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Chicken Diseases and Health Problems

Keeping your chickens healthy is incredibly important.

Keeping your chickens healthy is incredibly important.

How to Keep Backyard Chickens Healthy

In raising and maintaining backyard chickens, it is very important that they are well cared for if they are to stay healthy and fit. Having a good "chicken health care program" in place can make this a simple and effective process. There are four tasks involved in keeping chickens healthy and fit, and they are as follows:

Four Key Tasks for Healthy Hens

  1. Clean housing means healthy hens
  2. Chickens require plenty of fresh food and water
  3. Protect your flock from the elements
  4. Exercise your hens

Let's take a quick look at each one of these tasks individually to see just how each can impact the health of your backyard flock.

Why Is a Clean Environment So Important to Chicken Health

If you pay special attention to the care and cleanliness of your coops, you can all but guarantee your healthy chickens are being provided a clean environment. Living in filth brings with it illness, disease, and any number of bad conditions in your birds (or any living creature for that matter).

Fresh food and water is very exciting to your backyard chicken flock. And it keeps them healthy too!

Fresh food and water is very exciting to your backyard chicken flock. And it keeps them healthy too!

Chickens Require Plenty of Fresh Food and Water

When your hens are hungry, this means they are surely healthy. Chickens "live to eat," not so much "eat to live." There is nothing more exciting and pleasing to your flock than food and water. When these are clean and fresh daily, your flock will trill, coo, and be happy. For this reason, it is very important that you make sure they are readily provided with plenty of fresh food, water, and snacks daily!

Every so often our hen "Stevie" will check the henhouse roof for leaks, far so good!

Every so often our hen "Stevie" will check the henhouse roof for leaks, far so good!

How Do I Keep My Backyard Chickens Safe From the Elements?

Dry, warm chickens are most likely going to be the most healthy chickens. Having a watertight coop or hen-house is vital to good health in your birds. It can be near impossible to fully make a coop waterproof, but you can make sure that your birds have at least one really dry and warm spot within their housing quarters. Damp or wet chickens are extremely prone to getting colds and infections...yep, chickens catch colds.

Should you have a suspicion that your bird(s) have a cold (sneezing and sniffling, kind of like you and I would), smash up some fresh garlic cloves and mix into the scratch you feed, or add a teaspoon of fine garlic powder to each gallon of fresh water. The garlic can work as well on your birds as it does on humans!

Exercise while free-ranging the day helps to keep the flock stress-free and in fit condition!

Exercise while free-ranging the day helps to keep the flock stress-free and in fit condition!

Exercise Your Hens

To maintain a healthy body, your chickens require adequate exercise. Hens love to walk around the yard, scratch at bugs and worms, and will even flap their wings manically as they run across the yard in what seems like an attempt to become airborne. Don't fret though; it is pretty unlikely that a plump densely-built laying hen will gain much altitude above four feet or so. The action of the outdoors breaks up the monotony of coop life while relieving stress and anxiety, and it also prevents cannibalism from occurring in bored birds. A regular free-range outing in the yard keeps your hens happy and well-adjusted egg layers!

Troubleshooting Chicken Health (Chicken Diseases at a Glance)

Information derived from the University of Minnesota Poultry Science Dept. @

Problem/DiseaseCausesSymptoms/SignsPrevention SuggestionsTreatment Suggestions

Weird Egg Shells

Poor nutrition, disease issues, general hen health.

Soft or cracked eggs.

Oyster shells in feed. Feed quality mash. Check for disease.

Proper nutrition.

Colds, Sinus issues, Air Sac disease

Egg transmitted, contact with infected birds and even healthy carriers.

Coughing, sneezing, runny nose. Stress or sickness increases seriousness. Transmitted slowly through flock.

Don't mix ages of birds. Get chicks or poults from MG-free birds.

Encourage eating. Antibiotics or garlic can help.

Burns from Ammonia

Ammonia gases forming in wet or damp bedding.

Lopsided shaped eyes, watery eyes, swollen faces, blindness may occur.

Keep litter and bedding clean and dry.

Clean out wet / damp bedding or litter and feed vitamin A.

Brooder Pneumonia (Aspergillosis)

Inhailing mold spore from moldy food, bedding, or dust.

Gasping. Appetite loss. Increase in thirst.

Avoid mold sources and avoid dust.

Disinfect, clean living space, change bedding.


Hen really wants to hatch an egg.

Hen lingering in nest, keeps coming back to nest after being chased away.

Remove eggs from nesting boxes. Provide a place for birds to roost.

Move hen to a new pen. Remove eggs promptly, remove hen from eggs. Allow hen to hatch an egg.

Bumble Foot

Bruises or cuts on feet allow organisims to get in.

Lameness, feet are swollen, scab on foot pad.

Avoid high roost and sharp objects in chicken areas and bedding.

Open abscess with a clean sharp tool. Remove pus, thoroughly apply iodine or sulfa ointment.


Too crowded, bright colors (usually red), too hot, not enough feed or water, pure boredom.

Pecking at each other.

Provide enough food, water, space, and things to do.



Consuming contaminated droppingd. Invades intestine lining and grows to cause further damage.

Most prevalent bird disease worlwide. Possible high mortality rate. Huddle, pale, droppy, eat less, drink less. Reduced production. Blood in droppings.

Use coccidiostats (prevetion drugs). Screen droppings.

Use preventive drugs (coccidiostats). Screen droppings from birds. In acute outbreak give recommended drugs in water according to directions. May want to try adding 1/4 c. vinegar to each gal. water.

Infectious Coryza

Recovered seemingly healthy birds are still carriers. Affected Poultry shows. Sick birds, dust, or water contaminated by discharge.

Comes on very quickly. Swollen sinus, discharge from nose, eyes may get stuck closed, drop in egg production and eating.

No age mixing.

Sulfa drugs or antibiotics are helpful in some cases. Use as directed by a vet.

Issues with Legs

Accidents, inadequate nutrition, lack of vitamins, slick surfaces, bacteria, virus and infections.

Swollen joints, soft bones, twisted legs, broken bones, swollen feet, paralysis.

Determine causes.

Use appropriate treatment for causation. Use peat moss & wood shavings as bedding, never newspapers.


When housed with ducks and geese this is likely the cause. Dry or chewed skin.

Reduced appitite, diarrhea, sleeplessness, low egg production.

Roost paint and clean housing.

Use Sevin Dust on adult birds.

Lymphoid Leukosis (Big liver disease)

Viral. Egg born or transmitted to really young chicks from older birds.

Weight loss. Green droppings, tumors, enlarged liver. Sick birds are bound to die. Deformed, thick leg bones.

Brood far away from older chickens.


Marek's Disease (Range paralysis)

Herpes virus, airborn or contaminated dander. Contaminated bedding, or infected birds.

Gray eye, enlarged feather follicles, paralysis of wings, legs, neck.

Vaccinate day-old chicks. Only buy vaccinated chicks.


Newcastle Disease

Viral. Contaminated shoes, clothing or equipment. Contact with contaminated birds.

Gasping, coughing, nasal discharge, uncoordinated bird, paralysis. Rapid spread, super high death toll. Adults might only show loss in egg production or respritory symptoms.



Omphalitis (Mushy chicken disease)

Unsanitary hatchery or coops.

Chicks huddle, dropped heads.

Maintain sanitary conditions where chickens live.


Pasty White Rear Ends

Low activity, transportation stress.

Droppings adhere to rear-end of bird.

Use scratch feed and increase activity in birds.

Remove dropping debris from rear using a mild soap and water.

Avian Pox

Virus. Direct contact with infected birds. Mosquitoes carry the virus from wild & other birds.

Dry Pox: Small yellow warts on wattles, comb, and face. These grow in size. Dark brown scabs form and fall off. Wet Pox: Yellow cheese-like soars in mouth and windpipe.

Vaccination, especially in areas with high mosquito populations.

Swab soars with Lugol's Solution of Iodine.

Pullorum Disease

Egg shell penetration. Eating or contact with droppings of infected carriers.

Pasted vents in 1 - 21 day old chicks. Sudden death or huddling. Pneumonia.

Purchase pullorum-free chicks.

A Variety of medications and antibiotics. Follow instructions on labels. Distroy birds.

Rickets (Young chicks abot 4 weeks or so)

Vitamin D & Calcium deficiency (nearly impossible to give too much of either).

