Keeping backyard chickens is a fun and relatively easy experience. However, just like a pet, chickens can fall ill at times. While the prospect of chickens becoming sick can be scary, the most common health problems in chickens can usually be treated easily from home. In this new article, we will cover the five most common health problems among chickens and what to do about them.
Please see the complete series on Raising Chickens 101 for other questions and advice on how to raise backyard chickens.
Once you understand these health problems you will be in a much better place to keep your chickens healthy and prevent them from occurring with your flock.
1. Egg Laying Issues
Health issues related to egg laying are some of the most common health problems among chickens. However, it can be difficult to identify egg laying issues without paying close attention to the chickens’ behavior.
There are a variety of reasons why a chicken may experience egg laying issues in their lifetime. Things such as vitamin deficiencies, parasites and infections, and even stress can prevent a bird from laying eggs.
It’s critical to know what symptoms to look out for when it comes to diagnosing egg laying issues in chickens. Symptoms of egg laying issues can include a loss of appetite, lethargy, abnormal droppings, weakness, and even respiratory issues.
Because there are so many different egg laying issues—such as egg yolk peritonitis, egg binding, and soft-shelled eggs—there are a wide variety of appropriate treatments. One of the most effective methods of treating egg laying issues in chickens is the addition of calcium and protein into a chicken’s diet. General vitamin supplements and oyster shell supplements should be added to a chicken’s feed in order to promote healthy egg laying and strong eggshells. Other egg laying issues such as egg binding—when an egg gets stuck between a hen’s cloaca and uterus—may require a trip to an avian vet. A vet will typically prescribe antibiotics to treat these more serious egg laying issues.
2. Cuts or Peck Marks
It’s very likely that, at some point in their lives, backyard chickens will suffer from cuts and peck marks done by other flock members.
Cuts and peck marks can appear on chickens for several reasons. Chickens may peck at one another if they are stressed. Chickens may also peck at one another if they are kept in a coop that is too small. Cuts and peck marks may also be more likely if the flock includes a more aggressive breed of chicken. According to Chickens and More, some breeds of chickens are more prone to fighting, such as the Shamo, the Old English Game, and the Sumatra chicken.
Cuts and peck marks are easily detectable. Chickens may exhibit bald spots with missing feathers where they have been pecked at or may have scabs and cuts in easily reached places such as their backs.
These cuts can be prevented and treated through a variety of methods. One method is expanding the size of the coop to prevent fighting as a result of a lack of space. As a rule of thumb, each bird should have between three and five square feet of room in a coop. Cuts can also be prevented by isolating aggressive birds from the remainder of the birds. Once aggressive personalities are isolated, injuries can be treated with a colored wound spray that not only treats the cut but also conceals it, discouraging other chickens from pecking at the wound.
3. Foot Injuries
Foot injuries are some of the less-serious health problems in chickens but may be difficult to treat. However, there are still a variety of ways to treat foot injuries in chickens that will help them get back on their feet (literally) as soon as possible.
Some foot injuries in chickens are simply the result of a small cut or entanglement that may lead to a more serious infection. Other foot injuries, such as bumblefoot, are caused by a staph infection in the foot.
The most common symptom of a foot injury in a chicken is an inability or reluctance to put weight on the injured foot. Chickens may be more lethargic and spend more time than usual sitting on perches or in nesting boxes. Bumblefoot shows up in one or more pus-filled abscesses on the bottom of a chicken’s foot.
Luckily, foot injuries are generally easy to treat with an antiseptic wound wash. Once a cut or wound on a foot is cleaned with a wound wash, the foot should be lightly bandaged to prevent further infection. Injured birds should also be kept separate from other flock members to give them time to heal. Bumblefoot can be treated with an antiseptic wound wash, and antibiotic cream, and gauze. If the case is more serious and does not heal from antiseptic washes and creams, the chicken may need a trip to the avian vet to drain the abscess.
There are many categories of diseases that backyard chickens may contract. The severity of these diseases as well as their treatments vary depending on what type of disease is contracted.
Mites, lice, ticks, and worms are the most common causes of parasitic diseases among chickens. Chickens are more likely to become infected with a parasite if the coop is not cleaned regularly and is filled with soiled bedding. Additionally, second-hand coops may already be infected with parasites.
Symptoms of parasitic infections vary, but may include feather loss, skin irritation, lethargy, and a loss of appetite.
These diseases can be avoided by spraying insecticides in the coop and birds can be treated with antiparasitic medications and supplements.
Viral diseases may be difficult to treat and can be very serious if left untreated. It’s especially important to detect viral diseases quickly, as these are highly contagious and can infect an entire flock. These diseases may include infectious bronchitis, Marek’s disease, avian flu, fowl pox, and Newcastle disease.
Although there are many different viral diseases, they share many symptoms. A viral infection can be identified by the following symptoms: sores on skin, coughing and sneezing, declined egg production, nasal and eye discharge, and even paralysis.
Luckily, most of the common viral diseases in chickens can be treated with a vaccine. In fact, vaccinations are usually given to chicks before they can be purchased by backyard chicken owners.
Bacterial diseases in chickens are not overly common, but can spread quickly and infect an entire flock. These bacterial diseases include colibacillosis (caused by e coli), salmonellosis (caused by salmonella germs), and chronic respiratory diseases.
Symptoms such as respiratory and breathing issues, halted egg production, and swollen faces and sinuses may indicate colibacillosis and chronic respiratory disease. Salmonellosis, however, is only symptomatic in young chicks. Adult birds can be carriers of salmonellosis and show no symptoms at all.
These bacterial diseases are usually spread from an infected bird to the rest of the flock. They can spread more quickly in unsanitary and poorly maintained coops. Although rare, these diseases are very serious and may require the infected bird to be separated from the rest of the flock and put down to avoid the entire flock becoming infected.
Fungal diseases, although rare, are some of the easiest diseases to treat in chickens. The most common fungal diseases in chickens are brooder pneumonia and ringworm.
- Brooder pneumonia usually only affects young chicks and shows up in the form of respiratory and breathing issues.
- Ringworm is usually mild and tends to clear up on its own without treatment. If a chicken has a thick, white layer on their comb, they may be infected with ringworm.
These fungal diseases can be avoided by wiping down coop walls with chicken-safe cleaner, keeping litter fresh and dry, and regularly cleaning feeders and waterers.
5. Pasty Vent
Pasty vent is a condition that usually only affects baby chicks. This health problem can become life-threatening if it isn’t detected quickly.
Pasty vent is a stress-induced condition. It occurs when droppings cake up around the chick’s vent (under their tail). If left untreated, the vent can become completely blocked and the chick will be unable to pass any droppings.
This health condition is easy to detect and diagnose. The most obvious symptom is caked droppings on the chick’s vent, but other symptoms may include lethargy and a loss of appetite.
Pasty vent is easily treated and usually doesn’t require a trip to the vet. Simply wet the dried droppings around the vent with a wet paper towel and gently tug at the dried droppings to clear the vent. It’s entirely normal for some of the chick’s tail feathers to fall out during this process.
It’s always important for backyard chicken keepers to put the health and wellbeing of their flock first. However, this doesn’t mean that injuries and illnesses will not happen. That’s why it’s important for backyard chicken keepers to be able to identify the causes and symptoms of various injuries and diseases and how to treat them.
In general, if birds are fed a quality diet, have enough space, and are watched closely, they will likely live long and healthy lives.
Interested in learning more?
The author, Chris Lesley, has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth-generation poultry keeper. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including 3 Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens.” See more expert backyard chicken advice by Chris on her site, “Chickens & More.”