Even with the most attentive chicken keeping, one of your chooks will get sick sooner or later. It is important to be able to recognise the symptoms of illness and act quickly - chickens are great at hiding their symptoms, so by the time you notice, they are usually very sick indeed.
If you think your chicken is sick...
Always, always, always take them to the vet. Always. A vet has the best possible means of helping your girls and will be able to diagnose any problems with far greater accuracy than any online resource.
This article is a helpful guide, but only a guide - your vet is the solution!
General symptoms of illness
Diagnosing chooks is an enormous challenge: they hide their symptoms, and couldn’t tell you what is wrong even if they wanted to. Furthermore, many of the external symptoms are not specific to any one illness. A sick chicken may present any of the following:
Not eating or drinking
Weakness or lethargy
Pale comb or wattles
Diarrhoea or abnormal droppings
Fluffed up feathers
Other abnormal behaviour
If any combination of the above describes your chicken, she may be sick, and you should take her to the vet for an exact diagnosis and treatment.
Symptoms of respiratory illness
Respiratory illnesses manifest unique symptoms compared to most other illnesses. Your chook may have a respiratory illness if she has:
Wheezing or raspy breath
Again, it is virtually impossible for a backyard keeper to identify the particular illness in question. You must take your chicken to the vet for diagnosis, and treatment. This will usually involve antibiotics which your vet can prescribe.
General treatment options
If, for whatever reason, you cannot get your chook to the vet immediately, then there are some simple things that you can do to increase her odds of recovery.
Isolate her from the rest of the flock to prevent any possible spread of illness and reduce bullying from healthy chickens.
Keep her in a warm, dry area.
Provide plenty of food and water. Give treats if she won’t eat her regular food - eating anything is better than nothing.
Give a teaspoon of yoghurt for some added probiotics. Don’t overdo it as this can cause diarrhoea.
Sometimes, a little TLC may be all a chicken needs, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. After you have gone to the vet, it may be worth checking your coop set-up - windy drafts and dust are a common cause of illness, and fixing these problems will help keep your flock healthy.
Some illnesses have particular symptoms (in addition to those described above) which can help with home diagnosis.
Avian influenza: [respiratory] Dark, red spots on legs and comb, and sudden death. This disease can infect people, so be extremely careful if you suspect it. Report any cases to your local government immediately.
Impacted crop: Swollen crop (a pouch at the front of the body), which is extremely hard to the touch.
Sour crop: Swollen crop, which is mushy to the touch, and a rotten smell from the mouth.
Fowl pox: White spots and scabs on comb and wattles.
Botulism: Tremors of increasing intensity, ending in death.