How to Care for an Injured Chicken

 Most backyard chicken keepers have no access to a veterinarian willing or able to treat an injured chicken, so when a pet chicken is hurt, self-help is the only recourse. Some of the following basic first aid care measures for injured chickens may be life-saving when a vet visit is not an option.

Most backyard chicken keepers have no access to a veterinarian willing or able to treat an injured chicken, so when a pet chicken is hurt, self-help is the only recourse. Some of the following basic first aid care measures for injured chickens may be life-saving when a vet visit is not an option.

Most backyard chicken keepers have no access to a veterinarian willing or able to treat an injured chicken, so when a pet chicken is hurt, self-help is the only recourse. Some of the following basic first aid care measures for injured chickens may be life-saving when a vet visit is not an option.
Bruising on a chicken's skin is green. Martha's feathers had hidden her pecking injuries for several days as evidenced by the bruising shown in this photo.
Bruising on a chicken’s skin is green. Martha’s feathers had hidden her pecking injuries for several days as evidenced by the bruising shown in this photo.

The types of injuries that most commonly occur in backyard flocks are those from chickens fighting with one another, picking each other and attacks by predators such as dogs, raccoons, bobcats and hawks. Keeping calm when discovering an injured chicken is the first priority and when you know what needs to be done, it’s easier to remain composed.

Picking is done out of curiosity, not aggression or maliciousness.

PREPARING FOR CHICKEN INJURIES

1. First Aid Kit.
Have a well-stocked first aid kit ready in an easily accessible location. This article details chicken first aid kit essentials.

 Chicken First Aid Kit Essentials

2. Infirmary & Recovery Space
Have a dedicated dog crate or pet kennel/carrier with soft litter material. Pine shavings work well, but a soft towel will suffice temporarily. The chicken hospital area should be a quiet space away from the coop, inside the house, garage or basement where the chicken will remain until fully recovered. It should be conveniently located for frequent observation. I highly recommend using a dog kennel cage because they are spacious, easy to clean and cage cups for food and poultry nipple drinkers to keep the litter, food and water clean and dry.

Have a dedicated dog crate or pet kennel/carrier with soft bedding material (pine shavings, Koop Clean, a soft towel, etc) set aside for chicken emergencies. The chicken hospital area should be a quiet space inside the house, garage or basement where the chicken will remain until fully recovered.

3. HAVE A EUTHANASIA PLAN
With a severe injury the worst case scenario of  is always death and sometimes the kindest thing we can do for a chicken is to end their suffering humanely. Many vets, even those that do not treat chickens, will agree to euthanize a sick or dying bird. Find out who those vets are in advance of needing them.

Euthanasia by Cervical Dislocation
In my experience, the fastest, least gruesome and most humane method of euthanasia is cervical dislocation or “breaking” the chicken’s neck, which causes instant unconsciousness and death. While holding the chicken under non-dominant arm like a football, press its body very securely against your side. Place your dominant hand on top of the bird’s head with with your thumb at the base of the skull behind the head, fingers wrapping underneath the throat. With a very firm grip, quickly and firmly stretch and pull the head straight forward, away from the body while bending the neck up towards its back until a popping sound is heard, which signals the separation of the vertebrae and instant death. Continue to hold the bird securely until nerve activity has stopped.

CARING FOR AN INJURED CHICKEN

1. ISOLATE
Immediately move an injured chicken to safety away from the flock to avoid further injury by other chickens. Wrapping the chicken loosely in a large towel can help keep it calm during transport from the injury scene to safety.

Immediately move an injured chicken to safety away from the flock to avoid further injury by other chickens. Wrapping the chicken in a large towel can help keep it calm and prevent further injury if they panic or during an escape attempt.

2. STOP ANY BLEEDING
Using a clean towel, gauze or paper towel, apply gentle, but firm pressure to an actively bleeding injury until it stops. Wearing vinyl gloves is a good idea when treating wounds. Blood stop powder can be applied to superficial wounds after active bleeding has been controlled. Bleeding wounds often look much worse than they actually are before they are controlled and cleaned up.

