Chicken Lethargic Questions

Chickens are by nature quite active in search of food during day light hours, so if you find a chicken lethargic, more often than not, this is cause for concern.


Chickens do love to sun bathe and take naps but should jump up quickly if disturbed. A chicken lethargic that is unusually slow and unresponsive may be quite sick. During spring and summer months some hens go broody.

They will choose a nesting spot and can believe they are incubating eggs, even when all eggs are removed daily. Broody hens enter a trance like state and often, even if removed from the nest, will sit low to the ground and not move. This is normal.

A chicken lethargic may not be able to stand or walk well. It will often be alone when the flock is out scratching and foraging. It may sit or roost with head drooped or tucked into a wing. A sick chicken that is normally not easy to approach may be unaware of activity around it, not put up much of a fuss when picked up and have trouble opening eyes. A chicken lethargic in this state needs help.

There could be one or more of many different things wrong. Removing a chicken in this condition from the flock is important as it may have something contagious.

Having a “hospital cage” at the ready is always a good idea when raising chickens. It should be in a draft free area with access to electricity for a heat lamp. It should be away from other poultry.

When you find a chicken lethargic in your flock check it over from head to toe. Look for weight loss, impacted crop, parasites, signs of injury, a collection of droppings around the vent and anything out of the ordinary.

Hopefully you will find the clues you need to begin treatment. Lethargy could be caused simply by temperature extremes so warming or cooling a chicken would help.

Much like a vehicle needing gas and electricity to run, a chicken needs food and water constantly moving through its body releasing nutrients and expelling waste. If a chicken is not eating or drinking it may be suffering from a blockage anywhere from its throat, crop, intestines, oviduct, to vent.

Hens can become egg bound completely blocking their digestive system. Poisons, disease, parasites and injury are possible causes of chicken lethargic.

Next a lethargic chicken usually needs food and water. It may not have wanted to eat for a while or been prevented from eating by other chickens. Once a sick chicken is warmed or cooled as needed it should become more alert.

It should be looking around wondering what’s going on and able to keep its eyes open. Offering a few drops of electrolyte/vitamin water should perk it up even more.

If it will drink from a dish, great, but if not offer a few drops at a time and watch for a swallow reflex. If it will eat from a dish that’s great too, but if not, mix some electrolyte/vitamin water with its feed and offer a soupy food that is easy to swallow.

This will give food and liquid right away. Watch for droppings. You may want to get a stool sample to the vet.

A chicken lethargic may have no droppings which can mean constipation or blockage or just not enough food in the last day or so. An impacted or sour crop may be the cause or a side effect of what ever is wrong.

If there is a rotten food smell from its mouth it may need to be inverted and have the contents milked out. YOU MUST REHYDRATE CROP CONTENTS FIRST WITH WARM WATER AND EXTERNAL CROP MASSAGE. Soured crop contents can turn to poison making it better to remove the contents rather than allow them to pass though.

We have answered many questions about these problems so please read on if you need more information. If you would like to see more questions click here.

We have had a lot of success with Ask A Vet. So if you need immediate help use this service.



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