Chickens make for great pets and they bond very well with their owners. However, when things go wrong it can be distressing for both the owner and the chicken and what could be more worrying than a chicken that won’t eat its food?
Our 9 reasons a chicken refuses to eat are an Impacted Crop, Bullying, Illnesses, Infestation, Physical Injuries, Poison, Stress, being Egg Bound and Tumors. We’ve also come up with an extensive list of what to do about these problems if you encounter them in your birds. Don’t worry, most chickens will recover their appetite when properly looked after.
Chicken Won’t Eat – Is This Normal?
Chickens are possibly the most single minded pets you can find. Their one major motivation in life is to eat. So, when you notice your chickens are not cramming down food in the way that they normally do – you are quite right to be worried.
No, it’s not normal when a chicken isn’t eating but the good news is that if you’re aware of the problem, you’re well placed to tackle it. You can’t be like an ostrich with your head in the sand when chickens stop feeding – you have to take action, immediately.
How Long Can A Chicken Go Without Eating?
Chickens cannot go very long without water and if they’re left for 24 hours without water they will stop laying and may go more than a week before they resume even if you give them water. They’re also going to die if they go much longer without water.
When it comes to food, they’re a little hardier but will happen is likely to be much less pleasant for a flock. After 2 days of starvation, chickens stop laying, and start eating their own eggs. After 3-4 days when the eggs run out, they start pecking each other and then start to eat the weakest chickens. This will continue until all the chickens are eaten and the last one starves to death.
9 Reasons That A Chicken Refuses To Eat And What To Do
There are 9 good reasons that chickens refuse to eat and working out what the problem is can be quite confusing sometimes, you may need to consult a veterinary professional if you can’t solve this yourself – don’t let your chickens starve to death, whatever you do. There’s no need.
An Impacted Crop
The crop is a little ledge in the throat off the esophagus that acts as a storage place for food. When it’s empty, the chicken will go and forage for food until it’s full again. Unfortunately, sometimes the crop is “impacted” which means it has been injured either by accident or by a disease or infestation.
When this happens, the crop cannot store any more food and the chicken is going to try and regurgitate what it has eaten already. Eventually, the pain of the impacted crop will prevent a chicken from even trying to eat at all.
The Eventual Outcome
If it is not treated, the likely outcome is that the chicken will either starve to death or the crop may swell so much that the chicken is suffocated due to an obstruction of the esophagus. An impacted crop is, however, completely treatable. A vet will give the chicken a minor operation to relieve the impaction and very soon your chicken will be snacking away like nothing has happened.
A few very hardy souls claim to give their chickens this kind of operation themselves at home, but we’re going to recommend that you rely on a vet – if things go wrong, it could end up bloody, and messy with a very cruel outcome for the bird.
Bullying in Chickens
Chickens are very social animals and they have a full hierarchy within any flock which determines what place an individual chicken holds in their society. This is known (no pun intended) as the “pecking order”.
When flocks self-manage the chickens higher in the pecking order will tend to boss the ones lower down around and ensure that they know their place. Changes in the pecking order only tend to come with sickness or age.
However, in some chicken societies (just as in human ones) the pecking order stops being a tool of societal discipline and the birds become bullies picking on an individual chicken. If this occurs a period of separation and then gradual reintroduction to the flock can sometimes help but the most likely outcome will require permanent separation of the bullied bird.
Unhappy chickens can (and will) go off their food just as some unhappy humans are known to do.
You can learn more about the pecking order on YouTube here:
Egg Bound Hens
Roosters are immune from this problem on account of the fact they don’t lay eggs. Hens, on the other hand, will become egg bound when an egg gets caught in the space between the cloaca and the uterus. They will keep trying to pass the egg but won’t be able to.
This condition can be fatal if left untreated and early warning signs include straining without laying, constant trips to the nesting box with no eggs present, walking with their bottom close to the ground, general droopiness, not eating and/or drinking and a hard abdomen.
A warm bath can help the hen pass the egg but if that doesn’t work – you need to take them to the vet to have the egg removed surgically.
Hens are often put off their food when they become ill. There are, according to Poultry Hub, more than 50 different diseases which can affect a chicken – so as you might imagine, there’s no concise list of symptoms that you can use as a guide as to why your chicken is not eating.
But if you find that they aren’t eating, you should examine them carefully and see if they have any obvious signs of illness and then Google the symptoms to see what it may be – some chicken diseases are easy to treat at home but others will require the intervention of a vet.
Chickens are also prone to infestation and particularly with mites and/or lice. Though other insects have been known to cause problems too, this is rarer. The first signs of infestation tend to be on the skin (lift the feathers) though sometimes it may be on the legs of the chicken too.
If this goes untreated long enough the pain and misery caused may deter a chicken from eating and/or drinking. The good news is that infestations are easily treated with chemical/medicinal treatments available from any good vet.
Please don’t try to use a herbal treatment to get rid of mites or lice, it won’t work and will leave your chickens in further misery as their symptoms worsen.
You can get some more ideas on treatment on YouTube here:
Possibly the most common reason other than illness for a chicken to go off their food is simply an injury of some form or another. Chickens fight occasionally, they may fall and land awkwardly (particularly if the roost is poorly designed or the ground, they land on is too hard) and break something and they are other ways for the birds to get hurt too.
If you suspect a chicken is injured, the best place to begin is with a vet’s advice, you may be able to treat some problems like a broken leg by yourself when you have more experience with chickens but until that point, speaking to a vet is the best option.
