Diarrhoea in backyard poultry

Alongside respiratory disease - diarrhoea is one of the most common conditions to affect your chickens. Normal chicken droppings should be firm and brown with a white part on the top which is made from urates (the chicken’s urine) as chickens urinate and defecate in one motion. Any yellow foamy droppings or bloody droppings are abnormal.


There are a number of possible causes for diarrhoea in poultry:

  • Coccidiosis

  • worms

  • viruses (such as rotavirus and adenovirus)

  • bacterial diarrhoea

  • kidney damage

  • a  feed too high in protein

Coccidiosis  tends to cause bloody diarrhoea in poultry under 10 weeks of age, severe cases can lead to death. If you suspect your birds have coccidiosis seek veterinary help immediately.

Worms rarely cause diarrhoea in chickens but if they are present in large numbers they can irritate the gut causing a secondary bacterial diarrhoea, worm your chickens regularly or test faeces for presence of worm eggs.

Viruses -there are a number of viruses which can damage the gut causing diarrhoea such as rotavirus and adenovirus (in turkeys). Medications, will not treat a virus but there are products that will help to support the bird whilst it fights the virus. However, when a virus damages a chicken's intestine it allows harmful bacteria to grow out of control in the intestine leading to a secondary bacterial diarrhoea.

Bacterial diarrhoea is simply a disruption in the normal balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestine. This cause often results in an overgrowth of harmful Clostridia bacteria. It is thought that there is usually an underlying reason for this disruption such as:

  • gut damage caused by worms, coccidiosis or viruses.

  • a sudden change in diet (different foods encourage different bacterial species to grow in the gut and a sudden change in feed can cause a sudden and overwhelming change in gut bacteria)

  • dirty water (this will mean your chicken will be drinking lots of harmful bacteria)

  • mouldy feed (Mouldy feed contains fungal toxins which can cause gut damage)

Once the harmful bacteria Clostridia takes hold it can damage the wall of the gut leading to worsening diarrhoea. In severe cases the wall of the gut can become so badly damaged that the bacteria can simply cross over from the gut to the blood causing blood poisoning which is usually fatal.

Kidney damage -if a bird is suffering from kidney damage many owners will report diarrhoea. Often this is confused with the fact that the kidney damage causes the kidneys to produce excessive quantities of urine, this mixes with the droppings before defecation, causing them to be more watery than normal. So you are actually seeing more urine.

Incorrect diets that contain excessive levels of protein causes wetter droppings since the extra protein is converted into urates. This causes your chicken to drink more therefore you will see an increase in urinate leading to wet, damp bedding.
Irrespective of the cause of diarrhoea it has a number of harmful effects:

  • less absorption of nutrients therefore causing your chicken to become lethargic and lose weight

  • gut cannot absorb as much water as normal causing your chicken to become dehydrated which can lead to death

  • in severe cases the damaged gut wall will allow bacteria to leave the gut and enter the blood stream causing blood poisoning and death

  • diarrhoea leads to the bedding becoming both wet and contaminated leading to further discomfort for the affected chicken and the flock. The contaminated bedding can become a source of infection for the rest of the flock. 


Treatment and management of diarrhoea

Firstly, there are two important things to determine:

  • Is the chicken otherwise well apart from the diarrhoea?

If the bird is looking dull or has any additional symptoms then it needs veterinary attention

  • Is there blood in the diarrhoea?

This could indicate the presence of coccidiosis and may well need veterinary intervention to treat it appropriately.

If the bird has diarrhoea but is otherwise fine and is eating and drinking normally then there is no need to panic and below there are a number of things you can do to help you bird:

  • If your bird hasn’t been wormed in the past three months then either send a sample to a lab to look for worm eggs or deworm your birds.  This should be done routinely every 3 – 4 months.

  • Always ensure that your birds have fresh clean drinking water

  • Always ensure your birds have fresh good quality feed, that has been stored correctly and is in date.

  • Cut down on treats as these in excess encourage the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut.

  • Always ensure that any wet bedding is removed and replaced with fresh clean dry bedding. This will keep your chickens comfortable and will stop the bedding becoming contaminated which could be a potential source of infection for your other birds. 

  • After you have the diarrhoea controlled your bird will likely have lost a lot of weight.


There are a number of simple steps you can take:

  • Feed your birds a commercial, good quality pellet.

  • Ensure feed is fresh, dry and in date and suitable for species and age of bird.

  • Supply fresh drinking water in clean drinkers.

  • Try to get rid of puddles in the range as these often contain lots of harmful bacteria and for some reason birds like to drink from them rather than their drinkers

  • Regularly clean and disinfect your poultry coop using a detergent followed by an approved disinfectants.

  • Always worm your birds at least every three to four months.

Culled from http://www.chickenvet.co.uk/health-and-common-diseases/diarrhoea/index.aspx#diarrhoea_in_backyard_poultry