If you notice that a chicken is drinking a lot of water, it can be quite worrying, as it might have health implications for your birds. Having said that, it may also be nothing to worry about, but how do you tell? And what should you do if you notice your chicken or chickens suddenly start drinking like they’ve spent a week in the desert?
What it means when a chicken drinks a lot of water: firstly, it can simply mean that environmental conditions have changed, chickens drink more when they’re thirsty from heat or because there’s less moisture in their food than normal. But it may mean that they have been exposed to a toxin, have a reproductive tract infection, organ dysfunction, worms or a stomach infection too.
So, let’s take a look at how chickens drink water, how to keep them hydrated and what to do when you find that your chicken is drinking a lot of water for a sustained period of time.
Can a Chicken Drink Too Much Water?
Technically speaking any animal can drink too much water and it’s a fairly unpleasant process if it happens. Firstly, the animal is likely to experience a sudden euphoric-high (or at least this is how people who drink too much water describe it) but this is very likely to be followed by death as the animal’s cells quite literally burst due to excess fluid absorption.
This Doesn’t Happen To Chickens
However, this outcome is very unlikely for your chicken. Unlike humans, chickens don’t experience schizophrenia (which can lead to seeking a high from drinking too much water) and thus, they’re never likely to consume too much water in the first place.
This doesn’t mean that you can afford to ignore your chicken’s water intake, but it does mean that they’re not going to drink themselves to death, either.
Chickens May Drown While Drinking
Strangely, though, there are cases of chicks drowning in their watering bowls or troughs because they have fallen in the water – it’s thus recommended that you place some gravel or pebbles in the bottoms of their drinking container to prevent this. (Don’t use gravel so small that it might be eaten, though).
Automatic waterers are a good option, they tend to be smaller and less dangerous when small chicks are around and they also keep the water fresher and clean. You can find the one we use here.
Recommended Water Intake For A Chicken
The recommended water intake for a chicken is between 0.5 and 1 liter a day. This doesn’t mean that they need to drink that much water, however, and much of a chicken’s diet consists of food which contains water such as insects and greens.
You can see a healthy chicken drinking water here:
How To Keep A Chicken Hydrated Under Normal Circumstances
Chickens need water for the same reasons that we need water – to stay hydrated and to allow their bodies to operate normally. Just like human beings, chickens utilize sweating to keep themselves cool and when things get warm (as in summertime in most places) a chicken can sweat a lot and soon find itself in need of more water than it’s getting.
One strange thing about chickens is that they don’t like to drink warm water, so in the summer, you need to make sure that they have access to cold drinking water, or they may refuse to drink. You’ll want to keep drinking containers out of direct sunlight and change the water more often than you usually would. The alternative might be dead chickens.
If the temperature drops below zero, on the other hand, then a chicken’s water supply might freeze over. They like their water cool but they’re not so keen on it when it’s solid and a chicken won’t eat or drink ice.
That means you’ll want to ensure that they get access to fresh water and drink their fill at least twice a day to ensure that they don’t get dehydrated.
Keep It Clean
Also, just like humans, chickens don’t like dirty water – they avoid water that tastes funny (including water with medications in it) and water with their own dirt, droppings, algae, etc. in it. This means water containers must be regularly scrubbed if you want your chickens to keep drinking.
Why Is My Chicken Drinking So Much Water?
Assuming your chicken has proper access to hydration then you could be concerned if you start to see it drinking like it has developed an unquenchable thirst.
It’s important not to panic in the first instance.
An Initial Response To Drinking Too Much Water
Again, rather like people, it’s possible that the chicken is just very thirsty. It may have been running around a bit more than usual, a slight rise in temperature might have made the chicken sweat more, or it might have had a little bit of a loose bowel movement.
All of these things can lead to temporary dehydration which is best sated by drinking lots of water.
It is, however, a warning sign. If you do catch a chicken drinking rather more than its usual fill of water, you’re going to want to keep an eye on it and if you think that there are any obvious signs of illness and distress it might be time for a visit to your local veterinarian for some advice.
Time For The Vet? Possible Problems Indicated By A Chicken Drinking Lots Of Water
If your chicken keeps drinking a lot of water and is showing signs of distress or illness, then it’s possible you need to seek help. There are 5 likely causes of chicken’s being dehydrated: exposure to toxins, reproductive tract infections, organ dysfunction, worms and stomach infections.
Exposure To Toxins
The term “toxins” is probably too broad to have much specific meaning when searching for symptoms in chickens. Fungal spores, for example, are likely to elicit a very different response from say heavy metal poisoning.
However, it is certain that chickens which have been exposed to toxins are going to seem “unwell” in some unspecified manner. You’ll want to keep watch on chickens that you think might have been poisoned and if their symptoms become worse, then you should ask your vet to give their input and possibly conduct tests as necessary.
Drinking lots of water here can be a sign that the body is trying to process a poison and flush it from the chicken’s system.
Reproductive Tract Infections
While there are many different reproductive tract infections in chickens, they all have similar symptoms (including drinking too much water) and these include:
- Rapid weight loss or change in body condition
- Eggs becoming abnormal (thin-looking, misshapen, eggs without shells, etc.)
- Not laying eggs at all
- A distended abdomen
- Problems breathing
- Stains from feces and/or urine on their rear end
There are two common conditions: reproductive related coelomitis (caused by an egg misfiring from the ovary) and reproductive cancer. Both require a vet’s diagnosis.
The most common form of organ dysfunction in chickens is kidney damage and is found in laying hens. It’s caused by build-up of a chemical called urolith in the hens’ ureters.
The common signs of this condition are:
- Dehydration which leads to excessive thirst
- Pale combs
- Atrophy of breast and leg muscles
- Swollen feet
The causes include too much calcium and not enough phosphorus in their diet, infectious bronchitis (a serious viral condition for chickens) and too little water in their diet. Again, you’ll need a vet to make a confirmatory diagnosis of the problem.
Chickens are very susceptible to worm infections which can cause problems all year round, in most cases these infections come from accidental consumption of another (infected) bird’s waste. Sadly, as worms aren’t too fussy about which birds they live in – a pigeon can poop on your bird’s food and your chicken gets the pigeon’s worms.
- Rapid weight loss
- Bloody stools
- Pale combs
- Breathing troubles
- A failure to lay eggs
You can treat worms effectively with products recommended by a vet but may not be able to eat any chicken eggs until after the treatment is over. There are “natural treatment” options for worms but we do not have any scientific data on their effectiveness.
There are so many different types of stomach infection in chickens that only a vet can diagnose what exactly is the cause a virus, a bacteria or parasites and they have a range of symptoms too diverse to provide a definitive list. However, excessive thirst combined with diarrhea that doesn’t go away is a good indication of stomach infections.
So, this is what it means when a chicken drinks a lot of water: your chicken may just be extra thirsty due to heat or a change in diet. However, if they continue to drink too much water – it’s likely an indicator that something is wrong and that their health may be impacted by toxins, reproductive tract infections, organ dysfunction, worms or stomach infections.
Sometimes, you may be able to diagnose these problems by yourself but other times, you may need to call in a vet to help your chickens.
Here are some of my favorite products for chickens and their coops: