What is Water Belly in Chickens

As chicken owners, it’s heartbreaking to see our feathered friends in distress. One common ailment that can impact our beloved birds is water belly (aka Ascites), a condition where fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity.

Chickens with water belly may struggle to walk, appear bloated, and seem lethargic. Their comb may even turn a purplish color, like in our case. While the condition can be life threatening, it’s important to remember that may not be the case in every scenario.

In many cases, with proper care and attention, chickens can recover from water belly and return to their pecking and scratching in no time.

Disclaimer: I am not a vet…I am a home DIYer who owns chickens that I adore the heck out of. Our chickens are our pets. We care for them as well as we would care for any of our pets. That said, many people (including us) do not have access to vets or medical resources to help sick chickens. If you are fortunate enough to have a local vet that treats chickens, I always recommend you talk to them first about treating water belly or any other health concerns you have.

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Our Water Belly in Chickens Backstory

I am literally writing this post just moments after we successfully treated our hen for water belly. For starters, Cully and I are not your standard farming couple. Far from that, in fact. We are city people at heart who love the outdoors and who adore our fluffy flock of chickens.

For some, the treatment for water belly in chickens that I’ll walk you through below may be no big deal. But it took Cully and I some deep breathing exercises to get in the right space to hold down our hen and stick a syringe in her. Call us softies, but we’re simply not used to doing things like this! I’m sure things like this will become second nature as we have more experiences.

We are less than 24 hours away from moving into our tiny houses full time. We couldn’t be more excited to officially start this journey. The new chicken coop is built (that post will come soon!) and we are planning out how we are going to move our flock.

As we were making said plans, we noticed Fatty Patty’s comb was purple. We’re talking as purple as a grape. She was also walking funny, her tail was tucked under and she wasn’t her typical, energetic self.

We feverishly called around asking local vets if they treat chickens – most said no. The only one we found was closed for the day. So, we turned to the world wide web and learned that we were probably up against one of two things. Either Fatty Patty was suffering from a stuck egg or from “water belly”.

It was dark and the chickens were in their coop for the night. Cully took this prime opportunity to take Fatty Patty from the coop and bring her in the house so we could start exploring.

Signs and Symptoms

Chickens often tell you how they’re feeling through their comb. A purple comb means the hen is not getting enough oxygen. We knew we needed to act as fast as possible as it could mean death if we did not get this treated within 48 hours.

After doing some research online, we determined this was likely either a stuck egg (which would have been treated completely differently) or ascites, ie: water belly.

By the time we had Fatty Patty in the house, we knew for sure it was water belly. Her belly was swollen, she was having a hard time walking, and her breathing was raspy. The fact that she even let us hold her told us that she was not ok.

Note: because we could not feel an egg near her vent, that’s what helped us determine we were not dealing with a stuck egg. If you feel an egg in your chicken, please Google search “egg binding”, “retained egg”, or “stuck egg” to find treatment options. DO NOT proceed with the treatment below if you think there is an egg stuck in your hen.

Treatment for Water Belly in Chickens

While the treatment for water belly in chickens is simple, it may be tough for those who are not used to sticking your hens with a needle. I’ll walk you through the process of treatment to make sure you feel comfortable and confident when it comes time to do the same.

The treatment for water belly in your chickens involves draining the fluid. To do so, you’ll need:

  • Large syringe (we used a 60 ML purchased at Murdoch’s)
  • Needle (we used a 18 gauge x 5/8″ needle from Murdoch’s)
  • A bucket (or something for the excess liquid to drain into)
  • Plastic gloves
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Towles for general clean up

Before you get started, put on gloves, get your bucket ready and place towels on the floor (or just have them handy in case you need them).

Then, assemble your needle and syringe. You don’t need to shove the needle in too far..in fact, we found just a light connection is all that was required.

Needle and syringe

Step One: Secure your hen

The first step is to hold your hen in a safe, secure manner. Cully held Fatty Patty under his arm, almost as if she was a football. He secured her wings and head as much as possible so she would not try to flap her wings and fly away during treatment.

He also made sure the right side of her backend was fully visible so I would clearly be able to see where I needed to poke her with the needle.

Water belly in chickens

Taking pictures of the entire process was not top priority (since our girl was on the verge of death!), but once we got the needle in and some of the liquid drained, I was able to snag a few photos to create this tutorial.

