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Lethargic Chickens: How You Can Help?

Chickens are energetic creatures that are always pecking, scratching, and running around. While they can be lazy on occasion, chickens usually do not seem unenthusiastic. If you notice that your chicken is not as lively as before, it could mean they are lethargic. Knowing how to spot lethargic chickens and treat them is crucial to getting your flock back on its feet.

Here is what you need to know about helping your lethargic chickens feel better.

two chickens sleeping on the grass

What is Lethargy in Chickens?

Lethargy means a lack of energy, and it is the same in both humans and chickens. This lack of energy is often seen in obvious weariness, such as drooping and sleeping constantly. Your lethargic chickens will not want to move, even when spooked or endangered. If they do decide to walk around, they will not do so quickly.

Lethargy is not a normal condition for a chicken. As such, if you see a chicken or several behaving lethargically, you can assume that something is wrong.

Signs of a Lethargic Chicken

How do you spot a lethargic chicken? Here are some signs that will help you identify the sick members of your flock:


Lethargic chickens do one thing that is an obvious sign of illness — they sleep with their head drooped or tucked beneath a wing. It is almost like they do not have the energy to keep their head up.


Due to the lack of energy and ragdoll behavior, your lethargic chicken is going to be unaware of its surroundings. They will not react, even if danger is near. Because of this, lethargic chickens can be handled easily, since they will not get ruffled. In fact, your sick chicken will usually be too weak to open its eyes.

Wobbly, Weary Steps

sleeping chickens

When running around, chickens dart here and there somewhat unpredictably. They may also flap their wings and take a short flight from one point to the next. Chickens seem sure of their steps and where they are going, especially when roaming the yard. A mobile chicken is a healthy chicken.

A lethargic chicken does not run or flap its wings. Instead, they may even struggle with standing up and carrying their own weight. You may see a lethargic chicken fighting to stay balanced as it moves, only to fall over.

Not Foraging For Food

Chickens spend a significant amount of time looking for things to eat, an act called foraging. Whether in the chicken run or out in the open, chickens travel together while pecking and scratching at the ground. They investigate by taking nibbles of everything that crosses their paths. At night, the chickens return to the coop to rest. The next day, they are right back to roaming around.

A lethargic chicken will not do this. Rather than joining the flock and foraging, a lethargic chicken will remain on the ground or in the coop, not wanting to move, even when prodded.

They may look as if they are napping, but this is not an ordinary nap. 

Separated From The Flock

In chicken society, the flock is a united front. Chickens feel safe when they are surrounded by others, and so they rarely go out on their own. This also makes it easier to avoid predators. However, lethargic chickens do the opposite. Instead of acting as a member in the pecking order, they isolate themselves. They do not join the other hens when scratching at food or taking a dust bath.

Lethargic chickens will do nothing at all, and that’s dangerous.

Do not overlook a solitary chicken. It generally means they are unwell and need veterinarian care.

Reasons You Have Lethargic Chickens

chicken lethargic sleeping

Lethargy may seem to happen overnight, but that is rarely the case. Usually, lethargy is a side effect of some other issue affecting your chicken. A physical examination is the best way to determine why your chicken is feeling weak and sleepy.

In some cases, chickens are lethargic because of the temperature. Whenever a chicken is too hot or cold, their bodies react poorly. Consider isolating your lethargic chicken for a short while in a temperature-controlled room. See if they react to the change. If their energy increases, you can return them to the flock without having to worry about anything else.

Lethargy can also be caused by blockages in the digestive tract. Observe your lethargic chicken for a time. Are they eating and drinking like the others? If they are refusing food and drink, then the chicken may have something wrong with its throat, crop, vent, intestines, or oviduct.

For instance, egg binding can block up the entire system and cause lethargy. Furthermore, you chicken will be unable to expel waste.

Diseases and parasitic infestations can also cause lethargy. A visit to the vet is often the best bet for a diagnosis and medication, if you feel that a disease or virus is the cause.

How to Help Your Lethargic Chickens

chickens sleep with their head tucked underneath their wing
Photo credit: Twitter post

If you suspect that your chicken is feeling unwell, not just lazy, it is best to keep an eye on him or her. The following steps outline a way to help your lethargic chicken not only get more energy, but also heal up if they are sick or injured in some way:

1. Isolate Your Lethargic Chicken

Observing your lethargic chicken can tell you a lot about how they are feeling. Plus, should you need to provide around-the-clock care, separating the chicken from the rest makes it a bit easier. How you isolate your sick chicken is up to you. Some people will bring their chickens inside and put them in an unoccupied kennel or crate with some warm blankets and a heat lamp.

This comfortable, dark space will help your chicken feel calm and safe while they heal up from whatever ails them.

2. Keep Your Ill Chicken Hydrated and Fed

Lethargic chickens are often too weak to even eat or drink. Since hydration and nourishment is essential to life, you may have to feed and water your chicken with a dropper for the time being. As mentioned earlier, lethargic chickens are easy to handle, because they are droopy and fatigued, so do not worry about having to fight your chicken on this.

Some nourishing liquids that you can give your chicken include:

  • Water mixed with apple cider vinegar
  • Organic coconut water
  • Olive oil

Provide your chicken with organic coconut water and some apple cider vinegar and water every few hours. Olive oil, which is a natural antiviral, can be offered once a day.

Should your chicken feel well enough to eat, give him or her some chicken feed soaked in coconut water to simultaneously satisfy their hunger and quench their thirst.

Be sure to stick with the hydration schedule, as it is extremely important when nursing a lethargic chicken back to health. Your chicken will not eat alone in this state. As such, you need to boost their energy levels by taking a dropper and supplying them with nutrition.

Many people that follow this see an improvement within a few days.

3. Examine Your Chicken or Take Them To The Vet

The next step, if your lethargic chicken does not improve with food and water, is to bring them to the veterinarian. If you feel confident physically examining your chicken alone, you can do that as well. Look for signs of what may be causing the lethargy. Is your chicken losing weight? Have they been pooping? What is the consistency? Do you notice any injuries or external signs of illness?

Wheezing, coughing, discharge from the nose and eyes, swelling, tremors…all these symptoms point to an illness. Worms, for example, can cause lethargy, as can mites and lice.

If you do not see any sign of parasites, try palpating your chicken’s abdomen. Hens may become egg bound. You may feel a hardness in the abdomen if that is the case.

4. Provide Medications, If Necessary

Chickens that are exhibiting signs of worms or a virus may need medication, such as a dewormer or antibiotics. Make sure you follow the instructions exactly and continue on hydrating and feeding your sick chicken routinely.

Some medications, like Valbazen for deworming, need to be given for 10 days straight. Somewhere in the middle of those 10 days, you will start to see your chicken regain the energy she has lost. Be patient, and don’t give up on your chicken!

Final Thoughts on Lethargic Chickens

When your chickens start acting lethargic, do not pass it off as laziness. They may be sick or uncomfortable. Should you see the signs of illness, start caring for your lethargic chickens straight away. Separate them, keep them hydrated, and if necessary, provide them with the right medication. They should bounce back and start running around again in a couple of days.