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13 Common Chicken Diseases Every Chicken Keeper Should Know About (and How to Treat Them)

Do you consider yourself a chicken person?

Well, I was not when my husband decided we should begin raising them. So you can imagine my feelings when he told me he was going to get our first chickens.

For starters, I knew nothing about chickens.

But  my mind quickly changed as we became more self-sufficient.

However, part of raising chickens is understanding how to recognize and treat some of their common illnesses. Today, that is what I’m bringing you.

Let’s get started—

1. Fowl Pox

fowl pox

If you notice that your chickens develop white spots on their skin, scabby sores on their combs, white ulcers in their mouth or trachea, and their laying stops then you should grow concerned that your chickens are developing Fowl Pox.

There are treatment options for Fowl Pox. You can feed them soft food and give them a warm and dry place to try and recoup. With adequate care, there is a great chance that your birds can survive this illness.

If you would like to remove the odds of your birds even contracting this disease there is a vaccine available. If not, know that they can contact this disease from other contaminated chickens, mosquitos, and it is a virus so it can be contracted by air as well.

2. Botulism

botulism

If your chickens begin to have progressing tremors you should grow concerned. If your chickens have botulism the tremors will progress into total body paralysis which does include their breathing.

It is a serious disease.

You will also notice their feathers will be easy to pull out and death usually occurs within a few hours.

But what can you do about it?

Well, there is an antitoxin that can be purchased from your local vet. Though it is considered to be expensive. However, if you catch the disease early enough you can mix 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts with 1 ounce of warm water. You can give it to them by dropper once daily.

If your chickens have contracted this disease it means that there has been some type of dead meat left near their food and water which contaminated it. Which means this disease is avoidable as long as you keep your chickens in a clean environment and clean up any dead carcass from around their environment.

3. Fowl Cholera

fowl-cholera-7-638

You should be suspicious of this disease if you see your birds begin to have a greenish or yellowish diarrhea, are having obvious joint pain, are struggling to breathe, and have a darkened head or wattle. Fowl Cholera is a bacterial disease that can be contracted from wild animals or food and water that has been contaminated by this bacteria.

But the downside to your chicken developing this disease is there is no real treatment. If by some chance your chicken survives, it will still always be a carrier of the disease.

So it is usually better to put them down and destroy their carcass so it will not be passed.

But there is a vaccine for your chickens to prevent the disease from ever taking hold.

4. Infectious Bronchitis

This disease hits close to home because it wiped out half of our flock when we were new to raising chickens. You’ll recognize this disease when you begin to hear your chickens sneezing, snoring, and coughing. And then the drainage will begin to secrete from their nose and eyes.

Their laying will cease too.

But the good news is you can get a vaccine to stop this disease from impacting your chickens.

However, if you decide against that then you will need to move quickly when seeing these signs. Infectious Bronchitis is a viral disease and will travel quickly through the air.

To treat Infectious Bronchitis, give your chickens a warm, dry place to recoup. I gave my birds a warm herb tea and fed them fresh herbs, which seemed to help.

5. Infectious Coryza

Infectious Coryza

You will know that your birds have caught this disease when their heads become swollen. Their eyes will literally swell shut and their combs will swell. Then the discharge will begin to flow from their eyes and noses. They will stop laying and will have moisture under their wings.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to stop this disease.

Once your chickens contract this disease they should be put down. If not, they will remain a carrier of the disease for life which is a risk to the rest of your flock.

Be sure to discard the body afterward so no other animal becomes infected by it.

However, the light at the end of this tunnel is that even though this disease is a bacteria it only travels through contaminated water, other contaminated birds, and surfaces that have been contaminated with the bacteria.

So if you keep your chickens protected from other random chickens and keep their coop and water clean they should be safe from this disease.

6. Marek’s Disease

This disease is more common in younger birds that are usually under the age of 20 weeks.

So you will know that this disease has struck your baby chicks if you begin to see tumors growing inside or outside of your chick. Their iris will turn gray and they will no longer respond to light. And they will become paralyzed.

Unfortunately, this disease is very easy for them to catch. It is a virus which means it is super easy to transmit from bird to bird. They actually obtain the virus by breathing in pieces of shed skin and feather from an infected chick.

And sadly, if your chick gets this disease it needs to be put down. It will remain a carrier of the disease for life if it survives.

However, the good news is there is a vaccine and it is usually given to day old chicks.

7. Thrush

Thrush with chickens is very similar to thrush that babies get.

You’ll notice a white oozy substance inside their crop (which is a space between their neck and body.) They will have a larger than normal appetite. The chicken will appear lethargic and have a crusty vent area. And their feathers will look ruffled.

It is important to mention that thrush is a fungal disease. This means it can be contracted if you allow your chickens to eat molded feed or other molded food. And they can also contract the disease from contaminated water or surfaces.

Though there is no vaccine, it can be treated by an anti-fungal medicine that you can get from your local vet. Be sure to remove the bad food and clean their water container as well.

8. Air Sac Disease

This disease first appears in the form of poor laying skills and a weak chicken. As it progresses, you will notice coughing, sneezing, breathing problems, swollen joints, and possibly death.

Now, there is a vaccine for this illness, and it can be treated with an antibiotic from the vet. But it can be picked up from other birds (even wild birds) and it can be transferred from a hen that has it to her chick through the egg.

So just keep an eye out for any of these symptoms so it can be treated quickly and effectively.

9. Newcastle Disease

This disease also appears through the respiratory system. You will begin to see breathing problems, discharge from their nose, their eyes will begin to look murky, and their laying will stop. Also, it is common that the bird’s legs and wings will become paralyzed as well as their necks twisted.

This disease is carried by other birds including wild birds. That is how it is usually contracted. But if you touch an infected bird you can pass it on from your clothes, shoes, and other items.

