oil might help the impacted feed pass through. Withholding feed for 24 hours may help the crop empty. A small bit of plain yogurt or scrambled egg after the fast is recommended. The yogurt will reintroduce healthy bacteria to the digestive tract. The chicken should be isolated while the crop heals and checked frequently for healthy crop action. Having poultry grit available free choice can prevent impacted crop. I have had two chickens with impacted crop. Massaging, olive oil, fasting and more massaging helped them finally pass the clog. As always, consult your veterinarian when the condition does not improve in a short time. Only you can make the decision about the need for a veterinarian’s help. 

Vent prolapse can occur if a hen is egg bound or straining to lay a large egg. The strain causes the muscles to weaken and the vent prolapses. This means that the inside of the reproductive tract ending in the vent, pops out. The egg may still be inside the chicken. Proceed carefully, using gloves and lubricant to pop it back inside. Do not use any pain reliever product, but plain Preparation H or witch hazel can be used. These products will sooth and shrink the swollen tissue.

Pecking order and Bullying 

These issues are not health related but can lead to a chicken withdrawing from the flock, not eating enough, or drinking enough and becoming more susceptible to illness. Watch your chickens for signs of being bullied, and take care of any aggression issues quickly. I usually find that a time out for the bully works wonders in stopping the behavior. A bully hen or rooster, spending a day in a dog crate with food and water but no interaction with the flock often breaks the cycle. An attitude adjustment works wonders! 

 chicken disease pin image

Hardest Part of Farming

How to Survive the Bad Times and Live to Enjoy the Good days

hardest part of farmingWhat is the hardest part of farming. This farming life can be so hard and so amazing all at once. How can one week in life suddenly claim some beloved farm critters, find healing for others and see 10 new lives enter into the world. So, it’s not the hard work, or the heat, or the cold, or the insect bites, or the endless tromping through mud. It’s the loss. Unexpected, unpredictable, heartbreaking loss, after you do everything you can, and some things you didn’t even think you knew how to do. Here’s a synopsis of the previous week. If it reads a bit rough, I apologize. I am still trying to process all of this, decide what to do next and deal with my sadness.

Hardest part of farming

Really, the loss started around Christmas. Our Guinea fowl was found dead in the chicken run in the afternoon. No one was hurt and there were no marks or signs of struggle on the Guinea. Since he was getting up there in years and had been acting aggressive recently, I thought it was old age related. This week was different. On Sunday morning when we opened the coop, one of my young hens was lying dead on the floor of the coop. She was less than one year old. No sign of struggle. No marks on her. Ok, I am now confused but still not seeing a pattern. In addition, Ettie, our dark Brahmas was not feeling well and seemed to have an upset digestive tract. I cleaned her up, gave her natural probiotics that we regularly use, apple cider vinegar and some yogurt, neither of which she was very interested in. But when she was walking around Ettie would still eat and forage in the dirt. She started to improve through the next two days.

hardest part of farming

In the meantime, on Tuesday, the little Bantam Roo we called Bogey, was found dead in the coop in the morning. Same scenario as the hen found Sunday morning. No signs of attack, fighting, or struggle. This whole thing was getting to me in a big way by this point. The senseless deaths were piling up. And to top it off, one of the bunnies was coughing and had labored breathing too. A cold in a bunny can become serious in a very short time. So, I needed to act on this right away too. Plus I had a job to get to. This whole week was going downhill fast and it was only Tuesday. 

hardest part of farming

The Hardest Part of Farming Includes Finding Flexibility 

I found a way to get the work done and put the bunny’s health at the top of the day’s priorities. Thankful for a family business and the ability to be flexible, I went to buy fresh herbs because mine are looking a little sad at this time of the year. A conversation with a fellow bunny owner gave me more pointers into herbal treatments.  Echinacea, garlic, elderberry, chamomile, and dandelion greens were suggestions. I bought what I could find on the list and made up an herbal salad for Quincy and all the other bunnies. I also  mixed up warm water and elderberry syrup. At first Quincy dove into the salad. Then he backed off and eyed it suspiciously. But the good news is that this morning the salad was gone and the syrup water mostly gone. He was not coughing and his eyes were clear. I put up with a good round of bunny abuse to give him a dose of bunny vitamins. Good to see  he wasn’t lethargic! A positive note in an otherwise dismal week.

hardest part of farming

side note:  Where are the dandelion greens when you need them? Could not find a dandelion growing anywhere. Guess they think it’s winter or something. 

hardest part of farming

Things still weren’t going well in the coop, however. Ettie had taken a severe turn for the worse, and was barely able to walk. I noticed another hen, Abby was also standing still and puffed up looking ill. I brought them both home and they died within a few hours. No signs of illness other than weakness and being unwilling to move around or eat. Abby was totally fine the day before so she was dead within half a day. Today was not going to be one of my better farm days.

The Hardest Part of Farming and the Best Part All in One Day 

But wait, there’s more to this day. It wasn’t all bad and I saved the best for last. I heard my son down at the pig area and walked down to see what was going on. Layla had delivered her litter of piglets. Ten new piglets joined the farm this morning. True to form, Layla waited for one of the coldest nights/mornings so far, to give her piglets a start in life. My son was expecting the piglet birth so he had already lined the stall with straw and hay and had the heat lamp going. Layla was busy feeding her piglets when I got there. The piggy daddy, Six, was confused and agitated. He is young and this is his first litter. He had to be removed from the family. Layla didn’t want him around and he just couldn’t accept that. Layla and Six are a different couple than our other pair, Charlie and Mariah. They have raised two litters together.

hardest part of farming

What’s next?

Unfortunately, when dealing with animal health you often have to guess. After calling two local vet offices, and talking to other chicken owners, I am leaning towards the horror of coccidiosis being the culprit. Coccidiosis is an illness that affects the intestinal tract of many species, often resulting in quick death. Often chickens will be able to hide the fact that they are gravely ill until it is no longer possible to save them. My theory is that the up and down weather we have been having lately with temperatures in the 70’s one day and the 30’s another, along with heavy rain and resulting mud has led to perfect conditions for a coccidia bloom. The mud is the perfect place for it to flourish and the feces from the chickens spread the disease to the next chicken pecking the ground. All chickens have some level of cocci in their system. When it gets overloaded and out of control, that is when the illness kills. The symptoms are often bloody loose frothy feces but that is not always the case. The chicken will show signs of not feeling well by staying to itself, not eating, looking disoriented, and may fluff out it’s feathers’ as if it was hot.

I have ordered coccidiosis meds to put in the chickens water for the next week. Is this the answer, well I really don’t know. I find that it’s really hard to find good veterinary care and advice regarding farm chickens. The costs of care for these sweet birds is astronomical at most vets that I have contacted. So I try to learn all I can and talk to others in the same position of raising small animals on a farm. In any event, we usually do not use chemicals on our animals but coccidiosis is different and must be treated once it gets out of control. The good news is it won’t hurt them if they, in fact don’t have coccidiosis. A good deal of handling the hardest part of farming is figuring out what to do when the bad days happen. And, a lot of it is taking the best guess.



Coccidiosis in Poultry by The Farmer’s Lamp

How to Beat Coccidiosis  by A Farm Girl in the Making

Simple Herbs for a Stressed Out Rabbit by Happy Days Farm