Got chickens? When you have any type of livestock, you are responsible for their health. This includes the quality of their nutrition and the frequency of their exercise, the safety of their surroundings. It also includes the medical care that they receive. Chicken diarrhea is something that requires your intervention.
Many backyard chicken owners are new to farming in general. Often, novice hen enthusiasts go to great lengths to ensure the health and happiness of their birds. They name each member of their flock and spend time holding and petting them. They also build creative, beautiful and Instagram-worthy sheds and runs for their comfort and enjoyment. Finally, they provide high-quality feed and snacks for their feathered friends.
These highly-prepared individuals are often ready for anything the bird-life can throw at them. But what about illness? When your hen shows the first signs of sickness, what do you do then? Although many backyard chicken owners panic when their beloved birds seem unwell, this is not helpful. Calling a vet that specializes in livestock might be in order, but you may be able to provide your hen with the care it needs at home.
The Scoop on Chicken Poop
One common sign of sickness in chickens is diarrhea. If you are new to chicken-raising, you might not yet feel confident in identifying ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ droppings. Normal, healthy chicken poop is usually firm and brown with a white cap. In addition to this type of healthy droppings, chickens also produce several cecal droppings per day. Cecal droppings are reddish-brown and sticky but are also signs that your hen is healthy and normal. Although cecal droppings resemble diarrhea, it is just a different type of chicken poop.
If a hen has diarrhea, she will have only, or mostly, droppings that look like cecal droppings. If you see that more than a third of the poops are sticky and reddish-brown, then you will know that your hen has chicken diarrhea. You should check the feathers and vent areas of your flock if you have multiple birds, to identify which bird is ill. A hen that has diarrhea will likely have a vent area that is red and sore, and the feathers around the vent will be pasted with dry, yellow droppings.
What Causes Chicken Diarrhea?
Just like in people, chickens can experience diarrhea for a host of reasons. Sometimes, the chicken diarrhea will pass before you are able to identify why they had it in the first place. If your hen has persistent diarrhea, however, you should ascertain the root cause of it in order to treat it properly. Some common reasons for chicken diarrhea are:
- Poor flock management
Poor Flock Management
Commonly, chicken diarrhea can result from mistakes or neglect regarding how the flock is being managed. If birds are kept too closely together, or without adequate ventilation, floor space, and access to the outdoors, they can suffer the effects of heat stress. A symptom of heat stress is chicken diarrhea. Another cause of chicken diarrhea is vent prolapse, which can occur because of a calcium deficiency or because the bird is over- or underweight.
In many cases, vent prolapse can be prevented via providing the flock with access to proper nutrition and exercise. Other symptoms of poor flock management that can result in chicken diarrhea include excess salt intake, Hardware disease, moldy food, raw soybean meal, and toxic plants. Hardware disease results from chickens eating sharp or toxic metal items they find in their environment.
There are a handful of bacteria and viruses that can cause chicken diarrhea. More common causes are Colibacillosis, Lymphoid, leukosis, and Marek’s disease. Avian intestinal spirochetosis, avian tuberculosis, infectious coryza, and fowl cholera are additional, though less common, possibilities.
Parasites such as Coccidiosis, threadworms, and (less commonly) Blackhead disease are often to blame for chicken diarrhea.
Treatments for Chicken Diarrhea
Important! If you suspect a hen of having a contagious disease, isolate it from the flock immediately to reduce the chance of transmission to other birds.
In order to successfully treat chicken diarrhea, it is helpful to first identify the cause. Now you better understand the potential causes of chicken diarrhea: poor flock management, viruses or bacteria, and parasites. Are you able to make a diagnosis, or at least make an educated guess, about the cause of your chicken’s diarrhea?
Poor Flock Management
Chicken diarrhea caused by poor flock management will require changes to how you are managing your flock. Simple fixes to your flock’s diet, such as reducing sodium content, increasing phosphorus, decreasing protein, increasing (or decreasing) calcium supplementation, might be all that is needed to fix the problem. If your hens are eating too much, reduce or eliminate ‘treats’ like salad greens until diarrhea has subsided (usually in 24-36 hours).
Similarly, providing more space, shade, or access to the outdoors for your hens might resolve the issue relatively quickly, if the diarrhea was caused by heat stress. Or, you can stand her in cold water, aim a fan at her, and mix her food with cold water to help her cool down faster.
Check your feed and replace all of it if there are any signs of mold or contamination. Replace damp bedding with a fresh and dry substrate to remove concerns of mycotoxins. Also check your hens’ surroundings for any potentially toxic plants, decomposing animals, or sharp metal objects that might be ingested by curious hens.
Reminder: Always ensure your flock has ample access to fresh, clean water, especially on warm or hot days. Birds are especially susceptible to the effects of heat and require you to provide them with the proper environment to remain cool.
If you suspect or know that your chicken’s diarrhea is due to bacteria, viruses, or parasites, the above treatments will not hurt. However, more might be needed to help your hen’s digestive system get back on track. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if it is a bacterial or viral infection.
Bacterial infections can be treated with the appropriate antibiotics; antibiotics may also cause diarrhea, so give your bird probiotics as well. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections; if your hen is suspected of having a virus, provide palliative care. In cases of bacterial or viral infections, isolate your infected chicken(s) from the rest of the flock to minimize the likelihood of transmission.
If your hen is experiencing gut damage and diarrhea due to intestinal parasites, or worms, you will need to treat your entire flock for worms. You can procure the appropriate deworming medication from your local vet or agricultural supply store.
Follow the instructions exactly and make sure not to eat or sell eggs from the treated hens for the specified length of time. Parasites like Coccidiosis usually only affect young chicks under 10 weeks of age. Chicks with Coccidiosis need to be treated promptly with a coccidiostat, probiotics, and electrolytes or they may die.
Caring for Chickens with Diarrhea
Ensure all hens with diarrhea have plentiful access to proper food, clean water, shade, and fresh bedding. Until or unless you have been able to determine the cause of the chicken diarrhea, isolate your infected bird(s) from the remainder of your flock.
Because some chicken illnesses can be transmitted to humans, it is important to take extra precautions when handling sick chickens. It is safest to keep your hens contained outside and to not cuddle or kiss your feathered friends. Wash your hands immediately after touching your hens, their enclosure or coop, or their eggs. Make sure to change your clothes after spending time in your chicken’s run, and do not wear your soiled shoes indoors.
As stated earlier, if a hen is being treated for a parasitic infection, refrain from eating her eggs until the indicated amount of days has passed. Many of these precautions should be taken whether or not your hen has diarrhea, as even healthy chickens can make people sick. These measures will help protect you and your family from becoming ill from your hens.
Prevention is Key: Once your feathered friends are feeling fine, consider implementing additional measures to prevent future cases of chicken diarrhea. Well-managed flocks should have ample space to roam, roost, and nest indoors and outdoors. They have constant access to clean water and high-quality, nutritious feed. Their coops and runs are regularly disinfected and clean, fresh bedding and substrate are routinely added.
If your hens have chicken diarrhea, determine the likely culprit and take action quickly. Monitor your flock daily to identify any signs of infection early on. By removing ill, or potentially ill, birds from the flock early, you will be more likely to contain the spread of any contagious infections.