Diarrhea in Backyard Chickens: Causes, Treatment and Care

Diarrhea in Backyard Chickens Causes, Treatment and Care Blog Cover

There are several different causes of diarrhea in chickens.

Some are fairly normal and will resolve themselves on their own, yet others can be problematic.

Seeing it for the first time can be quite alarming!

In this article we are going to take a look at causes of diarrhea and explain what you can do to help your birds.

Chicken Diarrhea Causes and Treatment

At this point it would be helpful to have a visual aid of what is normal poop and what is not. This link provides a good primer of chicken poop.

Normal cecal droppings – for a novice chicken keeper a cecal dropping can cause great anxiety. After all, it looks nothing like a regular poop -it’s runny, foul smelling and a different color.

It is normal for a bird to have several of these cecal droppings daily. No treatment is required, except perhaps air freshener!

However, if you’re hen actually has Diarrhea then keep reading! Below we’ve listed the most common causes of diarrhea and how to treat each one.

Cause: Overindulgence (Excess Food)

Much like humans who have eaten too much, chickens too can be guilty of eating too much of a good thing. They might find their way into your fresh salad bed and reduce the lettuce to stubs. The price of overindulgence?

Diarrhea.

Simple supportive treatment is required, the diarrhea should stop of its’ own accord after 24-36 hours. Make sure they have access to clean fresh water with added vitamins and electrolytes.

Cause: Heat Stress

On hot days hens will drink much more water than normal; sometimes up to 4 cups of water! That is a lot of fluid and in conjunction with decreased appetite because of the heat, your hen will likely develop diarrhea.

Treatment is relatively simple and easy. Make sure she has access to cool, clean fresh water with added vitamins and electrolytes. She also needs to be put somewhere cool, more on that here.

Standing her in cold water will help to bring her temperature down, a fan blowing cool air and providing sufficient shade will all help her tremendously. You can encourage her to eat by making a feed mash (mix regular feed with water until you have a mashed potato consistency) with cool water. That way she will eat and get water too.

Cause: Antibiotics

If your hen is taking antibiotics for any sort of infection, she will likely get diarrhea. Antibiotics kill off the good bacteria along with the bad, so the gut will be depleted of good bacteria.

Ensure she has enough water with vitamins and electrolytes and good quality feed.

You can give them probiotics to help restore the good bacteria in the gut. Although they cannot process dairy products well, a small amount of yoghurt will help. As will something like Rooster Booster or a similar additive which contains vitamins, electrolytes and lactobacillus acidophilus for gut health.

Cause: Worms

A huge overload of intestinal worms can cause gut damage and diarrhea. A sure way to find out is to take a fecal sample to your veterinarian – they should be able to perform this simple test quickly without too much financial pain.

If they do have worms you will need to treat them all. There are several different worming medications on the market; choose one and follow the instructions carefully.

There is usually an egg withdrawal period during which time you cannot eat or sell eggs from the treated hens. Withdrawal time will vary with treatments.

Cause: Coccidiosis

This mainly affects chicks under 10 weeks although in severe cases it can affect adult chickens, especially ex-battery hens that have lived in wire cages. Since they have had no exposure to poop, they have no resistance to the coccidia.

It is caused by a parasite that affects the intestinal lining and integrity of the gut. It impairs the ability to absorb nutrition causing weight loss. Anemia can be severe from bloody diarrhea. Coccidiosis needs prompt treatment with a coccidiostat or the affected chicks will likely die. A veterinarian should be consulted if at all possible. You can buy chick feed with added coccidiostat at the feed store.

Treatment will also include clean food and water with added probiotics and electrolytes. The brooder area should be kept scrupulously clean to avoid re-infection of the chicks.

We cover this in more detail in our parasite guide here.

Cause: Infectious Coryza

This is caused by bacteria which infects the upper airways of the bird. For an in depth look at this disease please take a look at our recent article.

The disease can be treated with the appropriate antibiotics so you will need to consult with a veterinarian. It is spread from bird to bird so great attention should be paid to cleanliness in the coop and local environment.

Infected birds should be isolated if at all possible. As above, the antibiotics may cause diarrhea, so treat accordingly.

Cause: Too Much Protein

Kidney failure in chickens is becoming more prevalent – possibly because they are living longer these days.

It can be caused by a diet too high in calcium and low in phosphorus, decreased water intake or can be viral.

Signs are dehydration, pale combs, depression and emaciation with loss of muscle mass, diarrhea. You should seek veterinary advice about restricting dietary intake for your hen.