Using a clean towel, gauze or paper towel, apply gentle but firm pressure to an actively bleeding injury until it stops. Wearing vinyl gloves is a good idea when treating wounds. Blood stop powder can be applied to superficial wounds after active bleeding has been controlled. Bleeding wounds often look much worse than they actually are before they are controlled and cleaned up.
Using a clean towel, gauze or paper towel, apply gentle pressure to an actively bleeding injury until it stops. Wearing vinyl gloves is a good idea when treating wounds. Blood stop powder can be applied to superficial wounds after active bleeding has been controlled. Bleeding wounds often look much worse than they actually are before they are controlled and cleaned up.
This foot injury looked serious at first glance, but cleaning revealed that it was just a nicked pin feather.

3. ASSESS & CLEAN THE INJURIES
Examine the chicken from head to toe. Feathers may conceal wounds and bathing the bird makes finding them easier, particularly with puncture wounds from a hawk’s talons, for instance. If necessary, trim or pluck feathers in the vicinity of a wound to prevent interference with healing. Be very careful none of the feathers are newly emerging pin feathers, however. Learn more about pin feathers here.

Examine the chicken from head to toe. Feathers may conceal wounds and bathing the bird makes finding them easier, particularly with puncture wounds from a hawk's talons, for instance.

All wounds should be thoroughly cleaned. Water with betadine, chlorhexadine 2% solution spray, or Vetericyn Wound Care Spray  can all be used for cleaning wounds.

 Chlorhexadine 2% solution spray

For very deep or very dirty wounds, either chlorhexadine 2% solution spray or freshly mixed Dakin’s solution can be squirted into it with a syringe to debride and irrigate. Dakin’s solution is made by adding one tablespoon of bleach plus one teaspoon of baking soda to one gallon of water. It should be freshly mixed daily.

Dakin's Solution for Wound cleaning
Chickens have extraordinary color vision, in fact, they see more wavelengths of color than humans; this is important to understand in injury care because the application of products with colored dyes actually draws unwanted attention to an injured bird.
Dying a chicken’s skin and feathers does not disguise injuries or protect the injured bird from being cannibalized; chickens have outstanding color vision; if anything, the dye draws attention to the brightly colored wound, putting an injured bird in harm’s way.

I do not recommend using alcohol-based antiseptic liquids with blue, purple, or red dyes for a few reasons. First, an alcohol-based product on a wound stings like fire. Contrary to popular belief, dying a chicken’s skin and feathers does not disguise an injury or protect the injured bird from being cannibalized by flockmates. Chickens have outstanding color vision; if anything, the dye draws attention to the brightly colored wound. Injured chickens should always be isolated until fully healed, not colored like an Easter egg and left in the flock with fingers crossed, hoping for the best. Finally, color staining ingredients impede the ability to detect one of the first signs of infection: redness. There are kinder, more effective wound care products labeled for use on food-producing animals such as Vetericyn Plus, which is the wound care product I use on my flock.

4. ELECTROLYTES
Adding a vitamin/electrolyte supplement into the drinking water for a day or two can help with any shock from the injury. Never give chickens electrolytes for more than 3 days as it can result in the opposite of the intended effect.

Chickens offer subtle cues when they are under the weather and by regularly spending time with our flocks, we will be able to pick up on signs that they are sick. Common indications of a sick chicken include: hiding, inactivity, pale comb or wattles, unusual droppings, unusual posture, lethargy, lack of appetite and reduced egg production- all indications that closer observation is needed.

5. FOOD & WATER
Keep the injured chicken hydrated throughout the crisis even if that means offering water by spoon or dropper frequently.  Water is involved in every aspect of a chicken’s metabolism from regulating body temperature to digesting food, and eliminating body wastes and a dehydrated bird will have difficulty recovering.

Food is much less critical than water initially for an injured bird, but if the chicken is not eating independently in a day or so after the injury, they can be fed by spoon,  droppersyringe or tube fed a liquid diet.

Food is much less critical than water initially for a sick bird. If the chicken is not eating independently, they can be fed by dropper, syringe or tube fed a liquid diet.
Food is much less critical than water initially for a sick bird. If the chicken is not eating independently, they can be fed by spoon, dropper, syringe or tube fed a liquid diet.

