We all hope our pets will never fall ill but, as with all animals, there are some common chicken health problems that can be easily treated.
If you spot one of your hens is poorly, acting differently or not eating as well as usual it may be that they are suffering from one of the health issues below.
Here we outline the most common chicken health problems, and provide some guidance on the treatment you can give your hen should these arise.
*Please be aware: this article contains some images of surgery*
Soft shell eggs
From time to time, you may spot an egg which has only a wafer-thin shell that is either incredibly fragile or breaks as soon as you pick it up.
Many hens suffer from soft shell eggs, making it one of the most common chicken health problems, and the cause is usually very easy to address. Most often, a lack of calcium in a hens’ diet will lead to soft shell eggs, so putting her onto a good quality, well balanced hen feed can resolve the issue.
Most hens should be able to pass a soft shell through their vent; however, sometimes the shell might break inside the hen just before laying.
However, there can be other factors at play such as a shell gland infection, infectious bronchitis or it may be that your hen is being bullied or simply approaching end of lay.
This can cause fragments to become stuck, and you may need to intervene to help tease them out. If there is any membrane hanging out of the vent, and you feel confident doing so, very gently tease them out – as your hen realises you are trying to help she should then begin pulsing her vent to help the process along.
As with all this advice, if you are unsure about treating your hen, please seek veterinary advice.
The bane of every hen keeper’s life – red mite! Summertime often brings with it an explosion of red mite so it’s important you know the signs and how to deal with it.
The most obvious sign is a hen’s reluctance to go into their coop, often because the red mite are causing them an irritation.
Cleaning your hen house regularly can help keep red mite at bay, as can a regular dusting of diatomaceous earth powder – this can be used both in the coop and apply directly onto your hens.
Quarantine any news birds coming into your existing flock to make sure any lingering red mite are not passed on.
Similarly, feed your hens away from wild birds, as this can be one of the most common sources of red mite.
Hen keepers have reported that plastic coops are less likely to harbour red mite, so this should be a consideration if red mite is a recurring problem for your flock.
One issue that may keep cropping up is impacted crop. This occurs if your hen eats something which causes a blockage, resulting in a hard crop.
This can often be caused by long grass, so keep an eye on your lawn and get the mower out if necessary. We also advise not letting your hens eat straw as this can lead to impacted crop.
Should you realise one of your hens’ crops has become impacted, there are some simple steps you can take.
Head to our impacted crop health page for a breakdown of the treatment involved.
As odd-looking as it sounds, scaly leg is an irritating condition for your hens, which is caused when a mite burrows underneath their scales.
This results in the scales becoming thickened and encrusted and, if not treated, they then begin lifting away from the leg.
Our advice is to apply a thick coating of Vaseline to the affected hen’s legs for a week, which will suffocate the mites and soften the scales.
It is not thought that this condition is painful for the hens, rather more itchy and irritating. For more advice on this condition please refer to our scaly leg page.
Egg Yolk Peritonitis (EYP)
If you have ever come across a hen standing somewhat like a penguin, you may well already know that this is a sign of Egg Yolk Peritonitis.
This is caused when a hen begins laying internally and has no way of passing the yolks, which gather in her belly until it becomes swollen and hard.
Often a hen with EYP will have a vibrant red comb to show she is in lay.
A diet of corn only may bring your hen off lay, so that she stops producing eggs. However, we would advise contacting your hen-friendly vet who may well recommend a hormone implant to stop the hen laying for up to 9 months.
Just like all pets, hens can pick up worms and become unwell. The three most common types of worms affecting pet hens are round worms, tapeworm and gapeworm.
Thankfully, if you establish a regular worming routine for your hens, worms should be relatively easy to keep at bay.
There is only one licenced wormer for pet chickens which is Flubenvet – this is only available from vets or Suitably Qualified Persons and is given over a seven-day period.
If your hen is suffering from tapeworm, it is important to know that Flubenvet will not treat this – please consult your vet for treatment instead.
How to treat the most common chicken health problems
The information you find here is not intended to replace veterinary advice, but novice hen keepers should find it useful if their hen is unwell with any of these common chicken health problems.
Our Hen Helpline is on hand from Monday to Friday should you require assistance with any of the hen health problems you see listed here.