Sometimes this is the first thing you notice--the bird is sitting quietly (more so than usual), is fluffed up, won't eat or drink, eyes closed, breathing hard, doesn't want to get up and walk around or forage normally. If you walk over to the bird and try to touch it, and it doesn't get up, pay attention or otherwise move away, something is wrong. Get to know your birds--if one that never lets you approach suddenly lets you walk over and pet it, something is amiss. Act quickly and aggressively, because by the time a chicken shows that it is ill, it is REALLY ill! Don't wait till later or tomorrow to see if it perks up, act NOW. Better safe than sorry, and it can't hurt. Bring it inside or somewhere where you can keep an eye on it, by itself (a small rabbit hutch is great and is an invaluable tool for isolating sick, injured or new-to-your-flock quarantined birds, or broody hens with tiny chicks.). Provide it unflavored Pedialyte and feed and watch to see if it is eating and drinking, and look closely at it's poop. Provide warmth and quiet. You must get it alone so you can be sure of THIS chicken's symptoms, the vet will need to know. Also, if the bird is contagious, you just may save the rest of your flock.

If you have a bird away from the flock for an extended period of time, to the flock that bird is dead and gone--unless you make a point to show the flock that the bird is still around, just not mixing in with the others. As long as the bird is not contagious or seriously injured/Ill, it's a fine idea to show it to other flock members occasionally by bringing a gentle flockmate or two over to it so they can see each other. Stay right there with them, keep it brief and calm, and have a barrier such as wire between them to squash any unexpected bullying or fighting.  The visitation also helps the isolated one feel less lonely--remember it's a flock animal, and they don't LIKE being alone. This also helps lessen any squabbles when the bird is suddenly reintroduced to the flock, and helps keep it's position in the pecking order status quo. You will also need to show the isolated chicken extra attention, because if it's in a box in your kitchen, in the absence of other chickens YOU become it's new flock. Birds that have spent time indoors with you recovering from an illness or injury will from then on be more friendly and bonded to you, how much so depends on how badly you spoil them during their convalescence!


’My Chicken Is Looking Sick’

Velvet Sparrow

If you suspect illness, please read the ENTIRE ‘Health’ section on my site–I go into much more detail.  If you think your chicken needs a vet, CALL ONE!  Info on this site is NOT meant to take the place of proper veterinary care, and I assume no responsibility for your use of the information on this site.

This is by no means a complete and comprehensive list of everything that can go wrong with your chickens!

The Chicken Mantra–learn it, love, it, live it:  

‘If it is possible for a chicken to hurt themselves on something, somehow they will find a way.’

With ANY injury or illness, it is imperative to keep your bird warm and quiet. Chickens are tough, but are, after all, still birds and shock can kill your bird quicker than an injury or illness can. One of the first things you should do is to get the bird to someplace warm (a cardboard box with a heating pad set on 'low') and quiet (away from other birds, kids, barking dogs) and offer it free choice chicken feed and unflavored electrolyte solution to drink. Pedialyte is a liquid electrolyte solution for human children in the baby aisle at the grocery store or mix your own following the recipe here. Unflavored is best for chickens since they tend to refuse fruit flavored water.

It bears repeating that my site is not the end-all and be-all of illness & injury advice.  Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on regarding not only chickens, but birds.  Pet cage birds like parrots have been around longer and researched far more than pet backyard chickens have, so there is more info out there aimed at them that you can use for your chickens.  The production chicken industry’s conventional wisdom dictates culling over curing, and if you are trying to save a favorite pet…well, that doesn’t really help.

As more and more people start keeping backyard flocks that are pets as well, this is shifting, but slowly.  MSU has a great poultry section that describes symptoms & treatments for the most common poultry diseases:  


There are more links to other helpful sites on the ‘Links’ page of my site.

What Do I Do?!

