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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)

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?

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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Adnan khan.

Friday 13th of November 2020

Hello every one. I m adnan from swat pakistan. I m always facing one problem with chicken. Some time my chicks or hen or roosters suddenly become lazy and in one day or two its lose weight. And day by day. Its chest become slim and i can feel neck bone when touch its neck. And when standing its sleepy and lazy. And some many vet doctor couldn’t found any solution. Bcos when it died i take it for postmortem. And everything is clear. But I don’t know why its happen and what kind of disease is this. ? What should i use when dis happens again. Please me.


Tuesday 17th of November 2020

If the vet wasn't able to find anything postmortem I really don't know. Did they have a lot of intestinal worms?


Monday 14th of October 2019

I have 5 Chickens with swollen feet. they act just fine, it been 4 months. What should I do?


Monday 14th of October 2019

It could be bumblefoot, which is a staph infection of the feet. Here's how to treat it: https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/swollen-feet-on-hen.667080/


Thursday 4th of October 2018

I have a very clean nceening wuestion Abe it one of my chickens. She is just sitt No. Moves a crazy hole but f steps and then lays do an again. She is still eating and drinking right now but I am very concerned. She didn’t es not have egg binding or foot disease. Her feet and legs look great. PLEASE help


Monday 8th of October 2018

Is she broody?

Sam Hollins

Thursday 14th of June 2018

My hens comb is limp and swollen.She has been moving around very slowly but still eats. I haven't seen her drink water lately due to me being at work . Need to know whats wrong with her.


Thursday 14th of June 2018

If it's very hot in your area, she could be handling the heat poorly. Perhaps take her some cool water and she what she does.

If you think she may be contagious it's probably a good idea to separate her from the flock.

edwin isamu

Thursday 28th of September 2017

Comment Text*I would wish to know more no poultry diseases and there cure

Tabetha amos

Saturday 26th of September 2020

I gotb5 nee roosters there feet are sore and bleeding they also have like a sneeze and also black spots on there combs .?


Wednesday 4th of October 2017

If you can get a copy of the Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow, it has much more detailed information. It's a great resource.

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