When to put down a chicken with Marek’s


May 24, 2020
Our 15 week old chicken, Clover, hasn’t been able to walk for a week now. We got her and 3 other pullets who are the same age from a backyard breeder (who vaccinates for Marek’s) when they were 6-7 weeks old. It’s the first time we’ve kept chickens.

We’ve been reading up in our chicken book and online, and the more her symptoms progress the more it’s looking like Marek’s- can’t walk, falls over even after I set her upright again, feels lighter, collapsed crop, and now breathing with her beak open. :(

We moved her inside the house last weekend, and have been making sure she eats (fermented mash, a little nutritional yeast every day, some greens to nibble on, grit, sometimes a little yogurt & raspberries) and drinks (by dropper, one drop at a time if needed), and have also been giving her a B2 supplement for the past 3 days. And giving her some time outside in a part of the yard that’s fenced off from the other chickens.

Until today she’s remained alert, perky even, pooping normally, interested in food, very interested in preening (though she falls over when she tries). Yesterday she stopped drinking on her own - only what we gave her by dropper. And today I can hardly get any water in her. What goes in her beak she shakes off, breathing with her mouth open the whole time.

We’ve been hoping if it’s a vitamin deficiency that we could just keep caring for her until she recovers more. I know if it’s Marek’s she won’t recover, but we haven’t wanted to give up on her as long as it doesn’t seem like she’s suffering.

Now I’m worried she’s suffering though. To those who’ve had chickens with Marek’s and put them down, when did you decide it was time? How long do they last once they start having trouble breathing? Will it get much worse for her than this?

Also if you think it’s worth giving it more time that would be good to know too. I know it could be other things - so hard to know what to do for her. :(

Other info if helpful: we separated Clover from the other chickens as soon as we noticed her looking shaky on her feet. The others aren’t showing any signs of being sick yet. I spend a fair amount of time with Clover during the day, making sure she drinks, eats, etc. She has a much easier time staying upright on my lap and seems comfortable there, so sometimes I just sit with her so she’s not alone. We have a dog and a cat in the house who are definitely interested in her, but we have kept them out of the room she’s staying in so they don’t scare her.

Other things I’ve noticed that I’m not sure fit Marek’s: making little circles with her head when she’s trying to move positions but can’t figure out how to, and losing some of her chirpy/clucky sounds. Sometimes she opens her mouth to talk but nothing comes out, unless it’s a loud sound.


6 Years
Apr 10, 2016
Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Aww, I’m sorry your girl isn’t feeling well. She will need fluids. Would you consider tube feeding fluids? Is an avian vet an option? Only you can decide when it’s time to put your bird down. Hopefully someone with more experience in that department will share their perspective.


Crossing the Road
13 Years
Sep 19, 2009
Holts Summit, Missouri
When my birds get it, if they do not get back up on their feet within a week, they will never do so. I cull at that point. Even those that get back into walking have a hard time serving for an additional year as they keep passing from conditions that do not appear to be Marek's, so I cull those as well when it happens. I have not seen the disease for a few years and do not vaccinate for it. The vaccines do not cover all strains of Marek's. Marek's here appears to be coming from migratory songbirds in fall.


In the Brooder
Oct 18, 2021
Hello @cluckjans ! I am so sorry to hear about your Hen. I am going through a very similar issue and looked to Google for help. If you don't mind, can you tell me what happened/what you chose to do in your scenario? Making that choice is so hard. I have a Hen that I am caring for in my house that can no longer use her legs and is breathing with her beak open. She was like this a few months ago and I was able to nurse her back to health with some time, care, and vitamins but she is a lot worse this time. I wish you and your family well, thank you so much for the help!

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