Chickens can get diarrhea on occasion.
Most of the time it can be explained away but sometimes there is something more serious going on.
It may sound vaguely disgusting to talk about poop, but knowing what is normal and what is not is very important. Because chickens are prey animals, they are experts at hiding illness. You do not know they are ill until they are knocking on deaths’ door.
So today we are going to take an up close look at chicken diarrhea.
How to identify it, what causes it, how to treat it and much more…
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What Is Diarrhea In Chickens?
With humans diarrhea is loose and watery stool, it is very much the same with chickens.
A normal chicken dropping is brown and has a white cap to it. This white cap is a urate. Chickens do not urinate so the urates are expelled with the fecal matter – as seen in the picture below.
In addition to these normal droppings, chickens also have cecal dropping. A cecal dropping is loose and foul smelling and usually lacks a urate cap, but it is perfectly normal. Cecal droppings happen several times each day and are the contents of the small intestine being expelled.
Diarrhea in chickens will be very loose or not formed at all, it may look like colored water.
When the dropping has a loose consistency and becomes watery and/or foul smelling it is diarrhea.
In addition to this if your hen looks ragged and tatty and sits off by herself then the alarm bells should start ringing – this is a sick hen.
Different Colors Of Poop Explained
Normal chicken droppings can be multi-colored at times depending on what they have been eating so do not be concerned unless there are other things going on too. Below we have listed dropping colors and possible causes for the color:
- Brown: This is the normal color of chicken dropping. If you find a huge pile of brown droppings that smell to high heaven you probably have a broody hen. Loose brown droppings can be cecal droppings and these smell really bad.
- Brown Colored Water: Normally a sign of diarrhea. It is usually caused by a higher water intake, but can be caused by bacterial infections.
- Black: This can be caused by eating wood ash, blackberries or blueberries. With a sick chicken this can mean there is blood in the droppings.
- Red and orange: This is usually caused by intestinal lining which has been shed – this is normal. It can also indicate fresh blood as in coccidiosis and (rarely) lead poisoning.
- Green: The most common cause of green poop is their diet. Things such as beet greens and broccoli will cause bluish green colored poop.
- Yellow: Can be caused by strawberries or corn. It can also be a sign egg yolk peritonitis – this is a common egg laying problem.
- White or creamy: This is normally a sign of vent gleet. Vent gleet is a discharge from the cloaca vent, but it is not diarrhea.
Chicks With Diarrhea
Diarrhea in chicks can be extremely serious.
Coccidiosis is the number one killer of brooder chicks and will cause diarrhea.
This can be severe and lead to dehydration and death very quickly.
If you buy chicks from a hatchery you can get them vaccinated or you can feed medicated chick feed which provides some protection from coccidiosis.
Coccidiosis is caused by a protozoan that attacks the lining of the intestine. It kills these cells in the intestine which produces a diarrhea that can be either mucus-like or bloody. The diarrhea of the infected bird is infectious and can cause illness in other chickens.
If you notice diarrhea like this with your chicks you should isolate them immediately. If your chicks are already on medicated feed you will need to contact your veterinarian for further treatment. They will prescribe the appropriate antibiotic for the chicks.
They should have clean drinking water, clean food and you should remove any droppings from the brooder several times a day.
Just remember that chicks can also get diarrhea for other reasons too.
Chicks can also get watery poop from treats like watermelon because it contains a lot of water. Stop giving them these treats for a while and see what happens. After a day the diarrhea should have stopped.
Common Causes Of Diarrhea In Chickens
There are lots of causes of diarrhea with chickens.
Some are treatable and some are not.
We will start with the simplest and easiest to treat and then and work our way up to the more problematic causes.
One of the most common causes of diarrhea is overeating certain foods – blackberries for instance.
The first time this happened to my flock I was in full panic mode as most of my chickens had watery black and red diarrhea. I was convinced they were all dying until I found them feasting on the berries. This type of diarrhea will take care of itself providing you remove the source – in this case the blackberries were fenced in.
Heat stress can also cause diarrhea. During hot weather your chickens will drink more and eat less which causes a watery, clear whitish splat.
Antibiotics can also cause diarrhea when given over a long period of time. Naturally this will only affect those being treated. You might consider adding vitamin/electrolyte powder to the flocks’ water if the diarrhea is moderate to severe in nature. Be sure to let your veterinarian know as they might discontinue the medicine. You should not eat the eggs from any chicken having antibiotic treatment.
General stress can also cause diarrhea. Chickens are easily stressed by a change or new events happening around them. For example adding new chickens to the flock, or changing their feed. Once they have settled down everything should return to normal, if it does not you will need to investigate further (more on this later).
