Chicken that Can't Walk

I have a chicken that can't walk it is a four-year-old Rhode Island Red. In late November I noticed her having some trouble getting up in the chickenyard, but she was still able to get up on her perch, and her condition seemed to fluctuate over the course of about a week.

Then she worsened; she reclined on her midsection, her legs outstretched behind her. Over the course of a couple of weeks, her posture more typically became both legs outstretched in front, each one alternately pawing the ground continually.

Lately she has been trying to use her wings to help balance herself. I've occasionally put her outside in a 10x10 dog kennel on warm days, but my impression is that she gets worse, not better, outside.

I have my hens (10) purely as egg producers and pets, so "culling" her is not an option; I'm a strict vegetarian.

But I've had this chicken in a dog pen in the house for two months now, and I think both of us are beginning to lose hope.

Her legs have been X-rayed, and there are no abnormalities. She is not egg-bound. An avian vet at a state university suggested that she has spondy-whatever ("kinky back") and that the disks might shift on their own and allow her to walk again. Or not.

But this is someone consulted by phone; he hasn't seen the chicken. My local vet was not helpful.

Her comb is bright red, and she has an excellent appetite; I feed her mostly by hand, and she gets a wide variety of


(Someone who raises chickens for cockfighting said to add dogfood to her diet (the irony of accepting advice from someone on the opposite side of the animal-loving spectrum has not escaped me, but these people are said to take excellent care of their "investments").

I want to understand what's going on with my chicken and, if possible, to help her.

My job allows me to work out of my home, so she has continual oversight; and I have tremendous patience with animals, so I'll do what I need to do to make her better if getting better is possible.

Does any of this sound familiar to you, and, if so, do you have any advice?

With the detailed description that you give, I agree with the University vet and believe that the bird has Kinky Back.

As far as they know, this affliction can be caused simply by heredity or by feed.

Considering that you obviously take very good care of your birds, and that your other birds have not been prone to these symptoms we are going to assume that this is hereditary in this instance.

The good news is that this disease does not spread from bird to bird, so culling the bird is not a requirement for the health of the entire flock.

My advise would be to vary the diet and see if you can have any improvement. I would try some high protein in the diet, like the dog food suggested to you.

You seem to be doing everything you can. I hope you see some improvement.

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Jan 22, 2010
Thank you!
by: Anonymous

I appreciate your prompt reply. If you think my baby has "kinky back," would massage also help (if there really is a possibility of the disk returning to its rightful place: do you think this is possible)? Or would a flexible brace of some sort help?

After posting my question, I fashioned a sling for Little Red out of an old towel. The towel is attached at the short ends of the kennel, and I made cutouts in the middle of the towel for her legs and vent.

I put a piece of firewood under her feet so that she can put her feet down on something but without her legs having to bear her weight.

At first I stretched a short piece of towel over her wings and secured it to keep her from using her wings to get out of this contraption, but she has never tried, so I've stopped that part.

She seems comfortable in this setup, but I'm not sure whether I'm helping or hurting.

I'll continue with the diet, but if there's anything further I can do to help her, please advise me.

Thanks again. I very much appreciate your time and attention.

Reply: I would think that you can experiment with what seems to work and what doesn't.

Different things may help with different birds. However it turns out, the bird is lucky to have a caring owner like yourself to help it along. Good luck!

Aug 23, 2010
Another crouching Rhode Island Red
by: Anonymous

I also have a 4 year old RI-Red hen who went through something very similar last Fall when she started molting.

She crouched down when she walked and sort of stumbled around real low to the ground, although she could still jump the 5 feet onto her perch. I called various vets and ended up talking to the U of W avian specialist.

She didn't know what it was either, but agreed that it was beneficial for me to give her brewer's yeast for vitamin B, probiotics, and all the fresh greens "Redhenly" was craving.

I'm also a vegetarian, and my hens are strictly pets, so no culling! I found another site where someone described this behavior with a molting hen, and she'd gotten over it.

