5 Common Chicken Diseases and Symptoms

Chicken Keepers May View Chicken Sickness Differently


Not many vets specialize in chicken diseases and symptoms. Finding a good source of information, like Backyard Poultry magazine, is important. We keep chickens from the sustenance farmers standpoint. This means we do all we can to ensure the health and well-being of our animals, but when it comes to infectious diseases, we usually cull to prevent infection of other birds. This is a harsh reality of poultry farming.

This isn’t to say we don’t take measures to help them. We provide our animals with the healthiest diet possible. Our poultry flocks are free ranging, receive non-GMO feed as a supplement to free ranging, herbs, and all the garden produce we can spare. They receive apple cider vinegar water at the first sign of any sick chicken symptoms. We isolate any questionable bird from the flock and keep watch. They are our source of food and we treat them with respect and dignity. We practice the principles taught by my grandparents.

These are five of the more common backyard chicken diseases and symptoms. Of these, I’ve only seen Coryza in my flock and that was once almost 10 years ago. I’m sure many of you have had to deal with one or more of these at some point in your chicken keeping.

If you provide your poultry flocks with all they need to live healthy lives, you’ll seldom have any problem. The main thing to do for them, I believe is to keep their immune systems healthy. We do this in a couple of ways.

We provide garlic and apple cider vinegar water. We mix one clove of finely minced garlic along with 1 tablespoon raw, organic apple cider vinegar in one gallon of water. We do this a couple of times a month, at season changes (for a week), when the flock experiences any type of stress, like when predators attack (for a few days), and at any sign of illness in the flock (for a week). We also mix garlic powder in their feed a few times a month. I just sprinkle the top of the food bucket so it has a good layer and mix it. The proper ratio is to be 2 percent.


Infectious Bronchitis

Infectious Bronchitis is a common chicken sickness in backyard flocks. Its severity ranges from mild to severe. Most flocks are exposed to it from wildlife and develop a certain resistance to it. The best way to prevent disease in any livestock is to keep their immune system as healthy as possible.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Marked decrease in eating and drinking
Discharge from the nostrils and eyes
Gasping, coughing, and raspy breath sounds
Decreased egg laying – the egg itself may be misshaped, soft-shelled and watery inside
If the kidneys are affected, you’ll see increased drinking, sluggishness and scours

You can vaccinate against this disease, but it doesn’t prevent the infection. Studies show it may increase the recovery rate. Antibiotic treatment can be given. You may want to use a heat lamp on the affected birds to keep them warm.

Avian Influenza

Last year, 2015, saw record numbers of birds killed by this disease. While most of them were on large poultry farms, more backyard chicken keepers were affected than ever before. Any bird can carry it and transmit it across species. It came to our area via wild birds, or so we were told by the authorities. Our flock was unaffected, thankfully. We’re told it can be carried from farm to farm via our shoes, and by way of insects and rodents. It’s important you are able to recognize Avian Influenza symptoms. This dread of the poultry world is transmitted by mucous and feces from the infectious source.

The symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Sudden death with no signs of prior sickness
The wattles, legs, and combs may have a purple color
Misshaped or soft-shelled eggs and decreased or stop laying
Decreased eating and drinking
Runny stools
Coughing, discharge from the eyes and nose, maybe sneezing
You may notice your bird walking drunk or unable to stand well

It’s considered a flu. Antibiotics do not help viruses in humans or birds. Again, proper nutrition and keeping your flock healthy at all times will help avoid most chicken diseases and symptoms. The USDA and other government agencies forced mass culling of many flocks to “prevent the spreading.” Some backyard poultry keepers reported their flocks were seized and killed without any symptoms being present and no loss of life.

