5 Common Chicken Diseases and Symptoms

Chicken Keepers May View Chicken Sickness Differently

5 Common Chicken Diseases and Symptoms

Not many vets specialize in chicken diseases and symptoms. Finding a good source of information, like Backyard Poultry magazine, is important. We keep chickens from the sustenance farmers standpoint. This means we do all we can to ensure the health and well-being of our animals, but when it comes to infectious diseases, we usually cull to prevent infection of other birds. This is a harsh reality of poultry farming.

This isn’t to say we don’t take measures to help them. We provide our animals with the healthiest diet possible. Our poultry flocks are free ranging, receive non-GMO feed as a supplement to free ranging, herbs, and all the garden produce we can spare. They receive apple cider vinegar water at the first sign of any sick chicken symptoms. We isolate any questionable bird from the flock and keep watch. They are our source of food and we treat them with respect and dignity. We practice the principles taught by my grandparents.

These are five of the more common backyard chicken diseases and symptoms. Of these, I’ve only seen Coryza in my flock and that was once almost 10 years ago. I’m sure many of you have had to deal with one or more of these at some point in your chicken keeping.

If you provide your poultry flocks with all they need to live healthy lives, you’ll seldom have any problem. The main thing to do for them, I believe is to keep their immune systems healthy. We do this in a couple of ways.

We provide garlic and apple cider vinegar water. We mix one clove of finely minced garlic along with 1 tablespoon raw, organic apple cider vinegar in one gallon of water. We do this a couple of times a month, at season changes (for a week), when the flock experiences any type of stress, like when predators attack (for a few days), and at any sign of illness in the flock (for a week). We also mix garlic powder in their feed a few times a month. I just sprinkle the top of the food bucket so it has a good layer and mix it. The proper ratio is to be 2 percent.


Infectious Bronchitis

Infectious Bronchitis is a common chicken sickness in backyard flocks. Its severity ranges from mild to severe. Most flocks are exposed to it from wildlife and develop a certain resistance to it. The best way to prevent disease in any livestock is to keep their immune system as healthy as possible.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Marked decrease in eating and drinking
Discharge from the nostrils and eyes
Gasping, coughing, and raspy breath sounds
Decreased egg laying – the egg itself may be misshaped, soft-shelled and watery inside
If the kidneys are affected, you’ll see increased drinking, sluggishness and scours

You can vaccinate against this disease, but it doesn’t prevent the infection. Studies show it may increase the recovery rate. Antibiotic treatment can be given. You may want to use a heat lamp on the affected birds to keep them warm.

Avian Influenza

Last year, 2015, saw record numbers of birds killed by this disease. While most of them were on large poultry farms, more backyard chicken keepers were affected than ever before. Any bird can carry it and transmit it across species. It came to our area via wild birds, or so we were told by the authorities. Our flock was unaffected, thankfully. We’re told it can be carried from farm to farm via our shoes, and by way of insects and rodents. It’s important you are able to recognize Avian Influenza symptoms. This dread of the poultry world is transmitted by mucous and feces from the infectious source.

The symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Sudden death with no signs of prior sickness
The wattles, legs, and combs may have a purple color
Misshaped or soft-shelled eggs and decreased or stop laying
Decreased eating and drinking
Runny stools
Coughing, discharge from the eyes and nose, maybe sneezing
You may notice your bird walking drunk or unable to stand well

It’s considered a flu. Antibiotics do not help viruses in humans or birds. Again, proper nutrition and keeping your flock healthy at all times will help avoid most chicken diseases and symptoms. The USDA and other government agencies forced mass culling of many flocks to “prevent the spreading.” Some backyard poultry keepers reported their flocks were seized and killed without any symptoms being present and no loss of life.

Infectious Sinusitis

This is also known as Mycoplasmosis (Mycoplasma Gallisepticu). I prefer the common name, Infectious Sinusitis. This one affects the entire range of homestead poultry. The symptoms are the same across the board.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Foamy discharge from the nose and maybe the eyes
Clear, watery drainage from the eyes
Coughing and raspy breathing
Swollen eyes and sinuses

There are antibiotics available which are reported be successful in treatment. Remember, preventative measures will keep most all chicken diseases and symptoms from your poultry flocks.

Fowl Pox

Fowl Pox is another common chicken sickness in backyard flocks. This disease has fewer fatalities. It often passes through a flock unnoticed to the novice chicken keeper.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

White blister-like lesions appearing more noticeably on the combs and wattles
In extreme cases, they’re found on the legs and body

Like chicken pox in a human, they develop scabs which will heal and fall off in about three weeks. On the rare occasion, the pox can also be in the chicken’s mouth and throat which may cause breathing problems. This is the usual cause of death from this disease. Funny to note, like us, they may have scarring.

Many poultry breeders prefer to vaccinate to help possibly decrease the risk of fowl pox. I’ve read areas which have a high mosquito population are at a greater risk. Again, a healthy immune system can help your flock ward off disease.

Infectious Coryza

Commonly called Cold or Croup. This one ripped through our chicken flock almost 10 years ago and it was devastating. I had no experience with it. This was before we started focusing on natural health and preventative treatment for our livestock. When we began discovering GMOs and their effects on humans and animals, we began changing the whole way of life on our homestead. Unfortunately, we weren’t in time to prevent this disease from affecting our flock.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Facial puffiness
Discharge from eyes and nose
Sneezing and coughing
Difficult, labored breathing
Stops eating and drinking
Wattles and cones become light and may have a bluish color
Stops egg laying
Wheezing, raspy breathing

There are antibiotics which offer hope for the sick, but not a guaranteed cure. So, again, I say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Since we changed our way of eating on the homestead, we’ve not had another incident, except with the coccidiosis in our heritage breed Chocolate turkeys a couple of years ago. That’s another terrifying experience which I learned great lessons from!


I know having a sick animal can make you feel helpless. They can’t tell us where it hurts! I feel it’s important to remind you to always use your own judgment when taking advice from anyone, including myself. We don’t have the advantage of knowing your flock or being able to see and handle your birds to help you know what’s really going on. Many of the common chicken diseases and symptoms are very similar in description.

You may be one of the few people who have a vet who actually treats chickens. If in doubt, check with him or her. I would always try natural and holistic remedies first, but that is my choice, you must make your own.

Any information given in this post is just that, information. I am not attempting to diagnose or treat your animals. Your homestead and the health of all who dwell therein is your responsibility. Humans and animals alike benefit from a healthy, strong immune system so I share with you what we do for ourselves and that of the livestock entrusted to us for care.

Remember to NEVER eat a sick animal. Many of their illnesses can be transmitted to humans by feces, respiration, and ingestion. If we have a chicken die, we burn it. We never leave it to spread to the rest of the flock or to the flock of anyone else.

What experience do you have with any of these chicken diseases and symptoms? Let us know below.

Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack


2 thoughts on “5 Common Chicken Diseases and Symptoms”
  1. I have a sick hen. The symptoms are pale crown, stopped eating, reduced movements. She just laying under the sun all day. I did not separate her with the rest of my hens and has been feeding her with soft bread. She only eats a few bites for a day. This has been going on for about three days. I need to know if there are other ways I can help my hen and most importantly, what is wrong with her? The five most common disease you have listed do not seam match any of symptoms of my hen.

    1. Hi, I can see how that’s concerning. We would need a better description of the symptoms to determine what could be the issue. But first of all: when you put your hand near her or try to move her, does she fluff her feathers and make a low screeching sound? If so, she’s just broody and you don’t need to worry. But you will want to either break the broodiness or put her in a safe place so she’s not vulnerable to predators during this time. Good luck!

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