Here is How to Treat a Sick Chicken Step by Step

Disease can invade your runs very quickly and cause pain and suffering for your chickens, and devastation for you and your family over the suffering and death of your chickens.

flock of New Hampshire chickens
flock of New Hampshire chickens

If you practice good hygiene in your coops and runs, vaccinate chicks, and you monitor nutrition to ensure that your chickens are given all the nutrients they need to stay healthy, you will not have to treat your chickens too often for diseases as the chicken’s immune systems will be strong enough to fight off any minor illnesses.

If and when your chickens do get sick, you will need to know how to treat them effectively and quickly to ensure that the illness is cured and that your other chickens are protected from germs, viruses, parasites, and bacteria.

This article will serve to help you identify the major chicken diseases quickly and how to treat them effectively to ensure the good health of your chickens.

Four Disease Types

Diseases in chickens can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Behavioral
  2. Metabolic / Nutritional
  3. Parasitic
  4. Infectious

That is what science will tell you, there are four categories. There are however diseases that fall within the category of Infectious Diseases that are so horrific that not even a subtitle to Infectious Diseases would suffice. These diseases are highly contagious and always deadly.

For the purpose of this article, I have created a fifth category to cover the deadliest of these because as a homesteader you will need to know how to identify and treat your chickens properly.

These are dread diseases that can affect birds all around your neighboring homesteads for miles.

  1. Infectious Dread Diseases

Basic, Cheap, and Natural Remedies to Prevent Your Chickens from Getting Ill

I always raise my voice to preach prevention as being better than a cure. When it comes to all livestock the best way to keep your animals healthy is to practice good hygiene, control access to your animals – enforce strict footbath protocol – and use any natural remedies that will help keep anything that comes into contact with your animal’s infection free.

Be vigilant in cleaning all surfaces and regularly change bedding, keep feed hygienically stored, manage pests – they can carry diseases – and spend an extra five minutes with your chickens when you feed them or go hunting for eggs.

Changes in their behavior that could be indicative of disease can only be spotted if you have a reference point, i.e., my chickens were happy and peaceful every day for the past month and now they are coughing, plucking, and have difficulty walking.

If you were not paying close attention, you would not recognize the danger until it is too late.

There are several natural remedies to treat diseases in chickens that are also great preventative measures.

  • Use garlic and apple cider vinegar to boost your chickens’ immune systems
  • Use apple cider vinegar in moderation to boost vitamins leading to wellness support
  • Use natural antibiotics like oregano added to the chicken’s diet
  • Use a well-diluted solution of aspirin as an anti-inflammatory or to treat pain
  • Use a molasses solution to address diarrhea and flush infection
  • Use a sucrose solution to give your chickens a boost, and supply glucose, carbs, and calories
  • Use cider or white vinegar to clean your chicken’s coop, runs, and water and feed bowls to kill off as many bugs as possible
  • Use sugar or honey to revive sick birds
  • Use electrolytes to replenish minerals and nutrients, to boost immunity, to support the kidneys, and to improve the chicken’s respiratory function
  • Always provide plenty of fresh water
  • Always provide fresh feed
  • Always provide a cool, shaded area where the chickens can go to get away from the weather
  • Give the chickens good dust baths
  • Use footbaths

One preventative measure you should be doing that will give your chickens the best chance of evading diseases and give them a fighting chance if they do fall ill, is vaccination.

Speak to your local vet for advice about what diseases are prominent in your area, what vaccines are available, and what other advice they can share with you to help you to prevent disaster.