However, the good news is that older birds usually will recover and they are not carriers afterward.

But most baby birds will die from the disease.

There is a vaccine for the disease though the US is working to rid the country of the disease all the way around.

10. Mushy Chick

Mushy Chick

This disease obviously will impact chicks. It usually shows up in newly hatched chicks that have a midsection that is enlarged, inflamed, and blue tinted. The chick will have an unpleasant scent and will appear to be drowsy. Naturally, the chick will also be weak.

So this disease doesn’t have a vaccine. It usually is transmitted from chick to chick or from a dirty surface where an infected chick was. And usually, it is contracted from an unclean area where a chick with a weak immune system contracts the bacteria.

There is no vaccine for this disease, although sometimes antibiotics will work. But usually, when you come in contact with this disease you will need to immediately separate your healthy chicks from the sick ones.

Use caution as the bacteria within this disease (such as staph and strep) can impact humans.

11. Pullorum

Pullorum

This disease impacts chicks and older birds differently. The chicks will show no signs of activity, have a white paste all over their backsides, and show signs of breathing difficulty. Though some will die with no signs at all.

However, in older birds, you will see sneezing and coughing on top of poor laying skills.

This is a viral disease. It can be contracted through contaminated surfaces and other birds that have become carriers of the disease. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for this disease and all birds that contract the disease should be put down and the carcass destroyed so no other animal will pick up the disease.

12. Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza is most commonly known as the bird flu. It was one of my initial fears of owning chickens because all you hear about on the news is how people get sick with bird flu from their chickens. However, after knowing the symptoms you’ll be able to put that fear to rest.

You need to know how to act quickly if you are afraid your backyard birds have come in contact with it.

So the signs you will notice will include respiratory troubles. Your chickens will quit laying. They will probably develop diarrhea. You may notice swelling in your chicken’s face and that their comb and wattle are discolored or have turned blue.

Avian Influenza

And they may even develop dark red spots on their legs and combs.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine and the chickens infected will always be carriers. Wild animals can even carry the disease from bird to bird.

Once your birds get this disease, they need to be put down and the carcass destroyed. And you will need to sanitize any area that the birds were in before ever introducing a new flock.

Use great caution because this disease can make humans sick.

And here is a great resource about avian influenza for all backyard chicken keepers. Hopefully, this will help to put your mind at rest about this disease and your backyard flock.

13. Bumblefoot

Bumblefoot is a disease that you’ll know exactly what you’re looking at when you see it.

It begins by your chicken accidentally cutting its foot on something. It can happen when they are digging in the garden, scratching around in mulch, and so many other ways. But then the cut gets infected. And the chicken’s foot will begin to swell. It can even swell up the leg.

So you can treat it by performing surgery (learn how here.) If not, the infection will eventually take over the chicken and claim its life.

Obviously, bumblefoot can happen very easily and there isn’t much you can do to prevent besides just keep a close eye on your chickens’ feet. If you notice they have a cut then be sure to wash and disinfect it to prevent this disease from setting up.

That is all of the common chicken diseases I have for you today.

However, there are many less common illnesses too. So just be sure to always pay attention to your flock and stay alert to any changes. Never be afraid to research. It is better to overreact than to underreact and miss something that could be detrimental to your whole flock.

 

Comments:

  1. Pullorum is actually a bacterial disease (not viral) caused by Salmonella pullorum – one of the many Salmonella species that can cause disease or carried asymptomatically by chickens. By acquiring new chicks from an NPIP certified source, you can be assured that you are not introducing Pullorum carriers into your flock.

  2. My chickens are about two years old and I am not getting the amount of eggs I use to is it time to change and start over with new baby chicks

  3. These diseases and issues highlight the reason why we, as responsible chicken raisers, should be honest with those thinking about a small flock. The hard truth is that you should go into the journey prepared for reality. Chickens get sick, they die and sometimes they need to be culled. Should that deter anyone from the joy of raising chickens? I hope not! Consider that factory-raised birds have 2 years of poor conditions, while backyard birds usually have many great years and one bad day.

  4. I am a beginner in raising chickens. Seams like my chickens are always getting sick. From runs to swollen eyes fowl pox it’s something all the time. Sometimes I just want to give up.

    • I had a similar problem when I begun with chickens. From my experience, or to be precise, from my own failure the first winter, the best tip I can give you is give them all the food they want. At the beginning I was only spreading some food 3 times a day over the ground, and it was not enough. Then I learn it’s necessary to keep a bucket or a feeder always full, so they can eat as much as they want. It seems obvious once you have chickens, but I didn’t know when I started and they were sick and died because they just were starving all the time :(. I felt guilty afterwards, so since then I tried to give all the food they need, and many different “candies” very often. By candies I mean: old bread soaked in water, worms, fruits, cheese (the parts I wont eat because it’s a bit old or fell down to the kitchen floor), etc. Since I do it, I have them healthy and happy :). Also, keeping the coop’s floor clean (and dry) is very important too. Good luck! 🙂

  5. I am currently providing comfort care for my sweet Buff Cochin – Hippie Chick- I spotted her not doing well – not active- hunched over- the other four bigger birds were treating her poorly – she has always been lowest on the pecking order – I tried the electrolytes- she ate a little and drank a liitle yesterday – today she is not active and laying down. I have her in a bin in the tub with hourly visits offering food and water – she is just too weak- I know it won’t be long until she passes- I am just sad to lose this sweet hen- she always was the last to go in the coop at night – it was always like she was just waiting for me to come say good night before I closed the coop. 😪

  6. I have a pullet..has started laying but now stopped….very quiet,just sitting around…her comb is nearly a yellow colour……not respitory…egg bound prolapse…can anyone help please with suggestions….Thankyou.
    Cheers Denise Tippett.

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