Basically this is a catch-all term for when the bird is eating, but is losing weight and not carrying on normally, and I’ve found is most common with baby chicks. With a baby chick, it simply seems to slow down and stop developing. I once had a baby chick that at three weeks old still looked like a three day old chick. It didn't look SICK, it simply sat around a lot, watching the others. Usually baby chicks with this condition don’t make it and there is nothing you can do.  There is good info on Failure To Thrive here at The Finch Niche (aimed at finches but good bird info). Lots of great articles, very valuable info:


Failure To Thrive

Parasites, Worms, Lice & Mites

Parasites, whether internal (worms) or external (mites & lice) can all be treated in a similar way. See the "Worming and Dusting' section for more information.  Practice a ‘scorched earth’ policy and don’t suffer the little buggers to infest your flock.

Growths, Lumps & Cysts

My vet tells me that there are upwards of 300 different types of growths, lumps, cancers, cysts, etc. that chickens can suffer from. If you find a lump, take the bird to the vet. He will decide it it is a hard tissue lump (growth or cancer most likely) or a fluid-filled cyst or infection (soft & squishy like a water balloon). In my experience the bird with the cyst or infection will look and act sick, the bird with the tissue growth will act fine. Fluid-filled lumps can be drained and treated, but growths are usually pretty much eventually fatal and you may have to make the tough decision to euthanize the bird or not.

Surgery may be possible in some cases, your vet can help you decide if this is the best option for your bird.  I once had a Polish hen named Seven who developed a sudden growth at the base of her tail, right near her preen gland.  My vet basically said to take her home, make her comfortable and enjoy what time I had left with her.  In the meantime, Seven was adamant about digging at the growth–it really annoyed her.  She was otherwise perky and normal enough, eating and drinking like always.  But she was digging away at the growth and making it bleed, which of course attracted pecking from the other chickens.

In true chicken form, Seven hid her problem at first.  We noticed one day that she had some blood on her tail feathers, and that she was no longer carrying her tail upright as Polish normally do.  We assumed she had an injury and picked her up for inspection right away.

This is Seven and her sister, Sugar, on the day about 7 months before this when we had gotten them from a local feed store.  Seven is on the left, and you can see the upright tail posture of this breed.

Old Age Issues & Special Needs Birds

So Seven got to come inside to live out her remaining days, and I made her a modified chicken saddle to wear that would cover the growth and keep her from picking at it.  A chicken saddle is simply a cloth ‘apron’ that goes over a hen’s back and is held in place with elastic and snaps around the wings, and is normally used with valuable show birds during breeding season to keep the rooster from injuring her with his spurs or wrecking her feathers.  Chicken saddles are also useful if your regular ol’ backyard hen has suffered a spur wound on her back from an over-enthusiastic rooboy.  It covers the wound and keeps the hen and everyone else from pecking it, and guards against further rooboy damage until she heals.

The first saddle I made was more of a tube–a leg cut from an old pair of jeans, which I thought would be perfect.

This is the lump that we found at the base of Seven’s tail, but only after lifting the feathers covering the area.  You can see the traces of blood on her tail feathers and that her tail is slightly downward, our only clues that something was amiss.

From the back.  It was about the size of a ping-pong ball.

…and a close-up shot.  Seven had been dustbathing, trying to ease the irritation.  Her preen gland is fully covered by the lump.

She looked like a chicken sausage.  Sugar thought I was an idiot.  After due consideration I decided that she was right.

It was far too heavy for her to be able to stand and walk around in.  Also, when you first put something like this on a chicken, they assume that the thing has grabbed them and is about to eat them, so ease them into the idea slowly. If you just throw clothing on a chicken and stand back they are gonna freak RIGHT out.  Pet them with it, lay it across their back and allow them to feel it on them and walk out from under it.  Go slow.

I removed the Chicken Tube and apologized.  She was NOT amused.

…and made her look like Super Chicken.

Really, really not amused.

Super Chicken’s cape is held in place with lengths of elastic going around each wing where it meets her body, with snaps connecting it to the fabric so that it will break away if she gets caught on something.

It only took her about 10 minutes to figure out how to undo the snaps and throw her cape scornfully to the couch cushions below.

Fortunately I was prepared, and Super Chicken’s arch nemesis turned out to be heavy-duty snaps that replaced the first ones I’d used.

