How To Tell If A Chicken Is Sick? 9 Warning Signs

As backyard chicken owners, there are a lot of worries you will have. One of them is whether the chicken is sick or not. Chickens are excellent at hiding their illness, and it can be hard to determine if they are sick.

So how can you tell if your chicken is sick? When a chicken is sick, it will start to show signs. Some chicken, you will be able to tell right away, while others, you’ll need to keep a close eye on.

Let’s look at the 9 common signs the chickens will have when they are sick:

Not Eating

The most common sign of a sick chicken is reduced appetite. Most chickens that are sick will usually stay back when the rest of the flock runs to the feeder to eat.

When your chicken is not eating, it can be a symptom of numerous illnesses, or it could mean they are being picked on.

If you’ve noticed the chicken has not been eating, you should try to see give them a treat. If they still refuse, try removing them from the flock and placing them somewhere alone. Try to feed them something and see if they eat it.

After several attempts, if they are not still eating, leave them some treats and chicken feeds. Leave them alone for a day and see if they eat anything.


When a chicken is sick, it will not move around too much. If you notice your chicken is not following the rest of the flock and just staying in one place, it’s likely they are sick.

When you notice this behavior, it’s important to isolate them from the rest of the flock. This to prevent pathogens from spreading to the other chickens.

Fluffed Feathers

Chickens will naturally fluff their feathers to stay warm and make themselves comfortable before sleeping.

When the chicken fluffs their feathers and being lethargic, this could mean the chicken is sick.

Therefore, you should isolate the chicken from other chickens and look for any other signs of illness.

Loose Stools

Chickens don’t usually have diarrhea, but if they do, it usually means that they are sick.

If you have a large flock, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly which chicken it is. You’ll need to sit and carefully watch which one is having a loose stool.

There are several things why a chicken is having diarrhea. The most common ones are:

  • Viruses
  • Eating something bad
  • Coryza
  • Coccidiosis
  • Overeating
  • Worms

Once you find the chicken, separate them from the flock immediately. It could be contagious and spread to other chickens.

Sour Crop

Chickens are not able to vomit, but they do get sour crops. Sour crop occurs when there is too much yeast in their mouth and digestive tracts.

This will appear as yellowish liquids from the chicken. You need this to be taken care of immediately.

If you are unsure, it’s best to take them to the veterinarian to treat the sour crop.

Closed Eyes

A healthy chicken will always have their eyes opened when they are awake. If you notice one of your chickens with closed and swollen eyes, it’s most likely sick with respiratory illness.

The respiratory illness will often be combined with yellowish discharge from the eyes.

A chicken with closed eyes should be isolated from the rest of the flock immediately. They are extremely contagious and can get other chickens infected within a day.

Once they are isolated, you should seek medical attention for the chicken right away.

Comb/Wattle Changing Color Or Swelling

A quick way to determine if the chicken is sick is to look at the wattle and comb. Healthy chickens will have bright red, black, or purple, depending on the breed.

On the other hand, an unhealthy chicken will have comb or wattle that look deflated, pale, and change to different colors other than the colors mentioned above. These are all signs of an illness.

However, make sure the chickens are not old, or they are molting. They will usually have comb and wattle as sick chickens will.

Labored Breathing

A chicken with labored breathing is usually the cause of a respiratory illness. This illness is contagious and should isolate them from the rest of the flock immediately.

Labored breathing will usually accompany by coughing, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

Penguin Waddle

When a chicken is egg bound, it will do the penguin waddle. Just like the name implies, the hen will waddle from side to side, just like a penguin.

When a hen becomes egg bound, it usually means that they are getting too much protein and not enough calcium in their diet. Therefore, a balanced diet is vital for hens that are laying eggs.

If they are sick from becoming egg bound, you should give them a warm Epsom salt bath. The bath will help relax the muscles, which will let the egg pass through.

How To Tell When Baby Chicken Is Sick?

Baby chicks will be much different from their adult counterparts. They are excellent at hiding their sickness. This is due to the instinct to stay alive. Predators will usually prey on the weak and sick. To prevent from making themselves an easy target, chicks will hide their sickness.

Unfortunately, by the time you notice something is wrong, they are sick to the point where they can’t be treated.

Some common things to look for when the chicks are sick are:

  • Not eating or drinking anything
  • Closed crusty eyes or eyes sunken in
  • Isolating themselves from the rest of the chicks
  • Lethargic and staying in one place for a long period of time.

One of the things to look out for in baby chickens is when they are vibrating. Chicks will vibrate if they are excited or happy. Other times, it could mean they are very sick as they are convulsing.

Make sure you know the difference as it could mean life and death for the chicks.

What To Do When A Chicken Is Sick?

When a chicken is sick, there are a few things you need to do. The last thing you want is a sick chicken spreading the illness to the rest of the flock.

Below are a few precautions you should take:

Isolate the sick chicken from the rest of the flock. Isolation helps prevent the spread of pathogens and other bacteria.

Disinfecting the chicken coop, run, and other areas where the chicken spends a lot of time.

Can You Prevent The Chicken From Becoming Sick?

Yes, there are different ways to prevent your chickens from becoming sick. However, there are times when it will be out of your control.

Below are a few tips to keep them from becoming sick:

Feed the chickens proper nutrition. If the chickens get enough nutrition in their diet, they will be less likely to become sick.

Daily inspections of their coop. A clean coop will prevent harmful bacteria from forming. If there are no bacteria, chickens will not get sick.

Treat wounds immediately. Wounds can be from fighting each other, foraging for food, or getting entangled in branches. Wounds that are left untreated will lead to bacterial infection, which will cause the chickens to become sick.

Signs a Chicken Is Dying Of Old Age

A chicken that is dying from old age may display the same symptoms as a sick chicken. The symptoms will be similar, except they will happen slowly.

A chicken will start to eat and drink less, but it will act normally. The loss of appetite will cause them to lose weight over time, and the lethargy comes in after.

Depending on the hen, the symptoms may happen right away, or they may occur slowly over many months.

Old age combined with lack of nutrition could cause the infection to speed up the process.

Older chickens tend to have a hard time hiding their illness. You can tell when they are dying since they will be less active throughout the day. They will forage for food less and spend more time sitting in one place.

If the chicken dies naturally, there’s nothing to worry about since it will be peaceful for them.


A chicken that is sick will usually show one of the signs stated above. If you suspect that they are sick, the first and most important step is to isolate them from the rest of the flock. Some pathogens can spread quickly from bird to bird and that’s the last thing you want to happen. From there, you can further investigate their illness and get them properly treated.