First Aid: How to Care for an Injured Chicken
How to Handle an Injured Chicken
I've been successfully raising hens in my backyard for about a year now, doing everything I can to make sure their environment is safe and predator-free. They are free-range during the day (as we have a fairly large fenced yard), and they are locked away in a secure coop at night.
One morning, our hen showed up with a mysterious injury. We decided to give her a chance and administer first aid. Since it's a chicken and technically a farm animal, there isn't a whole lot of help available, especially when you don't live in a more urban or suburban area. That's when I reached out to some experts and learned about chicken first aid:
Chicken First Aid
- Don't Panic
- Separate an Injured Hen From the Flock
- Assess the Damage
- Apply Wound Dressing
- Consider Pain Management
- Keep the Wound Clean
- Reintroduce the Injured Chicken to the Flock
- As a Precaution, Always Prepare for the Worst
Our Story: How I Saved My Injured Hen
We've been through some pretty tough battles with predators—wild raccoons being the worst of them. Still, we managed to stay one step ahead at all times. We even managed to get our neighborhood's stray cat problem under control and chase off those raccoons—all in the name of protecting our little egg-layers!
Our Hen Showed Up With a Mysterious Injury
After all this time and all the battles we've won, when I found out that one of my hens had been injured, I was shocked! It was late morning and I was watering my garden when we noticed that she had quite a large gash on her shoulder where the wing meets the neck.
I had no idea what had happened to her. I didn't notice anything at all when I let them out of the coop that morning, and it had only been a few hours since then. As far as I could tell, the morning had been uneventful and I had seen nothing out of the ordinary.
Was She Going to Live?
Nonetheless, there she was, looking like she had snagged herself a role on The Walking Dead. Her feathers were all wet and matted down, and she looked like she had a huge chunk of meat missing from her neck. The wound looked horrifying, and we immediately thought there was no way she was going to survive!
When my boyfriend spotted her, he shouted: "Oh, sh***, how are you even alive?!" He suggested that we should probably put her down, but neither of us really wanted to do that.
What I Learned From Other Chicken Experts
In the end, we were determined to give her a chance. I did a lot of research and took advice from some other chicken experts. She's totally fine now, and back in good health and spirits. I learned a lot from this experience and from the research I did, and I wanted to share it in case someone else ends up in this same situation! Here's what you can do if you ever find yourself with an injured hen.
As always, besides administering first aid, take your injured chicken to your local veterinarian for diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.
First Aid Supplies
Here's what you'll need if you want to successfully administer first aid and save your injured hen:
- New, general-purpose gloves
- Somewhere to keep her separate from the rest of the flock
- A sterile saline solution
- Gauze (make sure it's the non-stick kind)
- Bandage (an ACE elastic roll works great!)
- A clean spray bottle
- Antibacterial ointment (make sure it is NOT the pain-relief kind)
- Aspirin (see the recommendation for strength in mg)
I learned the hard way that it's helpful to have these things on-hand in a first-aid kit. I wasn't prepared, and I had to make a special trip to the store to grab all this stuff.
1. First Thing First: Don't Panic
According to the research I've done, injuries in chickens aren't all that uncommon. Chickens are prey in the eyes of a lot of other animals—dogs, cats, and raccoons, all want a bite out of these guys. I even found quite a few stories of chickens being attacked by hawks!
They are surprisingly resilient, though! Your hens can handle a lot more than they look like they can. If one of yours is injured, chances are pretty good that with a little TLC, she'll be recovering in no time.
2. Separate an Injured Hen From the Flock
You'll want to get your injured chicken away from the rest of the flock as soon as possible. My hens are jerks and they will victimize one of their own if they get a hint that she's weak or injured. They will peck at her, pull at her feathers, and try to prevent her from eating. Even worse though, I've read horror stories from other people about their chickens actually eating the injured one. It's better to be safe than sorry, so get her out of there as soon as possible.
Find a Safe Place to Quarantine Her
Ideally, find her a safe place where she can stay while she's recovering. It should be safe, comfortable, and it should be easy for you to keep a close eye on her. Also, keep in mind that you'll want to keep her clean and away from bugs, especially flies. Having an open wound makes her a target for flies, and her wound can easily get infected.
Choose a Temperature-Controlled Environment
I chose to bring my hen inside and keep her in the bathroom. It's temperature-controlled, which I can imagine would take some stress off of her and make her more comfortable. It's easy to clean poo off of the linoleum floors, and it's easy to get her into the shower frequently for cleaning. This also makes it easy for me to administer her meds and closely monitor her behavior.
3. Assess the Damage
Once you have her away from the flock, you'll want to get a good idea of how bad the wound is. It will be helpful to give her a good rinse with clean water. If she's bleeding, it can make the wound look much larger and more severe than it actually is. Use scissors to carefully snip any feathers around the area. Feathers can make it hard to see the wound clearly and they can get in the way of the healing process.
Flush the Wound With Sterile Saline
Once you can see the wound clearly, you'll want to flush it out with a sterile saline solution. This is sterile saltwater that will help clean the wound out and prevent it from getting infected. It's available in the first-aid section at just about any grocery or general store.
Stop the Bleeding
If she's still bleeding, you'll want to stop that immediately. Use clean gauze to apply pressure to the area until the bleeding stops.
Determine the Severity
Now, you'll want to figure out how bad the wound is. If it's just superficial, your work may be done. Give her some food and water, and clean the wound at least once daily until it's healed.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the case with my chicken. She had a deep gash in her flesh that looked very painful, and I knew it wouldn't be simple to patch this one up. If the wound looks pretty bad, you'll want to take further steps to help her out.
