Many chicken owners have resorted to self-diagnosing and treating their chickens due to the lack of affordable experienced chicken and bird veterinarians. Bird veterinarians usually see pets, whereas chickens are often considered livestock and the hundreds to thousands of dollars these pet doctors charge can be quite discouraging for a livestock owner. And livestock vets are often more comfortable working with sheep, goats, cows and pigs.
If you’re lucky enough to develop a working relationship with a veterinarian experienced with chickens, guard this relationship with your life. They will know the latest and best practices in dealing with chicken illnesses. They will also know when to recommend you bring your chicken in and when you should be fine treating from home.
The information shared below can get you started treating and can give you some basic guidelines on when to call the vet. For information covering illnesses that affect your chickens head, beak, eyes, wings and body, please visit part one of this article.
1. A hard, engorged crop can signify crop impaction. The bird may also have a hard time breathing. This occurs when the chicken eats something too large to pass. Stop feeding and don’t allow your chicken to forage until the blockage has passed. Mix some olive oil and vegetable oil together with some water and give it to your chicken (with a syringe or dropper if needed) and gently massage the crop to try to break up the blockage. If this doesn’t help, call your vet as surgery might be needed.
2. An engorged, squishy, smelly crop can signal sour crop. This infection occurs when the crop is not sufficiently emptied. Feeding bread can cause crop problems so try to avoid it. Providing adequate grit for your birds can help prevent sour crop. If a chicken does develop sour crop, holding the chicken head down and massaging her crop can help her “vomit” up the smelly mess. You may need to do this often to help her recover. Offering quality food and some yogurt to combat the fungal infection may help too. Call your veterinarian as they may be able to offer a medicine to help clear up the infection.
3. A prolapsed vent occurs most commonly in young pullets. A tissue mass can be seen protruding from the vent. Clean the back area of the chicken and the protruding tissue mass, but do so gently. Then apply some antiseptic ointment to the area. Still being gentle, push the mass back into the vent and keep the chicken away from the flock for a few days. During this time, clean the area daily and apply more antiseptic ointment. Feed the chicken only fresh greens and some water to discourage the production of any more eggs. The hen should recover fully in a few days, and she can then be returned to the flock. If she doesn’t seem to be bouncing back or you fear infection has set in, contact your veterinarian immediately.
4. Coccidia is most commonly seen in chicks. Adult birds usually have already built up an immunity to these small parasites, but chicks are particularly at risk. The best way to prevent this problem, evidenced by blood in droppings and diarrhea, is to give your young chicks a feed containing coccidiostats until the little ones build up their own immunity. Coccidia can kill little birds quickly, so don’t ignore bloody stools in your flock. Separate out the infected birds immediately and thoroughly clean the pen, water and feed dishes. You’ll want to continue to do this religiously with your infected birds. There are some antibiotics available at feed stores that can be given to chicks, but call your veterinarian first to see what they recommend.
Legs and Feet
5. External parasites (mites, fleas, ticks and lice) can be quite frustrating to chickens. The most common sign is excessive scratching. The best way to prevent these pesky creatures wreaking havoc with your flock is to provide your chickens with plenty of dust bathing facilities. If the chickens haven’t found their own dust bathing areas (if they free range) or if they’re kept in a coop or chicken tractor that does not offer them that option, sand makes a wonderful dust bath ingredient. Use it on the floor of your coop and in the shelter. If your birds are free range, set up a dust bathing area. It may just keep them out of your flowerbeds, though chickens seem to adore mulch baths. If you have a parasite infestation on your hands, call your vet to see what they recommend. Many people find using food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) mixed in with the sand helps, too. Others question the healthiness of using DE with chickens, so talk to your vet first.
6. Some particularly problematic parasites are leg mites. They’re tiny and hard to see, but scaly, flaky or rough legs give them away. Along with treating your chicken’s legs, you’ll need to take care of your chicken’s roosts as well. Coat infected legs and the roosts with kerosene or mineral oil every few days until the little pests are gone.
7. A black scab on your chicken’s foot most likely is bumblefoot. When a foot is injured or the skin is broken in some way, bacteria can get in and cause an infection. Along with black scabs, there may be swelling and some redness. If left untreated, the infection can spread and even kill the bird. The best approach is to clean the area thoroughly, apply antiseptic ointment and then a bandage. Do this two to three times a day for several days. Sometimes this will clear up the infection, but not always. If improvement is not seen in a few days or if things get progressively worse, call your vet. Sometimes the only way to start the recovery process is to cut out the infected scab and give the foot a chance to heal, and this may be best left up to your vet.
In closing, let me give a few quick tips on establishing a good relationship with your veterinarian. First, look for a vet that is used to treating livestock and working with farmers. These vets tend to be a bit more laid back and willing to work with you, rather than demanding that you bring your bird(s) in every time there is some ailment. When you call the vet, be up front with the information and don’t expect to talk to a veterinarian directly every time. Provide the symptoms, anything you’ve tried and if you’ve seen any response. Also be honest if finances are a concern. Some doctors will offer the most expensive option first, because it is most likely the best one, but they may have another option up their sleeve you can try if you ask. Be considerate when you talk with the vet tech or veterinarian themselves. It’s a good chance the vet tech may be the one that gets your case heard by the busy veterinarian, so treat them well! Lastly, do what the veterinarian tells you and keep them updated with changes. It may seem like a no-brainer, but many people forget this step. Veterinarians don’t have time to baby every client and stay on the phone for long, but they do genuinely care and will try the best they can to help you.