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How To Tell If A Chicken Is Sick?

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When you get new chickens, it is best to keep them isolated for 7-30 days after bringing them home. During this time, you will need to keep an eye out for any illnesses. So how can I tell a chicken is sick? Let’s look at common signs of disease and what they might mean. Then we will talk about different life stages and how that affects the way a chicken reacts to illness. 

Common Signs A Chicken Is Sick

How can I tell a chicken is sick? The easiest way is by always being on the lookout for these common signs. These signs could have several meanings, so it is best to take your chicken to the aviary vet if you suspect something is wrong. But knowing symptoms could help speed up the diagnosis. 

Not Eating

One of the first signs of a sick chicken is reduced appetite. If you have a large flock, this symptom is the easiest to bypass. So it is vital to note which chickens are quick to run to the feeder and which ones stay back. Not eating is a symptom of numerous illnesses, or it can mean they are being picked on. If your chickens have stopped eating, try to entice them with a healthy snack. If they still refuse to eat, you can assume that something is wrong. 

Sick Chicken Lethargic

Inactivity is another common symptom of most illnesses. Chickens who don’t seem to move around a lot or hang out too much in the coop might be sick. It is best to isolate a lethargic chicken and watch for more symptoms to arise. 

Fluffed Feathers

Chickens will fluff their feathers to stay warm and get comfortable. It is normal behavior to fluff up when they are sleeping or during cold months to keep warm. But when paired with being lethargic, this is a recipe for a sick chicken. Fluffed feathers are not specific to any one illness, so isolate your chicken and look for any other signs of disease. 

Loose Stools

A chicken with diarrhea can be hard to pinpoint in a flock. If you notice loose stools anywhere in the run, look at all of your chicken’s rears. If you find one with a particularly soiled behind, that’s it. Otherwise, you will need to sit and watch them until you discover the one. Several things can tell if a chicken is sick with diarrhea.

The most common are:

  1. Viruses
  2. Eating something bad
  3. Coryza
  4. Coccidiosis
  5. Overeating
  6. And worms

A chicken with diarrhea should be isolated immediately and taken to a vet for further diagnosis. 

Sour Crop

Chickens can not technically vomit, but they do get sour crop. Sour crop is the overproduction of yeast in the mouths and digestive tracts. If you see any yellowish liquid from your chickens, it is likely yeast. This should be treated immediately at home. If the case is too severe, it will need medical attention. 

Wattle/Comb Swelling Or Color Change

A great way to inspect a chicken’s health is to look at the wattle and comb. They should be bright red, black, or purple, depending on their breed. An unhealthy chicken comb and wattle will look pale, deflated, and turns a different color. These are all signs of illnesses or parasites. But you have to consider other things. A chicken who is molting or in old age might experience these things as well. If you notice an unhealthy comb, be on the lookout for other symptoms. 

Closed Eyes

A chicken with closed and swollen eyes is most likely sick with a respiratory illness. It is often combined with yellowish discharge or even bubbles coming from the eyes. These cases should seek medical attention right away as they are extremely contagious. A chicken might also be closing their eyes and lethargic to conserve energy when ill. So it is best to isolate any chick with this symptom. 

Labored Breathing

If you ever see a chicken with labored breathing, you should isolate right away. Labored breathing could be the cause of a respiratory illness that could get your other chickens sick-usually accompanied by coughing, lethargy, and loss of appetite. It could also be a sign of heart trouble and defects in chickens prone to heart disease. 

Penguin Waddle

The penguin waddle is something that most hens do when they are egg bound. Egg bound hens happen if they are getting too much protein and not enough calcium, so a balanced diet is needed. If your sick chicken egg bound, the best thing you can do for it is to give it a warm Epsom salt bath. The bath helps to relax the muscles to pass the egg. Isolation isn’t necessary in this case since being egg bound is not contagious. But if you notice that your chicken is stressed, it might do her some good.

What About A Baby Chick? 