4. Apply Wound Dressing
Bandaging the wound can help prevent infection, keep debris out of it, and keep the hen from pecking at it. If you can, apply some antibacterial ointment to the wound and then cover it with sterile non-stick gauze. Then, wrap it up with an ACE bandage to help keep the gauze in place.
Secure the Dressing
I'll admit, this can be a little tricky. For the wound that was on my hen's shoulder, I started the bandage at the site of the wound and wrapped it around the front of her, taking it underneath the uninjured wing, and then crisscrossing across her chest. I made sure to keep her injured wing underneath the bandage to that she was less likely to move it. You'll have to get creative when wrapping the bandage.
5. Consider Pain Management
Yes, if your hen is injured, she's probably in a lot of pain. They're not very good at communicating with us that there's something wrong. I'm assuming this is because of instinct. They don't want to show if they're weak, injured, or hurting because they'll be more likely to become a target for predators! That doesn't mean she isn't feeling it, though.
Can You Give Aspirin to a Chicken?
You can help ease her pain by giving her aspirin (if available, please talk to a veterinarian regarding this option)—but you should be aware that this can be risky. The general consensus is that you can dissolve aspirin tablets into water. Per poultry DVM.com:
"1 (5-grain) tablet added to 250 mL of drinking water, changed after 12 hours. An alternative is 4 baby aspirin (80 mg/ea) added to 250 mL of drinking water."
I was concerned about the safety of doing this, but I decided to try it for the sake of my poor hen (I didn't really feel like she had much to lose at this point), and it turned out to be just fine. It actually visibly improved her mood, as it wasn't until after the aspirin kicked in that she got up and started moving around.
I gave her the aspirin water for the first three days, and then after that, I gave her regular water. Based on her behavior, it seemed she was still in pain. So I lowered the dose and gave it to her for two more days.
An Important Warning About Aspirin
Aspirin acts as a blood thinner. Do not give your hen aspirin if the wound is still bleeding as it will prevent the blood from clotting and this will make it much more difficult to stop the bleeding. Wait until it has stopped completely before you give her the aspirin.
There's a limit for how long a hen can be on aspirin. As always, call your local vet.
6. Keep the Wound Clean
This is very important to prevent infection! If your hen has survived whatever wounded her, chances are that she will survive the healing process . . . as long as she doesn't end up with an infection. Right now, preventing infection is your biggest concern!
Change the Bandage Frequently
Be sure to change the bandaging and clean the wound two to three times a day. You can use a sterile saline solution to clean the wound when you change the bandage. Gently spray it on the wound (use the light spritz setting, not the rough stream!) to clean it well. Gently pat it dry with clean gauze and reapply dry gauze and the bandage.
Let the Wound Scab
I kept my hen in a bandage until I could clearly see the wound scabbing over pretty well. It took about three days before I decided she didn't need the bandage anymore.
7. Reintroduce the Injured Chicken to the Flock
I could tell that my hen was incredibly unhappy being quarantined in my bathroom. After about five days in solitary confinement, I let her go outside to play with her sisters. I waited until I was confident that her wound was healing well, and I started out slow. I read that it might be difficult to reintroduce her to the flock, and with the risk of the other chickens attacking her, I wanted to err on the safe side.
Slow and Supervised Reintroductions
On the first day, I opened the bathroom door and coaxed her to follow me to the back door. She ran out as soon as she spotted the rest of her flock. To my surprise, they all acted as if she had not been gone at all. I took my work outside to the back patio that day so I could keep a close eye on them. After a few hours, I brought her back inside and cleaned her up well. She spent another night in the bathroom and was allowed to go back outside in the morning.
Keep Them Indoors at Night
Noticing no bad behavior from any of the other hens, I let her stay outside all day long from this point on. I knew she was much happier this way. However, I still continued to bring her in at night. Her wound had been pretty bad and even though it was healing, I was nervous about letting her stay in the coop at night.
Being in such close quarters with the others could have caused an issue. They don't peck at her during the day, but who's to say they won't target her at night when they're all locked up in a little house together?
Besides, I was still worried about the flies getting to her. On top of that, she still needed to come in for a good cleaning every night, anyway. I brought her in at night until she was healed enough that I felt there was no longer any danger of infection.
8. As a Precaution, Always Prepare for the Worst
My hen was injured pretty badly. I was so sure that she would die any minute that first day. Either that, or we were going to have to put her down. Luckily, it wasn't as bad as I had thought it was! However, you should be prepared for the worst, just in case.
Fortunately for me, I have never had to put one of my hens down, so I can't advise you on that subject. I'm not even sure I'd be able to do it if I needed to. However, I do know that some veterinarians will euthanize chickens. Call around to see what options you have in your area, just in case.
More Tips on Caring for an Injured Chicken Yourself
- Gloves: You might want to use gloves. Some may argue that handling a chicken, let alone an injured one, is incredibly unsanitary. If you don't have gloves, be sure to wash your hands before and after you handle the hen. That will help keep this whole process clean.
- Check for More Injuries: If you find an injury on one of your hens, be sure to check her for more injuries. Those feathers can be really good at hiding wounds! While you're at it, check your other hens out, too. This is especially important if you don't know where the injury came from. Something may have happened to more than one member of the flock.
- Offer Enrichment: While in quarantine, your hen will appreciate something to entertain her. In addition to food and water, she needs something to play with since she doesn't have the mental stimulation that is normally provided by the great outdoors. I borrowed some clean toys from my parakeets for my hen while she was indoors and she seemed to appreciate it a great deal.
Use Your Best Judgement
I learned the hard way that having to deal with an injured hen can be a scary situation if you're experiencing it for the first time. It's important to keep your cool and keep your wits so you can think straight. Since it's a chicken and technically a farm animal, there isn't a whole lot of help available, especially when you don't live in a more urban or suburban area.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2017 Kristen Haynie