How to Tell if a Chicken is Sick

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.

1Look 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.

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. When chickens become ill, they commonly sit around and try to keep warm in order to conserve energy.
2Check 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.

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.

3Watch 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.

You may also smell an odor coming from the chicken that’s not normal.

4Notice 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.
  • Loose stools are also a problem.
5Pay 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.

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.
6Examine 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.

7Check 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.

You may also notice the chicken has trouble laying eggs. She may strain while trying to pass an egg.

8Contact 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.

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.

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