Why Do Chickens Shake Their Heads?

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If you are new to the chicken farming community, you may have noticed your chickens exhibiting some strange behaviors that have you concerned. 

They may constantly be shaking their heads when they eat or drink, and you are worried this might be their way of saying something is wrong. 


Six reasons why chickens shake their heads

Six reasons why chickens shake their heads

You may be wondering, “Why do chickens shake their heads? Is it normal behavior or something to be concerned about?” 

There are many different causes for chickens shaking their heads. I will review six of the most common causes.

Normal Eating or Drinking Habit

When a chicken shakes their head while eating or drinking, it is a normal habit for them to shake their heads to break up food. 

As a result of chickens not having teeth, they will often get food lodged in their throat. Shaking their head is their way of trying to relieve this. 

When chickens drink water, they tend to throw their heads back and gargle to swallow. 

Occasionally, they will get water up their nose and will proceed to shake their head out of discomfort. 

When chickens shake their heads while eating or drinking, this is a common habit and not a cause for concern.

Your chicken is listening to you!

Growing up, we always called my dad the chicken whisperer. We would often find him out in his coop, just talking and singing to his chickens. 

When he called his chickens by name, they would run to him for treats, hence ‘the chicken-whisperer.’

If you are talking to your chickens or around them, and you notice them tilting and occasionally shaking their heads, it could simply be that your chickens are listening to you! 

Just like a dog, chickens can listen and show their farmers they are listening. 

If the head shaking is not a chronic occurrence, it is entirely normal for chickens to shake their heads to try and hear or see things clearly.

Vitamin E Deficiency

Although there are common occurrences when chickens shake their heads, there are also occasions in which you should show some concern when the head-shaking becomes more chronic.

A vitamin E deficiency causes a condition known as ‘crazy chicken disease,’ known to vets as encephalomalacia, which means softening of the brain. 

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Vitamin E is required for chickens to reproduce and is an essential vitamin to ensure the health of the central nervous and muscular systems.

Partial paralysis, loss of body movement control (i.e., shaking their head), muscle weakness, and vision problems are all symptoms of vitamin E deficiencies and can result in your chicken chronically shaking their head.

Ear Mites or Lice

Just like humans or other animals get itchy when they have lice, so do chickens. 

Shaking their heads is their way of attempting to itch themselves to try and relieve the irritation. They could also be infected with gape worms. 

If you notice they are constantly shaking their heads, there is a good chance they have a parasite infestation.

Respiratory Infection or a Cold

Sneezing, wheezing, and coughing paired with chickens shaking their heads signify they may be suffering from an infection or a cold. 

If your chicken is shaking its head, it may be trying to clear mucus from its nose, throat, or ears. 

Like humans, a stuffy nose and plugged-up ears can prove extremely uncomfortable for chickens. Shaking their heads is their way of ‘blowing their nose.’

Viral Infection

Avian Encephalomyelitis is a viral infection that attacks the central nervous system of a chicken. 

This disease causes nervous system issues, imbalance, paralysis, and tremors, such as the shaking of your chicken’s head. 

Other diseases that could affect your chickens’ tremors are Newcastle disease, Marek’s disease, Pasteurella, or Fowl cholera, also known as torticollis. 

To determine exactly what may be affecting your chicken, consult with your veterinarian.


Shaking symptom combinations to watch for and what they mean

Shaking symptom combinations to watch for and what they mean

There are several combinations of symptoms to watch for that will help you diagnose whatever is causing your chicken distress. 

See the table below for the different combinations and what they could mean.

