If they're clearly dying, shouldn't we help shorten their suffering?


13 Years
Jan 17, 2007
New Jersey
I'm truly trying to approach this question respectfully and generically, rather than as part of any existing thread.

I read time and again here on BYC of hens beyond the point of saving, dying from internal laying or whatever, and their human guardians with all good intentions let them die slowly, keeping them comfortable etc. rather than opting for a humane way to end their suffering.

I watched my sweet hen Betty weaken slowly from (what was later determined to be) internal laying as I tried one vet's recommendation after another in the hopes of turning things around. At first she did rally nicely with antibiotic and antiinflammatory but in time she didn't. Finally, when those meds stopped working I opted for her to have a hysterectomy (that's when they found tons of festering eggs). Sadly she died 2 hours after the surgery because I'm sure she went in to it too weak. It's been a few years but my heart still breaks as I remember her being weak, leaning against her sweet loyal roo BJ, comb pale and appetite gone. I didn't know it till the surgery but she was riddled with infection and each hour must have seemed to her an absolute eternity. Either I should have had the hysterectomy done a lot sooner (I didn't for 2 reasons - the antibiotic did work for awhile and also because Betty was utterly terrified of car rides and the vet -I almost lost her a few times over the years just from the ride to the vet) or I should have found some humane way to end her suffering sooner (I would be willing to pay for a vet to come to the house if I can find one, as I'm no good at killing - can't even squish a bug, with the exception of mosquitos/ticks/fleas but even then, I apologize!) Betty had been such a joyful being - as we all know there is nothing quite like a hen's joy in discovery of interesting things in the world - and to see her lose all interest, well it was beyond heartbreaking.

The trouble was that I was never sure when it was really hopeless. But when we do know there is nothing more that can be done, shouldn't we spare them from having to endure a slow death?

This is more a rhetorical question than anything, perhaps best left unanswered here but rather, thought about and decided privately.

Well, I better stop this track, as I just got a call about a neighbor getting a new Jack Russell terrier - it and their Rhodesian Ridgeback are on the loose (luckily my birds are still in the coop right now as the weather is bad). Their former JR got hit by a car and killed because these people are so bloody irresponsible. I've been bitten by the RR and my birds have narrowly escaped more than once. I have to go write to Animal Control. It just never gets easier with irresponsible people and their dogs. My poor birds will never get to have joyous free range moments again at this rate.


Shadowhills Farm

12 Years
Nov 14, 2009
DuPont, Washington
I understand where you're coming from.

We found a lovely cat outside our house back a few months ago. She was very skinny and was in need of someone to take her in-so we did. She was doing great (loved us, knew how to use a litter box, ate well...) until one morning I woke up to see her lying on her side, unresponsive to me, but still breathing.

It was hard for me to see her like that, and it was hard for me to let her go. But I knew she was suffering, so we put her down. I am sure she is in a better place.


10 Years
May 14, 2009
Aregua, Paraguay
Sorry about your Betty girl!

I lean the other way and tend to cull quickly. While I enjoy my pets and take very good care of them, I don't elevate them to my status or go above and beyond. I also ask myself what grandma would have done (50+ years ago) and then usually do that. I love my pets very much (especially the dogs) but they are animals and can't tell us they are suffering. I take alot of what the vet says these days with a grain of salt too. I find some vets are using more and more treatments that I personally don't agree with (cancer treatments, etc.,). I guess I'm old fashioned
Give them a great life as long as they're healthy, but when sickness sets in, let them go sooner and humanely, rather than later.

ETA: clarity
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Intentional Solitude
Premium Feather Member
15 Years
Feb 3, 2007
Blue Ridge Mtns. of North Georgia
Yes, I know what you're saying. We've helped them to their deaths when it's obvious there is no hope, but then, I've seen birds rally from near death for unknown reasons, too, so it's very difficult to know when to let them go. For instance, Ivy is in the house. Twice, she almost died from internal laying and the first time, there was no meat on her keel at all. We dosed her with heavy penicillin and suprisingly, she began to gain weight and eventually laid again. The second time, her abdomen filled with fluid and infection. Again, same treatment, she began laying again and I hatched one of her eggs and have Fern. Now, she's in the throes of this again. Penicillin didn't seem to help, though she did produce one egg after that. She is probably not going to make it this time, but it's not so easy to know when to euthanize. Infected wounds, broken legs, etc, are easier to make the call for.


