Just like all of our pets, chickens get injured. If you’ve done some basic first aid on you, your kids, your dogs, cats, horses, llamas etc., you can do it also on your good old backyard chickens. While chickens are not dogs, cats or even children, in general there are more similarities than differences.
However, know your limitations. If something is bleeding excessively or we’re dealing with broken bones, puncture wounds from dogs and cats or similar emergency type situations, call a veterinarian. To that point, be prepared and make sure you have found a veterinarian who treats poultry before the emergency happens.
The Basics of First Aid
First thing’s first: if you have a bleeding chicken, remove it from the flock. Chickens are naturally attracted to blood, and they will peck at the bleeding bird often making the wound worse. By having a small sick-pen, you can house the bird temporarily until the wound is healed (chickens don’t like to live alone so long-term housing by themselves is not good either).
Cleaning the Wound
Clean and flush the wound to remove dirt. Use a bathtub sprayer and/or have a 12 or 20cc syringe can help with the flushing. First flush with luke warm water and the wash and flush with either dilute soap or very dilute betadine (the betadine makes the water turn brown and you want to dilute it to create a faint brown color). Betadine in high concentrations can be caustic to the skin of chickens.
Dressing the Wound
You have two general choices for dressings on top of the wound: Dressing with a bandage or no dressing and bandage…A lot of your decision on this really comes down to personal preference meaning that you can typically get the same results either way. With respect to dressing you can either use Silver Sulfadiazine (SSD) or Manuka honey. Both are both considered bacteriostatic (i.e. they prevent the growth of additional bacteria). If the injury is near the eyes, don’t use SSD since it can be harmful to the eyes. If you use the SSD or Manuka honey, make sure you put a bandage on it since both SSD and Manuka honey are sticky and will attract dirt. For a bandage make sure you use a non-adhesive bandage and change daily if at all possible. For non-adhesive bandages, I prefer TegadermTM followed by some loosely wrapped vet wrap.
Alternatively clean the wound 2-3x a day and keep the wound area as clean and dry as possible. The issue I have with bandages and dressings in general is that for some birds you can overly stress them to such an extent that the “treatment is worse than the disease.” So, from my perspective unless it is absolutely necessary don’t use ointments and bandages.
If the chicken is irritating the wound there are the equivalent of e-collars which you can find on-line.
What about antibiotics?
If the wound looks infected or if you are dealing with a puncture, wound antibiotics are likely necessary. You can use a topical ointment-based antibiotic such as Bacitracin. However, ointments as previously discussed can attract dirt and are not as effective as antibiotics given orally. Consult your veterinarian if you believe other antibiotics may be necessary.
As you can see, basic first aid for wounds on poultry is fairly straightforward and doable for the average person. However, consider your limitations as some injuries will require the assistance of a veterinarian.