What to look for w/sick chicken?

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by sjmjrgkmg, Apr 6, 2018.

  1. sjmjrgkmg

    sjmjrgkmg Chirping

    May 10, 2009
    Hi folks,
    If you have a hen down with no obvious cause (i.e. no previous sign of illness, no observable injury, fine in the morning and near death by afternoon...) what do you look for first? This is not the first time I've had a chicken just flop over in the run. This particular hen is not very old - about 3 or 4 years old - and I can't find any external evidence of illness. I don't think I'm going to be able to save this one, but am curious for the future - what steps do you take and what things do you check when you have a hen with a mystery illness? I've ruled out sour crop, but I've never had a hen get "egg bound", so I don't know what that looks like.

    DCluck likes this.
  2. azygous

    azygous Crossing the Road

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    Lots of things can strike a chicken, causing them to go from "fine" to collapse in the space of a few hours. Poisoning from moldy feed, contaminated soil, and toxic plants can kill quickly.

    Avian viruses can inhabit a chicken's body for years, causing slow growing tumors that seemingly all of a sudden cause a chicken to sicken and die "mysteriously". A necropsy on the chicken's body can tell you if a virus killed it.

    Infections from unnoticed infected wounds or reproductive tract disorders can also seem to make a chicken sicken and die suddenly.

    Many illnesses are treatable if you learn the signs of a sick chicken early enough that you can intervene. A sick chicken will go very still, stop being vocal, face the wall or jam themselves into a corner, and usually the tail will be held low and flat. They won't eat. Their poop may be watery and green.

    While it may be fairly easy to learn to spot a sick chicken, it's not usually as simple to figure out what is making them sick. Sometimes, if you can recall what the chicken was doing prior to falling sick, you can put two and two together and figure out what they might have gotten into that made them sick. Rotting compost, soil contaminated with petroleum distillates under machinery in the yard, pealing paint, puddles that may be laced with insecticide runoff, mushrooms suddenly appearing after heavy rains where you've seen your chickens prior to one being sick are all important clues that can help you know how to treat your sick chicken in time to avoid having them die.
  3. chickens102403

    chickens102403 Chirping

    Jan 5, 2015
    When I suspect a bird is sick I:
    1) check their vent to see if there are signs of mites and to see if there is resedue of unusual discharge
    2) look at their eyes and nose to see if their is any discharge/bubbles
    3) look at their feet to see is there are any broken bones/bumblefoot
    4) check the snap reflex on their wings (pull the wings out and release them). On a healthy bird, they should snap back to the body. A sick bird would let them droop down at their sides.
    5) check really carefully for ingeries/wounds over the entire body. Feathers can do a really good job at covering bite marks or other flesh wounds
    6) if you can't find anything else wrong and still suspect that there is something wrong, you can take your bird's tempature to see if they might have a bacterial illness.

    I hope this helps and that all of your chickens make it!
  4. dawg53

    dawg53 Humble

    Nov 27, 2008
    Glen St Mary, Florida
    Most common problems that can lead a chicken to its demise: External parasites, internal parasites, egg impacted, biosecurity failure, improper feed/nutrition.
  5. sjmjrgkmg

    sjmjrgkmg Chirping

    May 10, 2009
    I appreciate the thoughts and suggestions. Since we are still having snow up here (she says bitterly), the girls have not been out of their run for a few days, though they were out of the run for a few hours early in the week. I'm a city chicken keeper, so some of the hazards mentioned by respondents aren't present in my yard. They've had a little problem with scaly leg mites - being treated - but it wasn't severe, and this hen never showed signs of them.
    She made it through the night (she's in a tub in my laundry room for warmth) still breathing, but on her side with her head down. There was a small puddle of drool or mucus under her beak. Not coughing or wheezing, and I can't get any water into her (tried dipping her beak in a bowl and tried a dropper).
    If she is egg impacted, is it too late to do anything? How would I know if she is?
    Grateful for the support on this forum!
  6. dawg53

