Chickens can behave in strange ways at times, and whether you are an experienced chicken keeper or a total amateur, you might be startled if you ever see a chicken walking backwards. This looks amusing but unnatural, and it is a sign that you need to pay attention to the chicken, as this may indicate that there is an issue with its diet, or suggest that the chicken has injured itself. Do not ignore this behavior or dismiss it as amusing, because it could be very serious.
As an owner, it always pays to be aware of how your chickens are behaving and to note any problems that are arising as quickly as possible, because birds often try to hide when they are sick, and fast action can mean the difference between saving a chicken and losing it. As soon as you notice there is a problem, you should isolate the bird and start working to resolve it, or you will probably find that the chicken dies quite quickly.
Chickens walking backwards may look funny, but it’s important to step in, especially if the bird is also showing balance issues and struggling to stay upright. A chicken in this state is very vulnerable to predators and may be bullied by other members of the flock, so remove it promptly while you work out how to treat it.
What Causes Chickens To Walk Backwards?
There are a couple of potential causes for this issue, but the commonest is a deficiency in vitamin E or in selenium (or both), and this causes disorientation for the bird, making its legs go in the wrong direction, and preventing it from walking where it wants to. It is also possible for walking backwards to be caused by trauma to the head, possibly if the bird has fallen or something has dropped on it, but this is less common, and you will usually be able to see a visible injury if it is the case.
In general, backwards walking is associated with a vitamin deficiency, and this in turn often means it is connected with particularly heavy molts. The bird will be using up nutrients in its body to grow new feathers, and this puts more stress than usual on the resources it has, which could lead to deficiencies showing up. If your chicken has recently started molting and is now walking backwards, this is likely the reason.
A final possible explanation is that your chicken has an ear infection, and this is affecting its sense of balance, causing it to struggle with walking. You can try inspecting the chicken’s ear hole, as an infection will often result in yellow waxiness appearing inside. The bird might also spend a lot of time trying to scratch its head.
Can You Treat A Chicken Who Is Walking Backwards?
In many cases, you can treat a chicken who is walking backwards, because this is simply caused by a deficiency in certain nutrients. If you increase the amount of those nutrients that the chicken is consuming, the issue should correct itself, although it can take several days or even a couple of weeks for this to happen, because the body needs time to process those nutrients. You should be able to purchase vitamin E and selenium in most chemists, or you can buy medicine specifically designed for chickens from specialized pet stores or online; start adding this to the chicken’s diet as soon as possible.
You can also start feeding your chicken foods that are high in the nutrients they are deficient in, and both cooked eggs and canned tuna are good options. It may help to feed your poorly chicken separate from the rest of the flock to ensure that it gets plenty of the “treat” food, but do check for deficiencies in the rest of the flock too, as their levels of these nutrients might also be low.
If you think your chicken has an ear infection or it has suffered from a head injury, you will need to take it to a vet for proper treatment and advice on what to do. It may need antibiotics for an ear infection, but the head injury will involve specialized care and should not be attempted at home.
Can Other Chickens Catch The Illness?
Other chickens will not be able to catch a nutrient deficiency from your sick bird, but there is a high chance that they are also low on vitamin E and selenium if one member of the flock is, especially if your chickens are not able to free range and find their own foods. Try to give them all some supplemental food to boost these nutrients, even if they are not molting, or you may see more of them displaying this odd behavior in the future.
If your chicken has suffered from head trauma, this is obviously not catching, but you should check for any other unsecured objects that could pose a risk to your flock. If your chicken has an ear infection, it is possible that this could be passed to other members of the flock, and they should therefore be checked for signs of illness and taken to a vet if you find them.
Overall, backwards walking is unlikely to be a contagious issue, but it is still a good idea to isolate the affected bird. This reduces the risk of any issue being spread, and also prevents the other birds from picking on the one that is sick.
Chickens walking backwards may look amusing, but this issue should be taken seriously, as it could indicate a major nutrient deficiency is causing neurological problems, and it will need treatment. Inspect your bird closely for signs of injury or an ear infection, and then give it a good dose of nutrients, especially vitamin E and selenium, to try to correct the deficiency. Keep the sick bird isolated while you treat it, rather than letting it roam free or roost with the flock, where it is in danger of being picked on.