This gave us hope, even though the professionals hadn't heard of the condition. Sure enough, when her feathers grew back, she stopped crouching, and she's been fine ever since, thank God!

It was almost as if her feathers had been poking into her. So, I hope that helps someone else who might be going through this strange behavior.

Aug 24, 2010
Thank you for the thoughtful response
by: Anonymous

Thank you so much! It is so hard to find specific information of this sort--as you say, the "experts" are frequently stumped. This information is invaluable, and I can't thank you enough for sharing.

Sep 02, 2010
Chicken Couldn't Walk -She's Healed!
by: HP

Ordinarily, I'm one to avoid the use of antibiotics and drugs whenever possible.

I'm big on using avian probiotics for disease prevention, and I've had very good success with my little flock...

Until I returned from vacation and found that my Buff Orpington could hardly stand up. She couldn't walk at all, and when she tried to preen herself or scratch, she fell over. So sad.

I kept her covered in a box that first night, and the next day, I called four vets before I found one who would see her.

She wasn't eating or drinking much. The doctor X-rayed her to see if she was eggbound. Nope, no egg.

So he felt her body, shined a light through her comb, and said she was very thin and had a fever and needed to go on antibiotics for 10 days.

I was expecting injections, or something to add to her water. But no, I had to give her 6 ccs of amoxicillin twice a day for ten days.

I thought this would be impossible, especially after watching the vet tech battle with my hen. I thought she would break her neck. So I decided to use the gentle approach. And it worked!

Please see next post with details

Sep 02, 2010
Chicken Couldn't Walk -She's Healed!-2
by: HP

DO NOT BE IN A HURRY to medicate your hen. One dose took me 2 hours to give her. But she's worth it! Most of the time it took about 30 minutes.

I put a heating pad on my lap, wrapped my hen in a towel on the pad, and before very long, she was all toasty warm and started to pant with her mouth wide open.

That's what you want, only BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERHEAT A SICK HEN. Especially one who isn't drinking enough on her own. (Give her droppers full of water if she isn't drinking.)

When she opens her mouth wide enough, gently squirt a drop or two of medicine into her mouth with your syringe.

The amoxicillin must have tasted good to her because she never spit it out. She even pecked at the drips that spilled! She was a trooper, and she just took her final dose tonight.

That's 20 doses! She's strong, plucky, can walk, preen, and take dust baths again. Tomorrow she'll join her sisters in the garden! We are most thankful for her recovery.

As a side note, I read that calcium deficiency can also cause a lack of coordination, and even seizures.

She had been laying eggs every day until I went on vacation, and I'm not sure how much of her oyster shell she'd been eating. I've been supplementing with another form of calcium sprinkled on her food.

I was told to feed her all her favorite foods, but she really challenged me. One day, she wanted fresh corn and grapes.

The next day she wouldn't touch them, but ate sunflower seeds. Then she didn't want them, but ate fresh coconut, scrambled egg, and hulled millet.

Then whole wheat bread. Then blueberries and chickweed. Her favorite day was when we found grasshoppers and a beetle!

Now that she's well, she's eating more of a variety again, even some of her Layer Crumbles.

Also, one vet told me over the phone that a diet too rich in protein could cause her kidneys to enlarge and press on her spine, which would make her walk weird.

I don't think this was the case since she responded to the other treatment, but it's something to keep in mind.

I hope this gives hope to someone else out there who has a pet hen who can't walk. My little Honey Puff was worth saving!

Response: We're very glad it worked out for you and your hen! Thanks for sharing, I'm sure it may help out others later!

Feb 20, 2011
Chicken that can't walk
by: Anonymous

Our chicken can't walk either. It's a red/brown hybrid one and about 3 years old.

First it had problems getting on the perch so we finally put in a ladder which worked but recently that is a problem too to climb.

