I guess you’ll never be able to unsee chicken with dirty bottom. The pressure on the chickens is so high that they’re forced to peck each other’s butts. The skin on these chickens have built up a resistance against the bacteria. Although it could be considered gross, it seems nature has a way of providing us with food (and apparently other goods) that we can eat.
Why do my chickens have dirty bottoms
Most keepers will find a chickens that has a dirty or messy bottom from time to time.
Many years ago, my chicken keeping mentor, who was a brash Yorkshire farmer, used to call it “Shitty Knickers” which was quite descriptive but not really much help when it came to diagnosing the problem.
Why does my chicken have a dirty bottom?
Dirty bottoms on your chickens mean that there is either an infection or a digestive problem going on and that your chickens have diarrhoea or a discharge that is getting matted into the feathers.
Diarrhoea in chickens is second only to respiratory disease as the most common causes of illness in chickens.
It may also have a completely innocent explanation, like they sat in a muddy puddle. You will need to get up close and personal with the chickens in question and a good pair of rubber gloves may help.
What should a normal chickens bottom look like?
A normal healthy chickens bottom should have a puff of clean feathers with no discharge from the vent, staining or poop stuck in the feathers.
Below: A healthy chickens bottom showing a big cushion of clean vent feathers.
Below: Here is a normal chicken bottom working just as it should.
You can see how the whole vent pushes outwards and at the same time the feathers pull away to leave a clear path for normal operations. This pulsating motion keep the poop clear of the feathers.
What is wrong with my chickens bottom?
A dirty bottom or discharge from the vent means that you chicken is unwell and the problems that manifest around the vent and in the feathers on the bottom normally start a little higher up the digestive system.
Some dirty bottoms will clear up on their own in a few days, some cases will take some routine or dietary adjustment and a a couple of the causes of messy bottoms in chickens require veterinary treatment.
The reality is that when you see a dirty bottom in chickens it is normally a symptom of a different problem.
Is it normal for chickens to have poop on their feathers?
It is not normal for a chicken to have poop on it’s feathers. It may happen occasionally and once or twice is nothing to worry about but a chicken with a permanently dirty bottom has something wrong with it.
Chickens poop and lay eggs out of the same hole or vent, called the cloaca. There is some nifty biology in there that normally stops both processes happening at the same time but not always.
It could also be quite normal for a light coloured chicken to have some discolouration of the feathers around the bottom without there being a problem.
These are a few things I have learned over the years to cause dirty bottoms in chickens:
- Lettuce. The sweet iceberg types are the worst but even baby leaf and baby spinach.
- Toxic or laxative plants. Some plants like buttercup and kingcup (there may be others) can be a real problem in the fall as they are often the last bright green leaves on the ground.
- Too much fibre in the diet – I have seen this happen with things like sunflower seeds fed shell on. In chickens fibre is digested in a pair of organs called the cecae attached toward the end of the intestines. When these pouches are emptied it results in a liquid brown poop that is more likely to stick to the feathers.
- Excessive protein.
- High salt levels in the diet. I had this after my hens got into the pig feed which has quite high salt levels.
- Mouldy feed – Mycotoxins can cause all sorts of problems and dirty bottoms is one of them.
- Heat stress causes chickens to drink much more water.
- High carbohydrate levels. Overfeeding whole grains, particularly barley, and split maize.
- Sleeping on the floor. Chickens void all night and it will mess the feathers. Chickens should roost.
- Too many milk products, cheese or yogurt in the diet. Chickens lack the digestive enzymes necessary to properly digest milk products.
- Certain fruits like the elderberry.
- A candida or yeast infection sometimes called cloacitis or vent gleet. Has a unique smell and discharge.
- A bacterial or viral infection.
- It can be an early sign of coccidiosis.
- Certain breeds are prone to it. Pekins and Orpingtons have a bigger bustle of feathers at the rear and are more easily affected.
- Birds that are not yet in lay getting layers ration. The surplus calcium in layer feed can be too much for the rather leisurely pace at which breeds like Pekins lay eggs.
Treatments for dirty bottoms in chickens:
The first treatment for dirty bottoms in chickens is an elimination diet with no treats to make sure they are only eating their pelleted feed. You should also treat for coccidiosis as this is a quick easy win if it is the problem.
That will just leave infections and your vet will tell you if it is viral, bacterial or a yeast infection called vent gleet.
A chicken with a dirty bottom that is not laying eggs will need treatment quickly. A bird with
Should I wash my chickens bum or clip the feathers?
You should do both. Use a sturdy pair of scissors to remove the worst few feathers around the vent and then wash your chickens bottom.
You clean the dirty bottom chicken with some baby shampoo or dog shampoo and warm water at 40C (100F).
Below: Clip the dirty feathers and wash the bum.
You should use gloves and it is easier with two people. Stand the chicken in a bowl of warm soapy water and wash the bum till the feathers are clean. Rinse with clean warm water and keep the hen inside until she is dry.
Clipping the feathers will lessen the chance of it happening again and let you see the vent more clearly.
Do some breeds suffer more from dirty bottom feathers than others?
Yes, some chickens breeds suffer dirty bottoms more than others. Commercial hybrids do not take well to feeds other than pellets and the habit of re-homing rescued battery hens makes this a common problem as the hens are already weakened.
Very feathery breeds like Pekins, Silkies and Orpingtons have more feathering around the vent and this can be an issue.
How do you treat cloacitis or vent gleet in chickens?
Cloacitis or vent gleet is the inflammation of the cloaca or vent and is a symptom of other health problems in the chicken. You treat it by having the root cause diagnosed and with topical treatments prescribed or recommended by a vet.
Can cloacitis or vent gleet kill a chicken?
