Feeding a sick chicken

What do you feed a sick chicken? When a chicken is ill the food they eat needs to fuel their recovery. They need extra vitamins and nutrients, plus lots of hydration which can be really hard to get into them if they've lost their appetite because of illness. I have a few special foods that I give to my sick chickens, especially if they are turning their beaks up at the regular feed.

Sick chicken eating

That doesn't always happen though. Sometimes when a chicken is sick she will still have a good appetite. In these cases you can supplement her regular feed a little bit, but make sure she has unlimited access to her normal feed so she can eat as much as she wants. Layer feed is nutritionally complete and even though the foods I have listed below are high nutrition...they really shouldn't take the place of her regular feed.

Unfortunately many times a chicken that is battling an illness will lose her appetite and we must try to entice her to eat. In this case you want every bite of food to count. I've compiled a list of high nutrition foods that chickens love along with all the benefits of feeding these foods to a sick chicken.

Feeding a sick chicken

Scrambled eggs: Not only do chickens like to eat eggs, but it's good for them too! Eggs contain protein, fat, vitamins and minerals that chickens need. Scramble an egg in a little bit of olive oil or butter. Allow to cool, mash up and serve.

For a chicken with very little appetite I boil the egg instead and mash the yolk for her. The bulk of calories and vitamins are in the yolk so if I can't get her to eat much, I want every bite to count.

One of the reasons I freeze raw eggs is to have them on hand whenever an ill chicken needs one! Just cook, cool and serve!

Mealworms: High in protein and iron, mealworms are a chicken favorite! If I can't get a sick hen to eat anything else, I can always count on mealworms to stimulate the appetite. 

Black oil sunflower seeds: Known as BOSS, these seeds are full of protein, fat and fiber and most chickens love them.

Probiotics: A little bit of plain yogurt is ok to give to chickens but don't overdo it. The active cultures in yogurt can help to restore the good bacteria in her gut but too much can cause diarrhea. Fermenting the feed or feeding some scoby from kombucha are also full of probiotics to help her fight off an illness. They do sell probiotic powder for chickens, which are nice to have on hand but sometimes difficult to get into a sick chicken.

Pureed pumpkin: Pumpkin contains vitamins A, C, E and various minerals. Pumpkin also has fiber and the unique ability to help regulate the digestive system....which is a polite way of saying if the chicken has diarrhea, pumpkin puree will help firm it up and if the problem is constipation then pumpkin will help to move things along. 

Related reading: How to make your own pumpkin puree from a pumpkin.

"Fried" rice: This is my own concoction that I feed a sick chicken to help her recuperate. I mix cooked white rice, chopped cooked vegetables, a little crushed garlic and minced scrambled or boiled eggs. You can warm it up if you'd like, but they'll eat it cold. 

I like this recipe because I can mix this up from items I already have in my refrigerator and pantry. You could substitute cooked spaghetti that is cut into small pieces for the rice. Pretty much any vegetable will do. The small bits and different colors make it enticing to the chicken and it provides: carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber. The eggs and vegetables are full of the vitamins and minerals a chicken needs to heal quickly. 

rice, eggs and vegetables for chickens

Whatever she will eat: Yes, sometimes a sick animal is like a toddler that only wants one specific thing! In that case, even if all your sick chicken (or guinea) will eat is scratch, give it to her! You can try to sprinkle the favorite food on top of other foods. I often sprinkle mealworms on top of foods to get my chickens to try them. If they just refuse to eat anything else, well it's better they eat all one thing than nothing at all!

Sick guinea with a bowl of scratch grains

Keeping an ill chicken hydrated

Water: A sick chicken needs unlimited access to clean fresh water. You can add one of the items on this list to her water if she will drink it that way.

Electrolyte powder: Electrolytes regulate hydration and blood pH and are critical for nerve and muscle function. These electrolyte powders are made for chickens and help replenish lost electrolytes to help a sick chicken recover faster. 

Pedialyte: If you do not have electrolyte powder you can mix pedialyte into the chickens water to add electrolytes. I use 1/2 cup pedialyte to 1/2 cup water. (or make the powdered pedialyte according to directions then dilute) There is an unflavored, uncolored version of pedialyte that I use for chickens. This can be bought online or in most grocery stores.

ACV: add a small amount of apple cider vinegar with the mother in it to the chickens water to help boost her immune system. 

Garlic: Crushed garlic has natural antibiotic properties and can be added to the chickens water in a ratio of up to 4 cloves per gallon. 

Ill chicken with bowl of clean water

Unfortunately some chickens will not drink water with anything in it especially if they're sick. Keep a close eye on the sick chicken and if she doesn't seem to be drinking, then offer clear water instead. Staying properly hydrated is extremely important to a chickens recovery from illness! Without proper hydration she will often get worse instead of better. 

If a chicken will not drink on their own you can drip water or electrolyte solution onto their beak with a dropper or syringe. As the water seeps into their mouths their reflex will be to swallow. Do this slowly so the chicken does not aspirate the fluid. 

You could also try offering chopped grapes and cucumbers which have a very high water content if fluid intake is a problem.

Hopefully your chicken will be eating and drinking just fine while she's in recovery. While proper nutrition is not the only step to healing a sick chicken, it certainly helps her to feel better faster!

Want to know more about chicken health and illnesses? Click here for my other posts on chicken health!


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I am not a veterinarian or other animal care professional nor do I claim to be. I am simply passing on information that has worked for me and my flock. This information is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any medical condition. Please see a vet if your chicken is ill. Click for my full disclaimer.

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  1. How many times per day should I force feed and water my hen when she is sick?

    1. Leave feed and water available for her at all times while sick. Make sure to check that the water is clean often though, as you want to encourage her to drink enough which she won't want to do if shavings or food get in her water.