Chickens are not only popular in farmyards, they are now a common family pet. They have a certain personality that lends itself to families with children, offering a way for young people to learn about caring for animals.
As with all pets, it is important to understand any health conditions that your chickens could suffer from under your care, as well as knowing how best to try and treat them. We have put together 5 of the most common health problems in chickens, which aim to help you spot any symptoms in their early stages and enable you to get the help that you need to assist in their recovery.
If your chickens have mites or lice, it has nothing to do with the cleanliness of your coop. Unfortunately these little pests are a common issue in animal life, which can be uncomfortable and make your chickens very poorly if left untreated for a long time. It is advisable to check your chickens at least once a month to see if you can spot any signs of infestation, paying extra attention to brooding hens, who will dust-bathe less regularly. Symptoms can look like bald spots, redness or scabs on the skin, dull feathers, crawling bugs on the body and evidence of your chickens being more tired or restless than normal.
Once you have identified that one of your chickens has lice or mites, you must treat the whole flock to be sure that you have stopped the infestation. You can find easy to use treatments in your local farming supplies store, which have been found to have varying degrees of success. Asking your vet for a treatment will be more expensive, but likely to have a better outcome. You should also treat your coop, using a disinfectant that will kill any remaining bugs, as well as clearing any feathers that may still hold the little critters.
Chickens will usually catch worms or parasites from something that they have eaten, from eating the droppings of an infected animal, or perhaps from eating an insect that has itself been infected. If your chickens are already very healthy, they can sometimes fight the symptoms and you may not even know that they had a problem. However, if the immune system is already a little low, the symptoms can worsen and can cause serious illness. Look for irregular stools, diarrhoea, evidence of worms in the stools, reduced egg production, head stretching and shaking.
One of the best ways to prevent worms and parasites is to keep your chickens healthy and keep a clean coop. It is also advisable to give your chickens a worming treatment such as a pour-on or a drench twice a year, as you would with cats and dogs, to help prevent anything from taking hold. If they are unlucky enough to develop symptoms, contact your vet to get an effective treatment that will work quickly. You will need to treat your whole flock.
If you find that your chicken is having trouble breathing or is wheezing, it could be that they have developed a respiratory illness. Other signs could be runny eyes, swollen sinuses and a loss of appetite. If you suspect that your chicken has an illness, it is best to separate them from the flock straightaway in order to prevent it from spreading.
A common cause of respiratory illness in chickens is stress, but it could be a pathogen that they have caught. If this is the case, a blood test might be required in order to narrow down the pathogen and determine which treatment is needed. To try and prevent an illness of this kind, try to reduce the stress in the coop, by making it roomy and bringing in any new chickens from a reputable source. You should also keep the coop clean, disinfecting it on a regular basis. Once the blood test determines if a pathogen is to blame, your vet will be able to decide whether antibiotics are required in order to treat it.
Loose or abnormal stools can be a common problem in the coop, for many different reasons. Chickens usually have a balance of good and bad bacteria in their intestines, so if this is disturbed, it can cause diarrhoea.
Drinking a high amount of water can sometimes cause diarrhoea in chickens. This could be from a very wet food in their diet, or in hot weather where your chickens may drink much more than usual. Medication from a vet can cause an upset tummy, as can worms. If your chickens have a green stool this is usually nothing to worry about, as they will most likely eat grass in large amounts which can then show in the droppings. In order to treat diarrhoea in chickens, try giving them a probiotic, which will work to rebalance the bacteria in the gut and settle things down again.
This is a yeast infection that is caused by the disruption of normal bacteria in the crop, which is the part of the oesophagus where the start of digestion happens. You will be able to feel it at the base of your chickens neck, where it will sometimes be filled with food or grit. Sour crop can be be identified by the crop looking enlarged, the chicken looking off-colour, loosing their appetite and developing bad breath.
Crop conditions such as thrush can be hard to treat and a vet will usually need to be consulted. The crop can be drained to relieve any pressure, which will involve a local anaesthetic. A copper sulphate treatment can be somewhat effective, but this must be given by a vet. The sooner a crop is treated the better, but it can often be a poor diagnosis. To try and prevent your chicken from developing sour crop, make sure that you feed your animals the correct types of food, which is always fresh and not mouldy.