    dawg53 Humble

    Nov 27, 2008
    Glen St Mary, Florida
    She might have impacted drop or gizzard. If her crop is empty, it might be the gizzard. Also look inside her mouth for lesions that would cause blockage in the esophagus.
    You can give her tomato juice via eyedropper or syringe without needle to help unblock the crop/gizzard if it's not too late.
  7. rebrascora

    rebrascora Free Ranging

    Feb 14, 2014
    Consett Co.Durham. UK
    Firstly, chickens will hide sickness until they are too weak to do so, so it is unusual for a bird to go from perfectly fine to death's door in a matter of a few hours. They might look fine but usually there will have been subtle signs.

    If it genuinely is a very sudden and serious illness one of the commonest causes these days in back yard flocks is Fatty Liver Haemorrhagic Syndrome which is often associated with larger breeds of hens like Sussex and Orpingtons and can be due to a dietary imbalance.... usually involving too many carbs like scratch or bread or whole grain diets, like Scratch and Peck where the hens can pick out their favourite components of the feed and not get a balanced diet. The bird will usually put on thick fatty deposits around the abdomen and vent which can cause egg binding and prolapse. Fat also becomes impregnated in the liver and compromises the structure of it, making it weak and prone to rupture. If that occurs, the hen will usually die within a short space of time and there is nothing you can do to save them.
    It is usually reasonably apparent even if you do a necropsy yourself if this has been the cause, as there will be masses of yellow fat covering the abdomen and encasing many of the organs and the liver will have a yellowish green cast and be weak and break apart when you handle it. The abdominal cavity may contain fluid from the rupture. Birds carrying too much abdominal fat will sometimes have soiled but feathers.

    If I have a sick chicken that has no obvious injury or obvious symptoms like respiratory distress or discharge, the first thing I do is assess how they are moving or standing and look for anything unusual..... some things will point you in the direction to investigate .... neck snaking usually indicates a crop problem so check crop function to make sure it is empty on a morning before they have access to food. Tail down and vent pulsing usually indicates a reproductive problem. It may be that they are trying to expel a shell less egg which can cause them problems for a couple of days and really take it out of them. They might also be egg bound. A soak in a warm Epsom Salts bath and some investigation and lubrication of the inside of the vent might be beneficial. A wide stance when walking sometimes accompanied by more upright posture usually indicates Ascites, internal laying, EYP or Salpingitis. There will usually be abdominal swelling with these ailments and sadly most will prove fatal sooner or later. It may take months for internal laying, a week or two with Salpingitis or 2-3 days with egg binding.

    Check body condition by feeling the breast bone.... if the bird is skinny, there has usually been an underlying problem for some time..... feathers hide a lot If the bird is in good condition, check for abdominal swelling between the legs or around the vent. I do this on a night whilst they are roosting by cupping my hand between their legs and comparing with adjacent birds that are healthy. It will usually be obvious if there is an issue.

    Personally. I am of the opinion that unless a hen has been broody for some time, lice or mites will not kill them. Lice particularly are opportunistic and thrive on sick birds because they are not well enough to preen and dust bath to keep them in check. Many people see a sick bird covered in lice and assume that lice are the cause, but in my experience they are a secondary issue and just another indication that the bird is sick.

    Assessing their poop is another aid in figuring what may be wrong with a sick bird.
    Isolating them can be beneficial to monitor their food intake and poop quality when they first show signs of illness.

    I hope it is something simple with your hen like a soft shelled egg and she will manage to pass it and return to normal but if the worst happens or you feel it is necessary to put her out of her misery, I would encourage you to either send her off for a necropsy (state agricultural diagnostic labs are usually the cheapest option for that) or if you are unable to do that, open her up yourself and take photos of everything you find. There are a few threads here on BYC where we share and discuss such photos and often come to a consensus on the actual cause of death or at least identify abnormalities that may be responsible. I can post a link to one such thread if you are interested....

    Best wishes


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