12 Years
May 8, 2008
North Carolina
I too understand what you're saying, jjthink. And I too have a sick hen in the house. This is my first experience with a chicken illness and I honestly don't know what to do, other than keep her comfortable and hope she miraculously bounces back. This hen is the one who was always first to greet me whenever I go in the run. She has a lot of personality and it is breaking my heart to see her sick. But, I'm also 7 months pregnant, very hormonal, extra emotional, and am probably thinking more about myself at the moment. I had to have my most beloved dog put to sleep this past June due to kidney failure at the age of 7. The thought of having to make the decision to end a life again so soon after his death is almost more than I can bear at the time being.
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Sunny Side Up

Count your many blessings...
11 Years
Mar 12, 2008
Loxahatchee, Florida
These are very good questions to ask, and to consider one's personal answer. And you're right, it is very personal and each individual's answer may vary.

It is something to consider carefully, objectively, thoughtfully. But a person can't always make perfect decisions each time. There will be times when you later realize you acted too slowly, other times too quickly. But each time you learn and may know better if faced with similar circumstances.

It's also good to know the limits of your resources, and that will affect your decisions. Not everyone has the resources to obtain professional services for an ailing chicken, to fund extreme lifesaving measures. If that is the case, then you need to be prepared to give your best care for your chickens by yourself, or with help of those in your circle, and know just how you will humanely euthanize any ailing animal in your care.

One thing I have heard is that animals perceive time differently than humans. That they live primarily in the moment, and that long expanses of time seem to pass the same as brief moments. I see that with my brooding hens, that they seem to be in a sort of zone, and are not restless nor bored during their 3-week confinements. I think they get the same way when they are injured or ailing, that they take their lives one moment at a time, and don't lapse into despair or anguish over a long time. That's why sometimes it's not a bad decision to allow an ailing animal to continue as long as they seem fairly comfortable.

Of course no one knows for certain what goes in in the mind of an animal. But this explanation is as valid as those who anthropomorphize animals' thoughts & feelings.

JJ, I'm sorry for the loss of this beloved hen. It seems you did all that was humanly possible for her, and more. She certainly received the best of care from you her whole life, and was a secure & contented animal as a result. Now you know more from this experience, and will be able to apply it to future experiences.

All I'd suggest is to either learn a bearable euthanasia technique that you could use, or find someone in your inner circle who is able to do it for you. Especially since you have these issues with neighboring dogs around your chickens. You may one day -- but I hope not ever -- have a badly injured chicken who needs immediate euthanasia and you'll have to act quickly to help it.


13 Years
Jan 17, 2007
New Jersey
Indeed very difficult and sometimes we only know in retrospect. I kept holding out hope for Betty. Though sometimes on BYC I read accounts where it is really obvious and yet people still choose to let the bird suffer till it dies. I once took in a troubled hen who was eggbound with every single egg, and she was in agony. It was very traumatic for her, the production involved in getting each egg out. This was way back before I knew a hysterectomy was even possible as the vet never mentioned it and I didn't have BYC. I had her put down as I didn't want her to struggle straight to heart failure. So sad, this life lost so young, but at least she didn't lay there for days trying to get an egg out only to die from the effort. Any which way sliced, this stuff isn't easy


So sorry RB, about your sick hen. So sorry for everyone in this same boat.


Kiss My Grits...
Premium Feather Member
11 Years
May 19, 2008
Western MA
Yes, I put my animals down if they are suffering.. I cant stand the thought of having an animal in my care suffering..
If i cant afford the vet care.. (sometimes it can run into the thousands..) i would put my animals down in a heartbeat. I'd be devastated..but i could never sit by and let anything suffer...

rancher hicks

Free Ranging
13 Years
Feb 28, 2009
Syracuse, NY
Certainly this is as private a matter as it gets. For me personally. I believe as the bible says that "a sparrow does not fall but that the father knows it" and He has given man dominion over all the creatures of the earth. So it 's my responsibility to care for my chickens as best I can. I can not but feel that it's selfish to prolong their suffering in the hopes they will survive. I also have to control myself to not "humanize" animals. Certainly they give me pleasure but I can not justify their suffering.
It's strange how we say they're "in a better place" but are reluctant to let them go there. Better I should suffer grief for a time then they suffer until the inevitable. We each must do what we think is best for the creatures we take responsiblity for.

Always the Best

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