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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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