Cause: Toxic Ingestion

Hens are curious about most things, which can get them into trouble. While poisoning is fairly rare, it does occur.

They are susceptible to mycotoxins produced by damp bedding or moldy feed. They can be susceptible to a wide range of plants and other toxins too.

Another thing to note with regard to poisons. If you use your compost heap as a ‘burial site’ for small creatures, make sure the carcass is buried deeply. Botulism can be produced by rotting carcasses and can be deadly to your hens.

Since it is usually hard to know exactly what they have eaten, you can try monitoring them closely. If their condition worsens, seek veterinary help.

Cause: Egg Yolk Peritonitis and Prolapsed Vents

Egg yolk peritonitis – sadly, this is commonly fatal.

It is caused by a malfunction in the transfer of egg from the ovary to the infundibulum. The yolk becomes internalized and can quickly become infected; any diarrhea produced will look like egg yolk.

This usually leads to a peritonitis and septicemia so veterinary intervention is vital in order to give your hen a chance.

Prolapsed vent – this can be quite noticeable.

The vent can be pushed out of the body and become a prolapse. It can be caused by an overly large egg among other things. This is an emergency and needs to be dealt with promptly.

The hen will need to be separated from the flock since they will likely cannibalize her.

Please see our article for more details on vent prolapse.

Cause: Viruses

There are numerous viruses that affect chickens. They range from simple sniffles and/or diarrhea which can last a few days or range all the way up to Marek’s disease and fowl cholera.

A list of known viruses with diarrhea symptoms is:

  • Infectious bronchitis
  • Marek’s disease
  • Lymphoid leukosis
  • Fowl cholera
  • Avian tuberculosis
  • Exotic Newcastle disease

We will be covering each of these viruses in-depth in future articles.

Chicken Diarrhea Treatment Checklist

As you can see, there are many causes of diarrhea some short-lived and easily rectified, others more prolonged in treatment and some deadly.

When you notice your hen has diarrhea, the first question to ask yourself is: how does she look? If she looks well, is eating and drinking normally, you can just monitor her from a distance.

Take a look at what is going on environmentally – is it hot and humid out? Has your spinach bed been eaten?  These types of things give you clues as to possible causes.

If she is looking poorly, isolate her in chicken hospital – try to figure out what it could be. Go down through the list of causes and see if you can pinpoint something. Watch her carefully. If there is no improvement within a day or so, the veterinarian is the next stop.

If you’re uncertain make sure to read our how to do a chicken health check guide.

Diarrhea depletes the body of water and much needed electrolytes – all of which are needed for a healthy bird.

Be sure to try to replace both of these by using a vitamin/electrolyte supplement in the water. If the diarrhea is caused by antibiotics, try adding a probiotic supplement to help the gut recover its’ normal good bacteria. You can also try making a mash from the regular feed, mixed with enhanced water and perhaps a teaspoon of natural yogurt.

Summary

I don’t know about you, but I found all that very interesting!

A word of restraint here though, if your hen develops diarrhea, it is not very likely she has something nasty like the Newcastle Disease or Tuberculosis!

Go through our check list and see if you can fit signs and symptoms with what’s happening to your hens.

Even if you can’t figure it out, all the information you can gather may help your veterinarian put the pieces together.

Diarrhea in hens is something we all will deal with eventually. Hopefully it will be a brief episode caused by a passing virus, but if not you will be able to use this article to guide you through the event.

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Comments

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      You can make your own Kristine, or buy a pre-made one.

      Pre-made is generally in liquid form 🙂

  1. Lynn Prevost says

    Thanks Claire
    The visual of “normal” poops was very useful (although a bit offputting just after lunch!!)
    I thought one of my ladies was having “problems” but what she produced appears the “normal” pix. She also is not off colour at alll. Thanks for the reassurance!!
    Bravo as always!
    Lynn

  2. Randy says

    Thanks Claire, I really enjoy reading your blog posts and learn a lot from them which really helps the end users (our flock) 10 happy spoiled chickens and 3 India Runner ducks. If any reader has an answer for why our duck hens are laying eggs in the pond while there are two uptown nesting boxes right there I would appreciate any feedback. Thanks………..Randy

  3. Chickitup says

    To keep diarrhea at bay, I sprinkle some apple cider vinegar in when I fill their water bucket, every few days

  4. Karla says

    Thanks for the great advice on the different types of diarrheas, getting check list together I enjoy the Happy Chicken Coop news letter
    Lizzy

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