Lethargic Chickens – Signs, Reasons, Treatment

Chickens are pretty active, constantly foraging for food throughout the day and dust bathing when it gets too hot. However, your chickens could be lethargic sometimes, making them less active than usual.

A lethargic chicken is unusually slow and inactive, unlike healthy chickens. Lethargic chickens aren’t able to walk or stand properly. They may roost for several hours or roost while tucking their heads into their wings.

Furthermore, lethargic chickens aren’t aware of their environment, making these chickens an easy target for roaming predators.

Signs of Lethargy in Chickens

Chicken keepers confuse lethargy with sickness. A lethargic chicken isn’t necessarily sick, and therefore you should identify the symptoms of lethargy in your birds before concluding your birds are sick. These are the signs of lethargy in chickens.

– Inability to Forage

A healthy chicken will spend most of its time foraging for food. Chickens walk across their coop, searching for seeds, crumbs, and worms to eat. Even inside their coops, healthy chickens will always walk around scratching and pecking on things.

Your free-range birds will take time to go back to their coop to rest after foraging for a while. However, they will be active throughout the day.

If your birds aren’t foraging most of the time, it is a sign they could be lethargic. A lethargic chicken won’t join the other birds in foraging for food. Instead, the bird will be sitting on the ground while others search for food.

It may even remain in the coop for the better part of the day. Although chickens also take naps as humans do, lethargic chickens may take naps for too long. They aren’t eager to leave the coop and forage for food like healthy chickens.

– Difficulty Walking

This is a common sign of lethargy in chickens. A healthy chicken will always strut around. It will dart its legs forward while walking. Moreover, a healthy chicken will occasionally flap its wings for agitation or balance.

The way a chicken walks will tell you whether it’s healthy or not. If a bird has difficulty walking, the bird’s chances of being lethargic are high. Lethargic chickens also have difficulty standing. They will lose balance and fall whenever they try to walk.

Most lethargic chicks have bowed legs which makes them experience walking problems since their legs won’t lift their weight when they try to stand.

– Solitary

Chickens like sticking together since they feel safe being together in large numbers. Lethargic chickens, however, prefer to live separately from other flock members. A lethargic chicken won’t join other members in their daily activities.

It will, instead, choose to live on its own. It will only struggle to join other birds when they are eating. The lethargic chicken can manage to join other chickens as they eat. However, the chicken will prefer its solitude.

It will opt to nest away from other birds and even attempt to feed elsewhere. Therefore, lethargy could make your chicken isolate itself from the rest of the flock members.

– Head Droop

Chickens tend to sleep in a specific way when roosting at night. If one or two birds in your flock don’t sleep like other members, it could be that the bird has lethargy.

Lethargic chickens usually sleep when their heads look as if they are dropping or tucking into their wing. It’s hard for lethargic chickens to lift their heads because they lack the energy to keep their heads upright when sleeping.

– Unaware of Their Surroundings

If some chickens in your flock are seemingly oblivious of their surroundings, it is most likely the birds are lethargic. Health chickens always remain alert to their surroundings and what’s going around their surroundings.

Healthy chickens, especially roosters, are constantly looking for potential threats. However, a lethargic chicken is unable to stay alert to its surroundings.

Lethargic chickens cannot respond to dangers or stimuli in their surroundings. Predators can approach lethargic chickens without the chickens running off from the predators. It is also pretty easy for chicken keepers to handle their lethargic chickens.

Since lethargic chickens aren’t aware of their surroundings, they won’t even realize when people take them out of their coops. Besides being unaware of their environment, lethargic chickens have difficulty keeping their eyes open, making them unable to react to their surroundings.

Reasons for Lethargy in Chickens

Chickens can be lethargic for several reasons. Chickens are different, and they might behave differently even when living in the same environment. If you notice any signs of lethargy in your chickens, you should strive to understand why these chickens are lethargic. Check these reasons why some of your birds could be lethargic.

  • Temperature changes-Chickens are pretty sensitive to temperature changes. Temperature changes can affect your chickens, making them prone to lethargy. Your chickens could become lethargic if they get too hot or too cold. Baby chicks and young chickens are most likely to become lethargic due to temperature changes than adult chickens. Adult chickens have adaptations that help them cope with temperature changes, and therefore mature chickens are less likely to become lethargic.
  • Illnesses– Healthy chickens are persistently eating food and drinking water. However, diseases can make chickens unable to eat, making their bodies weak. Low energy levels because of lack of water and food can make your chickens lethargic. Because of lack of energy, your lethargic chickens won’t be able to forage like other chickens in your flock. Furthermore, lethargic chickens won’t participate in social activities such as dust bathing.
  • Egg bound hens– Hens are likely to become lethargic due to egg bounding. Egg bounding, or the inability to pass out eggs while laying, can contribute to lethargy in hens. Egg bounding usually stops a hen’s digestive system from working effectively. Egg-bound hens cannot expel waste, making them experience discomfort that prevents them from eating while other chickens are feeding or foraging outdoors. Check your hens’ vents area if they are seemingly lethargic. Contact a vet when you discover your hens are lethargic due to the inability to pass out eggs.

How to Treat Lethargic Chicken?

If you think that a couple of birds in your flock are lethargic, it will help first observe the birds to be sure they are lethargic. At times, chickens can be lazy, making chicken owners think their birds are lethargic. If you are sure some of the birds in your flock could be lethargic, you should take the following steps to treat the lethargic chickens.

  • Isolate the lethargic birds from your flock-Isolate the lethargic birds from the flock. Check what could be making the birds lethargic, and then look into ways you can help the lethargic chickens resume their everyday lives. You can’t tell exactly what makes the chickens lethargic. It could be possibly because of a chicken disease, and therefore isolation is recommended to prevent the lethargic chickens from spreading diseases to the other healthy chickens in the flock.
  • Feed the chickens separately– Apart from isolating the lethargic birds from the healthy flock members, you should also feed the lethargic birds separately from the other chickens in the flock. Lethargic chickens can’t eat appropriately like other healthy chickens. They tend to eat much slower than other healthy flock members. Feed your lethargic chickens separately from other birds to allow them to eat and drink at their own pace. After eating a substantial amount of food, although gradually, your lethargic chickens will have enough energy to forage for food, walk, and dust bath like other healthy flock members.
  • Help your lethargic chickens eat and drink water- Lethargic chickens cannot eat and drink water like other healthy birds. Consequently, they become weak, making them unable to stand and walk. Even if you are feeding your lethargic chickens separately from other chickens, that doesn’t mean the chickens will eat properly. You, therefore, need to assist your lethargic chickens in eating and drinking. For example, you can provide your lethargic chickens with a soupy form of feed that is easier for the chicks to eat instead of giving the lethargic birds regular chicken feed. The soupy chicken feed should contain essential vitamins to help the chicks get enough energy to resume their everyday lives. Since lethargic chickens cannot drink water from water dishes, you can drip a couple of water drops down their throats to ensure that the birds are taking enough water.
  • Consult an avian vet– Even if you know why your chickens could be lethargic, you might be unable to help the chickens resume their everyday lives. After all, some of the factors, such as diseases that could be making your chickens lethargic could be beyond your control. Consulting an avian vet could be the best option since the vet will check your birds for diseases and then administer medications that will help the lethargic birds go back to their active lifestyle.


Lethargy is a common issue that chicken owners have to deal with while rearing chickens. Lethargy can lead to death if you don’t fix the problems that could be making your birds lethargic.

Every chicken owner needs to be observing their flock to check whether any bird in their flock could be suffering from lethargy. Take swift action to save your birds from lethargy before the condition claims your entire flock.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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