6. PAIN CONTROL
Their unfortunate position near the bottom of nature’s food chain requires that chickens behave stoically when sick or injured so as not to draw unwanted attention. Chickens do not offer facial expressions that would suggest pain or discomfort, but do not mistake their stoicism for a lack of pain- chickens do feel pain. As long as there are no internal injuries, an aspirin drinking water solution can be offered to an injured chicken for a maximum of three days at the ratio of 5 aspirin tablets (total of 325 mg) to one gallon of water. Meloxicam 1.5 mg/ml oral solution is a frequently-prescribed anti-inflammatory for chickens, but a veterinarian must prescribe it along with the dosage by weight and any egg withdrawal period.

As long as there are no internal injuries, an aspirin drinking water solution can be offered to an injured chicken for a maximum of three days. Add 5 aspirin tablets (325 mg x5) to one gallon of water.

7. INFECTION CONTROL
Keep the wound clean and dry while the bird recovers. I recommend using Vetericyn Wound & Infection care spray three times a day until the bird has healed. Watch for signs of infection such as swelling and redness in the area. If antibiotics are necessary, contact your vet or state Agricultural Extension Service’s poultry agent (list HERE).

8. INTERNAL INJURIES
If an injured chicken does not respond to treatment or declines in status, suspect infection and/or internal injuries. Only a veterinarian can help if a bird needs treatment for internal injuries.

 An injured chicken should be 100% healed with no visible signs of blood or scabbing before being returned to the flock. Covering it up with a purple dye product is not an acceptable substitute for time and healing. Treat the injured bird like a stranger when reintroducing it to the flock. I recommend the Playpen Method for a conflict-free reunion. Patience is the key to success. Learn about the Playpen Method HERE.

RETURNING AN INJURED BIRD TO THE FLOCK
An injured chicken should be 100% healed with no visible signs of blood or scabbing before being returned to the flock. Covering it up with a purple dye product is not an acceptable substitute for time and healing. Treat the injured bird like a stranger when reintroducing it to the flock. I recommend the Playpen Method for a conflict-free reunion. Patience is the key to success. Learn about the Playpen Method HERE.

RESOURCES
Tap into any/all of these resources as needed:

  • Board certified avian vets HERE
  • Your state veterinary diagnostic laboratory (*MA lab HERE, NH lab HERE)
  • Your state veterinarian (list HERE)
  • The USDA’s Veterinary Services at 1-866-536-7593 (free consultation with a vet by phone)
  • Your state Agricultural Extension Service’s poultry agent (list HERE)

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Joanne Spalding
Joanne Spalding
1 month ago

Our 7 chickens were attacked in their coop 2 weeks ago, we think by a weasel based on the evidence. Only our 1 Americauna survived with a deep wound on the back of her head/top of her neck. We cleaned it and sprayed it 2-3x a day with Vetericyn Plus, which we had on hand. We made a nice home with a roosting bar in a shower. She was really traumatized and wouldn’t leave the bar so we were hand feeding her until yesterday, but she’s finally back to feeding herself and generally acting like a chicken. We’re wondering when… Read more »

Irene Kennedy
Irene Kennedy
2 months ago

My special hen, has lost her balance, she cannot stand, walk, eat or drink, has lots her body weight, her feet and mouth over grown, I’ve tryed to feed her. How can I put her into a permant sleep, please

james
james
5 months ago

first class down to earth advice / help

Batman
Batman
1 year ago

Thank you so much for this page, it saved my chicken’s life. She and the rest of the flock were attacked by a fox, she was one of the few to survive, but she didn’t come home after the attack until a day later. When we found her she was in terrible condition, but this really helped her. Thank you!!!

Loan
Loan
1 year ago

My Lacy is a one year old wyandotte. She started with diarrhea, stopped laying then a swollen abdomen. I took her to the vet, who did ultrasound and xray. He said there’s swelling inside and prescribed Baytril, metacam, and calcium gluconate. I have given her multiple Epsom baths. It has been three days, She is still swollen. She is eating and drinking a little bit. I am force feeding her with Harrison recovery feed, and electrolyte. I don’t know what is wrong, or how to help her.

Catherine Leigh
Catherine Leigh
3 months ago

My chicken has wound on back saddle area. Should I treat wound and place a saddle? Think it’s from overmating

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