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Help! My Chicken is Sick. What Should I Do?

What do you do when you have a sick chicken and no vet to treat her?

Being very low on the food chain, and adhering to a very strict pecking order within a flock, chickens have been programmed to hide their symptoms extremely well, and by the time you even notice something is wrong, it's often too late.

But by spending time with your flock, and being able to recognize what 'normal' behavior is, you can spot even subtle changes that might indicate someone isn't feeling their best.

Help! My Chicken is Sick. What Should I Do?

Often symptoms are obvious, such as a poopy butt which can often mean vent gleet or an intestinal bacteria, an enlarged crop which can signal an impacted crop or gapeworm, or straining which usually means you have an egg bound hen, while a pale comb can signal internal parasites, mites or lice.

But sometimes its just a sense you get that a hen is a bit quieter, more withdrawn, just not herself. She may be off in a corner, may be fluffed up a bit, looking disheveled. What to do in that situation?

Help! My Chicken is Sick.

Of course getting a sick chicken, or any animal, to a vet is my prescribed course of action. Don't ask for help on Facebook or a forum or in a group. If you have a sick animal, then you need professional help and advice.

I never recommend administering any medication or antibiotic unless you know for sure what's wrong. Bacteria, fungus and viruses all can cause illness or infection. They all react differently to various treatments and what may cure one won't cure another. 

Treating an illness with an incorrect medication will do more harm than good. If you don't treat the illness long enough, or if you administer antibiotics when they're not needed, the body can develop resistance to that antibiotic, making it less effective in the future. 

If in doubt, don't use medications that haven't been prescribed. Instead, I recommend trying natural treatments.  

Natural antiseptics can be very helpful. They include things like:

  • garlic
  • ginger
  • honey
  • lavender
  • oregano
  • thyme 
  • apple cider vinegar 

However, if after a few days of natural treatment you don't see any improvement, then you'll likely need more drastic measures.

But if visiting a vet is not feasible for whatever reason, or even if it is, but you can't get an immediate appointment, I recommend the following. 

What Should I Do?

Here is my best advice on what to do about a sick chicken when you have absolutely no idea what's wrong:

1.) Separate her immediately, preferably in the house or garage where she will be warm and safe - and not likely to pass whatever she's fighting on to other flock members if she hasn't already. Be sure she has plenty of feed and water. Cut out all treats and just limit her to regular feed for a few days. 
2.) Keep her hydrated. Give her some sugar water, plain Pedialyte, electrolytes, or a bit of Nutri-Drench or molasses for energy. Alternate that with water with a splash of apple cider vinegar in it. 

3.) Keep her eating. See if she will eat some feed, maybe moistened with warm water. If not, try scrambled eggs or warm oatmeal. 

Note: I highly advise against syringe or force feeding or offering liquids using a syringe or eyedropper. You can easily cause a hen to accidentally aspirate if anything goes down the wrong tube and ends up in the windpipe. Instead offer a small dish or bowl at beak level and gently dip the beak in.

 4.) Boost her immune system. Offer fresh minced garlic  and some fresh oregano if she'll eat it. She has her own best chance at fighting her illness already inside her, so boosting her immune system to help fight from the inside is your best bet.

5.) Build up her good bacteria. A bit of plain yogurt helps boost good bacteria levels. Too much dairy can cause diarrhea, so use caution, but the probiotics are good for building up her good bacteria. Probiotic powder is a better choice, but in a pinch plain yogurt will do.

(Again, I don't recommend antibiotics except as a last resort, but if you do administer antibiotics, then probiotics are a must both during and after treatment to rebuild the beneficial bacteria.)

6.) Monitor her eating/drinking/pooping/laying. Check her poop for worms or other parasites.  (This is all important information to pass along to your vet as well.)

7.) Treat accordingly, if, after watching her for awhile you are able to figure out what's wrong. 

8.) If you are lucky enough to have a vet to diagnose the problem, follow his advice but DO ask about natural or holistic remedies that might help her along as well.  

What Not to Do

To reiterate, use extreme caution taking the advice or accepting a diagnosis from an online forum, Facebook page or blog. Including mine! Any time an animal is sick, you need professional medical advice.

Some things I've seen mentioned on forums and in groups that I absolutely don't recommend include: 

Sevin Dust 5%

Some chicken keepers regularly use this to treat their flock and coop for mites, lice, fleas and ticks. Warning: Sevin Dust is a carcinogen due to its active ingredient, Carbaryl, which is a neurotoxin that has been shown to cause cancer and reproductive issues.

