I do not have a good track record with chickens. I like chickens, don’t get me wrong…and one day I’m hoping I can talk Tom into us having chickens. But in the realm of veterinary medicine when dealing with an ill or injured chicken, my statistics are not great. I think mostly it’s because once they get to the point where they are reaching out to us for help, it’s probably something more serious that perhaps we can’t fix? But it doesn’t give me great confidence in my chicken healing skills.
The first chicken who comes to mind is Henny Penny – she came into us years ago now, because she had stopped eating, looked like she may have prolapsed some tissue at her hind end, and wasn’t laying eggs. Every time a client calls asking about a chicken I always give the same disclaimer – “Look - I like chickens, I had intended to practice mixed medicine, and work with farm animals as well. Then life happened and I have very little medical experience with them. I am more than happy to take a look, as long as we are all on the same page that I may not know what I’m looking at, and I may end up referring you to a large animal veterinarian.” Every person I have given this disclaimer to, has still elected to have me take a look. To me, this disclaimer is not a very glowing endorsement of my abilities, but I am encouraged by their faith in me.
Back to Henny Penny. Henny Penny overall appeared normal on exam except for the small amount of tissue that appeared to have prolapsed, and mom agreed to let us take some xrays. I’m not going to lie – had no idea what I was looking at…I could rule out the one thing I was comfortable diagnosing, which was being egg bound (having an egg stuck in there that didn’t form properly or she was not able to pass). Dang. After some conferring with my associates (who all looked at me like I was crazy for even looking at her), and doing some quick research, we decided that perhaps she had an infection in her reproductive tract that was causing the small amount of inflamed/prolapsed tissue, and we would try antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and to replace the tissue and see what happened. I did try, to no avail, to convince mom to refer to a large animal vet for further work up, but she was comfortable with our plan, and didn’t want to pursue more aggressive treatment. Sadly, poor Henny Penny didn’t make it.
The next chicken situation that comes along, brings me to a client of ours with a big farm who has lots of dogs, and also sheep and chickens, and even guinea hens! One day a few summers ago, she called and asked if I could swing by and take a look at one of her chickens that had a big wound on its side. They were thinking it may have gotten attacked by a fox. I gave her the chicken disclaimer, which she assured me she didn’t care, and to her farm I went. This poor little one had a large wound on its side and was missing a lot of feathers from it, and was limping in her one leg. After examining her, I turned to the owner kind of at a loss and she said, “Well, what would you do if it was a dog?” And I said that I would take it back to the hospital, sedate it, flush and clean the wounds, suture them up, and bandage it! Then start her on antibiotics and pain medications, and keep her inside to allow it to heal. After a short silence, she looked me right in the eye and said, “It’s a chicken.” Well….then in that case, I guess I would clean it a bit, throw some antibiotic ointment on it, and hope for the best? She elected for the second option, and sadly, this little one didn’t make it either.
The third chicken, was an adorable little one named Blackie. She lived in a flock that was kept as pets, and had started sneezing and coughing about 2 weeks prior to when I saw her and it was just getting worse and worse. Her owners had actually seen a large animal vet, who started her on antibiotics, but she wasn’t getting better and they asked if I was willing to take a look. After someone who knew what they were doing couldn’t fix it? Oh great…but I gave them the chicken disclaimer, and they elected to bring her in. This poor girl had very raspy breathing and coughing, and sounded like a dog would who had pneumonia! We talked about treatment options, and they elected to change her antibiotics, and see how she did. I was worried there could be a mass or something that was causing the infection, especially since none of the other chickens were sick, and she wasn’t improving, but we were hopeful that a stronger antibiotic could do the trick for her. They also agreed to bring her inside and do some steam showers with her, to help try to clear up some of her congestion. After about a week of treatment, she was doing a bit better…but then, as I’m sure you could have guessed, she didn’t make it. 0/3 with chickens.
For those of you who have chickens and experience with chickens, I’m sure you totally understand. Veterinary medicine in large animals, and flocks (like chickens), is not quite the same as it is in our dogs or cats. The way we treat them is different, and the reality of how aggressive we can or are willing to get with treatment for them, is different. It doesn’t mean they aren’t loved and cared for, but it is often just not realistic to be able to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for illness or injury, like we will typically do for our dogs and cats! I tell these stories meant to be poking fun at my lack of experience in this realm, but every one of these clients truly loved their pet chickens, and wanted to try to help them. Far more than many people who would never even consider bringing them in for care! It is sad that all three of them ended up not making it, but I am glad we tried. And I’m hoping that the NEXT chicken someone asks me to examine has something super simple, and we can improve my odds here, at least a little bit?