I belong to a number of Facebook chicken groups and occasionally see posts from folks asking how to diagnose and deal with their disabled birds. I’ve even followed the online stories of blind chickens, Mumble and Poodle Roo. I’m glad there are chicken keepers willing to take on the additional learning and work load of caring for their special needs birds and, frankly, relieved that I haven’t had to deal with those issues (or at least, knock on wood, not yet).
Blindness in chickens occurs in a number of ways: chicks can hatch blind or without eyes or birds can lose their sight due to injury or disease.
- Damage to the eye: predator attack; scratches, pecking and fighting injuries
- Vitamin A deficiency in chicks
- High ammonia levels caused by excessive poop accumulation in the coop without sufficient ventilation can cause the cornea in the eye to become damaged.
- Marek’s Disease can cause changes to the eye and partial or complete blindness
- Upper respiratory tract infections (e.g. chronic Sinusitis and Mycoplasma Gallisepticum) can lead to secondary infection of the eye.
- Cataracts, glaucoma
- Lead poisoning
- Rhode Island Red chickens can carry a congenital defect that prevents chicks from producing an enzyme essential for sight
- Crested birds (e.g. Polish) can have feathers grow into their eye
One’s first reaction when confronted with a blind chicken might be to euthanize it, feeling that it wouldn’t have a good quality of life, but there’s lots of evidence to the contrary. Being blind can be a challenge, but if accommodated chickens can live long happy, healthy lives. If you end up with a disabled chicken there are several online supports.
- Chicks: inability to find food and water, constant chirping
- Bumping into objects
- Pecking at air, missing target
- Reduced activity
- Enlarged or irregular-shaped pupils
- Cloudiness or discoloration of the eyes
- Limited reaction to external stimuli
A simple test to check whether a chicken’s sight is impaired is to slowly move your finger towards, or back and forth in front of, the affected eye. A chicken’s instinct is to blink, move out of the way or to follow the movement of your finger. You can also shine a flashlight in their eyes to see if their pupils constrict or not. Blindness may be partial or complete and can affect one or both eyes. The onset can be sudden or gradual.
Just like with blindness in people, there’s a difference between once being sighted and then losing it and not ever having it. A chick that is born blind will have no memory of its environment, but an adult that has mapped its territory may adjust more easily. Disabled chickens often fare well when they are paired with a friend who takes on the role of guardian and guide.
- Don’t let sight impaired chickens free range as they are at risk of predator attacks.
- Keep birds confined within a limited, predator proof area.
- Make sure that food and water are in a consistent location.
- Be aware of flock dynamics to ensure that the special needs birds are not bullied or pecked.
- Monitor food and water intake, weight and output (poop) to ensure there are no changes.