No matter how fastidious you are in cleaning the coop, or whether you provide nothing but the best quality feed, even the most well cared for chicken can occasionally become a sick chicken. Unlike a human with a case of the flu, a chicken won’t complain about how they feel, and most won’t even show symptoms until the late stages of whatever it is which they have become afflicted. Read on to figure out your sick chicken’s signs, symptoms and treatments. Also, see (Chicken Feed – Step by Step Australian Beginners Guide)
Look for the Signs
Short of learning to speak chicken, the only way to ensure your flock is in peak physical condition is to keep an eye on your girls and look for any signs that all may not be as it seems.
While chickens are quite adept at hiding the fact that they may be feeling a little under the weather, there are symptoms you can watch for while you are tending to the flock:
• Loss of appetite
• Fluffed up feathers or sitting hunched up
• Patchy or missing feathers
• Chicken seems lethargic
• A droopy tail
• Constant sneezing
• Obvious gasping for breath
• Faecal matter
• Runny noses
• Swollen eyes
Parasites (of which there is a large variety) may also infiltrate your flock and cause some distress to their health. Some, like bloodsucking ticks, are easily spotted during a cursory examination.
However, other parasites such as scaly face mite, leg mite, lice, and stick fast flea, may infiltrate the flock and remain hidden due to their microscopic size. Eventually, symptoms such as feather damage, irritation, and anaemia will become apparent. Ticks can also bring about a life-threatening condition known as tick fever.
Regular inspection and treatment for parasites every two to three months is the recommended strategy for keeping your birds free of parasite infestation. Consult with your veterinarian to discuss available treatments.
Commonly available treatments for lice and mites are Pestene Powder, and Coopex (an insecticidal spray), both readily available from pet stores.
Internal parasites range in size from big enough to be visible to the naked eye such as roundworms, or single-celled organisms only observable via a microscope. The modus operandi of most internal parasites is to attach to the lining of the intestine and absorb nutrients from the gut, effectively denying the bird the vital nutrients, minerals, and vitamins it needs to maintain health.
Symptoms of a bird suffering from internal parasites are pale combs, weight loss, diarrhoea, and lethargy. Internal parasites spread through the flock via eggs contained in the faeces of infected birds. The best defence against internal parasite infection is regular cleaning of the coop to ensure exposure to faeces is minimised.
If you suspect your flock has an internal parasite problem, then your veterinarian will be able to example a sample of faeces under a microscope to determine an appropriate course of treatment. There are also many worm treatments available from pet stores, which are administered by adding it to their clean drinking water.
Most worming treatments are available in two doses, with the first killing the hatched worms but not the egg and the second administered 7 – 10 days later to ensure new hatchlings are eradicated.
Be aware that you will be required to discard the meat and eggs from birds that have been treated with any internal parasite drugs.
Backyard chickens are susceptible to diseases spread by infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
There are many ways germs can infiltrate the flock, including people, clothing, contaminated equipment, feed, water, other animals, insects such as mosquitos, bird dander, and feathers. Because chickens often appear asymptomatic, the disease has time and opportunity to infect more of the flock.
The best defence against germs is to keep your chicken’s environment as clean as possible with regular cleaning, sealed food containers, and fresh water.
New birds being added to the flock should also be quarantined for a suitable period before they get to the mingle with the old-timers. This will give you time to notice any symptoms should the birds have contracted any diseases or parasites.
Chickens can also get colds, with similar symptoms to humans such as a runny nose, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. In most chickens, the cause of the cold is mycoplasmal (referred to as CRD or Chronic Respiratory Disease).
The term ‘chronic’ stems from the fact that birds who come down with the disease will often suffer bouts of it throughout their life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will spread it to other members of the flock.
The best treatment is to keep the chicken’s immune system healthy through quality nutrition, a clean environment, and fresh water. If chickens become weak because of CRD, then secondary bacterial infections may set in, which often need treatment via antibacterials.
Treating a Sick Chicken
When you notice one of your chickens doing poorly, the best strategy is to remove it from the rest of the birds. Ensure the quarantine area has clean, dry nesting material and is free of moisture and draughts. A simple cardboard box with a towel should be enough to get the job done.
If the chicken is cold and listless, then set them down by a heater or add a heat pack for some gentle warmth. Adding a little honey or molasses to moistened grain may interest a chicken which seems to have lost its appetite. Bread soaked in milk (also with a little honey or molasses added) may also work.
The main goal of the exercise is to restore lost calories and give their bodies enough energy to start the healing process. Restricting their movement may also serve in helping the chicken conserve their energy, which their immune system can then use to fight off the illness.
While prevention is always better than a cure, it’s a special chicken which makes it all the way through life without so much as a sniffle. However, diagnosing chickens can be very tough, which is why you should schedule a visit to the vet if what’s ailing the bird eludes you. Vets will be able to accurately diagnose the condition and then recommend an appropriate treatment.