Quick Reference Table Guide

Behavioral Diseases
Pecking each other’s eyes out
Eliminate or manage environmental stress
Manage overcrowding
Improve nutrition
Improve access to clean food and water to eliminate competitive behavior
Treat with tryptophan
Reduce daylight inside the coop
Add new chickens to balance out behavior
Remove the instigator together with a few members into a new run
Feather PluckingPlucking of feathersImprove nutrition
Reduce stress
Remove a few chickens to a new run
Add fans to keep the temperature down
Ensure runs and coops are well ventilated
Provide dust baths
BumblefootCuts or grazes to feet
Loss of appetite
Weight loss
Decreased egg production
Elevated mortality rate
Difficulty walking or standing
Clean the wounds removing scales, scabs, and pus
Thoroughly dry the feet once they have been cleaned
Treat daily with Vetiricyn
Dress the wound
Repeat the process daily
If all else fails, treat with Erthrymycin or penicillin
Metabolic / Nutritional Diseases
RicketsInability to stand or walkProvide vitamin D3, calcium, and phosphorous
Caged Layer FatigueStumbling
Laying on their sides
Ensure a healthy diet rich in calcium
Provide lots of space to move about
Fatty Liver SyndromeIncrease production of eggs
Too much activity
Mild to heavy hemorrhaging
High mortality rate
Increased weight gain
Use low-energy feed rather than high-energy feed
Instead of giving them corn, give them wheat or alfalfa
Use byproduct feed
Sour CropA full crop 12 hours after feedingBloatingWithhold food and water for 24 hours to allow the crop to empty completely
Have your vet flush the crop
Use good antifungal medication
Gently massage the crop periodically
Syringe apple cider vinegar and water into their beak
Internal Parasitic Diseases
Parasitic Diseases caused by cestodes, coccidia, nematodes, and moreReduced appetites
Weight loss
Slow growth
Pale comb
Reduced egg production
Use a good anthelmintic like tetramisole or levamisole to kill intestinal worms
Add apple cider vinegar to their drinking water
Add Safeguard Aquasol to their drinking water
Use Kilverm Poultry Wormer
External Parasites
Parasites like lice and mites or red mitesAnemia
Loss of feathers
Inflamed skin
Thoroughly clean the coops, runs, and bedding
Replace sand in dust baths
Disinfect all the cavities and areas your chickens like to hangout in
Use trichlorfon or malathion spray or powder
Use insecticides that are safe to consume
Provide a dust bath and keep the dust clean
Use topical medication on the chicken’s skin
CoccidiosisWatery or bloody diarrhea
Decreased growth rate
Pale comb and wattles
Droopy appearance
Thoroughly clean accommodations
Add Amprolium to their drinking water
Scaly LegObvious scales on their legs and feet
Thick, crusty feet and legs
Scabs or raised scales on their feet and legsInflation of their feet and legs
Soak the feet in warm water
Exfoliate while thoroughly drying with a towel
Dip feet and legs in linseed, olive, vegetable, or mineral oil and leave for 15 minutes
Wipe the oil off
Cover with petroleum jelly
Bandage the affected leg
Repeat daily until the leg is healed
Infectious Diseases
Decreased appetite
Weight loss
Vaccinate your chickens
Use a footbath at the entrance to coops and runs to limit the spread of the disease
Use bio-secure clothing when working with your chickens
Keep coops, runs, water, and feed bowls clean
Use appropriate antibiotics
Fowl PoxSmall nodules on the skin
Dry scabs
Decreased egg production
Weight loss
Practice good hygiene
Provide antibiotics
Use iodine to speed up recovery
Vaccinate your chickens
Loss of appetite
Keep their eyes closed
Droopy wings
Limited growth
Call in your vet for diagnosis and a treatment plan
Good hygiene practices
Use antibacterial medication
Use veterinarian-prescribed antibiotics
Fowl CholeraUncoordinated movement
Rapid breathing
Sudden death
Treat with appropriate antibiotics
Take biosecurity measures
Use a foot bath to contain the disease
Thoroughly sanitize runs, coops, nests, and food and water dispensers
Control rodent populations
Vaccinate your chickens
Infectious LaryngotracheitisHigh mortality rate
Nasal discharge
Eye discharge
Failure to thrive
Decrease in egg productions
Decreased growth rate
Treat with erythromycin or oxytetracycline
Use a good biosecurity plan
Store food hygienically
Keep fresh clean feed and water supplies
AspergillosesDifficulty breathing
Silent gasping
Accelerated respiratory rate
There is no cure but giving supportive care will give your birds a fighting chance:
Contact your vet for good, effective medication
Ensure good hygiene
Thoroughly clean the environmental areas, food, and water bowls, and dust baths
Once you have disinfected the living quarters, allow time to properly dry before adding fresh bedding
Provide clean food and water daily
CoryzaNasal discharge
Facial swelling
Rapid weight loss
Lack of interest in food and water
Stunted growth
Reduced egg production
Contact your vet
Treat with Erythromycin
Treat with Oxytetracycline
Treat with new-generation antimicrobials
Use good sulfonamides in combination with other medicine
Mycoplasma SynoviaeCoughing
A runny nose
Unusual breathing sounds
Puffy eyelids
Difficulty standing or walking
A pale comb
Medicate the chickens with doxycycline, tylvalosin, tylosin, oxytetracycline, or pleuromutilins
Clean coops, and feed and water dispensers with a low concentration of chlorine
Vaccinate your chickens
If your bird’s health does not improve culling is the only way to get rid of the disease
Infectious Dread Diseases
Avian FluProblems with coordination
Appetite loss
Nasal discharge
Reduced egg production
Quarantine or cull sick birds immediately
Clean and disinfect coops, runs, water and food bowls with Avian Flu specific disinfectants
Give fresh hay for nests
Clean sand in their dust baths
Add vitamins to their feed that will boost their immune systems
Infectious BronchitisCoughing
Weight loss
Breathing noises
Shortness of breath
Tracheal rales
Ruffled feathers
Isolate sick birds to prevent the spread of the virus
Raise the room temperature to 5 degrees Fahrenheit for brooding chicks
Properly ventilate the runs and coops
Give sick birds antibiotics like Doxycycline or Tylosin
Gumboro (Infectious Bursal) DiseaseDepression
Ruffled feathers
Vaccinate in the first week of life
Provide multivitamin supplements
Provide antibiotics if recommended by your vet
Provide plenty of access to clean feed and water
Tighten up your biosecurity measures
Clean coops and runs thoroughly
Disinfect nests, feed, and water containers
Control pests, parasites, and insect populations around your chickensCull if necessary
Mareks DiseaseLameness
Skin forms enlarged feather follicles
White bumps form on the skin and turn into brown scabs
The eyes turn grey
The iris becomes misshapen
Tumors occur on the nerves and organs
There is no cure
Cull all your birds
Clean up thoroughly with a strong disinfectant
Allow time for everything to dry
Disinfect everything at least 3 times as mentioned above before introducing new chickens
Poor growth
Loss of appetite
Paralysis of the limbs and neck
There is no absolute cure, but some chickens are able to bounce back if sufficient care is given:
Call your vet for appropriate medications in your area
Use biosafety clothing when working with sick chickensIsolate chickens you suspect are infected
Sterilize your runs, coops, nests, water, and feeders thoroughly
Give potassium permanganate diluted in water
Virulent Newcastle DiseaseSudden death
Loss of appetite
Watery eyes
Report your infection to local authorities
Cull all your chickens
Cremate all carcasses
Bury the ashes in a deep pit

