A Guide to Sick Chicken Symptoms

It's Good to Know Chicken Disease Symptoms and Treatments

A Guide to Sick Chicken Symptoms

Reading Time: 5 minutes

With so much talk about chicken illnesses this year, it’s good to know what a sick chicken looks like, so we can try to help our feathered pets feel better quickly. We are all uncertain at times, but there are certain criteria you can use to assess if your bird has sick chicken symptoms. First, let’s explore what a healthy chicken looks and acts like.

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.

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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 of color, and the eyes are bright and clear.


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. 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. Always isolate the bird with sick chicken symptoms and reduce the chances of any contagious disease spreading through the flock.

Healthy Chickens have Healthy Droppings

Some may feel this goes a bit too far but notice the chicken’s droppings. There 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, fecal dropping. While both of these droppings will have a slight odor, you should note if the odor is extremely bad or if 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.


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, molt, 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 eggshell 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.

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 sick chicken symptoms are observed. Assess the bird’s overall health, using the sick chicken symptoms listed here. First, isolate the sick chicken, to help prevent the spread of any possible contagious illness.

Guide to Sick Chickens

Sick Chicken Symptoms

  • Is the bird active or listless?
  • Is the bird grooming or is it unkempt with ruffled feathers?
  • Is the bird interested in eating?
  • Is the bird coughing or expelling fluid?
  • Is the bird able to stand on its own?
  • Is the hen still laying eggs?
  • Is the bird excreting normal or abnormal droppings?

Preventing Illness

As is the case with all types of animals, prevention and a healthy life will go a long way to preventing serious illness. Feeding an appropriate healthy diet, supplementing with herbs, and treating the chickens with probiotic-rich foods will help them ward off many minor illnesses. Fermented feed, apple cider vinegar (2 tablespoons in a gallon of water) and 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 and replacing soiled wet bedding immediately will all help the birds stay healthy.

Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

20 thoughts on “A Guide to Sick Chicken Symptoms”
  1. One of my chickens seems to have become quite lethargic over the past couple of days. Her comb looks more purple than red, she feels squashy underneath and she is hunching herself up. Any suggestions?

  2. I have eight Rhode Island Red bantams. I got them at two days old. They still do not have tail feather or fully feathered out. They are alert and eating well.

  3. I have hen and she is neither drinking nor eating. Droppings are green. She doesn’t sit and whole day kept on standing. She turns in a circle after some time period.
    Please sufgest any cure or solution

    1. I have a chicken doing the same thing. Did you get any feedback from anyone on
      What you could do.
      Please help

  4. One of my hen is very light weight, she eats enough but dont get weight. She is laying eggs normal as before. Very active and always in search of food to eat. What do you think of it.

  5. One of my chickens has lost weight and has diarrhea, but I have seen her eating. Should I try some vitamins like. B12? I also need to start putting Apple cider vinegar in the water again.

  6. All chickens were normal last night but this morning I had one that was listless, not interested in eating watery poop and a humped up back. What is wrong with her? How can I help her.?

  7. My Frizzell bantam is 5yrs old, she eats, talks, and lays eggs fine, her feathers are not silky and they look like they are breaking off around her neck, which is now quite bare. I feel she has a mineral or vitamin deficiency. She has cider vinegar in her water.

  8. My 3 yr old hen has a very red sore chest, soggy comb, and runny poo. She’s my favourite too. She has lost weight over the months, is v lightweight. She drinks a lot, and suspect she is off lay , sometimes ghost egg. Other hens happy and separated now from her. All wormed, and vitamined. She was bright and active until a few days ago.
    What to do?

  9. My chicken looks like she keeps shaking her head no she looks like she is molting stays laid down not eating

  10. Hi , I have a 3year old rescue chicken who has what looks like sticky buds around her vent and stuck to her feathers ,can anyone throw some light on this for me please

  11. We had a beautiful healthy chicken until she recently became sick. At first she just wasn’t jumping up the the perch at night. Then within a couple of days she wasn’t moving around & would just sit kind of hunched over. She did eat, drink & poop but nothing much else. I started paying more attention & began to see what we called drooling which is definitely not normal as we read. We though that it might be a sour crop so we tried to treat her as we saw on the internet. We offered cider vinegar water & even went to the stock shop & got her a probiotic & electrolyte water supplement as well as a smaller carry case to keep her separate from our other chicken. No sooner than we separated her from our other chicken, she passed only hours later. I’m not sure what exactly was wrong with her & did not have the $175 to take her to an exotic vet to find out for sure. If anyone has any ideas please feel free to comment.

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