9 Common Causes of Sudden Death in Chickens

People will often think of chickens more as farm animals than pets, but the truth is that people can grow quite attached to their chickens. This means it can be extra tough when you walk out to the coop one morning and find a dead bird lying on the ground. How on earth could that be?

Sadly there are quite a few reasons why a chicken could appear to suddenly drop dead. Even if it’s difficult at first, at least knowing what might have caused your chicken (or chickens) to die might give you peace of mind and could even possibly help you avoid a similar situation in the future. Here are a few possibilities to keep in mind.

1. Sudden Death Syndrome

Sudden Death Syndrome, otherwise known as SDS, is a fairly common cause of death in chickens. It’s exactly what it sounds like: sudden death without apparent cause or reason. Thousands of studies have been conducted but unfortunately, there are not any symptoms you can watch for when this happens.

Right before it happens, SDS could be characterized by a sudden attack. The chicken’s muscles will contract, they might flap frantically for a few seconds, appear unfocused, and have many other similar symptoms. According to Science Direct, these attacks can usually last about a minute before death ensues. When SDS is the problem, there’s nothing you can do other than give the chicken a proper burial.

2. Choking

In a lot of areas, roosters are either illegal or forced to wear collars that prevent them from crowing at all hours of the morning. They work pretty well, but there is a slight hazard to using those collars: if the rooster gets hold of an overly large piece of food, they might choke on it and suffocate. It can be somewhat difficult to tell when a chicken is choking, so if your bird drops dead suddenly, you may want to investigate this as the cause of death.

You will need to make sure the collar isn’t cinched too tight, or else this could become a serious problem. Now, the collars aren’t something you need to worry about with your hens, but sometimes hens will still bite off more than they can chew. If possible, make sure you’re giving them small enough food and make sure their pen/coop area is free of anything dangerous they might put in their mouths.

3. Egg Binding

Conversely, eggbound chickens/egg binding is only something you need to worry about with your hens. When a hen becomes eggbound, it means they have an egg stuck inside them and they are unable to lay it. This is a very painful condition that can cause death unless you notice the symptoms early enough and take the appropriate action.

Some symptoms of egg binding include temporary limpness, ginger movements, and a lack of interest in food or water. Some chickens won’t even leave the roost for a longer time than usual because movement hurts. If you suspect that one of your chickens is eggbound, you should call your vet right away. If the egg stays there long enough, the chicken will not survive.

These symptoms can be pretty easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Egg binding is pretty painful but it may not always be obvious that a chicken is going through this. Plus, if the egg breaks inside the chicken, it will not matter if you notice soon. There’s not much that can be done at that point.

4. Heart Attacks/Heart Failure

Heart attacks and heart pump failures are becoming more and more commonplace in poultry. Heart attacks can often be linked to SDS and sometimes it’s linked with old age. Regardless of the cause, a heart attack is something that can cause sudden death without any seeming cause. You may need to take the chicken to the vet to determine whether or not it was a heart attack that did it.

5. Parasites

Parasites can be a pretty big issue with chickens. They can be passed from animal to animal, and chickens can even pick them up by simply pecking around the yard and picking up certain types of insects, sometimes ones that are harboring eggs. This can quickly turn into a parasital infection.

Now, some parasites can be quickly treated and taken care of without any serious problems. However, other parasites like worms can be fatal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if suddenly you lost a chicken one day. The scary part is that worms can be extremely difficult to detect. If they persist long enough, it will kill the chicken(s).

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6. Infections and Disease

There are a lot of diseases that affect chickens. Some of these may not cause the chicken to keel over right away, but some are, in fact, untreatable (things such as fowl pox and necrotic enteritis). There is a vaccination for fowl pox, but no cure, so it’s important that you immunize your chickens regularly.

The easiest way to avoid infections and diseases is to keep your chickens’ food and coop area as clean as possible. This will prevent them from catching anything life-threatening.

7. Undetected Injuries

Now, how could a chicken have undetectable injuries? According to one chicken owner, chickens can sometimes be quite rough with each other. Sometimes they’ll trample one another (sometimes on accident, sometimes not) and if it’s violent enough, it can result in internal injuries.

These internal injuries will rarely if ever, be perfectly obvious, so one day you might lose a chicken and not know why. If you have noticed any sort of rough action between your birds, this could very well be the reason behind it.

8. Unclean Food

Chicken food can become contaminated in a variety of ways. Sometimes the chickens will poop or urinate in their food (not on purpose of course) and then ingest it. It’s also possible that their food is wet or was contaminated upon purchase. If rodents or other animals get to it, that can also cause contamination. If your chickens eat contaminated food for long enough, it can certainly become fatal.

9. Predators

Depending on where you live, chicken predators could pose another problem. Raccoons, foxes, and even sometimes large birds of prey can be an issue. Most of these animals, if given access to a chicken coop, can quickly take out two or three chickens at once. Be sure to carefully monitor them and make sure to always close and lock the coop at night, if possible.

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