1. Behavioral Diseases

Often behavioral diseases can be overcome by simply changing the environment, changing the social structure of the group by removing or adding to the flock, or providing stimulating activities like introducing rock gardens, or buying worms and spreading them across the run.

If any worms do evade the chickens, they will breed prolifically providing your chickens with an ongoing treat.

Dealing with Aggressive Chickens


Aggression is caused by stress, competing for food, and overcrowding. It is identified by chickens pecking at each other, fighting, and pecking out other chickens’ eyes, and if not addressed appropriately, it can also result in cannibalism.

Aggression is noted as a disease that it’s caused by poor nutrition, stress, and overcrowding.

I know I can be a bit stressed if there are too many people around me, and if I have not had a good meal. Chickens are no different to us on this one.

Treating aggression in chickens is very easy to do:

  • Reduce the number of chickens in your coop
  • Add tryptophan to the chicken’s food
  • Trim beak’s – many people don’t want to practice beak trimming is it treats only the symptoms and is seen as somewhat cruel
  • Reduce the amount of daylight within the coop
  • Add a new member or two to the family
  • If all else fails remove the instigator and a few other chickens and put them in a separate coop
Stop Feather Pecking & Bullying

Feather Plucking

Feather plucking is also caused by poor nutrition, stress, and overcrowding. Overcrowding can result in the environmental temperature rising to an uncomfortable level which can affect the chicken’s ability to cool off.

Treating feather plucking is very easy:

  • Reduce the number of chickens in your coop
  • Ensure good ventilation in the coop
  • Reduce the temperature in the coop by adding fans
  • Provide dust baths for the chickens
BUMBLEFOOT in CHICKENS - Easy Removal Using PRID Drawing Salve


Bumblefoot is caused by the common staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, or pseudomonas infection.

It is caused by an injury to the foot. The injury does not have to be major; in fact, not many people even notice that there is an injury.

Any cut, bruise, puncture, scratch, or graze can make your chicken susceptible to bumblefoot. Bumblefoot is not contagious.

Symptoms include loss of appetite, dehydration, severe diarrhea, a decrease in egg production, and a high mortality rate.

Some chickens can fight the infection with support from you, but most will die.

Treatment for Bumblefoot starts with you! Be vigilant in checking chickens as a daily habit when feeding your chickens, any chickens that are having trouble walking or have any of the symptoms listed above.

If you have chickens with Bumblefoot, you can treat the bird by:

  • Carefully clean the foot removing any scabs and doing the Doctor Pimple Popper to squeeze any pus out
  • Soak the foot in a solution of Epsom salt and warm water
  • Dry the wound well
  • Treat the wound daily with Vetiricyn until the wound is healed
  • Dress the wound carefully
  • Repeat the process until the wound is healed

If the infection is acute, do all the steps above but also treat with:

  • Erthrmycin or penicillin antibiotics

2. Metabolic / Nutritional Diseases


Rickets is caused by an imbalance or deficiency of vitamin D3, calcium, or phosphorous. A healthy balanced meal is vital to keep your chickens healthy.

Your chicken’s bones will be compromised by rickets causing soft bones that limit the chicken’s ability to stand and walk.