Infectious Sinusitis

This is also known as Mycoplasmosis (Mycoplasma Gallisepticu). I prefer the common name, Infectious Sinusitis. This one affects the entire range of homestead poultry. The symptoms are the same across the board.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Foamy discharge from the nose and maybe the eyes
Clear, watery drainage from the eyes
Coughing and raspy breathing
Swollen eyes and sinuses

There are antibiotics available which are reported be successful in treatment. Remember, preventative measures will keep most all chicken diseases and symptoms from your poultry flocks.

Fowl Pox

Fowl Pox is another common chicken sickness in backyard flocks. This disease has fewer fatalities. It often passes through a flock unnoticed to the novice chicken keeper.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

White blister-like lesions appearing more noticeably on the combs and wattles
In extreme cases, they’re found on the legs and body

Like chicken pox in a human, they develop scabs which will heal and fall off in about three weeks. On the rare occasion, the pox can also be in the chicken’s mouth and throat which may cause breathing problems. This is the usual cause of death from this disease. Funny to note, like us, they may have scarring.

Many poultry breeders prefer to vaccinate to help possibly decrease the risk of fowl pox. I’ve read areas which have a high mosquito population are at a greater risk. Again, a healthy immune system can help your flock ward off disease.

Infectious Coryza

Commonly called Cold or Croup. This one ripped through our chicken flock almost 10 years ago and it was devastating. I had no experience with it. This was before we started focusing on natural health and preventative treatment for our livestock. When we began discovering GMOs and their effects on humans and animals, we began changing the whole way of life on our homestead. Unfortunately, we weren’t in time to prevent this disease from affecting our flock.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Facial puffiness
Discharge from eyes and nose
Sneezing and coughing
Difficult, labored breathing
Stops eating and drinking
Wattles and cones become light and may have a bluish color
Stops egg laying
Wheezing, raspy breathing

There are antibiotics which offer hope for the sick, but not a guaranteed cure. So, again, I say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Since we changed our way of eating on the homestead, we’ve not had another incident, except with the coccidiosis in our heritage breed Chocolate turkeys a couple of years ago. That’s another terrifying experience which I learned great lessons from!


I know having a sick animal can make you feel helpless. They can’t tell us where it hurts! I feel it’s important to remind you to always use your own judgment when taking advice from anyone, including myself. We don’t have the advantage of knowing your flock or being able to see and handle your birds to help you know what’s really going on. Many of the common chicken diseases and symptoms are very similar in description.

You may be one of the few people who have a vet who actually treats chickens. If in doubt, check with him or her. I would always try natural and holistic remedies first, but that is my choice, you must make your own.

Any information given in this post is just that, information. I am not attempting to diagnose or treat your animals. Your homestead and the health of all who dwell therein is your responsibility. Humans and animals alike benefit from a healthy, strong immune system so I share with you what we do for ourselves and that of the livestock entrusted to us for care.

Remember to NEVER eat a sick animal. Many of their illnesses can be transmitted to humans by feces, respiration, and ingestion. If we have a chicken die, we burn it. We never leave it to spread to the rest of the flock or to the flock of anyone else.

What experience do you have with any of these chicken diseases and symptoms? Let us know below.

Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack


  • BTW, ducks also carry Avian Flu but never have symptoms. Be careful.

  • One of my chickens died suddenly. She did not eat as much for a week, but still pecked. I found her on her side still breathing but her head flopped when I picked her up. She died a few hours later. She was 3 years old. Can you tell me what killed her?

  • When I have a chicken start showing symptoms of gasping and/or dark comb and wattles and sneezing I treat their water with 10 to 20 drops of ION. I have also saved chickens with severe colds and gasping by putting a drop or two of Ion into their beaks and spraying colloidal silver into their beaks a couple of times a day. It seems like we get this happen every winter. We live in northern Utah and have very hard, snowy winters here.

    Very happy to know about the vinegar treatment.

  • I been around chickens my whole life. I cant figure about what to do for one of my hens. She seems like a fat hen. (never had a fat hen before). Shes slow to get around. Sits a lot. Her poo is a bit foamy looking. Any help is appreciated.

  • You information was very helpful to me! My chickens seem very healthy but occasionally they will gaggle for lack of a better term! Like they might be trying to clear their throat! I feed excellent feed berries fresh garden produce and no stool change! My favorite rooster has only watery discharge from his nose once weekly! Will try garlic and apple cider vinegar in their water! Just lost one of their flock mates to huge chicken hawk! Thank you for your advise! Do you disinfect with bleach solution?

  • My hen found nesting on floor, when I picked her up noticed bad odor from bottom, wet & dirty, when lean her to side fluid poured from beak & nostrils, performed this motion a couple of times with fluid pouring out of her, the fluid tinged with brown & has a foul odor.

  • Thanks so far for what i have read,but i just hope and wish something can be sent to my email .i really want to start a backyard poultry.really need help.or if i can be connected to anyone who can help me.my small town here doesn’t have a library or a book Store. Thank’s ones more in advance.

  • I have problems in my farm currently laying drop drastically to about ten percent. I have no much knowledge on what to do but I think now I have some knowledge to apply and see

  • I’ve had free range chickens for over ten years and have never had any illness of any kind in my chickens. Guess I’ve been blessed.

  • one of my chickens eyes looks like the pupil is leaking into the pupil and i cant find any information about what might be wrong, can you help?

  • Our chickens have there feathers coming off, and you can see the skin. We don’t know what caused it. They roam during the day, but at night we put them up . Does or anyone tell me what we can do.

  • Thank you for your information is very helpful. It will help me to improve and change the way I managed my flock.

  • We have silkies that I consider pets we take excellent care of them they get the best of everything, he built then the taj mahal of coops “The Silkie Shack” but In three years we have had two experiences that start with one leg not working right I immediately isolate the bird start with rooster booster asked B 12 then dyrumicin then I have to start hand feeding them and dropper meds, each time I’ve lost two birds one will for quickly the other just waste away no matter what I try, also I keep cider vinegar in their waterers just for the immune system, I’ve read and read can’t find anything that fits the symptoms, we also on separate pastry of property have many many pigeons that never are near my chickens but never had issues like this on the pigeons any help would be appreciated so much as I love my birds so much and losing one tears me into, thank you

    • I have also lost a few birds whose syptoms started with a bad leg. Bird seemed fine otherwise eating and drinking and over a about two weeks lost weight and died within 2 weeks of first noticing A limp. Second bird had symptoms two weeks after the first died. They were 4 month old brothers from a hatch of 4. It’s been about two weeks since the second died so I’m worried we may see this again. Did you determine what your birds had contracted.i have not been able to find similar syptoms online til I read your post

  • I have 1 hen that is sitting a lot. I have her isolated. She is not eating or drinking very much. She does not have any discharge from her eyes nose or mouth. Not wheezing or coughing. Has not pooped in 2 days, prob from lack of eating. Her last poop looked fairly normal. To inspire her to eat her grapes, peanuts. She ate them but she’s not eating her feed or corn I don’t know what to do. The last time I took her out of her crate she couldn’t stand up. Probably from weakness. I don’t see anything wrong with her.
    Very confused!

    • Another hen is doing the same…Have her isolated also. Is this a winter thing. Do they physically slow down in the winter?

  • Luanne C.

    I have a chicken who won’t walk. She has been staying in the coop and will not eat or drink. I examined her and can’t see anything visibly wrong with her. I can’t figure out what’s wrong with her.

  • Thanks, your information was very usefull to me, because I am dealing with the community within the constituency. I ‘m normal advised farmers how to feed chicken in their back yard within their homestead.

  • I dont know what has happened to one of my cock. All of a sudden he is running here and there. Like a mad dog. Shaking and running with full speed.

  • Have a Silkie chicken who has a growth that started on her foot 5 days ago. Now I see the other foot might be starting, /she is free range with 4 other chickens and two roosters


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