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How Do You Know If You Have A Sick Chicken?

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How Do You Know If You Have A Sick Chicken?
If you have kept chickens for any length of time you may find yourself wondering, how do I know if I have a sick chicken?  It’s a good question to ask, because part of keeping a flock of birds is knowing the signs of illness, and what you can do about them.   If you have recently added more chickens to your flock, it’s also a good idea to know what signs to look for during a quarantine period. (Related: Introducing New Chickens Without Causing a Bloodbath)

What Symptoms Should I Look For In A Sick Chicken?

A healthy chicken should be eating, laying eggs, scratching around, dust bathing, and hanging out with her flock.   If you notice any of the following symptoms, you will want to take a closer look at your chicken:

  • Lethargy
  • Straining in the nest box
  • Limping
  • Swelling on the feet
  • Raised scales on their legs
  • Discharge from eyes or nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Black spots on the comb
  • Strange droppings (such as very watery, an unusual color, or bloody)
  • Weight loss
  • Bad smell from the mouth
  • Broken or tattered feathers
  • Lice, mites, or other external parasites
  • Lumps, scratches, or open wounds on the skin
  • Discharge from the vent

I Think I Have a Sick Chicken!

If you notice some of the above symptoms in your chicken, the first step is to isolate the ill chicken from the rest of the flock so that they won’t get picked on.  A dog crate, small play yard or plastic tub are good.  (I usually use my homemade chick brooder box.  You can see how I made it by clicking here).

It’s important that your chicken stay hydrated.  You can even give your bird water with a dropper if she refuses to drink at all.  If she is eating and drinking, give her good and water as normal as feeding changes can stress her out.

Once you have a good idea of the symptoms your bird is experiencing, you can try to treat as well as possible at home.  Sometimes you will need the help of a vet, and sometimes you will need to make a judgement call as to whether recovery or euthanasia is the best option.

My favorite resource regarding treating sick chickens is The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow.  This is an excellent reference to have on hand for all chicken owners, and not only does she discuss how to prevent illnesses in your flock, but she also discusses the particulars of many diseases, parasites, and issues, and provides solutions you can implement on your own.

How Can I Prevent My Chickens From Getting Sick?

The best way to handle any illness or injury is to prevent it, and thankfully that’s the easiest thing to do.  Make sure your chicken coop has enough ventilation and is adequately clean.  If you are using the deep litter method, make sure any droppings are adequately covered.  You chickens should also have access to a dry place to dust bathe year round.


Reduce stress on your flock as much as possible.  Make sure they have adequate shelter in the cold, and adequate shade in the heat.  Diet is important as well.  Make sure they have access to clean water at all times, and are fed a nutritionally balanced feed.

Make sure your chickens are not bored by giving them plenty of space, and pasture to roam if possible.  If they are kept in a pen, branches to jump on, compost and weeds to dig through for worms, and occasional treats are all good sources of entertainment.

Preventing problems and catching them early is the best way to prevent sick chickens.

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