To properly treat rickets:

  • Supply an adequate amount of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin B3

Caged Layer Fatigue

If your chickens have cage layer fatigue you will see bones that break easily, stumbling, and you will see them laying on their sides.

To treat caged layer fatigue, you must:

  • Ensure a healthy diet rich in calcium
  • Provide them with lots of space to run and play

Fatty Liver Syndrome

The fatty liver syndrome is prevalent in hens when they are very productive.

While no one knows the real cause for fatty liver syndrome, it is an extremely dangerous disease for chickens. There are several factors that may lead to fatty liver syndrome including:

  • Increase in egg production
  • Toxins
  • Energy diets than are excessively consumed
  • Endocrine imbalances
  • Poor genetics
  • Nutrient deficiencies

Sadly, it is often too late to treat as the biggest ‘symptom’ is an increase in mortality and mild to heavy hemorrhaging. It can only be diagnosed definitively by necropsy.

There are no magic cures, unfortunately, but there are several things you can do to prevent the disease from decimating your flock.

Monitor the weight of your chickens; if their weight increases suddenly, they may have fatty liver syndrome.

To treat fatty liver syndrome, you should:

  • Modify your chicken’s diet
  • Replace corn with wheat or barley
  • Use by-product feeds like fish meal, alfalfa meal, dried distillers’ grains, and solubles
  • Limit high-energy feed
  • Feed low-energy diets
  • Manage your chicken’s food closely and adjust it immediately if your hens are gaining too much weight

Sour Crop

Observing your chickens daily will help identify sour crop. That way, you will easily identify, symptoms.

Chickens eat during the day, but they do not digest their food immediately. They store food in their crops to digest during the night. In the morning you will see if the crops are still full of undigested food.

If you see the crop looking bloated or full in the morning, feel it to feel for food. When in doubt, take the chicken to your vet.

Because it is a digestive disease, you should deprive the chicken of food and water for 24 hours before doing any of the steps listed below.

To treat sour crop, you need to:

  • Consult your vet to flush it safely
  • Use a good anti-fungal medication prescribed by your vet
  • Gently massage the crop periodically to try to empty it
  • Do not feed them or give them water for 24 hours
  • When the crop is empty, mix up some apple cider vinegar with water and syringe it into the beak

Provide a small amount of food and water for the next 3 to 5 days. It normally takes 3 days to cure.

3. Parasitic Diseases

Chicken parasitical diseases can occur internally or externally.

Internal Parasites

Internal parasites such as cestodes, coccidia, and nematodes present as reduced appetite, slow growth, weight loss, droopiness, diarrhea, pale comb, and reduced egg production.

If one chicken has internal parasites, the rest of the flock probably also has parasites. It is therefore advisable that you treat the whole flock.

Internal parasite infestations can be treated by:

  • Use a good anthelmintic liked tetramisole or levamisole to kill intestinal worms
  • Mix medication in the feed or drinking water
  • Add a little apple cider vinegar to their drinking water
  • Safeguard Aquasol (the active ingredient is Fenbendazole) can be added to their drinking water
  • Kilverm Poultry Wormer is very effective for laying hens

External Parasites

External parasites that affect chickens are mites and lice. Mites – especially red mites – dine on the blood causing anemia which, when left untreated, can lead to death.

Lice feed on dander and feathers leaving the chickens feeling very uncomfortable with loss of feathers and inflamed skin.

When it comes to external parasites, prevention is the best way to ensure your chickens stay healthy and comfortable.

Keep your coops clean and check for mites and lice often and provide dust baths for your chickens all the time; replace the dust regularly to ensure no infections or parasites can be transmitted.

If you are too late, and an infestation does set in, there are a few things you can do to treat your chickens.

To control external parasites:

  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect your coop, nests, and all cavities in the coop
  • Treat the chickens with a powder or spray containing trichlorfon or malathion
  • The most common insecticides are a pyrethrin or an organophosphate
  • Provide a sizable sand bath to allow the chickens to clean their feathers daily
  • Use parasite-specific topical or antiparasitic medication


Coccidiosis is caused by protozoan parasites. Infected birds will have severe bloody or watery diarrhea, decreased growth rate, loss of appetite, pale combs and wattles, droopy posture, droopy wings, ruffled feathers, and lethargy.

Treatment for coccidiosis entails:

  • Good hygiene practices
  • Use of Amprolium either in the water supply or orally administered to prevent the uptake and growth of the population of the parasite

Scaly Leg

Scaly leg is caused by Knemidocoptes Mutans mites.

