Chickens do not vomit in the same way as we do. They can ‘throw up’ contents from their crop, stomach, and digestive system, however. This is usually a sign that there is something wrong with your hen and it’s in need of some help.
Reasons Why Chickens Throw Up
As I explained, chickens are not able to throw up or vomit per se. Their bodies will not force the contents out of their stomachs by contracting the muscles in the abdomen, neck, and diaphragm as we do when we’re vomiting.
There are instances when fluids and other substances will come out of their beaks though, which is essentially what we’re talking about here when we refer to chickens ‘throwing up’.
More often than not, you will have to help them throw up if there is something stuck, blocking, or in need of removing from their crop (more on that below).
In short, there are a number of reasons why something may be coming out of your chicken’s beak, the most common reasons being:
It Is Just Excess Water
This is probably the reason most people want it to be when they see clear fluid coming out of their chickens’ beaks.
Sometimes, and I think this is more common in younger chicks, chickens will drink too much and some water will literally just pour out of their beaks.
This is because, when chickens drink they have to dip their beaks into the water and rely on gravity to help them get the water down their necks.
They do have tongues, although they don’t have the range of motion we do and do not gulp down fluids as we do.
Sometimes this results in water not making it all the way down. So, when they tilt their heads back to a normal position, some water will simply pour back out.
No one will ever say that chickens were the most elegant animals when it comes to eating and drinking, that’s for sure!
Related - Here’s a better explanation of how chickens drink.
Fluid coming from the mouth can also be a sign of something called Ascites Syndrome. This is a disease that can affect most animals as well as us.
It essentially means that fluid is building up in the chicken’s internal organs and accumulating in their body. Meaning it has to come out, and the most obvious direction is from their beaks.
It’s more common in broiler chickens as they’re fattened up and grown as fast as possible for their meat. Meaning their organs literally can’t keep up and function sufficiently.
It’s not completely unheard of in backyard chickens though, so it’s something to be aware of. This is a complicated disease to identify and treat, it’s something you would need to have looked into by an avian vet.
An impacted crop is when a chicken’s crop, which is a large pouch that collects food after they swallow it, becomes blocked for some reason.
This is usually due to straw and other tangly stuff that isn’t able to easily pass through a chicken’s digestive system.
In some instances, this can cause some leakage from a chicken’s mouth. More often than not, however, you’ll spot the issue by seeing a large swelling around your chicken’s chest.
You’ll need to give them some lubricant like vegetable or olive oil and massage their crop to get things moving along.
This can result in some fairly nasty food and other substances that are in the process of breaking down coming out of your chicken.
If this doesn’t work, you may need to make an incision and release the contents this way. I know of people who have done this themselves, but unless you’re experienced it’s best left to a vet.
Related - Here are some of the benefits of olive oil for chickens.
Sour crop occurs when the crop does not empty, much like an impacted crop, but it’s a lot worse as it means the contents are fermenting causing a bacterial / yeast infection.
You will often know your chicken is suffering from sour crop by a foul-smelling (and it’s really awful) odor coming from their beak, or some foul-smelling liquid leaking from their beak.
There are a number of herbal and natural solutions I’ve heard of over the years to help treat sour crop.
Apple cider vinegar is one, as it’s an anti-fungal and will help treat the yeast infection. You can also use oregano oil, olive oil, or some other form of lubricant to help loosen the contents.
Then you’re going to have to gently tilt your chicken upside down and massage the contents out of them.
This is what results in what you could call ‘throwing up’ as the horrible yellow liquid comes out of the chicken’s beak - but it’s absolutely necessary as untreated sour crop is fatal.
In some instances, a vet will make an incision to release the contents of a chicken’s crop.
What Do You Do if Your Chicken Is Throwing Up?
If you see liquid or anything else coming out of your chicken’s beak, you need to investigate why it’s happening.
Hopefully, you can identify or at least narrow down the reason why it’s happening from the reasons chicken’s throw up I covered above.
If it’s just excess water, that’s fine. If it’s a foul-smelling liquid or you suspect it’s something else other than water, you need to act pretty quickly.
It’s not normal for chickens to throw up, and it’s not something their bodies do as a reaction to expelling something from their guts as ours does.
The best advice is to always contact a vet that specializes in poultry or birds. Look for an avian vet local to you, and at least pick up the phone and ask their advice.
Chickens do not ‘vomit’, but it’s very possible that fluids and other contents will come out of their beaks.
If you think your chickens have been throwing up, you need to look into it as there is a chance a health issue is the cause.
As I covered above, the most common causes are impacted or sour crops. Both of which involve food matter getting ‘stuck’, which can lead onto more serious issues if not treated.
Hopefully, however, it’s just something simple and not serious and with a little massage and some TLC your chickens will be back to 100% in no time!
Image credits - Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
Ascites Syndrome In Chickens - Ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs
Sour Crop - British hen welfare trust