Vent gleet, also called cloacitis is a yeast infection and is a clear sign that your chicken is unhealthy and needs care and treatment. If left untreated vent gleet will eventually kill chickens and may spread to the rest of the flock as well.
What is vent gleet and how can I treat my chickens that have it?
In baby chicks, pasty butt (a.k.a. pasted vent) occurs when poo dries in the chick’s vent (her pooper) and the blockage prevents her from defecating. This is a critical situation for a baby chick and should be addressed immediately because it can be fatal.
By the time your bird is an adult layer, her muscles are pretty well developed for expulsion, and the vent can expand significantly (large enough to pass an egg, right?). So, adult hens seldom (perhaps never!) suffer from pasty butt. That said, they can certainly get vent feathers messy with loose poo, and that can occasionally be a concern. A little poo in the vent feathers isn’t that big a deal; it happens from time to time, and generally speaking, your hen will clean it herself.
But if your bird has a genuine case of vent gleet, it is a sign that something is not going well in her digestive tract and she may need your help.
What is vent gleet?
Vent gleet (a.k.a. cloacitis) occurs when a chicken’s cloaca becomes inflamed. The most obvious symptom you’ll see is a yellowish-white discharge from the vent area which sticks to the feathers on the rear end (gross – we know!). Your bird may also have a bloated abdomen and gassiness, feathers that appear less shiny than usual, and if a female, a decrease in her usual egg laying frequency. The vent area may also appear red and inflamed–and smelly.
In cases of late-stage or advanced vent gleet, your bird’s abdomen may be firm to the touch, their vent may be very swollen, and their droppings could even contain blood.
How can I prevent vent gleet in my flock?
Thankfully, there are some measures you can take to help keep your flock from getting vent gleet in the first place:
- Hold off on the treats. Most of your flock’s diet should come from a complete feed that provides all the nutrition your birds need. These types of feed can be purchased online or at a local farm store. Treats are usually higher in carbohydrates and lacking the complete nutrition that chickens need for total health.
- Make sure your feed is correct for the bird’s age. Depending on the maturity of the bird, they may need starter, developer, or layer feed. Most feed manufacturers will have a feeding schedule posted on the bag. It is usually recommended that you offer starter feed up until 10-12 weeks of age, then move on to developer feed until around 20 weeks, followed by layer feed for your laying-age hens and older.
- Provide grit to help your birds digest their feed. Chicks that are eating anything in addition to finely-milled chick starter feed will need chick grit. Older birds will need poultry grit, which has a little larger grit size.
- Supplement water with anti-fungal, anti-bacterial products. Great products like RopaPoultry Oregano Supplement, or Seabuck 7 Additive Supplement can help keep your flock’s digestive system healthy.
- Give your flock probiotics every few weeks.
What causes vent gleet?
- PH imbalance. The cloaca is the last few inches of your chicken’s digestive and reproductive tract. If your chicken’s body is too acidic or alkaline, it can make them more susceptible to vent gleet.
- Fungal infection, including yeast.
- Bacterial infection. Gleet caused by bacterial infections may persist for weeks or months and be resistant to the usual treatments.
- Stress or hormones. Like humans, external stress and hormonal cycles impact the entire body and affect the digestive system. In chickens, those factors can lead to vent gleet.
- Protozoa or other parasites. Internal parasites can irritate the cloaca and cause vent gleet.
How can I treat chickens that have vent gleet?
Vent gleet is a symptom, not a disease, so it may take some time to determine the exact cause of the issue. To get an authoritative diagnosis and treatment plan, we recommend that you consult with a vet. In the case of advanced, more serious vent gleet, you will want to take your bird to a vet immediately.
Here are some recommendations for treating less advanced, milder cases:
- Quarantine the affected bird(s) from the rest of the flock during treatment. This will protect the bird from curious, pecking flockmates and will protect the flock from any potentially contagious causes of the gleet.
- Offer fresh water daily, using a supplement and/or probiotic as mentioned earlier, during the entire treatment period. Make sure to administer any supplements according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Provide both sizes of grit at all times in cage cups or mixed in with their feed.
- Clean the vent area daily with warm water and a mild detergent like Dawn dish soap. Keep the bird warm while you dry them off. You don’t want to add the stress of being cold to an already-stressed bird! Keep cleaning the vent for as many days as it takes for the vent gleet to subside. In some cases, it may take up to a week or more.
- Use an over-the-counter anti-fungal cream on the vent area after washing the bird each day.
- Trim vent feathers carefully, making sure you don’t trim too close to the skin, injuring the bird. It is usually safest for two people to do this: one to hold her still and the other to do the trimming around the vent.
This is what a healthy fluffy butt should look like!
Every time you handle your bird–especially the poopy areas!–make sure to properly clean and sanitize your hands, and change your clothing if necessary.
Any time you see droppings attached to your bird’s feathers–even if it’s not caused by an underlying infection–you’ll want to clean it as quickly as you can. Attached droppings can irritate the skin or–even worse–can attract insects and invite myiasis or flystrike. You don’t want flies laying their eggs in her feathers or on her irritated skin!
If your bird’s vent gleet doesn’t subside after two weeks, it is possible that something more serious is going on and you’ll want to contact an avian vet immediately. The vet will likely collect a fecal sample and prescribe an oral antibiotic if the infection is deemed to be bacterial. If you’re not sure whether there is a qualified vet nearby, you can consult the Association of Avian Veterinarians website to find the avian veterinarians nearest you, or try veterinary telehealth with our friends at VetTriage.
In conclusion, sure–vent gleet is gross and smelly, but in most cases, it is treatable. Your bird will appreciate the tender, loving, care you provide for her in helping her overcome this issue. May all of the birds in your flock have fluffy butts!