How to Care for an Injured Chicken
I've been successfully raising hens in my backyard for about a year now, all the while 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.
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.
After all this time and all the battles we've won, I was shocked and at a loss the very first time I found one of my hens had been injured! 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.
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 it! 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. Not to mention the fact that we weren't really sure that either one of us had the stomach or the heart to do it ourselves.
In the end, we managed to doctor her up. Determined to give her a chance, I did a lot of research and took advice from some other chicken owners I met online. She's totally fine now, 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.
What You Need:
Here's what you'll need if you want to successfully save your injured hen:
- Somewhere to keep her, separate from the rest of the flock.
- Saline solution
- Gauze, make sure it's the non-stick kind
- Bandage, an ACE elastic roll works great!
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- A clean spray bottle
- Antibacterial ointment, make sure it is NOT the pain relief kind
- Aspirin, 325mg
I learned the hard way that it's helpful to have these things on-hand in a first-aid kit. I never thought I would have to play doctor for my chickens, so I wasn't prepared and I had to make a special trip to the store to grab all this stuff.
First Thing's First: Don't Panic
According to the research I've done, this isn't all that uncommon. Chickens are prey in the eyes of a lot of other animals! Dogs, cats, raccoons, they 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.
Separate Her From The Flock
You'll want to get her 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.
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 it can easily get infected.
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.
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 been 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. They can make it hard to see the wound clearly and they can get in the way of the healing process.
Once you can see the wound clearly, you'll want to flush it out with saline solution. This is a sterile salt water 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.
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.
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 would looks pretty bad, you'll want to take further steps to help her out.
Bandage It Up
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. 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 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.
Ease The Pain
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 it to show if they're weak, injured, or hurting. They'll be more likely to become a target for predators! You won't see pain in her facial expressions. She probably won't cry out about it, either. That doesn't mean she isn't feeling it, though.
You can help ease her pain by giving her aspirin. The general consensus is that you can dissolve 5 aspirin tablets (325mg each) into one gallon of 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 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 to three tablets per gallon of water and gave it back to her for two more days. I'm not entirely sure if there's a limit to how long it's safe for a hen to take aspirin, but I honestly wasn't too concerned about it. If you're worried, you can try calling your local vet. They may or may not be able to help you with caring for a hen. My local vet could not confidently offer me any sound advice, so I was on my own.
*NOTE: Aspirin acts as a blood thinner. Do not give your hen aspirin if the wound is still bleeding. 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.
Keep The Wound Clean
It's very important to prevent infection!
If your hen has survived whatever wounded her, chances are good 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!
Be sure to change bandaging and clean the wound two to three times a day. I used a hydrogen peroxide solution to clean the wound every time I changed the bandage. Simply mix one part hydrogen peroxide with two parts water in a clean spray bottle. Gently spray it on the wound (use the light spritz setting, not the rough stream!), making sure to get it well cleaned. I let it foam for a few seconds, and then I gently patted with clean gauze to dry. Then I reapplied dry gauze and the bandage.
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.
Reintroducing Her To The Flock
I could tell that my hen was incredibly unhappy being quarantined in my bathroom. After about five days in solitary, 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.
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. Somewhat 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 can 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.
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 might 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. So why not keep her inside, just to be safe?
I brought her in at night until she was healed enough that I felt there was no longer any danger of an infection.
As A Precaution, Prepare For The Worst
My hen was injured pretty bad. That first day, I was so sure that she would die any minute. 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 administer euthanasia to chickens. Call around to see what options you have in your area, just in case.
- You might want to use gloves. I personally don't bother, ever. But some may argue that handling a chicken, let alone and injured one, is incredibly unsanitary. If you do choose not to wear gloves, be sure to wash your hands before and after you handle the hen. That will help keep this whole process clean.
- 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! And 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 members of the flock.
- While in quarantine, your hen would 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 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 live in a more urban or suburban
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.
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© 2017 Kristen Haynie