Step Two: Apply rubbing alcohol and poke your hen with the needle

You want to poke your hen on the right side (as their organs are on the left side). Start by finding your hen’s vent. Then, go a few inches down from the vent, ensuring you stay on the right side of their body and directly into where the water filled belly area.

Once you have identified where you will poke the needle, rub some rubbing alcohol on the area and let it dry for a few seconds.

Then, poke your hen with the needle. This was the most nerve wracking part for me, but it ended up going in like a knife through warm butter. There shouldn’t be much tension or push back.

Here is a photo of the needle inserted into Fatty Patty. The needle is inserted on the lower end of her right side. You want it lower so when you take the needle out after treatment, it will naturally continue to drain until the incision heals.

Water belly in chickens

Step Three: SLOWLY drain the liquid from your hen

Two VERY important things to note before you move on to this step:

  1. You do not want to drain ALL the liquid that is in your hen. Doing so can cause them to go into shock. Cully and I estimated that we took a little over half of the liquid that was in Fatty Patty. You may need to repeat this process the next day/later in time.
  1. If the liquid you are pulling is not a yellowish/brownish color, you may not be dealing with water belly. If this is the case, stop pulling liquid immediately and do your best to continue research or call a vet that specializes in chickens for advice.

Now it’s time to start draining your hen. SLOWLY pull back the syringe. If your hen’s belly has a large amount of water in it, you will likely fill up the 60ml quickly. In total, we pulled 240ml (or a little over one cup) of liquid from Fatty Patty.

Here is a picture of what the liquid looked like for reference:

Water belly in chickens

We stopped removing liquid shortly after we noticed Fatty Patty’s comb turning from purple back to red. This was a sign that her oxygen was flowing properly again.

Water Belly in Chickens Aftercare

After you drain some of the liquid from your hen, she should start feeling better and should return back to normal almost immediately (with some “slowness” in the first 24 hours after treatment).

After removing the needle, we put Fatty Patty outside (it was a warm Spring day), isolated from the flock with some fresh food and water.

Water belly in chickens

She immediately started eating and drinking and after about 10 minutes, she walked over to the chicken run area to be let in with her pals.

So, we let all the chickens out and everything was basically back to normal. Fatty Patty did drain additional liquid naturally from the needle hole for the next few hours and your hen may do the same.

Is there a cure for water belly in chickens?

Unfortunately, everywhere we looked and through all our research, all signs point to there is no cure for water belly in chickens. In fact, it could mean that Fatty Patty has an underlying heart condition that may lead to a heart attack.

A vet that specializes in birds told us it could also be related to having worms, so we put our flock on a natural de-wormer just to rule out that possibility.

So, for now, we give Fatty Patty all the love we can and watch her closely to ensure we stay on top of any signs that we need to do this treatment again.


Water belly in chickens can be a serious and life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention. If left untreated, it could lead to shock or even death. While there is no cure for water belly in chickens, diagnosis and treatment are possible with the right knowledge and tools.

With diligent observation of your flock’s behavior, good hygiene practices, and timely intervention when necessary, you can help ensure all your birds stay safe from this potentially deadly health issue.

I hope this article has provided you with the information needed to diagnose and treat any cases of water belly that may arise in your own chicken coop!

Water Belly in Chickens FAQ:

Q. What is water belly in chickens?

A. Water Belly in chickens (also known as ascites) is a condition where the bird’s abdominal cavity fills with fluid, causing their abdomen to swell. This can be very dangerous and sometimes even life-threatening if left untreated.

Q. What are the causes of water belly in chickens?

A. The exact cause of water belly in chickens has not clear but it often occurs due to an underlying heart issue or other organ damage caused by poor nutrition, parasites, bacterial infections, viruses, or even genetics.

Q. What are the signs and symptoms of water belly in chickens?

A. The most common symptom is an enlarged abdomen that looks like it is full of water. 

Other signs include weak or labored breathing, a purple comb, a decrease in egg production, lethargy, and uncoordinated movements.

Q. How do you diagnose water belly in chickens?

A. Diagnosis of water belly typically requires a physical exam of the hens belly. It will feel like a full water balloon.

Q. What are the treatments for water belly in chickens?

A. Treatment usually consists of draining some of the fluid from the abdomen using a syringe and needle.


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