Crippled chickens


Increase vitamin D as advised by a vet.


Roundworms: Eggs directly spread from bird to bird through droppings. Tapeworms: Fly transmitted generally.

Slow growth and ravinous behaviour. Roundworms: 3 - 6 inches long. Tapeworms: Flat ribbon-like and segmented (can look like white rice around rear).

Rotate birds in yard, coops, and runs. Screen off heavily soiled fecal covered areas.

A variety of drugs. Follow instructions on labels.

Perched above the yard, "Pru" assesses just where to begin her day.

Perched above the yard, "Pru" assesses just where to begin her day.

Your Backyard Flock's Health

When tending to your flock of chickens, be sure to follow these four important tasks:

  1. keep a clean henhouse
  2. supply plenty of fresh food and water daily
  3. protec them from the elements
  4. allow them to get some regular exercise, which will keep your feathered friends happy and healthy

This will provide you and your family with years of farm-fresh eggs, as well as a very healthy and entertaining flock of birds.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2012 India Arnold


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 11, 2012:

Robin~ What a fantastic experience to offer your children! I would love to manage my own honey hive; I don't because I am allergic to bee stings [and an Epi-pen packs quite a punch]! I agree that Wib Magli has a great hub on the Honey Business--I wish I had written it!

Glad the chicken coop specs were on point, and I wish you and the kids all of the fun and bonding you can wrap your arms around!


Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on April 11, 2012:

Thanks, K9 for all of the information! Those are great tips to look for when buying a chicken, and I'll make sure that we do that. I think we are buying an assembled coop, and your coop specs per chicken are the same as what was recommended. The kids are really excited, and I'm getting bees this weekend, too (thanks to Wib Magli and his outstanding Hubs!) We are going to have our own little urban farm on the street! Eggs and honey! Yumm! ;)

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 11, 2012:

Robin~ How much fun are the neighborhood kids going to have raising hens!? LOTS! I highly recommend Orphington Buffs as a very social, friendly, and productive breed. They are not the most ornate birds, but if handled (manned) from very early on they can be like (slightly nervous) feathery little dogs. Make certain to buy 'sexed' chickens, so you don't end up with a noising rooster (unless you are ready to have fertilized eggs which can be a little shocking when cracked open). Make sure the birds have been vaccinated as well. Check that they don't show any signs of leg disorders like limping, twisted, or very thick ankles--all signs of a not so healthy chick.

The Buffs get to be around 5-7 pounds, and should lay about an egg a day (after 6 months old). Have the children feed them healthy snacks (apples, lettuce, a little rice, oats, grapes) right from their hand straight out of the gate. Right from chickhood.

As for a coupe, you will want no less than 2 square feet inside the hen house, and 4 square feet in the run PER BIRD. Make sure it has a watertight roof, or that there is a spot within the house that the birds can get to that is always dry and warm. Personally, I got a coop kit and put it together myself (well, with help). I think you will find this the cheapest way. But, you can buy a fully assembled coop as well. I would try a local feed supply house. If you have a relationshi with them, they might just special order and assemble one for you at a regular price!

I am excited for your kids! They are going to have a blast! Let me know if I can help further with information!


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 11, 2012:

Hi Doc, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I gotta tell ya, a chicken sneeze is pretty cute. But, if it continues, a little healthy intervention is in order.

Sure nice seeing you here today!


Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on April 11, 2012:

Fantastic Hub and so applicable to us right now as our neighbor is getting a coop this weekend. Four families in our neighborhood are each having one chicken in the coop for the kids to take care of. Do you have any recommendations on the best coops or the laying hens that are good with kids?

Glen Nunes from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on April 07, 2012:

Awesome hub, K9. Very extensive and well-organized. I've never been around chickens, so the idea of them sniffling and sneezing is funny to me. Not so funny, though, to the chicken or its owner, I imagine.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 05, 2012:

Eiddwen~ Thank you so much for your comments! Always nice to see you.


Eiddwen from Wales on April 05, 2012:

So very well presented and informed. I know that this gem will benefit so many chicken owners.