It basically sits on the ground. It has problems walking. Her comb looks dry and blueish at the edges and her toes look curled up as if it has arthrosis or something like that.

A few weeks ago it shed feathers and seemed to have lost part of it's comb which seems normal size again.

Feb 20, 2011
Chicken that can't walk
by: Michelle

We live in Brisbane, Queensland and it's summer, well in the 30's celsius so it's not the warmth it needs

May 14, 2011
Bantam Cockerel

by: mother hen

Bantam Cockerel: I have a 2 year old bantam cockerel that can no longer stand or walk. He eats and drinks, with help to stay upright, but can't move around.

Tried an internet vet as no avian specialist vets in the Algarve, but he wasn't much help. Local vet suggested extra vitamins in water, but he doesn't seem to improve.

He is a pet so culling is not an option.(Daft thing is he was supposed to be a hen when I got him as a youngster, so I needed an extra run and house and hens to keep him company!!)Any ideas welcomed.

Mar 10, 2013
sea bright bantam that has gone lame in one leg
by: Jon T

Our Seabrite cant get about now we took him to vet seems he has suffered some sort of trauma the nerve in his leg has become unresponsive nothing we can do but wait to see if it becomes responsive again.
He seems very happy and is in no pain. The
vet seems to think it may come back as quick it appeared. He dose eat and drink and he will survive as long as we care for him .

Mar 31, 2014
by: Anonymous

if you have your chicken in the house that could be the problem, they NEED sunlight as much as possible so they grow strong bones!

Jun 02, 2014
chicken can't walk
by: Jennifer

This post is for anyone that has a chicken that can't walk. This happened to one of my older Hen's about two months ago. I tried to find information on the internet to help me and my poor hen. I noticed that everyone was quick to say it was Mereks. I have had hens with mereks before and it ends up effecting thier brain and they kinda spasmed in the end, this was not the case with this particular hen. She ended up spending more time alone, then not getting up and when she tried she used her wings for balance. Her feet would not curl around your hand. I put her in a kennel and gave her antibiotis in her water for 10 days. she ate and drank normal but her comb was a bit slumped and she stopped laying eggs. she was on her side unable to move at this point, i had to wash her as she was unable to get out of her own mess. I fed her dog food, millet, leftovers.. there were some days she didnt eat much but would always take some egg, quinoa or watermelon. I was very close to putting her down. After a month of this I found her standing up!!! It was obvious then that whatever was wrong was in her left foot. snake bit? back problem? it was not a stuck egg. She is a delaware hen and today she is back with her flock almost 2 months later but STILL limps a bit. I just wanted to post this for all of you that are like me and love your hens... dont give up! I let her out of the kennel when she finally laid an egg, that was an indicator to me that she was healed enough. The flock picked on her a bit at first, but now they are fine.

Aug 12, 2014
Broken Toes/Feet/Legs or Spondylolisthesis aka Kinky Back (Please help!!!)
by: Anonymous

