Natural Treatments for Common Chick Illness and Disease

Buying day-old baby chicks from a reputable breeder or hatchery will generally result in healthy chicks, but sometimes things still go wrong, and at times one will fall ill.

Here's a quick guide to a few of the most common ailments and how to treat them naturally.

Respiratory Issues

What it is - Chicks, with their elaborate respiratory systems are very susceptible to breathing problems which can manifest themselves as runny or bubbling eyes, coughing or sneezing or runny nostrils.

Sometimes the symptoms of a more serious illness, often these symptoms are merely caused by irritants in the brooder.

Prevention - Use large-sized pine chips as brooder bedding to cut down on dust that sand (NEVER recommended!) or sawdust might create.

Never use bleach to clean your brooder, since ammonia (in chick poop) mixed with bleach creates toxic fumes. (Clean the brooder  with white vinegar and water instead well before you start to smell ammonia.)

Don't use cedar shavings which can lead to respiratory problems.

Treatment - Sometimes a squirt of saline solution is all that is needed to clear debris out of a runny eye. For more serious cases fresh minced garlic served free-choice and apple cider vinegar in the water (just a splash) can help.

Chopped fresh basil, clover, dill and thyme all aid respiratory health. (Respiratory illness that doesn't clear up in a week or so or continues to get worse can signal a serious illness and a vet should be consulted) 

For more on respiratory ailments read HERE.


What it is - Coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract that causes red-tinted or bloody stools and lethargy, is the number one cause of death in baby chicks. It is highly infectious. 

Prevention - Although medicated feed is the conventional method to protect chicks until they can build immunity, instead studies are being done using oregano oil and cinnamon at natural antibiotics. Adding both to your chick's diet can help protect them.

Again, apple cider vinegar, probiotic powder and garlic can help build strong immune systems so chicks are hardy enough to combat any coccidia they encounter in their environment.

Treatment - If you do suspect a chick has contracted coccidiosis, separate her and try a mash of equal parts chick feed and milk mixed with some plain yogurt.

This will generally cause diarrhea, which generally isn't desirable, but diarrhea is your body's (or a chick's body's way of flushing out undesirable pathogens), so the mash will help flush the intestine and clean out the parasite.

Follow the mash up with probiotic powder in the feed to help rebuild the good bacteria. Feed fresh oregano or dried sprinkled over their feed along with some cinnamon. And be sure to provide plenty of fresh water with electrolytes to replace those lost from the diarrhea.

Read more on coccidiosis HERE.

Marek's Disease

What it is  - Marek's Disease is the name for several viral disease that show themselves mainly in tumors and paralysis, with sick chicks usually starving because they aren't able to get to feed and water.

Highly contagious, it spreads bird-to-bird or via infected dust and dander, but not to a chick through the egg of an infected mother hen. Not always fatal, chicks will develop resistance to the virus through contact 

Prevention - Many hatcheries and breeders offer a vaccination for the chicks before they ship them to protect against Mareks, but the vaccination is not 100% effective.

A clean brooder and practicing good biosecurity  measures when going back and forth between your existing flock and new chicks is your best prevention along with building a strong immune system as mentioned above with ACV, garlic and probiotics. 

Treatment - Chicks you suspect have contracted Marek's should be separated.

There is no treatment but by making sure they continue to eat and drink, and are keeping their immune systems strong, chicks have a better chance at surviving.

Pasty Butt 

What it is - Feces literally stops up a chick's vent so they can't excrete their poop. It can be potentially fatal. 

Prevention - Keep the brooder bedding dry and change out wet litter to remove bacteria that can cause diarrhea.

Pasty butt is most common in shipped chicks, so if possible purchase chick locally or hatch your own.

Often caused by stress or temperature fluctuations, keep your brooder temperature constant and don't let children or household pets harass your chicks.

Treatment - Cornmeal or ground raw oatmeal can help clear up pasty butt, as can adding probiotic powder to your chick's feed.

Chick-sized grit should also be provided in the brooder. Dirty vents should be cleaned off carefully with a q-tip dipped in olive oil and rechecked/relubricated until they clean (usually takes a few days).

Red more about Pasty Butt HERE.

Spraddle Leg

What it is - Spraddle Leg is a condition whereby one or both legs slip out to the sides making a chick unable to stand or walk. Spraddle leg can appear at hatch if the temperature in the incubator was too high or varied too much, or from a vitamin deficiency. It can result several days after a chick hatches if the brooder floor is too slippery for the chick to grip, which causes the legs to slide to one side. 

Prevention - The easiest way to prevent spraddle leg is to cover your brooder floor with rubber shelf liner not newspaper. 

Treatment - Wrapping a band-aid or some vetwrap around the legs to stabilize them for a few days normally allows the legs to strengthen and correct themselves. Be sure the chick isn't being trampled by the other chicks.

