One of the most common questions we get asked about chickens is how long they can go without water. Dehydration is always a concern for animals that live on land, and going without enough water for even a short period of time is enough to result in serious health risks.
You especially cannot afford to get it wrong during the hotter seasons. So, how long can a chicken go without water?
Most chickens can go one or two days without any water and survive, depending on overall health and the climate. Assuming they are able to rehydrate, they may not suffer any lasting effects. Serious dehydration is a medical emergency, however, and should be treated as such if a chicken is unable to drink after a time without access to water.
The full answer, as with many things related to chicken care, is “it depends”. Chickens do need a lot of water, but there are plenty of ways to help them stay hydrated.
In this article, we will explore the topic of chicken hydration in depth and answer all your questions.
How long can a chicken go without water?
Most chickens can go one or two days without water and survive, depending on overall health and the climate.
Chickens in good health and mild weather will need less water, while birds of ill health or in hot weather will need more, and more often.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some chickens may be able to survive for longer without water, while others may need more than the recommended amount. You don’t want to put those findings to the test, however.
What happens if a chicken does not get enough water?
Dehydration is a serious concern and will result if chickens don’t get enough to drink. Going without enough water for even a short period of time can result in serious health complications for pretty much every non-marine animal.
Chickens are no different. When they do not have access to water, they will begin to dehydrate.
The first signs of dehydration in chickens are usually thirst, lethargy, and decreased egg production. If left untreated, it can lead to organ damage and death.
It is important to catch the signs of dehydration early and take action to remedy it immediately.
The best way to prevent dehydration is to ensure your birds always have access to clean water, even in the hottest weather.
What are the signs of dehydration in chickens?
It is important to pay attention to your birds and know what is normal for them so you can spot any changes that may indicate a problem.
If you notice any of the following signs in your birds, it could mean they are dehydrated and need immediate assistance:
- Sunken eyes
- Pale or dry comb and wattles
- Decreased appetite
- Reduced egg production
- Dull feathers
If you notice any of these signs, take action immediately. If your birds are unable or unwilling to drink on their own, you should also contact a veterinarian immediately.
Rescue is possible with timely intervention, but your chicken’s chances of survival drop precipitously with each passing minute once they are severely dehydrated.
How much water does a chicken need a day?
Generally, your birds should have access to clean water at all times. A good rule of thumb is to ensure they have enough to stay hydrated and meet their needs, even in the hottest weather. Never allow their water supply to run out.
A more technical answer would reveal that an average adult chicken in a temperate climate will drink between two cups and one pint of water per day. Laying hens may double that requirement.
And, of course, hot weather will dramatically increase the amount of water any given chicken needs.
Do chickens need water at night?
Chickens do not tend to drink as much water at night, but they still need access to it in case they wake up thirsty or go to bed a little dehydrated.
If your chickens are allowed to free-range during the day, they will likely get enough water from plants and insects.
In any case, make sure their water reservoir is full before you go to bed so they can drink if they need to.
How long can chickens go without water in the winter?
The same as any other time, assuming conditions are nominal. Chickens can go a day or perhaps two without water in the winter.
They will usually drink less water in the winter because they aren’t dealing with heat stress, but they’ll be relying on their metabolism to keep warm and that means they still need plenty of water.
However, if it’s freezing cold outside, their water supply may freeze solid. Make sure to check your birds’ water regularly during the winter and break up any ice that has formed so they can drink.
You may need to invest in a heated water bowl or chicken waterer to keep their water from freezing solid. Never assume their water will stay liquid; you must check on it!
Will they eat snow if they don’t have water?
Yes, though it isn’t optimal for them. Chickens will eat snow if they are thirsty, but it won’t quench their thirst the way water would.
Eating snow can also lower their body temperature, which definitely isn’t ideal in cold weather.
If you live in an area where it snows and your chickens decide to peck at it, it is nothing to worry about; the behavior is instinctual in many birds. That being said you must never rely on snow to provide for their hydration requirements.
Do I need a special chicken waterer?
You can use any type of container for your chicken’s water, as long as it is clean and has enough room for all your birds to drink at the same time.
Some people prefer using automatic chicken waterers because they stay clean longer and are less likely to spill. Others find that traditional dishes work just fine. It really depends on your preferences and the set-up of your coop.
As mentioned, special waterers and upgrades may be required for extreme weather or climates. Also, be especially selective with your water source if you have or will have chicks; it is easy for them to be trapped in water sources and drown.
What are some ways to help chickens stay hydrated?
There are other ways to help chickens stay hydrated, namely through feeding them select, moisture-rich foods.
Many vegetables, such as lettuce and cucumbers, are over 90% water. You can also supplement their diet with water-rich fruits like watermelon or grapes.
Chickens love these foods and they will help keep your birds healthy and hydrated, especially on hot days.
Keep in mind, chickens should subsist primarily on dry or barely-moist foods; too much moisture in their diet will lead to health problems.
Be sure to offer a variety of foods and always have fresh, clean water available as their primary source of hydration.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.