Scaly legs are very easy to see. You will see:

  • Obvious scales
  • Thick, crusty feet and legs
  • Inflammation of the feet and legs
  • Scabs or raised scales on the legs and feet
  • Raised scales

To treat scaly legs, you need to:

  • Soak the feet in warm water, you can put them in a footbath that they cannot get out of and is deep enough to cover the whole leg
  • Use a towel to exfoliate or rub off loose scales while drying the feet
  • Suffocate the mites by dipping the feet in linseed oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, or mineral oil and leave the oil on for at least 15 minutes
  • Wipe the oil off and then thoroughly cover the affected area, I did the whole foot, to make sure no mites remain, with petroleum jelly, do this until the leg is healed

Scaly legs that are properly treated are normally healed in 3 weeks.

4. Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases are often harder to manage than behavioral, metabolic, nutritional, and parasitic diseases. They are often diagnosed by necropsy when it is too late to save all the other chickens in your coop.

A close daily observation of your chicken’s behavior, appearance, and mood will allow you to quickly address diseases in time to prevent tragedy.

Infected flocks can show signs of lack of appetite, weight, ruffled feathers, droopiness, and diarrhea.

Infectious diseases require treatment with antibiotics and or antiretrovirals with vitamin supplements to assist the chicken’s immune system.

Treatment for the different diseases is generally identical but the medication used to treat the illness is specific to the disease.


Campylobacteriosis affects the intestinal tract and can be detected in the intestines and feces. It can be present for 12 or more weeks.

Symptoms include diarrhea, decreased appetite, and weight loss.

Campylobacteriosis can be treated by:

  • Limit access to coops and runs by outsiders
  • Use a footbath at the entrance to coops and runs
  • Vaccinate your chickens
  • Use bio-secure clothing when working with your chickens
  • Keep coops, runs, water, and feed bowls clean – disinfect regularly
  • Use antibiotics like azithromycin or erythromycin for three days; chickens can become immune to fluoroquinolones or macrolides

Fowl Pox

Fowl pox can be seen by the small nodules appearing on the skin. These nodules gradually dry up, forming scabs that fall off in three to four weeks. Infected chickens will produce fewer eggs and will lose weight.

Fowl pox spread slowly. There is no treatment or cure. The birds normally recover in 4 to six weeks on their own.

You can help the chickens fight the infection by:

  • Practicing good hygiene
  • Vaccinating your chickens
  • Provide antibiotics in their drinking water
  • Treat with iodine or safe antiseptic to speed up the drying and prevent secondary infections


Chickens infected with salmonella will be weak, lose their appetites, huddle close to a heat source, keep their eyes closed, have droopy wings, have diarrhea, and not grow normally.

Treatment includes:

  • Good hygiene practices
  • Use of antibacterial medication provided by a vet who has examined the ill birds; the two most effective antibiotics are bacitracin and virginiamycin

It is important to note that salmonella can be transferred from chickens to people. Making sure your birds are healthy, washing your hands, wearing coveralls when you work with your chickens, and cooking the meat properly are all very important to prevent contamination to other surfaces and to prevent contracting this disease.

Also, remember to wash eggs properly and wash your hands after cleaning the eggs to prevent contamination when you crack the egg.

Fowl Cholera

Fowl cholera is a bacterial disease caused by Pasteurella multocida. It is very contagious and can be identified by uncoordinated fluttering, stiffness, convulsions, rapid breathing, and sudden death.

To treat fowl cholera, you will need to:

  • Administer antibiotics prescribed by your vet
  • Implement good biosecurity measures like protective clothing and a foot bath
  • Control rodents
  • Vaccinate your chickens
  • Thoroughly sanitize runs, coops, nests, food, and water dispensers

Infectious Laryngotracheitis

Infectious laryngotracheitis is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. It has a very high mortality rate and can present with nasal discharge, decreased growth rate, decreased egg production, discharge from the eyes, and failure to thrive.

There is no specific cure but there are ways to prevent and control the spread of the disease. There are also ways to treat your chickens to help them fight off the infection.

Treatment and prevention for the infection include:

  • Vaccinate your chickens
  • Treat the birds with erythromycin or oxytetracycline
  • Use an effective biosecurity plan
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Keep coops, runs, and the food and water supply properly clean


Aspergillosis is a fungal infection of the respiratory system. It is a hygiene disease as it is an airborne mold that makes the chickens sick.

It can be found in dust, contaminated litter, feed that is not stored correctly or that has been sitting in your shed for way too long, or in dust and dust baths the chickens may lie down in.

There is no one way to treat aspergillosis in chickens, but there are ways to prevent it and there are remedies that help treat the symptoms of the disease to afford the chicken an opportunity to heal.

Symptoms include dyspnea (difficulty breathing), silent gasping, and an accelerated respiratory rate.

Prevention is always better than a cure. Remember, you are also breathing in spores when you are with your chickens as this disease can be passed to humans – I can attest that this is not a fun disease to deal with as a person.

