Know The Signs and Symptoms of Sick Chickens and Act Fast Before it's Too Late

Sick chickens are no fun! What I like to see is my flock out free ranging, running around in the sun, being happy and healthy. If I find a chicken that isn’t acting right, I have to investigate and figure out what is wrong.


Chickens try to hide symptoms and act normally as long as possible. This is a survival instinct to protect them and the flock from the eye of predators.

Whatever the problem is, generally by the time I can see it, it already has a few days head start and I have to act fast to help that chicken. I’ve learned from experience that to ignore or forget about it can cost a life and possibly spread of disease. It’s important to be familiar with your chickens and know what to expect from them. Subtle signs can tell you if you have sick chickens or not. Each breed can be a bit different, some having short life spans of only 2 years.

A similar looking chicken might have a live expectancy of 10 years. Knowing the breeds and ages of your chickens is a good idea, too, though not always possible.

You might see any specific symptoms like sneezing, diarrhea, or lethargy, you might see a chicken sitting off by itself, or not coming out of the coop with the rest of the flock.

Any chicken showing unusual activity should be caught and examined. Look for:

  • Parasites
  • Signs of thinness
  • Check eyes and nares for discharge
  • Listen for any breathing rattles
  • Check the rear for signs of diarrhea and feces building up on feathers near the vent
  • Other Signs to Look For

    Another sign of sick chickens can be others in the flock picking on them. This is also survival instinct that would urge healthy flock members to chase the sick and weak away. In a closed yard this harassment can turn deadly since the weak are unable to leave.

    If you suspect sickness or see this kind of harassment of an individual, it’s best to be on the safe side and isolate it. This will protect it and possibly allow it to heal and may prevent the spread of contagious disease.

    If this is an old flock member you may want to humanely euthanize it to prevent suffering, or just allow it to live out its life in comfort, UN-harassed and away from the pecking order of the flock.

    Noticing sick chickens will become second nature as you check on your flock daily. It’s a good idea to count chickens when locking them up for the night and watch for any lagging behind when you let them out.

    It’s good flock management. Another part of good flock management is not mixing sizes and ages of chickens. Young chicks introduced into a flock without a mother hen to protect them and help establish them in a flock may be subject to harassment.

    Pecking order and competition for food, water and roosting may lead to sickness and weakness in young chickens leading to slow development, malnutrition and weak immunity to disease.

    Some diseases can be dormant in chickens and only show themselves when overcrowded or unbalanced conditions exist in the flock. Small breeds and young chickens may not do well when mixed with larger chickens. Sick chickens may benefit from isolation and need little doctoring if allowed to rest and recover, free from harassment. The use of antibiotics and medications should be done carefully after making sure they are needed.

    Internal and external parasites may cause weakness in chickens leading to other disease. Parasites feed off vital nutrients that chickens need to remain healthy and thrive. Watching for signs of parasites on chickens and in the coop is important.

    Good hygiene in the coop is very important and sometimes treating for mites living in the coop is necessary.

    With careful inspection of chickens you can notice:

  • Mites
  • Lice
  • Poultry fleas
  • Poor feathering
  • Scaly legs and egg clusters on feathers
  • These are signs that treatment is necessary.

    Chickens need all their resources to remain healthy, all year, but especially in extreme heat or cold. Having to fight the effects of parasites may lead to sick chickens.

    Keeping parasite treatments on hand will speed the process of getting rid of them and may save precious hours and days in beginning treatment. If available, a good poultry vet can help you diagnose specific diseases and offer treatments that will save lives.

    Often a stool sample or taking in one sick chicken for an exam is all that is needed to treat a whole flock. Finding such a vet before you have an emergency on your hands can save money and lives. The best way to keep your flock healthy is good care and feeding. This can help prevent having sick chickens.

    Being cautious and introducing new flock members, after a quarantine period is other. Chickens housed in areas without any direct sunlight are accidents waiting to happen. Natural sunlight helps provide vitamins chickens needs. Providing supplemental vitamins during times of stress is important, too.


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