Baby chick body language can be different than their adult counterparts. They hide things very well, and usually by the time you notice something is wrong, they’re very sick. Some common things to look for are:

  • Isolation from the rest of the chicks
  • Not eating or drinking 
  • Closed crusty eyes or sunken in
  • Lethargic and not moving as much as the others

Occasionally you will see a chick vibrating. Why do chickens vibrate? There are a few possible answers. Sometimes they vibrate when they are excited or happy. Other times it could mean that they are very ill and not so much vibrating as they are convulsing. Take note of when and how your chick is vibrating to tell the difference between the two. If it only vibrates when playing or when you hold them, you should be fine. 

What To Do When A Chicken Is Sick?

When you suspect a chicken is sick, there are a few precautions you should take. 

  1. Isolate them from the rest of the flock. Isolation should be away from all other chickens to prevent spreading pathogens. 
  2. Disinfecting your coop, run, or where ever you were keeping the sick chicken. 
  3. Inspect the sick chicken for any other signs of illness. Look for bright eyes and vents. Make sure that there are not infected wounds. Check the coloring of the comb and wattle. 
  4. Call a vet and do not self-medicate. Self-medicating without a proper diagnosis could cause more harm to your chickens than good. 
  5. Entice eating and drinking to keep their energy and immune system up. Water is the most important as a dehydrated bird doesn’t stand a chance. You may have to syringe feed water or give electrolytes for some chickens. 

With these steps and making your chickens comfortable, they should be feeling better in no time. 

Can I Prevent Illnesses?

There are a few ways to prevent your chickens from getting sick. But they are not foolproof. A few tips are:

  • Monitor feeding of your flock
  • Daily inspections and health checks
  • Keeping the run and coop clean
  • Treat wounds immediately
  • Isolate all new chickens
  • Make sure the coop has adequate ventilation
  • And don’t overcrowd

These are all great ways to make sure that your flock stays healthy with a strong immune system. But even chicken keepers who do all of these things experience illness at some point. 

Signs A Chicken Is Dying Of Old Age

A chicken that is dying naturally might display some of the same symptoms as a sick chicken. When examining an ill chicken, you should always consider their age too for prognosis. But usually, it begins slow. A chicken will start to eat less and less but still act normally. The decreased appetite will eventually cause weight loss, and the lethargy comes in after. 

These symptoms might happen quickly, or they might slowly occur over a few months. Occasionally the old age and lack of nutrition could cause an infection to speed up the process. How can I tell a chicken is sick in old age? They will experience the same symptoms, but it progresses faster. Older chickens have a harder time hiding it, but their survival is lower. But if a chicken dies naturally, it is usually peaceful. 

How To Make A Dying Chicken Comfortable

Whether they are dying naturally or from illness, keeping them comfortable is the least we can do. The first thing you can do is make any accommodations that chicken needs. If it is old age and they can’t roost properly, make a roost or nesting box just for them. If they are being picked on, try isolating them and keeping them company yourself. The best way to accommodate a dying bird is by making everyday life easier. 

Secondly, take time to hand feed and water your chicken. Whether they are dying from old age or illness, it is worse to go when you have an empty stomach and dehydrated. And while you are already meeting their basic needs, you might want to keep them warm too. Using soft towels as bedding and a heat lamp will help give your chicken a little more comfortability. 

And finally, if your chicken is sick and suffering, talking to a vet about euthanasia is the most humane way to go. It is a hard decision for you to make, and nothing will make it easier. But knowing that your hen’s pain and suffering is gone is the most important. 

But Let’s Not Leave Off There

Keeping chickens is very rewarding. Every time you add a new chicken to your flock, you are adding a unique personality. Keeping your flock safe and healthy is all you want and ask for. So how can I tell a chicken is sick? By following a few safety precautions and knowing what to look for. Being informed will save your flock. 

Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Backyard Chicken Board!!

How Can I Tell If A Chicken Is Sick?
How Can I Tell If A Chicken Is Sick?

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