Symptom CombinationsWhat do they mean?What should I do?
Shaking head and gaping mouthRespiratory problems or sicknessBreathing issuesQuite common among chickens.Keep an eye on your chicken that is showing symptoms.If they regress or do not seem to be improving, contact a veterinarian for a more accurate diagnosis.
Shaking head and stretching neckSign of GapewormIf this does not appear to be a common occurrence, this body movement is common among chickens.If you notice they are constantly stretching their neck, check with a veterinarian.
Shaking head and sneezing OR closing eyesSign of respiratory problemsThis is cause for CONCERN.If they get a fever because of their cold, it could be fatal.If you notice constant sneezing or mucus discharge from their eyes, nose, or ears, seek treatment right away.
Shaking head side to sideThis is a sign they may have impacted crop in their throat.Massaging the crop toward the chicken’s head helps to encourage vomiting to dislodge the food.Yogurt, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar can also encourage vomiting.
Shaking head and lethargicThis is a sign of eye issues or upper respiratory complications.Consult a veterinarian for a diagnosis and possible treatment.
Shaking head and making noisesIf the issue is chronic, this is a sign of possible throat or breathing issues.It could also be a sign of infection.There are preventative vaccines for chickens to avoid infections.Consult a veterinarian if you suspect any viral or bacterial infection. They will recommend antibiotics or treatments.
Shaking head and walking backwardSign of Vitamin E deficiency!Causes ‘crazy chicken disease’ if left untreated.Cause for CONCERNAdd a vitamin E supplement to their diet. There are vitamin E treats, pumpkin seeds, spinach, etc., that add vitamin E to their diet.If you notice chronic issues that are not getting any better, consult a veterinarian.

How do I treat my chicken’s head spasms?

There are steps you can do to help your chicken while waiting for a veterinarian appointment.

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Impacted Food

If something is lodged in their throat, it is important to separate them and keep an eye on them. 

They may be able to relieve the impacted food on their own. It is important that you do not feed them any dry seeds, just a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. 

If the lump does not get better overnight, you can massage the mass from the outside to help it digest and break it up. 

This can be fatal if it does not get resolved. It can cause your chicken to become unable to breathe or unable to eat or drink, causing dehydration and starvation. 

Insect Infestations

If you suspect an insect infestation, there are many factors you need to address to irradicate the pests. Ivermectin treats ear mites and throat irritations. 

For gapeworms or other parasites, you may need to seek help from a veterinarian. 

Eprinex and poultry dust are an insecticide and a dust bath brand that help with preventing insect infestations. It is essential to keep a clean bedding and coop.

Common Respiratory infections

Cleaning the coop and changing the bedding also help chickens that are suffering from sneezing, wheezing, and coughing from a simple chicken cold. 

Veterinarians will also recommend the appropriate antibiotics required to treat specific ailments.

Diseases

If your chickens are infected with a disease or viral infection, it is important to keep your chickens warm, dry, and out of the elements. 

Speak with a veterinarian to determine possible sicknesses and solutions that may be affecting your flock.


Tips for encouraging good health among your flock

Tips for encouraging good health among your flock

You can do several good practices and preventative things to promote good health and consistent egg yields from your chickens. 

  1. Proper airflow and ventilation help ensure the air they are circulating, and breathing is free of mold, moisture, and dust. 
  2. Regularly clean their coop and fresh bedding – it is vital for the health of your chickens. Over time, bedding becomes dirty with feces and urine and can become wet from the elements. This can cause it to grow mold and hold different parasites you do not want your chickens to get.
  3. Keep up on all their vaccinations – this prevents against common diseases and viral infections your chickens may be susceptible to.
  4. Keep them warm and dry during inclement weather – make sure they have fresh, warm bedding and their coop is protected from any drafts or leaks.
  5. Plenty of fresh water and feed – it is important to make sure food and water are fresh and kept away from any contaminations. Some people prefer to hang their feeders and waterers off the ground to help keep them clean.

Conclusion

There are many plausible causes for your chickens to be shaking their heads. The important thing to remember is to identify if it is a chronic issue or not. 

If other symptoms occur, contact your veterinarian, and do your best to identify the source of their ailment. 

There are preventative measures you can take to ensure the health and prosperity of your flock.