I have a 21 week old Black Sex Link named Bertha. She has been growing and thriving and seemed the epitome of a healthy young hen. She started laying early this month. Last Tuesday evening, August 5th, I noticed Bertha limping out in the yard. At first I was concerned that she had bumblefoot (Just finished treating a Black Indian Runner duck for bumblefoot and am currently treating my Jersey Giant for bumblefoot on both feet). I picked her up and checked her feet thoroughly. There seemed to be a minor puncture on the webbing between her toes on her right foot. I soaked it in Tricide Neo Powder solution and applied triple antibiotic and set her back out with the other hens for the rest of the evening. She seemed to be better, barely favoring the leg, and no issues at bed time. Wednesday morning Bertha was not bearing any weight at all on her right leg and was hopping around. So, I set up the "hospital" in my office ( a dog crate) and put her in there with bedding, food and water. When my husband got home that evening we checked her feet again and her outer left toe of her right foot was bent backwards. So, we assumed, broken toe. We splinted it and put her back in the crate for some rest and relaxation.
A week has gone by. We took the splint off yesterday and let her have some time outside in the evening and now I am really concerned. She is not bearing weight on either foot. She is "walking" on her shanks, curling her toes into the ground funny, and trying to balance herself by flapping her wings. She can only move backwards and only a few inches at a time. She is panting a lot, although it is August and in the mid-eighties, so that could be a combination of heat and discomfort. She is eating and drinking a lot. Her comb and wattles are red and healthy looking. Her eyes are clear, bright, and alert. She has continued to lay every day while in confinement, although all the eggs are super soft shelled. No discharge from her beak, nostrils, or eyes or vent. No wheezing, coughing, sneezing, etc. It seems like her legs are paralyzed. I am really confused and concerned.
I have done some research and it sounds like she has this Spondylolisthesis, also known as kinky back. Which is strange, because of the sudden onset and the fact that she definitely had a broken toe. So, my questions...
1. Could the strange weight bearing on her shanks just be how she is healing the broken toe?
2. If this is kinky back, all the research I have done says she needs to be euthanized. I really don't want to cull her if I don't have to. Has anyone successfully raised a chicken with kinky back? Do you have any tips or guidance?
3. Is she in pain or discomfort? Am I being cruel by wanting to keep her alive?
4. Could she heal and walk again or is she doomed to life in a dog crate?
Any advice, guidance, or assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Sep 03, 2014
My Rhode Island Red can't walk.
by: 4-H Superstar

My Rhode Island Red CAN walk, but she is having much trouble doing it. She lays eggs like your Barred hen. Anyway. My chicken may not be the same as yours, but Rhode Island Red chickens are very sensitive. But, I suggest you keep a good eye on your chicken, and if anything gets worse than it is right now,just sell her and get it over with. UNLESS it is your favorite chicken. Then, I suggest try and see if the disease goes away like you said. If it doesn't, see if you can find any medicines that might help. I am VERY sorry if I wasn't any help to you.

Sep 03, 2014
by: 4-H Superstar

OH MY POOR CHICKEN! She just lays there in her (medium sized)dog kennel. I care for her so much! I need a little advice too! But, this is what I am trying out right now: she is in my house in a medium sized dog kennel. I take her out every now for her to try and walk around ,or she will just stretch her wings. She will lay in a position that looks like she is sitting. (I think she actually does sit instead of lay down) I have a small container of water with electrolytes and CORID. (BTW: she used to be sick, but i still add the CORID just in case she might get sick again) Then beside it, there is another small container with Tucker Milling chick starter beside the water with medicines. That is as far as i have gotten with her so far. Please help me! I need help like you with my baby!

Sep 03, 2014
by: Anonymous

This is my third paragraph in a day! Anyway, I read all of the comments, and I think I will try a few, but my little baby's feet are curled up,she keep shuffling around in her kennel, when she stands up she sort of wobbles, and then she plops down back into her sitting position. I don't know what to do! The reason I am really worried is because, she LOVES to eat grass! So I went and plucked some grass for her to snack on. When she saw the grass, she just acted like nothing happened. So then I put a piece close to her beak, and she did nothing. Then that was when I really started to worry. Then, that's when I looked up websites of what to do. That's when I found this. PLEASE HELP ME PLEASE!

Oct 21, 2014
chicken can't walk
by: Anonymous

I have a marron hen a few months old who has not been able to use one of his legs for about a week or two now, she can stay upright as long as she stays still but other than that will fall over. She is eating and drinking fine (layer pellets, brown/white bread, fresh water) and is seperated from my other 3 hens as they were pecking him. I am really worried about her as I am an animal lover, but money is tight so my parents can't afford for a vet to see her. But I am adamant at giving her more of a chance, any advice would be really appreciated, as I don't have much experience with hens or bird. She also has diarrhoea and is in a cage with newspaper and hay. Thanks.. :)

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