An overload of worms can cause bloody diarrhea. You may even be able to see the worms in their droppings. Now is the time to worm the whole flock and remove all droppings from the area. Make sure to follow the directions of the wormer you use.
Moldy feed can cause severe diarrhea. Always check that your feed is fresh and do not store it for longer than a month or so.
Any dead bodies such as mice and rats can be picked up and eaten by your chickens. If the body is contaminated with poison it can kill your birds quickly – never bury any bodies where your livestock can get to them.
There are several other possible causes of diarrhea. We are going to list them below but keep in mind that they are extremely uncommon and you are unlikely to see them in your lifetime.
- Fowl cholera
- Kidney problems
- Necrotic enteritis
- Newcastle disease
- Gumboro disease
- Avian influenza
Remember to ask yourself when inspecting your chickens, “What do the droppings look like?”
You should compare it against our color chart above.
If you cannot find anything else wrong then observation is the best course of action. Keep a close eye on them to make sure they are not becoming weak or dehydrated.
Most viral illnesses pass within a couple of days so be patient. Do not start antibiotics just in case. If things do not improve by the third day then you should call your veterinarian for advice.
How To Treat Chicken Diarrhea
The short periods of diarrhea that are caused by overindulgences do not require any treatment except removing the food.
In weather related circumstances you can help your chickens by providing them with clean, fresh water enhanced with vitamins and electrolytes. Another little trick to encourage them to eat is to make a wet mash (in addition to their regular feed) for them with your enhanced water.
Just remember not to give them electrolytes on a continual daily basis as it can cause diarrhea!
During hot weather give them enough shade and provide shallow pans of water for them to stand in so they can cool down.
What I try to do in prolonged periods of heat and humidity is to provide one waterer with electrolytes and one without.
If you want to make your own solution here is the recipe:
- 8 teaspoons granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 gallon of water
How To Prevent Chicken Diarrhea
A few of the causes of diarrhea can be avoided by having good biosecurity.
This means you should not visit other flocks, and you should not have people come over to see your chickens.
If people do visit your flock you need to prevent the transmission of possible bugs. So foot coverings, disinfectant foot baths, hand washing and changing your clothing between visits are all needed.
You should also keep wild birds away from your chickens. Wild birds are capable of transmitting disease from one place to another.
Try to keep flies and mosquitoes to a minimum as they too are a source of possible infection.
You should keep their coop as clean as you can. Chickens can be messy but keeping down the amount of droppings, replacing bedding frequently and checking for mites, lice and other creepy crawlies will all help to keep your chickens in the best condition possible.
Another good biosecurity rule is: if you bring in new chickens to your flock they need quarantining first.
Those new hens may look perfectly healthy but some diseases do not show themselves immediately. The recommended period of isolation is 30 days.
Keeping your hens healthy is the best way to be proactive against diarrhea.
Always give them clean fresh water. I know, they love to drink out of mud puddles, but do your best.
Their feed should be appropriate for their status: laying ration for layers, meat ration for meat birds and chick starter for chicks. Do not try to cut corners when it comes to nutrition. What you feed them is very important and make sure it is fresh.
Treats are fine within moderation and should make up no more than 10% of their daily food intake.
Health checks can be done on a daily basis.
This way you will know your hens well enough to see any that are not feeling well by looking at them. You may not know what the problem is but something is not quite right, so keep a close eye on them.
When your chickens have diarrhea you need to put your detective hat on.
Diarrhea is merely a symptom of something.
You need to consider everything else that is going on with your hen.
If she has diarrhea but is acting and looking like her normal self, then look to see what else might have caused it. Keep an eye on her and watch her progress.
Whereas if your chicken looks miserable and lethargic then something is definitely wrong.
Remember to always look for the cause before you act. Is it the weather? Did she try to eat all the berries from the bush in one sitting?
Being a chicken detective is fun and rewarding.
You will be able to test your skills on other problems too as you get to know all of your chickens and their habits and quirks.
So, that is the scoop on the poop.
Let us know your questions below…
Hello Chris. Thanks for all the knowledge on chicken health and care. I’m new at this and have a 10 week old hen that was acting lethargic, looked bloated and even fell over when she tried to walk. She even looked like she was going to lay at one point.
I immediately removed her from the flock and considered it crop bloat, rubbed underneath her chin on her right side for about a day. I also gave her a mix of water with molasses in place of food for 24 hours. She seems to be fine and I was wondering if I can get her back with the flock now or wait another day. All other hens and the rooster are doing fine.
I would give her another day just to make sure and then reintroduce her 🙂