Try these things to assist your chickens to recover from aspergillosis:

  • Have your vet give you a good oral, intravenous, topical, or aerosolized medication
  • Practice good hygiene for yourself when coming and going into the run or coop
  • Scrub, scrape, clean, and then clean again is the only way to rid your chicken living quarters healthy
  • Make sure you allow time to dry before adding new dust, clean bedding, clean water and food dispensers, and hay, straw, or wood shavings to scratch about in.
  • Provide clean food and water

All this may be in vain as the survival rate is not wonderful because the spores get inhaled deep in the lungs.


Coryza is an infectious airborne disease that is transmitted by direct contact, by dust particles, by respiratory discharge, and contamination of feed and water dispensers.

Coryza can be treated by:

  • First, call your vet, get a proper diagnosis as soon as possible and get a recommendation from him or her that work well where you live
  • Use Erythromycin
  • Use Oxytetracycline
  • New-generation antimicrobials like fluoroquinolones or macrolides can be successful to boost the immune system
  • Use good sulfonamides in combination with other medicine

If treated, the chickens can be cured in 3 to 5 weeks.

Mycoplasma Synoviae

Straddling the fence between Infectious and Infectious Dread Diseases is Mycoplasma Synoviae. In severe infections, culling is the kindest way to treat the birds.

But there are medications and lifestyle changes that can rapidly stop the spread of the disease and treat any sick chickens.

The symptoms of Mycoplasma Synoviae include coughing, a runny nose, unusual breathing sounds, puffy eyelids, difficulty standing or walking, and a pale comb.

To treat Mycoplasma Synoviae:

  • Medicate the chickens with doxycycline, tylvalosin, tylosin, oxytetracycline, or pleuromutilins
  • Use a low concentration of chlorine to clean coops, and feed and water dispensers
  • Vaccinate your chickens
  • If the infection is widespread, culling is the only way to get rid of this disease

5. Infectious Dread Diseases – Highly Contagious and Always Deadly

Avian (Bird) Flu

Avian flu can be detected by problems with coordination, lethargy, appetite loss, diarrhea, swelling, nasal discharge, purple discoloration, coughing, sneezing, reduced egg production, and irregular eggs.

It is one of those very nasty infections that is easily transmitted to humans and therefore must be addressed immediately, and steps must be put in place to prevent the disease and to treat the chickens.

An unclean coop can give the virus all it needs to thrive and be transmitted to old and new birds. Prevention is better than any cure, especially since there are no 100% effective cures available due to the virus’s ability to rapidly mutate.

If you want to roll the dice and try to treat your chickens, there are a few things you could try; however, if you go down this avenue quarantine is essential not only for your own flock, but it is critical to the survival of all birds in your area.

This is a highly communicable and lethal disease with a very painful death for the infected chickens.

It is recommended that you cull your birds immediately. This is normally done by using carbon dioxide or applying a foam similar to that used to suppress a fire. These methods best contain the virus to reduce the risk of it becoming airborne.

Proper disposal of the bodies is also important as other birds can carry the disease to other properties.

It is best to dig a good size pit, dump the carcasses in the pit and burn them properly. Once they have been incinerated, fill up the hole again with soil.

Whether you choose to cull or to treat, you should wear protective gear when working with any birds where avian flu occurs. This includes good rubber gloves, aprons, goggles, and masks.

If you choose to treat avian flu-infected flocks, you should:

  • Quarantine or cull sick birds immediately
  • Keep coops clean and disinfected with Avian Flu specific disinfectants
  • Make regular clean-ups that include fresh hay for nests, and clean sand in their dust baths – this should be done every day and you should always use protective gear
  • Add vitamins to their feed that will boost their immune systems
  • The use of antiretrovirals is NOT recommended by the CDC as they lead to mutations that are often more deadly; if you choose to use antiretroviral medication, use oseltamivir or zanamivir

Infectious Bronchitis

While the coronavirus is still on everybody’s mind, most people do not connect it with domestic birds like chickens. The virus began with that one nasty bat, didn’t it?

Well, infectious bronchitis is caused by the coronavirus in chickens. Do not panic, you are not going to die because one of your chickens sneezed while you were safely in your house.

If you are not sure of what the disease looks like in chickens, look for coughing, sneezing, weight loss, tracheal rales, conjunctivitis, ruffled feathers, breathing noises, and shortness of breath.

Treatment for infectious bronchitis:

  • Isolate sick birds to prevent the spread of the virus
  • Raise the room temperature to 5 degrees Fahrenheit for brooding chicks
  • Give good ventilation for the runs and coops
  • Give sick birds antibiotics like Doxycycline or Tylosin
Gumboro Disease, IBD Symptoms in Chicken, POULTRY DISEASES

Gumboro – Infectious Bursal Disease

Gumboro is another dread disease for chickens. Depending on the temperature, environment, feed, vitamins in feed, access to water, and population (or rather, overpopulation) the disease could kill 55 to 100% of your flock.

