Apr 18, 2015

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.

Sometimes 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 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. 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 can be hung from the top or sides easily, which keep the bedding, 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.

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 in a large towel can help keep it calm and prevent further injury if they panic or during an escape attempt.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.

All wounds should be thoroughly cleaned. Water with betadine, chlorhexadine 2% solution spray, hydrogen peroxide or Vetericyn Wound Care Spray  can all be used for cleaning superficial 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 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
 All wounds should be thoroughly cleaned. Water, hydrogen peroxide or Vetericyn Wound Care Spray  can be used for cleaning superficial wounds. I use a syringe filled with freshly mixed Dakin's Solution to flush especially deep or very dirty wounds. 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 each day.
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.

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
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.
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 chickens to be very stoic when sick or injured so they don't draw unwanted attention to themselves. Chickens do not have facial expressions that might reveal discomfort, but do not mistake their stoicism for a lack of pain! Chickens do feel pain. Assume they are in as much pain as you would be if you sustained the same injury.
Meloxicam is a frequently-prescribed anti-inflammatory for chickens, but a veterinarian must prescribe it (dosage .5mg/kg 3 times/day) 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.  
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 state 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)
Kathy Shea Mormino, The Chicken Chick®

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