How to Treat Canker in Poultry

How to Treat Canker in Poultry

Health & Safety

Keeping chickens is great fun and if you own a few of them, you soon realise each bird has their own character and personality. Some hens are bossier than others, whilst others tend to know their place in the pecking order and keep well away from them.

If well cared for and kept in a hygienic environment cockerels and hens can live to ripe old ages. However, as with most other animals they may suffer from some unexpected health issues, one of which is called canker. It's a particularly nasty condition that attacks a bird's upper respiratory tract which could eventually end up causing them to choke.

There are certain antibiotics and drugs that can be given to chickens suffering from canker, but there's always the issue of resistance to consider. Some poultry keepers prefer to go down another route which is to use a product called Bluestone otherwise known as Copper Sulphate.

However, Copper Sulphate should never be given to poultry in powder form on it's own because just a tiny amount of it will kill a chicken. It has to be diluted in water and mixed in with apple cider vinegar before being given to birds. Birds should be given the mixture for anything between 4 to 7 days. It's also really important to take out any other sources of drinking water to ensure your chickens only drink from a medicated water bowl.

Another benefit of giving Copper Sulphate to chickens suffering from canker, is that by doing so you correct any copper deficiencies they may be suffering from which often occurs when birds are kept in areas where the soil is acidic.

The correct mix to give to chickens is as follows:

  • 2 ½ litres of water
  • 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 gram of copper sulphate

Adding Cranberry Juice Makes it More Palatable

Some chickens might not like the taste and refuse to drink from a water dish with the mixture in it. One way of tempting them to drink is to add a little cranberry juice to the mixture which makes it a lot more palatable.

A four day treatment will help ensure your hens don't develop canker but a 7 day treatment will effectively treat birds already suffering from the condition by killing off all the nasties that cause it.

If you have a lot of wild birds around your chickens, they may be suffering from canker too, so if they drink from the same water bowl as your hens, they too will benefit from the treatment and as a bonus will not pass on the condition to your hens!

Make Up a New Mixture Every Day

It's important to put out a fresh mixture every day when treating your chickens and not to just fill up a water bowl that already contains some of the mixture left over from the day before. It's also very important to use a plastic water bowl and not a metal one.

Other Conditions that Copper Sulphate Effectively Treats

Apart from beinga really effective way to treat canker in poultry, copper sulphate is extremely good at treating the following conditions:

  • Roup
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Mould infections of the crop – Mycosis
  • Thrush
  • Candidiasis
  • Moniliasis
  • Sour crop

All too often a hen might be suffering from a suspected crop impaction which usually means they may well be suffering from one of the conditions listed above too. A crop impaction can occur due to a very small amount of canker having developed in their crop which results in a chain reaction that ends up with a food impaction forming.

In certain instances, you may think a bird is suffering from an impaction, but in actual fact it is a build up of canker that is preventing any food from passing out of their crop. The result is a nasty, smelly and mushy feeling crop. A seven day treatment of copper sulphate will help clear this up although you may have to use a syringe to get a bird that doesn't want to drink any water to take the mixture being extra careful not to get any of it into their lungs.

If you decide not to use copper sulphate to treat any birds with canker, you should discuss the problem with your vet who might suggest giving them the following medication:

  • Nystatin
  • Carnidazole – sometimes called Spartrix which is normally in pill form
  • Metronidazole – otherwise known as Flagyl which can be in injection or pill form


If left untreated, canker can really take hold and will eventually make it harder and harder for a chicken to breath, all too often they die of asphyxiation. The earlier the condition is caught, the easier it is to treat and it's always worth treating all your chickens even if only one of them are showing any signs of a problem with their breathing. If you suspect a chicken is suffering from an impacted crop, it's a good idea to give them the copper sulphate solution because the chances are it's canker that may be the root cause of the problem.



Pets for studWanted pets

Accessories & services

Knowledge hub


Support & safety portal
Pets for saleAll Pets for sale