Treating Common Chick Ailments

Caring for Pasty Bottom and Spraddle Leg

Treating Common Chick Ailments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Chick ailments aren’t always infectious illnesses. Here we discuss what to look for and how to care for some common chick ailments that you may encounter whether you hatch chicks yourself or buy them from a hatchery.

Pasty Bottom (Sticky Bottom, Pasty Butt, Pasted Vent) — Pasty bottom is quite common, especially in mail-order chicks that might arrive with their vent already pasted over. This happens when the droppings stick to the soft feathers around a chick’s vent and dry, ending up plugging the vent. This is fatal unless treated as the chick will quickly become backed up. You will need to soften the dried fecal matter with a wet washcloth or gently hold the chick’s bottom under warm running water. Very gently pick the droppings off, being very careful not to pull the feathers. You may apply a little petroleum jelly or antibiotic ointment to help prevent it from happening again. Vegetable oil is not recommended as it can go rancid. If this seems to be a common occurrence with your chicks, consider switching to a different brand of feed. Also, make sure that your chicks are getting adequate water right after hatching before you even offer solid food. 

Spraddle Leg (Splayed Leg) — You will know spraddle leg when you see it. While it could happen from another injury, it typically occurs when the brooder’s bedding is too slippery, and the chick’s legs slip out from under them in opposite directions. This damages the tendons and could be permanent if not treated. The chick’s legs will need to be splinted into a normal position. This can be done with a bandage cut in half lengthwise and wrapped around each leg. It can also be done with pipe cleaners or many materials as long as they don’t cut into the skin of the chick’s legs and can easily be removed. If the chick cannot stand at all with the splint, you may need to set it wider, adjusting it closer slowly each day. This may only take a few days in a young chick until the chick’s muscles are strong enough to hold itself upright. Be sure that your chick can access food and water while splinted. Avoid this condition by not using slippery bedding such as newspapers in brooders. 

Curled Toes — Chicks may be born with curled toes, or they may develop soon after hatching. This could be due to riboflavin deficiency or improper incubation temperature, or an injury. This is an easy fix as long as you address it immediately. A chick’s bones are still soft when they hatch, and they respond well to splinting. Using a sticky bandage, medical tape, or even athletic tape, hold the chick’s toes straight and cover them on both sides, splinting them in proper placement. Check every few hours that the splint remains in place, redo as necessary. Be sure that whatever material you use is removable without damaging the chick’s skin. 

Dehydration — Mail order chicks are more prone to possible dehydration, but even home-hatched chicks can experience it if not given water that they can access right away. If chicks arrive in the mail looking listless, immediately give them water, even dipping their beaks directly to help them get the idea of drinking. A vitamin and electrolyte solution can assist in this situation. 

Crossed Beak (Scissor Beak) — It is not uncommon for a chicken’s top and bottom beak to not fully line up, causing a condition known as a crossed beak. It may be subtle when the chick is young and become more pronounced as they age. There is no cure, but you can help the chicken eat by raising their feeding station higher and possibly giving softer, smaller food. These chickens may get picked on more, in which case you may need to separate so that your crossed beak chicken will still get adequate food.  

Unhealed navel — Occasionally, a chick may hatch with a not-quite-healed navel. This is not a cause for concern but may be confused with pasty bottom. Do not pick at any umbilical scabs! Picking can cause a severe infection for your young chick. Knowing chick anatomy can help prevent this confusion. The vent is behind the navel, more towards the tail. If other chicks are pecking at the scab or piece of the umbilical cord, separate the chick and treat it with a bit of iodine to help dry up the umbilical area.

Over or Under-heated — Overheated chicks will cluster to the edges of the brooder, even piling on top of each other, seeking cooler areas. They may pant and eat less, thereby not gaining as much weight. Cold chicks will cluster near the heating source, piling on each other for warmth to the point of suffocating those on the bottom. They will also have a shrill peep. 

While these conditions may not be infectious, they should not be ignored. With prompt treatment, chicks can recover and live long and healthy lives.

Originally published in the February/March 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly betted for accuracy.

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