Take care


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 04, 2012:

ChapliSpeaks~ Thanks for sharing our thoughts here! Smart idea on your part, shopping for farm fresh eggs / healthier egg sources. The farmers market is a great choice! That is where backyard eggs can be sold legally (for the most part, and with a particular permission from the town or city). Otherwise it's illegal to sell backyard eggs (you can give them away, just can't sell them). The "egg board" has many safety requirements for the eggs we see for sale in stores, so they don't like it when those rich healthy fresh eggs make it into the mainstream without all of the precautions in place. They have such rules to protect us against poorly managed / diseased mass production farms that neglect health and safety of their flocks. You know, those you do it simply for a buck and don't really care about the animals.

I sure appreciate you making it by today!


Sarah Johnson from Charleston, South Carolina on April 04, 2012:

I have learned so much from reading this hub about chickens! Raising chickens sounds like hard work, but with such an awesome pay-off. Not quite ready get chickens myself, but I definitely will be looking for healthier eggs at a farmers market now instead of the grocery store! Excellent Hub. Voted up and sharing.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 03, 2012:

Ruchira~ Outstanding point. The health of our livestock and food supply is directly related to our health and well-being. Having even a smidgen of control in this area makes me a happy free-range egg-eating gal!

Thank you for sharing your remarks today, honored you made it by.


Ruchira from United States on April 03, 2012:

I agree India...any health concerns of chicken will get into us if they are not nurtured properly. Their products are consumed on a daily basis by man and we ought to take care of them.

thanks for the awareness and a thorough hub.

voted up as useful

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 03, 2012:

PAM!! I am so happy to see you today, I hope you are doing very well. (I Love your new profile picture.)Thank you for leaving your comments here, I really appreciate the support. I am having a blast with my little backyard flock, I wouldn't change a thing...well, maybe the morning time chicken noise they produce. It can get a little loud when they want something!

HubHugs Pam~

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 03, 2012:

Interesting hub about chickens. My grandparents had them when I was young. I wish I could have them now. Great information in your hub.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 03, 2012:

cara! Nice to see you today my friend! What a fantastic memory to have; farm fresh eggs for breakfast, and farm fresh chicken for dinner! I started raising hens for eggs as a direct defense against the mass produced egg. I read somewhere that a store bought egg actually has MORE bad cholesterol than a farm fresh free-range egg. There is some controversy surrounding this thought though. For me, the fun of having the birds and enjoying the harvest far outweighs any other reason!

Thank you for making it by today!


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 03, 2012:

Agnes~ I am so glad you found the chart helpful! Thanks for asking a really good question! I hope the sneezing in your birds goes away soon. Monitoring the progress is the most important thing.

As for the side to side head movement in your rooster, this could be because he is feeling romantic. This is how some roosters "dance" in an attempt to attract a female for mating. It can also be a sign of assertiveness, compare it to a "guard dog" who paces a fence line. The tilt and sway of the head with one eye fully facing forward is meant to mesmerize a mate or competitor; I always think of the term "cock-eyed" when watching this exchange.

I hope this helps you and your flock!


cardelean from Michigan on April 03, 2012:

My inlaws have a farm and used to have chickens. When my husbands grandparents lived there, they would have fresh chicken for dinner on Sundays as well as collect the eggs for eating. The yolks used to freak me out but now that I know so much more about some of the yucky things that are done to our food, I wish I still had that available to me!

Maria del Pilar Perez from Nicholson, Pennsylvania, USA on April 03, 2012:

Thank you for this chart it came at such an opportune time. I'll be trying vinegar and garlic for my roosters' sneezing. Have any idea why they'd move their heads side to side? I've one rooster that has done this for some weeks. He's the "guard dog" and my fav so I hope it's not serious. Again, great hub! Note: my chickens fly up to 8 feet high.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 02, 2012:

Teresa, I couldn't agree with you more! I love my farm fresh eggs, and so do my neighbors! I haven't mustered the nerve to eat any of own chickens, as they all have names. ;)

Thank you so much for sharing your comments and for the nice remarks on the hub. I really appreciate it!


Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on April 02, 2012:

Great hub on chicken raising and associated health problems. It is so satisfying to cook your own eggs with deep orange yolks. Raising your own chickens for meat is also satisfying. Its hard to go back to store bought after you've raised your own!