Why Are My Chickens Not Drinking Water?

Dirty water or disease are the primary reasons why chickens are not drinking water. Providing fresh, cool and chemical free water, as well as vaccinating your chickens against disease can help keep your chickens hydrated and healthy.

I never used to think of chickens as fussy drinkers or that they might stop drinking water altogether. It can be worrying if your chickens are not drinking water, but there’s plenty of reasons why this occurs and lots of ways you can help.

In this post, I’ll explain what causes your chickens to stop drinking water, including dirty water, water temperature, chemicals, and disease. I’ll also discuss some signs that your chickens may be dehydrated, how to give water to your chickens by hand, how much they should drink, how long chickens can survive without water and much more.

Why chickens stop drinking water 

There are several reasons why chickens refuse to drink water.

Dirty water

Chickens are also very picky with the quality of the drinking water and will avoid dirty water – even when thirsty. If the water contains algae, chicken manure, or dirt, then odds are your chickens will not want to drink it.

Clean the water feeders regularly or switch to an automatic nipple or cup system (automatic water feeder) that will provide fresh and clean water at all times.

Dirty water will be one of the main reasons why your chicken has stopped drinking water.

Water temperature

Chickens do not like drinking warm water and prefer cool water.

Make sure not to leave your chicken water feeder exposed in the sun or placed under a heating lamp (in case you live in colder climates or are raising chicks).

If you are using an automatic water feeder, consider flushing it regularly to ensure that the water remains cool.

Chemicals in water

Your chickens may also avoid drinking water if it contains additives or chemicals.

Chlorine is usually added in water to kill off harmful pathogens and to make it safe for human consumption.

Chickens have fewer taste buds than we do have and may not be able to discriminate between water with high and low chlorine levels by taste alone. They may however be able to tell using other senses such as smell.

However studies show that chickens will reduce their water consumption by at least 5% if the chlorine in water is 20 ppm or higher.

If water chlorine levels are over 100 ppm, chickens can reduce their water consumption over 17%.

Drinking water is considered safe for human consumption up to 4 ppm (4 mg/L), and municipal drinking water rarely exceeds this level. However, if you choose to chlorine dose your own well water or tank water, just make sure the chlorine levels are not too high for your chickens.

If you don’t have access to an automatic water feeder, consider using a filtration system to remove contaminants in water. A simple inline hose filter that contains carbon is effective at removing parasites, bacteria, algae, heavy metals, chlorine and other chemicals.

Diseases that cause chickens to stop or reduce water consumption

Another major reason why chickens refuse to drink water is due to health issues and diseases. The most common include:

  • Newcastle disease
  • Infectious bronchitis
  • Infectious bursal disease
  • Avian Encephalomyelitis

Newcastle Disease

The avian paramyxovirus serotype type 1(APMV-1) is the virus that causes Newcastle disease. Over short distances, it can infect birds through air. It explains its rapid spread through a chicken flock.

Infected shoes and feedlots can also transmit the virus to your chickens. Since Newcastle affects all bird species, wild birds that make their way into the chicken coup can transmit the virus.

Signs and symptoms of Newcastle disease include labored breathing, watery discharge from the nostrils, and hoarse chirping in chicks.

Adult birds will exhibit decreased feed consumption and reduced water consumption.

There are three main forms of Newcastle disease:

  • Mildly pathogenic
  • Moderately pathogenic
  • Highly pathogenic

Depending on the form, mortality rates can be as low as 10% and as high as 80%.

Treatment for Newcastle disease often involves antibiotics. However, since the disease results from a viral infection, the medication is meant to reduce secondary bacterial infections.

The best way to deal with Newcastle disease is to prevent it in the first place. You can do this through vaccination with the Newcastle vaccine. It is administered to chicken from 14 weeks or older through a single drop to the eye.

Infectious Bronchitis

The avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) causes infectious bronchitis. Rodents, dead birds, and even feedbags can carry the virus.

Signs of infection include watery discharge from the nostrils and the eyes, labored breathing which may include gasping, and reduced egg production.

You will notice a drop in water consumption. Food consumption also drops.

There is no treatment for infectious bronchitis. However, antibiotics will prevent secondary bacterial infections.

The best way to prevent infectious bronchitis is through vaccination with inactive or live-attenuated vaccines. This can be given by drinking water, spraying the chickens, or through an eye drop.

Infectious Bursal Disease

Also known as Gumboro disease, it suppresses the chicken’s immune system. The Infectious bursal disease virus (IBD) causes the disease.

The virus is often transmitted to chicken through contact with other infected chickens. Chickens may also come into contact with contaminated people and equipment.

Signs of infectious bursal disease include vent pecking, watery droppings, and ruffled feathers.

You may also notice your chicken sitting in a hunched angle. Water consumption drops, and so does feed consumption.

Vaccinating your chickens is the best solution to preventing the disease. The Gumboro vaccine is added to drinking water to chicks that are seven days old or older.

Avian Encephalomyelitis

The disease, also known as epidemic tremor disease, mostly affects chicken under six weeks of age.

The virus responsible for Avian Encephalomyelitis is the Tremovirus A.

Significant reduction in water consumption and feed consumption. You may start by noticing that your chicken’s eyes are dull. Later the chicken will begin to show a lack of coordination in movement.

