I took my dog for a walk recently and as she squatted to poop I was shocked to see a projectile spray of blood – not a dribble, but a geyser. Needless to say I called the vet, who didn’t seem as panicked as I was. They asked about the blood (bright red vs dark), any other symptoms (none) and how she was behaving (perky and waiting to go for her walk).
I was advised to fast her for 24 hours and then report back on how she was doing. We carried on our walk and she produced a second dramatic pool of blood, but I heeded their advice. The next day she got two small meals and the following morning she produced a poop that was black at one end (bloody residue) and normal at the other. By the next day everything was back to normal. All that excitement may have been caused by something as simple as a broken blood vessel. By reading what she excreted, in tandem with her symptoms, I was able to save myself a visit to the vet which probably wouldn’t have come up with the answer anyway.
Although birds have different digestive systems than people, they produce poop in much the same way that mammals do. Everything they eat or drink is combined with saliva and digestive enzymes and travels from their beak into the esophagus and then to the crop, a holding area, for up to 12 hours. After that short stopover, it moves on to the stomach (proventriculus) where more digestive enzymes are added before it continues to the gizzard (ventriculus), which grinds the food with the help of grit and small stones they have ingested.
Next stop is the small intestine and the caeca, a branch of the small intestine where water is added and nutrients are absorbed. The digested food is further broken down, fermented and emptied a few times a day. The last stop is the cloaca where the contents from the intestines are combined with urates, which appear as white caps on the top of poop – and then, out it goes.
If you go to your doctor they may ask you some general questions about your digestive system, such as do you suffer from diarrhea or constipation, but not go into a lot of detail. On the contrary, if you visit an Eastern practitioner (i.e. Traditional Chinese Medicine) they will spend a lot of time asking about your outputs in detail (i.e. colour, texture, size, smell, frequency, consistency). It seems a bit intrusive, and maybe embarrassing, to speak about something you might not even pay that much attention to, but the study of poop can yield a lot of clues as to what is going on internally with both us, and our birds.
If you have chickens you know they poop a lot, in fact, it sometimes seems non-stop. It’s hard not to notice their outputs when you have to clean up after them so often. If you spend a bit of time looking at who is producing what, it might help you get a sense of the overall health of your flock and if any particular birds are having issues.
One of the first things I suggest when you’ve got a bird that’s feeling ‘off’ is to set up a sick bay so you can monitor how much they are eating and drinking and what kind of poop they are producing.
What is Normal?
In most cases, normal chicken poop will be some shade of brown (digested food), sometimes capped with white (urates – the human equivalent is urine), but can vary in colour (yellow, greens and reddish) or consistency depending on what they eat and what kind of poop it is.
Here’s an overview of the various kinds of poop that you may come across and how to interpret them:
- Just like in the case of my dog, black poop can be caused by internal bleeding
- Can be a result of eating charcoal, blackberries, or other dark-colored foods
- Sign of lead poisoning or zinc toxicity
- If you see bright red blood it’s usually a sign of coccidiosis. You can have you vet run a fecal float test to confirm it or assume that’s what it is and treat with Corid. It’s important that you don’t delay as it can kill birds quickly, especially chicks.
- When my hens are broody they often only leave the nest once or twice a day to eat, drink and pass one large stinky poop. Don’t be alarmed at the size and smell of these ones – they are disgusting, but totally normal.
- Produced in the caecum and are passed about once a day
- Thicker, stickier, more smelly than normal
- Ranges in colour from yellow to black
- Positive sign that the digestive tract is working
- Runny, greasy consistency
- Yellow mustard colour
- Can be caused by heat stress, coccidiosis or over eating
- If an on-going issue monitor for worms
- Usually a result of eating grasses and vegetables
- Can be caused by eating purple foods like beets and red cabbage
Intestinal Lining Poop
- Appears red and slimy, and although a bit scary looking, it’s just the normal shedding of their intestinal lining
- Sign of crop impaction, intestinal obstruction or Marek’s Disease (which may cause crop stasis)
- Consuming lots of watery food like cucumbers
- Sign of Infectious Bronchitis or E.coli
- Not the same as cecal poop
- White and liquid
- More common in hot weather when birds are birds lots of water in attempt to cool off
- It can be a sign that a chicken isn’t eating enough
- Related to kidney or other health issues
- Most poop will have a white cap or thread in it, which is urates
- All white poop can be from eating watery foods like watermelon, cucumbers or zucchini
- Can be caused by kidney damage, stress, internal diseases or vent gleet
- The two types of worms visible in poop are roundworms which look like 2”-4” elastic bands or tapeworms, which resemble grains of white rice. You can’t always prevent worms – they are brought in to your flock by wild birds and even slugs or earthworms. Finding a heavy worm load is a reminder for you to deworm your whole flock.
- You can also use natural remedies like garlic, apple cider vinegar or wormwood to prevent worms and chemical products like Ivermectin to rid your birds of them.
- Can be a result of eating strawberries, corn or squash
- Symptom of: coccidiosis, internal parasites, kidney problems or Marek’s disease
Some types of poop can look similar and it’s confusing to know which kind it is. In scanning lots of photos I have seen nearly identical yellow foamy poop identified as either cecal, normal or diarrhea. If the folks who study this stuff can’t figure it out don’t expect that you’ll be able to 100% of the time either. This is not meant to be a definitive guide, but to give you a heads up of things to watch out for.
Find Abnormal Droppings?
- Determine which bird they are coming from
- Do a health check for other symptoms that might help with a diagnosis: weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy, isolating from flock, drop in egg production or changes in behaviour
- Any changes in what you’ve been feeding them?
- Changes in the weather that might affect their water or food intake?
- Have there been disruptions in the flock that might have stressed them?
- Vitamin deficiency?
Most vets will run a fecal float test for a nominal fee. You can bring in a fresh sample and they’ll look at it under a microscope for the presence of internal parasites that might be affecting their poop and overall health.
Bolstering Digestive Health of Your Flock
- Offer probiotics, which keep bad bacteria in check by reducing pH and acidifying the gut
- Monitor water intake and ensure they have access to fresh water at all times
- Alternate crushed garlic and apple cider vinegar in their water (once or twice/month)
- Decrease stress (i.e. hot or cold weather, adding new members to the flock, predator attacks)
- Keep your coop clean as pathogens are spread through poop and shared feeders and waterers
- Prevent and treat internal parasites (i.e. worms, coccidia)
- Pay attention to your birds’ poop and note changes or anything abnormal
If you’ve got some interesting poop photos you’d like to share I’d be happy to add them to this post.
Credits: Know Your Chickens; Poultry DVM; Poultry Help Forum