Can Chickens Get Food Poisoning?

Backyard chicken farming is becoming more popular by the day. Anyone who has been around these birds knows how much chickens eat! Chickens will eat almost anything and be happy doing it, but can they get food poisoning? 

Chickens can get food poisoning. They will eat almost any type of food, but many things can make them ill, including:

  • Avocado Pits
  • Undercooked or dried beans
  • Moldy or rotten food of any kind
  • Rhubarb
  • Foods high in salt
  • Green potato peel
  • Onions or garlic
  • Apple seeds
  • Teabags or coffee grounds
  • Foods high in sugar

Chickens seem like they have stomachs of iron, and for the most part, they do, but there are foods that seem fairly innocent that can cause them a lot of distress, illness, or even death. In this article, we will take a closer look at what can cause food poisoning in your farmed feathered friends read on to protect your chicken’s health.

Chickens Can Get Food Poisoning

When we think about food poisoning, we imagine frequent and painful trips to the bathroom and a very unpleasant day or two of recovery. For chickens, they don’t just suffer from nausea and vomiting. Since they are small animals with simple digestive systems, toxic, or spoiled food can have a fast and dangerous effect on them. It can lead quickly to death. If one chicken is sick, it is likely many will fall sick shortly. 

Food poisoning for chickens can result in a myriad of symptoms. Some of the most common are.

  • Refusing food and water
  • Losing Weight
  • Lethargy or sluggishness
  • Hiding
  • Pale comb or wattles
  • Dull, droopy eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Not laying eggs
  • Feather loss
  • Strange, out of character behavior
  • Death

These can all be signs that your chicken is suffering from food poisoning, though they can show a lot of similar symptoms for many different reasons. This is why it is important to avoid feeding them anything that can harm them. They aren’t the easiest animals to diagnose.

Chickens are voracious little omnivores that aren’t too picky when it comes to what they eat. If you’ve ever witnessed a small animal, like a mouse, get into the chicken coop, you may have witnessed just how fearsome they can be when it comes to their feeding habits.

While they aren’t likely to turn up their noses – or beaks – too much, there are things that they definitely should not eat. There are actually quite a few foods that they will gobble up despite the fact that they are very bad for them.

Grit for all chickens but especially chicks is super important as it helps them break down food to know how to provide grit to chicks see my post.

Things That Can Make Chickens Sick

Here are some of the most common culprits when it comes to foods that can make chickens sick.

Avoid Avocado Pits And Skin

You may have heard that avocados are toxic for chickens. It is half true. Basically the parts of the avocado that we don’t eat, are the parts that chickens shouldn’t eat.

The flesh, the soft green part that you spread on your toast and sprinkle with salt, is fine for them actually. It is a fungicidal toxin called persin that is found in the tough skin and pit of the fruit that is toxic. So don’t include avocado pits or skin in the chicken scraps. 

If your chicken’s food choices lack protein this could cause your chickens to be underweight, click here to fix your chickens from being too skinny!

Don’t Feed Them Dry, Raw, Or Undercooked Beans

Raw beans contain something called hemagglutinin that is toxic to chickens. This can cause unpleasant effects in humans, which is how beans earned their nickname as the musical fruit. For chickens, it is just straight up toxic. 

Avoid feeding them raw or even undercooked beans. Cooked beans, that have been thoroughly cooked until soft, have their hemagglutinin cooked out and should be fine to feed to the chickens. Just make sure that if it is something like baked beans that it doesn’t contain added sugars as sugar is also toxic to chickens.

Is food colouring toxic to chickens? It depends find out in my post here.

Rotten And Moldy Food Should Be Tossed In The Garbage

Chickens have long been the garbage disposal of many homesteads, feeding off the dinner scraps to their heart’s content. Botulism is a bacterial toxin that can grow in rotting food, and if introduced into the system of a chicken can very much be fatal. 

So, while you can certainly give them some stale bread or wilted veggies, avoid giving them food with mold on it. Your chickens should also stay away from maggots that have eaten rotting material. The chickens will go wild for maggots, but if the maggot guts are full of rotten food, they can carry botulism as well. 

Rhubarb Is Off Limits

Rhubarb is common on a lot of homesteads. While it does make a wonderful pie filling, it is toxic to chickens. Anthraquinones contained in rhubarb can cause a laxative effect in birds. Which can stop them from laying and cause them to lose weight. Rhubarb also contains oxalic acid if it has been damaged from freezing temperatures. This can be fatal for chickens if ingested.

Salt Is Toxic

Salt is toxic to us too, though we can handle a lot more of it than a chicken. Chickens can get salt poisoning fairly easily from eating foods that are high in sodium. Avoid feeding your chickens scraps from processed and fast food as they can be astronomically high in sodium. 

Green Potato Peels Are Not Food

Potatoes are from a family of plants called the nightshade family. All of these plants have some part of them that is toxic to some degree. They contain a compound called solanine that is highly toxic to chickens.

The green spots in potato peels are high in this compound and should not be included in table scraps. Cooked potatoes are fine, though they should be limited as they are very filling for chickens.

Onions And Garlic Will Make Bad Eggs

Onions in very large amounts can build up toxicity in chickens if they eat a lot of it. In small amounts, it might not hurt them but it is said that it can make their eggs taste off. So it is best to be avoided. Garlic will do this as well, though in small amounts it can be beneficial for a chickens gut health and egg-laying frequency if garlic is given as a medicinal tonic.

Apple Seeds Contain Cyanide

They do contain cyanide. But, for us and chickens, it is a relatively insignificant amount of the toxin. Though if you are feeding apples to your chickens, consider de-seeding them first. 

Tea Bags And Coffee Grounds Are Garbage

Both of these contain caffeine which is very toxic to most animals, including chickens. You should never give anything containing caffeine to chickens, or to any animal for that matter. It is also a good practice to avoid chickens eating herbal tea bags as well. There are many herbs that are toxic to chickens that they otherwise would never have access to.

Sugar Is Super Toxic To Chickens

Avoid giving your chicken sweets. Sugar is toxic to us and it is even more so to them. It can also cause them sluggishness and severe weight gain, both of which decrease egg production and quality of life.

Feed Your Chickens The Right Scraps and Chicken Feed

So we’ve looked at the most common foods that people feed to their chickens that can cause problems with poultry. If unsure, it is always best to consult a chicken expert before feeding something to your chickens. Or you can always go with the tried and true saying, “If in doubt, throw it out.”

Dane McManis

Dane started learning about farming while volunteering on a farm. Now he and his wife raise chickens, pigs, and ducks on their small farm with their two little girls.

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