Read more about Spraddle Leg HERE.

Scissor Beak (or Crossed Beak)

What it is - Scissor or Crossed Beak is a deformity in which the top and bottom of a chick's beak don't line up property. It is most often genetic and will likely worsen over time as the chick grows.

Prevention -  To prevent future cases, don't breed any chicks with the condition (or the hen who's egg hatched the chick with scissor beak)

Treatment - There is no treatment per se, although its possible a vet could perform surgery. Filing down the beak with an emery board can help it to close better.

Moistening the chick feed a bit and raising the dish or feeder to shoulder-level can help a chick with the condition eat a bit easier. Feeding the chick separately can also assure it is getting enough to eat.

Read more about Scissor Beak HERE.


What it is - Stargazing is the condition where a baby chick is unable to hold its head up so it tilts back and rests on its back and the chick will be unable to walk normally and instead start walking backwards. 

Prevention - Stargazing is thought to be partially caused by a Vitamin B (thiamine) deficiency, so if you hatch your own chicks,  be sure your mother hen is in tip-top health and given a multi-vitamin such as Nutri-Drench prior to laying her eggs you'll be setting, or sprinkling some Brewer's Yeast over the chick's daily feed.

Treatment - Same as for prevention, adding Brewer's yeast is an excellent source for thiamine, or you can administer Nutri-Drench to the affected  chick.

Try massaging the chick's neck carefully for a few minutes several times a day and be sure the chick has access to feed and water and isn't being trampled by the other chicks.

Despite how scary all this might sound, rest assured that purchasing chicks or hatching eggs from a reputable source and practicing good biosecurity/brooder management will more than likely assure you never encounter any of these problems, but if you do, now you'll be prepared.


New to raising chicks?  Read my Basic Chick Care Guide

©2014 by Fresh Eggs Daily, Inc. All rights reserved.


  1. Very helpful! I wish i found this a two weeks ago! One of my chicks I believe had Coccidiosis, She was completely lethargic and would lay down on her side and rock her head constantly. Her feet practically shriveled up and toes curled tight, almost like an elderly person's some times does. Her eye lids almost seemed blue also and she stopped eating and drinking completely. We didn't know what it was, and asked around the feed store for advice. At least I did have the instinct to separate her from the rest of the flock, but sadly she didn't make it.
    This is our first time having chickens, and though I am continually being told that having 26 out of 27 make it thus far (they are 3 weeks old today) is a great ratio, it still doesn't take away from me being sad it happened. My family got chickens to love and have as pets and for their fresh, healthy eggs, not to "not get attached to" and basically use, as quite a few people around us have said to do with them!

    Glad to have found you all, you're a great resource and handy for a smile every day I scroll through my newsfeed! :)

    1. You ARE doing great to lose only one. Chicks are fragile and especially when they are shipped, they often don't make it. I think its only natural to get attached to them - even if you do plan on eating them eventually, how could you not start to really care for such sweet, friendly creatures?

  2. What a great article! I've read about these diseases in one of my chicken books, but all the treatments involved vaccinations or medicines, which I am trying to avoid as much as is wise and possible. I'm glad to know that simple natural treatments are available.

    This is my first time raising chicks. My babies are 3 1/2 weeks old now and growing at incredibly different rates. My silver laced wyandotte is still quite small, my buff orphington is a little bigger and my arucana is huge. Is this normal?
    The arucana is starting to worry me because she keeps laying down sideways and letting her wings fall down loosely at her sides, which according to my books seems like the 'sick chicken look'. Everything I've read says that if a chick grows too fast she can out grow her legs or get sick, but I can't find any more details or instructions. Her legs are very sturdy, she is active sometimes but not as much as the others, and everything else I'm doing like the instructions say - temp, keeping things clean as much as possible, etc.

    Should I be worried?

    1. Really hard to diagnose online without seeing her. How's she doing now?

  3. First time with chickens here also. We've been adding ACV to their water and Probios to their feed, but they don't seem to touch the garlic. I've been putting it in a separate dish low to the ground and near the food and water. It sits there until the next day and becomes a hard crusty mass. Any suggestions for encouraging them to eat it?

    1. Melissa we had the same issue with garlic and herbs. I finally put it in one of their regular feeder holes. They ate it. I haven't tried a separate dish again yet.

    2. Yes if you mix it into something they like, they will get used to the taste.

    3. Thanks so much, we'll give it a try. :)

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  5. We've raised chicks several times, but this past time we had a lot of our meat birds with what we think is probably riboflavin deficiency - their feet curled up under them and they had trouble walking. I gave them a vitamin supplement in their water, and most of them cleared up, but it was a weird thing. The hatchery suggested that it might be from their feed, but our friends who ordered with us (same shipment) were raising their birds on different feed and in a different type of environment, and they had the same thing. Overall it was a pretty bad hatch - both families lost a lot of birds. Fortunately the hatchery refunded some money, but it was still very disappointing all around.