Gumboro disease symptoms include depression, ruffled feathers, dehydration, and diarrhea.

Culling is advised as the death of the chickens is very painful, and it is a highly contagious disease with no actual cure.

Treatment for gumboro involves a lot of hygiene and TLC:

  • Vaccination in the first week will help chicks fight the infection if they contract it as adults
  • Multivitamin supplements assist your birds’ immune systems
  • Antibiotics for secondary infections may be necessary
  • Provide plenty of access to clean water – add in extra water dispensers where chickens do not need to walk too far to get to water
  • Biosecurity measures using disinfectant foot baths for entering and exiting different runs and coops will help prevent the spread of gumboro
  • Clean coops and runs thoroughly
  • Disinfect nests, feed, and water containers
  • Control pests, parasites, and insect populations around your chickens

If you have had an outbreak of gumboro, you will need to sterilize the run and coop where your infected birds were every day for 2 to 4 months as the virus can survive as long as 4 months. If you roll the dice on this instruction, you can expect more heartbreak.

Marek’s Disease

Marek’s disease is a highly contagious disease in chickens that almost always results in death. However, by the time the infected chicken dies, it will have infected all the other chickens in its run.

Identifying Marek’s disease is fairly easy from an external presentation. Externally, the chicken goes lame (it is paralyzed), the skin forms enlarged feather follicles, white bumps on the skin turn into brown scabs, the eyes turn grey, and the iris becomes misshapen.

Internally, the disease is too horrible to describe. The chickens get painful tumors on the nerves and in all the organs.

Sadly, there is no cure or treatment for Marek’s disease. The disease can take up to 40 weeks to kill the infected chicken.

The kindest solution is the end result of the disease anyway. To spare the chickens’ pain, culling is the best option.

To clean up after Marek’s and prepare for replacement birds you need to:

  • Remove bedding, hay, and straw carefully bagging them inside the coop
  • Soak all surfaces inside the coop, run, and nests using a detergent solution – apply it at low pressure so that you do not send it airborne to hide in nooks and crannies
  • Leave to soak for 20 to 30 minutes
  • Rinse with high-pressure clean water
  • Disinfect all feed and water dispensers
Paralysed chicken CAUSES; It's not always Mareks | Sez the Vet


Botulism is also a disease that can be spread to humans.

Symptoms in your chickens can include weakness, poor growth, loss of appetite, and paralysis of the limbs and neck.

Most chickens infected with botulism will die. The muscles needed to breathe will be paralyzed. There is no foolproof cure for botulism. There are a few things you could try to minimize infection spreading.

You should:

  • Use biosafety clothing when working with sick chickens
  • Sterilize your runs, coops, nests, water, and feeders thoroughly
  • Isolate chickens you suspect are infected
  • Have a vet come take a look at your chickens to definitively diagnose and prescribe a good antibiotic
  • A ratio of one part potassium permanganate to 3000 parts of water can help counteract botulism
NEWCASTLE DISEASE in Chickens (laying Hens), poultry diseases symptoms & Poultry farming

Virulent Newcastle Disease

In my opinion, this is the worst dread disease in chickens. I have first-hand experience with this one.

Most countries, including the USA, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and others have a strict reportability law on Newcastle disease.

This means if you suspect that a chicken in your flock, no matter how big or small, has contracted Newcastle’s, you must immediately have a necropsy done, and if it comes up positive for Newcastle’s you must report the case to your local authorities, whether that is the CDC, FDA, or agricultural administration department of your government.

You have a moral responsibility to report Newcastle’s because it is carried by common birds (who do not contract the disease, they are just carriers) to other chickens, geese, ducks, and guinea fowl in your area.

No matter how remote your homestead is, not reporting can be devastating. Culling must be done on a large scale because of the rapid spread from property to property.

Newcastle’s is a silent killer, there are no warning signs or specific symptoms, a chicken is alive and fine one moment and dead the next.

You can monitor loss of appetite, diarrhea, watery eyes, coughing, gasping, paralysis, and convulsions, but these are also symptoms of other diseases. The disease can only be diagnosed by necropsy.

There is no cure or treatment for Newcastle’s disease whatsoever! Birds must be culled and incinerated.