 Frontline (Fipronil) and Advantix 

Some chicken keepers regularly apply Frontline or Advantix to their chickens to repel and treat the same external pests. However, the chemicals in these medications will end up in the fatty tissue of the chickens and be passed into their eggs.  

Frontline and Advantix are not labeled for use in chickens - and honestly we don't even use them on our cat and dog. I am not a fan of applying chemicals to our pets. Instead there are natural treatments you can use.


Some chicken keepers use Wazine to worm their chickens. The warning label on the Wazine bottle clearly states “not to be used in chickens producing eggs for human consumption”. I absolutely don't recommend using Wazine, especially as a regular preventive. It's far safer to use a natural wormer for your flock. 

Even licensed vets rarely will diagnose an animal sight unseen and anyone except a licensed professional really shouldn't be attempting to diagnose your chickens.

While you have your sick chicken separated, here are some things to look for to try and figure out what's going on.

Comb and Wattles

Comb color can often indicate what's going on. A nice, red rosy comb is normal. Anything else might indicate a stroke, anemia, parasites or even frostbite.  If your chicken's comb is anything but healthy-looking, you might want to read this.


The eyes should be clear and alert. Foamy eyes can indicate a sinus or respiratory problem. Respiratory issues are pretty common in chickens, but eye irritation could also just be the result of a scratch to the cornea or debris in the eye, so don't rush to any conclusions.


Raspy or heavy breathing could indicate a respiratory issue or even gapeworm.  I keep Poultry VetRx on hand all the time. It's all natural and a few drops in the water seems to clear up anything relating to the respiratory system before it can blossom into anything serious. It's worth a try at a first step.


Related to breathing, especially if you see liquid coming out of your chicken's mouth, a reason for your chicken's distress could be a crop issue. Both sour crop and impacted crop are serious conditions that need to be treated fairly quickly.

Breast/under Wings

It's a good idea to part the feathers and do some checking under the wings and on the lower breast of the chicken. Mites like to hide there and a serious infestation can actually kill a chicken.  

I prefer natural methods of dealing with mites, which can be seen especially at night, if you look closely.  And if one chicken has them, likely others do too, so be sure to check your entire flock as well as the coop.


Check under the feathers also for injuries or wounds. It's possible that your chicken tangled with a predator or another flock member or merely got a puncture wound from something sharp.  

One thing I keep on hand is my Fresh Eggs Daily Herbal Salve. I keep one container in our coop first aid kit and another in the house. 

I love that it's natural, we can use it on all our animals - chickens, ducks, geese and dogs - and that it helps to protect and heal cuts, abrasions, and and bug bites. It's 100% natural and not only helps keep wounds from getting infected, it helps speed healing - naturally.


Be sure to check the backside of your chicken. A messy butt could indicate a digestive issue or internal parasite. Egg binding is a very serious condition that occurs when a chicken can't lay her egg that must be treated immediately. 

Vent gleet is another pretty messy condition related to the digestive tract. And often mites like to hide back there too. So give the area a good once over.

By separating the sick chicken, you can isolate her feces and get a good look at what her poop looks like. Often that can be a great indicator of what's going on. Here's a handy guide.

Legs and Feet

Feel the chicken's legs to see if one feels warmer than the other. That can indicate a sprain, especially if she seems to be favoring that leg. 

Being off balance can mean Marek's disease, but could also indicate internal parasites or worms, or even a minor stroke. Scaly leg mites are another thing to check for - they cause the scales on the leg to lift up.

Bumblefoot is a fairly common issue with chickens, especially if you use sand or have another hard surface on your coop floor. 

Doing regular "comb to toe" checkups can often lead you to uncover any issues well before they become serious, so make that a regular part of your chicken keeping.  Here are some things I look for when I do my chicken checkups.

And if you end up having to medicate your hen, HERE are some suggestions to make it a bit easier, especially if your chickens aren't used to being held.

And be sure to get a chicken first aid kit together so you''re more able to treat anything you find during your inspection.

The advice given here is meant to be used mainly to build a strong immune system to allow your hen to fight whatever it is that's troubling her from the inside on her own, hopefully in conjunction with a professional diagnosis.

My advice is not meant to diagnose, but rather help you treat once you have a diagnosis. A visit to a vet is always the best course of action. Use care when administering anything new or different to an ailing chicken.

That's why I recommend a lifelong regiment of natural immune systems and health boosters given on a regular basis to hopefully head off illness before it can even take hold. Read more about Basic Natural Chicken Keeping HERE.

Oh and p.s. I follow the practices I preach. And I've never lost a single chicken to any kind of illness or disease. Ever. This stuff works, trust me.

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