After that the cape stayed on and Super Chicken accepted her new duds gracefully.

Saddle #2…

Seven’s was more of a cape since I only needed to cover the wounded area, and the only other fabric I had at the time was, unfortunately, hot pink in color.


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse

While not an injury or illness per se, if you plan on keeping your chickens as valued pets and commit to keeping them to the end of their lives, old age and the things that come with it like blindness or chronic joint difficulties are a possibility.  You may also have what I call ‘Scratch & Dent Bin’ chickens–birds that may be otherwise healthy but have a bad leg, some bent toes, only one eye, etc.  Our local feed store knew that we were a soft touch, and sometimes when we’d go in we’d hear, ‘We have this hen with a twisted leg and only one eye, we can’t sell her, do you want her as a freebie?’  Of course these birds were always the sweetest and most beautiful, but even when they weren’t…well, like I said, we were a soft touch and home they’d come with us.  These birds tend to get along just fine, but may sometimes benefit from a little handicap access help from you.

The average life span of a chicken is anywhere from 5-8 years.  Birds age 8 and up can still be healthy but begin to suffer from the problems that come with old age such as going deaf, blind or lame.  They may also become a bit senile.  You also may have a favorite bird who has suffered an injury that has left them minus an eye or a tongue, or left them disabled but still mobile.

Old hens tend to retain their status in the pecking order, and usually no youngsters are foolish enough to take on the grand old dignified dames of the flock.  A Head Roo who has an up and coming challenger is another thing–there can be only one, and an old Head Roo who gets deposed is a sad thing.  You’ll usually have to make the decision as to who is Head Roo in your flock and either rehome one of them or keep a separate run for the old folks and give your old gent and his old ladies their own slice of Heaven.

Old chickens that aren’t getting around so well anymore can benefit from lower roosts no more than 2 feet off the ground and a sloping ladder to walk up and down to get to the roosts.  Some older birds forgo roosting entirely and will sleep in nests boxes, piling in together in cold weather.  Easy access food and water containers are also a good thing so the the creaky old farts don’t have to climb up to get to them.  My old hens of age 10 and up really love a bit of supplemental heat from a barn heater in winter when nighttime temps drop down below freezing.

Deaf birds do fine, but one I raised from a chick had to be taught to watch the other chickens and take visual cues from them–she could not hear me call her to goodies when I was passing them out and missed out quite a bit at first.  Once I realized that she was deaf, I started making sure that I was in her field of vision before I started scattering treats and that she was connecting me tossing goodies and seeing the rest of the flock start running over to me.  Once she made the connection that when the rest of the flock started running she should run and join them, I no longer had to be in sight–she’d see them run and would join them to see what they were after.  This also helped to teach her to watch the flock for visual cues if there was danger, such as a hawk overhead.  To avoid startling her, I also had to be careful not to sneak up on her and made sure to approach her where she could see me.

I have had two old hens, on age 9 and the other past 10, go mostly blind–not at the same time, but the things I did to help them deal with it were the same.  Both were Polish hens and when I tested them by moving my hand in front of their face, seemed to have a small slice of vision left in one eye.  Unfortunately in both cases neither one was able to see well enough to remain with the flock, who tended to peck them because they were unable to pick up on visual pecking order cues or would walk right into another chicken and get pecked for their trouble.  Since they were old ladies, we had no second run for them, it was winter and we didn’t expect to have them for long due to their advanced age, they became house chickens.  They didn’t quite stumble around in a panic, but did have to relearn ways of doing things.  We kept the floor clear of clutter, didn’t rearrange furniture and placed their food and water dishes in the same place all the time.  We taught them to respond to auditory cues by calling them and tapping on the food and water dishes to teach them where they were located, they caught on to it within a day or two.  

They would also have good days and bad days vision-wise when sometimes they’d be seeing pretty good and others they clearly weren’t.  For some reason spending time outdoors in the sunlight would mean an increase in the quality of their vision for the rest of the day.  When they had especially bad vision days, they would walk slowly and navigate by feel with no panic, and pinpoint their food and water dishes using their feet, then place their head on the top of the waterer and slowly slide their head down along the side of it until they could drink from the trough.  The dishes we used were large and brightly colored to make them as easy as possible to find.  Both hens lived for more than a year after they had gone blind, so when it comes to blind chickens I’d say they can have a quality life the same as a blind human–it isn’t an automatic cause to cull them.