Your only recourse is prevention. This can be done by:

  • Limit the number of people on your property – especially near your coops and runs
  • Wash your hands properly with disinfectant soap before and after working with your chickens
  • Install a footbath at the entrance to your runs changing the water daily; the water MUST be mixed with a really good disinfectant; for a 3-gallon foot bath you will need to add at least 3 cups of bleach
  • Wear an overall or change clothing before entering and exiting your runs – I find an overall works best
  • If you do not want to use a foot bath, use disposable boot covers – but I recommend the foot bath
  • Clean and disinfect tools, runs, feed, and water dispensers regularly with a bleach solution
  • Monitor your chickens for any kinds of changes that could result in any illness
  • Report any case to the local authorities; your vet can help you do this

In spite of all my good housekeeping, a rival spy who was trying to see why his farm was failing while mine was thriving jumped the bath to sneak into my runs to poke around my operation.

The reason he was having no luck he inflicted on my chickens by bypassing the footbath. His birds were dying because of the deadly Newcastle disease which he carried into my runs on his shoes.

This guy caused one of the largest health department-mandated culling of chickens, ducks, geese, and all manner of fowls in South African history.

It was devastating to lose so many birds, but it was more devastating to see my birds suffer while they were alive.

In South Africa, runs cannot be used for 2 years once an outbreak occurs. This devastates all homesteaders and farmers as they lose all the income or benefits of having chickens.

Proper Destruction and Disposal of Infectious Fowls

Different countries prescribe different means of the destruction (culling) and the disposal of the birds.

The South African means of culling had me in tears and gave me horrible nightmares for years after Newcastle’s outbreak on my homestead. I am a huge animal lover. I do not eat meat, the only animals I kill without batting an eye are flies and mosquitoes.

The government rolled in with this massive machine that had a chute and two massive barrels both lined with sharp spears on them.

The chickens were dropped into the chute live and then caught between the rollers which killed them and caught what was left of the chickens in a drum.

The carcasses were then incinerated and dumped into one miter deep hole on each homestead or farm.

Culling can be done much less painfully by gassing the birds with carbon dioxide or the use of foam used to douse fires to suffocate the birds.

Disposal remains the same; the bird’s carcasses must be incinerated and buried far away from the runs and coops to prevent the reintroduction of diseases into sterilized runs.

Proper Hygiene and Cleaning Runs After an Illness

If you have had an outbreak of any illness, or if you want to give your chickens a good head start by preventing any outbreaks, prevention is always the best way.

If you have had a disease, proper hygiene is critical to the health of new chickens.

  1. Remove all feeders, water bowls, and dust baths and sterilize these with a bleach solution and rinse them thoroughly before use
  2. Replace sand in dust baths
  3. Remove all hay or straw in coops
  4. Sterilize all nests and replace bedding with new, uncontaminated hay, straw, or sawdust
  5. Scrape away feces wherever you find it and wash the area with your bleach solution
  6. Remove as much of the top layer of soil in the run or spray the area with a weak bleach or apple cider solution
  7. Use a strong solution of bleach to clean and use in your footbath – I use a product called jeyes fluid
  8. Use appropriate vaccines


If you have any questions about transmission, treatment, and preventative measures check out the CDC for detailed treatment.

Having raised chickens for sale, I have had very few issues with illnesses in my chickens. My success was definitely due to prevention by very thorough and regular cleaning, and the use of a deep, two-meter-wide foot bath at the entrances of my runs.

For many outbreaks of disease, you could find yourself unable to use a particular coop or run for anywhere from 4 months to 2 years (the lawful and ethical time for Newcastle’s). In that period, you will need to completely sanitize at least three times per week to ensure the disease is completely eradicated.

Cleaning supplies and medication to treat diseases can be very expensive, not to mention the time and effort you will find yourself facing.

Your best bet will always boil down to one word: PREVENTION!

Keep your coop clean, conduct regular inspections, and watch your chicken’s body language. Time and experience will help you identify when your chicken’s body language changes so that you can identify and treat illnesses before they decimate your flock.

How has disease affected your chickens and what did you do to treat them? Let us know in the comments below.


What disease kills the most chickens?

The deadliest disease in chickens is Newcastle’s disease; it is virulent and can quickly kill off whole flocks.

It can travel miles in hours leading to the need for mass culling on all homesteads in your area. The meat and eggs of diseased poultry are not fit for human consumption.

How can you tell if your chickens are sick?

A: Look for general lethargy, diarrhea, feather loss, dull or closed eyes, ruffled feathers, feather plucking, droopy wings, lying down for long periods or lying on their sides, and multiple sudden deaths.

Is sugar water good for chickens?

Yes, in moderation. It is used to provide chicks and chickens with a boost of glucose, carbs, and calories.

What are the best antibiotics to use for sick chickens?

This will vary based on the type of bacteria or illness you need to treat; however, the most often used, safe antibiotics include aminoglycosides, ionophores, beta-lactams, aminoglycosides, and lincosamides. Bacitracin and Virginiamycin are the most effective for treating most chicken diseases.

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