  6. Our little chick recently broke her leg at the hip the day we were getting 4 more chicks. She had been with one other chick. The vet said she is young enough that it may heal on its own or we could put her down. Of course we want to nurse her back to health if that's possible. But we also don't want her to suffer. At this point she doesn't appear to be, but this is our first time raising chicks and so we don't know a lot. We have kept her and the other chick together and they have been fine. When we put her with the younger chicks some peck a bit at the foot she is holding up. Is it best to keep them separate? Have you dealt with broken legs or have any advice? Thanks so much - love your site!

    1. Poor little one. I think she is happier with the other chick and as long as she' isn't getting trampled, she's best off with that one. I haven't dealt with a broken leg, but I would say let her heal and you'll have to make a judgment call about any paiin, difficulty walking etc. down the road.

  7. I just bought 4 chicks at a local feed store and have already lost one. Symptoms were lethargic, clear poop and she stopped eating. I did everything I could - dropper feeding and all the suggestions on other forums. Now another one is starting to have the same symptoms, seem to be tired all the time, clear poop, a little sneezing but no significant discharge, she is drinking may not be eating as much. What can I do? I have offered chopped garlic and fresh herbs, she had some, I put a few drops of oregano oil and a tiny piece of garlic in their water. I already had an emotion breakdown with the last one that didn't make, I do not want to lose another! Any suggestions would be very helpful.

  8. Look at the coccidosis portion of the page. Maybe even medicated feed for that one?

    1. Yes there is medicated feed but it doesn't guard 100% against coccidiosis and we don't like to use chemicals and commercial medications on our selves or our flocks, so we're recommending some nature remedies instead.

  9. We received our day old chicks yesterday and two of them seem to have something funny going on with one of their feet. It doesn't sound like spraddle leg, and perhaps it's just a transport injury, but...both are avoiding standing on their bad foot, which appears to be kind of curled, or the toes are not spread out. Any advice?

    1. HI there. Could have been injured during shipping or could be a vitamin deficiency. I would get them both on Vitamins & Electrolytes or some Nutri-drench - your feed store should have both to be sure they are getting enough vitamins. Curled toes I believe are a vitamin B deficiency so also adding some brewers yeast - just a sprinkle- on top of their feed would be helpful as well.

  10. Well we orders chicks and there about 4 days olds however there dropping like flies! When they arrived there was one dead, but the other ones followed.....they just lay down and start have seizures and what's looks to be puking....any advice on what they have or what to do?

    1. I am so sorry. I would contact the hatchery you ordered them from ASAP. Sounds like something contagious and they need to know. So so sorry, that must be heartbreaking.

  11. Hello Lisa, Love your site. I am new to raising chicks and am just getting ready to order some BCM”s. There is no local supplier here in NC. I don’t feel comfortable trying to hatch my own yet. I am also very nervous about having day old chicks shipped through the mail. Some of the hatchery’s I have found on line can be pretty far away. Do you have a hatchery you recommend along with any suggestions or words of encouragement? Does the distance from hatchery really make any difference?

    1. Hi there. I love our Marans. I do think distance makes a difference for sure. The longer the trip, the more chance something can go wrong. I ordered hatching eggs this past spring from Taylor Hobby Farms. I am really happy with the chicks I hatched. They haven't started laying yet but as you can see from the website, the egg color should be beautiful. I think they are in Georgia? Anyway, I would contact them. I can highly recommend them. Lisa

  12. We bought two chicks from one of our local feed stores two weeks ago, they were between 4 & 6 weeks old. Since we've had them they have been active, happy little Ameracaunas. Last night I noticed that Thelma began to seem quite lethargic and her vent was moving up and down. At first I thought she was overheated. Then I noticed that Louis wasn't behaving the same as Thelma. Since last night Thelma's behaviour hasn't improved. Though she Is still eating and drinking regular, when she lays down she does so extending herthe neck and lays her head down sideways. All of this done in a very slow almost "dying" manner. When I come to the broader she still jumps up and is Very responsive, but the behaviour has alarmed me, and am unsure of which way to treat the symptoms. Also, she is hot to the touch, whereas Louis is not. Any suggestions?

    1. Also, I forgot to mention, Thelma and Louis are in the same broader box. Should I separate them for the time being? Louis is not displaying any of the same odd behaviours as Thelma, regardless, I'm curious if Thelma does have something possibly parasitic that Louis just may not be showing signs of yet? Just don't have a much of a clue as to what could be going on as Thelma and Louis share everything, environment, food, water.... I don't want to separate them, as they both become a bit distressed upon separation. However, if Thelma Is I'll, I don't want Louis to contract whatever Thelma has should it be contagious.
      *Hoping this article is still checked in on*