Raising chickens has become increasingly popular, especially among people who want farm-fresh eggs.
For backyard chicken owners who may be inexperienced, they must monitor their flock regularly to ensure the birds are healthy and safe.
While most owners are familiar with protecting their flock from mites and predators, they may be unfamiliar with the signs of other health issues.
For instance, do chickens get constipated or egg-bound?
While they are not common problems, a chicken may become constipated or egg-bound. These issues may be caused by stress, a lack of fresh water, and a poor diet, and either condition is fatal to a chicken without prompt treatment.
These two conditions often coincide since an egg-bound chicken will usually be unable to pass feces as well.
Identifying a constipated or egg-bound chicken is imperative, so proper treatment must be administered as soon as possible.
Read on for more information on the symptoms and treatment of constipation and egg-binding in chickens.
Difference Between a Constipated or Egg-Bound Chicken
An egg-bound chicken will also be constipated, so it may be challenging to tell the difference between the two conditions.
Both issues require different treatments, but there are a few ways to distinguish between them.
Gently feel your hen’s stomach; if an egg is stuck in the oviduct, there will be a very noticeable hard lump.
In a constipated chicken, the stomach will feel firm but not have the same hardness as a stuck egg.
If you are unable to tell if your hen is constipated or egg-bound by feeling her stomach, you will have to check her vent.
Wear latex gloves and use a water-based lubricant to ease the hen’s discomfort.
You may need someone to hold the hen to make the process easier.
Insert a finger into the hen’s vent, and if there is an egg there, you will be able to feel it.
You do not have to insert your finger very far to feel an egg.
Your hen is very likely constipated if you do not detect an egg.
Symptoms of Constipation in Chickens
Aside from feeling your chicken’s abdomen or vent, she will also have other symptoms if she is constipated.
If your chicken has only been constipated for one day, her stomach will not be firm just yet.
Firmness and bloating usually occur after the hen has chronic constipation lasting for several days.
Another sign of constipation in a hen is her inability to walk properly.
The hen will walk with stiff movements, and you may see her squat frequently.
Hard or particularly foul-smelling stools are also a sign of constipation.
The stool consistency of chickens is typically semi-solid, with some liquid present.
A constipated chicken will also stop eating or drinking, and the animal may become lethargic from lacking energy-providing nutrients.
Never force a constipated chicken to eat, as this only exacerbates the problem.
Instead, keep the chicken hydrated to help move things along.
You will have to use a syringe to force liquid into your chicken because it will likely not be drinking water on its own.
Treatment for Constipation in Chickens
If you suspect your chicken is constipated, there are a few things to help the animal get some relief and have regular bowel movements.
Fill a bucket with lukewarm water and dissolve a handful of Epsom salt.
You will place your chicken in the bucket for around 15-20 minutes.
The Epsom salt will help the chicken relax, and the warm water relieves pressure in the bird’s abdomen.
This warm water bath may be repeated up to three times a day until the chicken has a bowel movement.
Some chickens will even poop during the bath.
If your chicken can drink water, mix in an electrolyte supplement explicitly made for poultry, such as this one, which also includes a probiotic for added digestive support.
Blackstrap molasses is also a natural laxative, and it may be added to your chicken’s water or given orally with a syringe if the animal is not drinking.
Be sure not to use too much molasses, which will cause diarrhea in large doses.
If natural remedies are not working, petroleum jelly may also be used to relieve constipation in chickens when a small amount is applied inside the vent.
The petroleum jelly will lubricate the colon’s lining, helping the chicken resume normal bowel movements.
A last-resort option is to give your chicken an enema with a saline solution.
An experienced owner should only do this method as it is difficult and unpleasant for the chicken.
If your chicken is still eating, you may add a teaspoon of coconut or vegetable oil to its food to lubricate the digestive system and relieve constipation issues.
Preventing Constipation in Chickens
Constipation may be very dangerous for a chicken, but there are a few ways to prevent it.
Avoid feeding your hens too much protein, and ensure they have access to fresh, clean water at all times.
A balanced poultry diet should give your chickens all the essential nutrients they need to stay healthy.
It is also crucial to keep your chickens warm, as being cold causes their digestive tract to shut down.
If a bacterial infection or egg-binding causes constipation, it is best to seek veterinary care for proper treatment and antibiotics.
Regularly monitor your flock for signs of illness so they can get prompt treatment.
Adding prebiotics, probiotics, and fiber to your chicken’s food will allow it to maintain digestive health and reduce the risk of constipation.
Some high-fiber foods for chickens include soybean hulls, alfalfa meal, dried grains, oats, and barley.
Prebiotics and probiotics increase the beneficial bacteria in a chicken’s gut and promote regular bowel movements.
Symptoms of an Egg-Bound Chicken
An egg-bound hen will display many of the same symptoms as one who is constipated since the bird will likely not be able to defecate.
In addition to the symptoms listed above for constipated chickens, an egg-bound hen will also spend most of her time in the nesting box.
The hen may also strain as if she is attempting to lay an egg but is simply unable to.
A hen may also have a more upright stance as she struggles to move the egg through her oviduct.
Treatment for an Egg-Bound Chicken
A warm water bath with Epsom salt not only helps a constipated chicken but may also help her if she is egg-bound.
If the warm water bath does not help the hen lay her egg, you need to seek veterinary care as soon as possible for treatment.
A hen will die very quickly if her egg-binding is not treated promptly.
If a veterinarian is not available right away, you may gently massage her abdomen to help the egg move along.
Palpitate the hen’s abdomen until you feel the egg, and gently manipulate it towards the vent.
To mimic the hen’s natural contractions, apply pressure to the abdomen for three seconds and then release.
Repeat this multiple times, and check the cloaca opening to see if the egg has reached the vent.
Never attempt to manually remove the egg, as a broken egg might be fatal for the hen.
Only allow a skilled veterinarian to perform this procedure.
Further Reading: What to do when an egg breaks inside a chicken
Preventing Egg-Binding in Chickens
There are a few simple ways to reduce the risk of egg binding in hens.
Obese and elderly hens are more prone to becoming egg-bound and need to receive the proper nutrition and drink plenty of water.
Young hens forced to prematurely lay eggs using heat lamps and extra lighting are also at a higher risk of becoming egg-bound.
Avoid exposing chicks to supplemental lighting in the coop until they are at least 20 weeks old.
Egg-laying hens need to be fed a commercial layer feed along with crushed oyster shells for added calcium.
Related: Benefits of crushed oyster shells for chickens
Ensure there are adequate nesting boxes in the coop so your hens do not have to wait for an empty one to release their eggs.
It is also wise to reduce stress on your hens by maintaining a strict routine and avoiding sudden changes, such as adding new chickens to the flock.