If you’re reading this you are most likely dealing with a hobby farm or companion chickens, so unlike with large production operations, the rules change!
It can be tricky to switch from the flock to individual mindset. With flock medicine the questions we ask can often be answered with post mortem examination, this however, is off the table with companion chickens.
So blow the dust off your bird notes and bird texts, as companion chickens and backyard chickens are becoming increasingly more common!
So you’ll need to know how to deal with them!
Flock to it!
Your first step is determining why the chicken has been presented to you in your consult room, as with rabbits and guinea pigs, often things need to be REALLY BAD before they are noticeable in chickens, not because chickens are easily affected by illness, but because they will hide illness until they are very ill. So find out the why, then we will find out what, and how to resolve the problem.
First off, obtain an awesome history
What do we want to ask in a chickens history?
Why did you cross the road?
Luckily, we can apply our first principles. It’s surprisingly similar to dogs and cats, with a few small changes to peck out:
Any new additions?
Secondarily perform your examination, it’s important not to wing it! Perform a thorough systemic examination.
Before you can tell whats wrong with a chicken, we need to define whats normal:
I define a normal chicken as a healthy chook eating well,bright and alert, with no underlying disease. You need to know whats normal before you can determine whats abnormal.
Here we are looking for signs of perfusion abnormalities (comb and membranes) and respiratory disease (nares and beak)
Nares – should be dry with no discharge
Red comb – bright and red, not pale and shrunken
Bright eyes, bushy tail!
Detect musculature and body condition by feeling keel bone;
Average weight varies quite a lot, this is like asking how much a dog weighs. But as an approximate guide; 50g -2 kg
Heart rate – 220-360 bpm
Little bird, fast heart rate
Resp rate – 12-37 brpm
Listen to sounds of breathing, look for signs of disease – discharge from nares and eyes, lung sounds, air sac sounds.
Wings – look for evidence of trauma, look for signs of feather damage and loss
Cloaca (vent) – should be clean with no faeces present, look for signs of feather damage and loss
Chickens can get diarrhoea, which can cause inflammation and substantial tissue damage.
Rectal temperature – 40-42C
Mentation – should be bright and alert, active and mobile.
Depressed slow chickens that are poorly responsive are either sleeping, or quite sick. Find out why!
How to beak the problems to the punch.
Now in backyard chicken flocks, it is uncommon to seek out and administer vaccinations. This usually occurs for a few reasons.
Lots of companion chickens are rescued laying hens or show birds. So they are most likely already vaccinated.
The few birds in the backyard flock are unlikely to obtain and spread any viral diseases that we vaccinate against, and most likely point 1 applies.
Routine worming can be ideally performed every 6 months, if that doesn’t happen, then you can do a faecal float to detect internal parasites in sick birds. Commonly occurring parasites include : coccidia, tapeworm, and roundworm.
External parasite control
Not usually necessary unless a parasitic burden is noticed. And can be resolved with routine parasiticides. Common external parasites include; mites, lice and fleas.
Good luck with your chicken examination!
Flock to it!
Johnson-Delaney CA, Benscheidt S. Pet Chickens Care. 2011.
Roberts V. Cluck Cluck – Treating the Pet Chicken. London Vet Show. 2011.
Meredith A. Chickens as Patients. AAVAC-UPAV. 2013.