The chicken may also show tremors in the head and neck. This may progress to paralysis.

The chick may also lie down with both feet stretched out on both sides of the body (prostrating). Eventually, the chick will die.

Contaminated feed and water may carry the virus, which can then infect the chicken. Birds may also come into contact with other infected birds.

Infected hens can transmit the virus through the eggs to the embryo. The chicks will show symptoms in the first week of life.

If you notice the infection in your flock, it is best to kill off all the infected birds and incinerate them to destroy the virus.

Also, ensure hygienic practices when handling your chicken.

Finally, vaccinate your chickens. A combination of the AE vaccine and fowlpox vaccine is injected through the web of the wing.

How to get chickens to drink water

If your chicken is not drinking because the water contains dirt or algae, then the first step is to pour out the dirty water and replace it with fresh, clean water.

Make sure to clean the chicken water feeder first before offering your chickens the fresh water.

How to manually give water to a chicken

If your chicken is sick, then keeping your chick hydrated is crucial.

Water helps in digestion, temperature regulation, and even flushing out toxins from the chicken’s body.

Take your chicken and put it in a comfortable position facing you. Preferably this should be the somewhere high enough so you can freely use your arms.

Take a small syringe and fill it with fresh water.

With the freehand, pinch the wattles of your chicken lightly with your thumb and forefinger (wattles are the skin lobes that hang down on the side of a chicken’s head). Use another finger to open the beak slightly.

Next, pour a small portion of water into the chicken’s beak and release the wattles. Your chicken should swallow the water.

Repeat this regularly until your chicken is well hydrated. A few drops at a time should be enough.

Can chickens drink out of a bowl?

Chickens can drink from a bowl. However, this doesn’t mean that you should water your chickens with a bowl.

First, a bowl will usually sit high, making it harder for your chickens to bend their necks to drink, which is the most natural drinking position for them.

Secondly, a bowl can easily be tipped over and result in unsuitable living conditions in your chicken coup.

Third, an open bowl can attract other wild birds to drink, which can encourage unwanted diseases.

A bowl can also collect dirt and debris, making the water unsuitable for your chickens.

Instead, consider an automatic chicken water feeder or a gravity feeder that will keep the water clean and will not tip over easily.

How to tell if a chicken is dehydrated

Dehydrated chickens exhibit symptoms which include:

  • Panting
  • Paleness in the comb, eyes, and wattles
  • Spreading and loose hanging wings
  • Diarrhea
  • Limpness
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures

Dehydration can be a result of sickness or your chickens lacking access to fresh, clean water.

Warm temperatures can also cause the chicken to pant and lose water through evaporation from the body (latent heat loss).

If you notice signs of dehydration, put your chicken in a cool area.

Secondly, always provide access to fresh and cool water .

If your chicken is sick and shows signs of dehydration, you can try giving it water with a syringe. But be gentle.

Keep in mind that chickens lose plenty of electrolytes through latent heat loss.

You can add electrolytes to the water.

However, do not, add electrolytes to chicken water if the chickens are already dehydrated. This can cause an electrolyte overdose, which can be fatal.

How long can chickens go without water?

Chickens will only go about 48 hours without water, after which they begin to die rapidly. If the chickens are living in warm climates, they can die in fewer hours.

24 hours without access to water will cause egg production to stop for at least a few days.

Going for a few hours without water causes difficulty regulating body temperature resulting in heat stress and dehydration.

How often should chickens drink water?

Even though chickens roost at night, they can drink water at any time of day. Your chickens should have access to fresh water 24 hours a day.

Chickens drink the most water when the temperatures are warm.

The average chicken needs about 1 pint or 500 ml of water each day. When the temperatures are high, a fully grown chicken may drink as much as a liter of water each day.

Best water feeders for chickens

There are various types of chicken water feeders. These include:

  • Automatic water feeders
  • Gravity water feeders
  • Container water feeders

Automatic water feeders are the best type of water feeder for your chickens.

While they may require some expertise in installation, they can help ensure fresh, clean water at all times for your chickens.

They can feature nipples that release a small drop of water when touched by the chickens beak, or water cups that refill as the cup empties.

You fit these by screwing them directly into the base of a lidded water bucket or into a PVC water line. Chickens get used to using automatic water feeders surprisingly quickly.

Since there is no spillage, they also prevent water wastage.

Gravity feeders are among the most popular type of chicken water feeders.

After filling the feeder with water, gravity causes the water to flow into a tray up to a certain point.

Gravity water feeders can help ensure clean water for your chickens.

The downside is that chickens can kick dirt and debris into the water tray as they scratch.

Container waterers are one option when you don’t have access to an automatic water feeder or gravity feeder.

One major drawback is that chickens can easily kick manure and dirt into the water, making it unfit to drink.

It can also be a challenge to hang the container waterer at a good enough level that is still low enough for the chickens to drink comfortably and high enough to prevent them from kicking dirt into the water.

An easy solution to both of these problems is to get a chicken waterer that has legs. They are no more expensive than ones that sit on the ground (actually they are often cheaper!) and can save you from regularly cleaning out dirt!

Russell Singleton

Russell has a Bachelor of Science (Environmental and Marine Geoscience) with Class I Honors. He is currently completing his doctorate in science and is passionate about all earth processes, especially isotope geochemistry and paleohydrology.

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