Why does my chicken have trouble keeping his balance?

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Why does my chicken have trouble keeping his balance?
Is your chicken having trouble keeping its balance? A problem like this could be caused by many things.

It may end up being nothing of concern...
One of our staff had a mixed-breed rooster whose legs were simply quite long--maybe too long for his own good! He went though a period of awkward adolescence in which his legs were growing so fast, he was not terribly graceful. In fact he was outright clumsy, and he often lost his balance when he tried to crow. (Can you imagine how cute that was?) Once he grew into his legs, he no longer lost his balance.

...But it could be something more serious. Here are a few possibilities to consider. Keep in mind that whatever the cause, the safest bet is always to take your chicken to the veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Fungal infections

If your chickens' feed has gotten moldy from being wet, the resulting illnesses can cause staggering as one of the symptoms. Aflatoxicosis and mycotoxicosis are both fungal diseases related to eating moldy feed. Aspergillosis and ergotism, also fungal diseases, may also be causes of staggering. (We recommend you always discard feed that has become damp or wet.)

What to do if you suspect a fungal infection: First, remove any moldy feed present, scrub out feeders and waterers, and replace with fresh feed and water. Second, quarantine the affected birds, and get them to a vet. You may also try our 5-star rated, powerful antifungal supplement, RopaPoultry Complete. It's easy to administer: just add to your flock's drinking water.

Vitamin deficiencies

A thiamine deficiency can cause lack of balance and coordination. Young chickens are particularly susceptible to this, since chick feed medicated with Amprolium (a coccidiosis preventative) is a thiamine inhibitor (that's the mechanism by which Amprolium helps to protect against cocci). Sometimes a Vitamin E/Selenium deficiency can also cause some neurological problems that might manifest as staggering or head shaking. If your chicken doing the "staggering" is one that's smaller than the rest, or low on the pecking order, or has a crossed beak, there's a good chance that vitamin deficiency is to blame.

What to do if you suspect a vitamin deficiency: Make sure the affected bird has access to all the food they need, and consider offering a vitamin supplement.


Another possibility that has to do with what they're eating is botulism. Botulism is a type of food poisoning that can come from overripe or rotten fruits and vegetables, among other things, and that can cause staggering. Your rooster might also be nibbling at a poisonous plant if there are any in your yard.

What to do if you suspect botulism: Identify and remove any rotting fruits or vegetables from your flock's foraging area. Take a look at our page dedicated to Botulism; other treatment options are listed toward the bottom.

Other causes

Marek's disease and other viral and bacterial illnesses can cause lack of coordination or staggering as well, as the legs slowly become paralyzed. Alternatively, it could simply be a leg or foot injury like bumblefoot or scaly leg mite. Treatment options as well as more information on these diseases are given in the detail pages for those diseases, linked to above.

Don't forget: go to the vet!

This is why it's important to have a sick chicken examined by a vet. With some symptoms, there are many possibilities. Your bird can't be diagnosed just on the basis of staggering alone; your veterinarian will examine your pet for other signs. No one will be able to diagnose your chicken from long distance, of course; all we've done is give you a few possibilities so you and your veterinarian can discuss them together. Your vet may know of additional conditions that could cause the symptom you are describing.