Disabled birds benefit mostly from the handicap access I discussed before, once any injuries has healed.  I had a hen that managed to rip her own tongue out (my vet said it wasn’t uncommon since chickens peck at anything to see if it’s food, and sometimes may pick up a piece of broken glass or sharp metal) and had to relearn how to eat.  She solved this by picking up a piece of food, holding it in her beak for a moment and then throwing her head around the food to swallow it!  This technique, although really odd looking, served her perfectly well and she went on for another 8 years, even raising several clutches of baby chicks.  Another one-eyed Kraienkoppe hen that also has a twisted foot is currently 9 years old and one of the upper members of the pecking order–and the other hens mess with her at their peril!


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse

Ascites Or ‘Water Belly’

This condition can strike older hens, especially those who have fallen out of lay, are chronic internal layers or are so old that they aren’t getting enough exercise. Sometimes Ascites goes hand in hand with Fatty Liver Disease, too.  Birds with Ascites retain a straw-colored fluid in their abdomen and basically look and feel as if they have a water balloon in there. They cannot expel it themselves so it must either be drained or treated with prescription meds, or both.  The fluid can build to the point that it interferes with breathing, walking, eating, etc.  While there is no sure-fire cure for Ascites, you can treat them and make them more comfortable. One thing you will likely need to do is drain the fluid off. You can take your hen to a vet for treatment, one vet I had prescribed Lasix (Prednisone) orally for my hen as a diuretic in addition to draining the fluid off with a syringe. This is also easily accomplished with the use of a syringe at home, although the first time you do it, it can be nerve-wracking for you--the hens don't seem to care. Just keep in mind that your hen will be infinitely more comfortable and be able to breathe, eat and walk around better without so much fluid in there.

I used a tuberculin syringe to drain an old hen with Ascites the first time I did it–they have a very short needle so I felt at less at risk of puncturing something important.  The drawback to tuberculin syringes is that the barrel is small and doesn’t hold much.  Larger syringes with longer needles have greater capacity, and once I knew what I was doing and was comfortable with it, I went with one of those.

Video on YouTube showing drainage of a hen with Ascites–if you do this, they tend to drip like a coffee maker for a bit afterwards, so be ready:


Another at a vet’s office, great description on the video page with info:


Some people have also had success using SAM-e or Milk Thistle, mixed with water and given orally. Mix 1 capsule in 2 oz. of water and give 0.5 ml daily. There is also a technique using an aloe detox (get the type with no ethyl alcohol) available online.  I have not used any of these three treatments myself as yet.


Coccidiosis is a common illness caused by a protozoa. Symtoms include listlessness, bloody, loose poops, weight loss, lack of appetite, etc. Recently a variation of Coccidiosis has popped up that does NOT have the trademark bloody poops, so diagnose carefully. It can be treated with Sulfadimethoxine (Albon) or Amprolium (Amprol or Corrid), which still work for coccidiosis, but a chicken expert friend recently told me that Sulfamethazine (Sulmet) is no longer effective, so don't use it to treat cocci! IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE SYMPTOMS OF DISEASE. The less time you spend frantically searching in books or online, trying to diagnose what the heck is wrong with your chicken THIS time, the better.  Spending a few minutes a day with your flock simply observing them is one of the best ways for you to spot a bird that is 'off' quickly. MSU has a FANTASTIC poultry site with tons of great information, read as much of it was you can. This section deals with common illness, how to spot them and how to treat:


Moet, the tongueless bantam buff Frizzle Cochin hen, went on to successfully foster & raise three different clutches of baby chicks, and lived to age 10.

Baby, the Kraienkoppe hen, was a freebie from the feed store and has only one eye and a twisted foot.  She is 9 years old and one of the top hens in the pecking order.

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