There are so many potential sources of toxin that they’d take much longer to list than all the diseases that a chicken might catch. The symptoms of any given kind of poisoning can be drastically different from another too.
So, if you find your chickens aren’t eating and you think there’s something off about them but can’t tell what – you might want to call in a vet. They’re not going to be able to tell what’s wrong by looking at them (unless you missed something) in most cases, either, they’ll need to run blood work and then find out what the source of the poison is.
Once they’ve worked out what’s poisoning the birds, you can remove it from their environment and if you’re lucky, you can also treat your birds for the poisoning itself. However, it may be too late for some and you should not eat eggs of poisoned birds unless the vet gives you the go ahead to do so.
It might sound silly, but chickens get stressed just like humans do and just like humans there may be many different forms of stress that they are enduring.
The most likely causes, however, are:
- Predators. Nearby predators are likely to make a chicken’s heart rate go through the roof. You’d be stressed too if you thought something was going to eat you.
- Egg laying. Not all hens find laying and sitting stressful, but some make nervous mothers – they’re at their most vulnerable when laying.
- Poor dietary items. Anything which isn’t fresh and organic in a chicken’s diet might cause them stress just like fast food does in humans.
- Raising chicks. Once the babies come along, chickens can be as antsy as human mothers, caring for little ones is a big emotional investment.
- Not enough space. Chickens need room to roam and just to be. Put too many into a small space and you’ve got a recipe for stress.
- The weather. This makes chickens sound like the British but it’s true all the same, bad weather can really stress out a whole flock.
Stressed chickens may well refuse food and drink,
Tumors can be a sign of cancer in a chicken or of Marek’s disease (a common and unpleasant viral condition in chickens – which can be vaccinated against but doesn’t stop chickens from contracting it but only lessens the symptoms when it is caught).
Just as with cancer victims in humans, the pain can put a bird off eating or drinking and in the case of Marek’s tumors they may fill the throat, crop, etc. to prevent any kind of food or water passing through the chicken. If you find tumors on a chicken, you need to talk to a vet immediately.
What To Do When A Chicken Is Not Eating
As soon as you find a bird (or birds) that is not eating, you should separate it (or them) from the rest of the flock. This is to reduce the risk of infection or infestation being transmitted between birds.
If, however, more than a quarter of your flock has the problem – you need to treat the whole flock as though they all have the issue.
In many countries, all medicines for animals are going to require a vet’s prescription, so the earlier you involve the vet – the better things are likely to turn out. In some cases, a chicken that isn’t eating this morning might be dead by the evening if they are not treated, so time is of the essence.
It might be expensive to call the vet, but it will be even more expensive if you leave it and your flock dies.
If your chicken is losing weight you can read another one of our articles here about what to do?
What To Do When Chickens Refuse Pellets
It’s worth noting that chickens that are raised on a healthy diet of seeds and grains will often completely eschew pellets even when it’s the only thing on offer. Yes, chickens can be fussy eaters as well and, in this case, – it’s best just to switch them back onto a diet they are more familiar with.
It’s possible that you might starve them into submission where pellets are concerned but only at the price of their health and wellbeing. Don’t expect many eggs from undernourished and miserable chickens.
In some parts of the world, you might feed your chicken table scraps but this isn’t generally encouraged and can lead to “chicken junk food” which can damage their health in the longer term.
If you do like to give your chickens treats, make sure that it’s only a tiny part of their overall diet and certainly never more than 5% of what they eat.
What To Do When Chickens Won’t Eat But Still Drink
The first thing we’d look for if a chicken’s not eating but is drinking, is crop impaction, if the crop doesn’t empty overnight – then get the vet in and start treatment for crop impaction. Fortunately, this is a completely routine procedure and shouldn’t cost very much.
It might also be egg binding, where the chicken feels that its stomach is full, and the eggs are pressing against the space that it would otherwise have to fill with food. Try the hot bath therapy if you think it’s egg binding
The other most likely possibility is an insect infestation – check the body thoroughly for signs. Wear gloves too – because you don’t want to get anything yourself. You could also try de-worming the chickens before calling the vet in.
What To Do When A Chicken Has Stopped Eating And Drinking
If you’ve ever watched chickens moseying around the yard, you’ll know that they drink like fish normally. So, if they’re avoiding the water as well as the food – something’s wrong. But what’s most likely?
Our top pick here is that if it’s an individual chicken – it’s being bullied. They’re likely to have missing feathers or chunks missing from their comb if they’re getting a hard time from other chickens. Unfortunately, managing this can be very hard and you may need to remove the bullied chicken permanently from the flock.
The other most likely problem is Coccidiosis which is a parasitic infection which is easy to treat, and your vet should be able to help with that, no problem at all.
What Should You Try To Feed A Chicken That’s Not Eating?
If they’re not feeding, you can’t force feed a chicken but if they’re just not eating very much and you want to boost their chances of surviving adding electrolytes to their water and offering some grated up hard-boiled egg in their feed is the best you can do until the vet comes to help you work out what’s wrong and fix it.
We hope that you found our 9 reasons a chicken refuses to eat and what do about it guide helpful for your chicken problems. Please remember that if you’re in any doubt over a chicken’s health – the best thing to do is talk to a vet, it’s better to be safe than sorry when you’re concerned with the welfare of an animal.
If your chicken is losing weight you can read another one of our articles here about what to do?
Here are some of my favorite products for chickens and their coops: