When Should I Call the Vet?


When a member of your flock is injured or sick, sometimes it is difficult to know if veterinary care is needed. A predator may have attacked your chicken, and you are not sure if the cuts or scrapes will heal on their own, or if there are worse injuries to attend to. Perhaps your chicken is showing signs of a respiratory infection. Or that bad case of bumblefoot is not responding to home treatments.

While not trained in veterinary medicine, Home to Roost provides “in-between” services for hurt or sick birds that require assistance. We provide first aid and simple at-home, animal husbandry-related solutions; however, for more complicated issues, we will refer you to avian veterinarians for diagnosis and treatment. Visit the “Home to Roost Services” tab of my blog for more information.

Do you need to see a vet? Here are some guidelines:

1. Does your bird have an injury that is life threatening or that involves a wing or leg?  

Any kind of trauma, such as a predator attack, broken bone, amputated limb, or deep wounds, requires a visit to the vet. In these cases, your chicken may need pain medication and/or antibiotics. A trained avian veterinarian should know how to assess the bird’s condition and treat appropriately.

2. Does your bird have a respiratory infection that is not improving?

Signs that suggest a respiratory infection include sneezing, coughing, rattling, wheezing, and mucus coming from your bird’s nares (nostrils). Bubbles in the corner of the eyes can also suggest a respiratory infection. Birds have a complex respiratory system that involves nine air sacs positioned around the body. Because of this complicated system, respiratory infections may not resolve on their own and may require antibiotic treatment. While you might be able to access antibiotics for chickens, antibiotics must be prescribed by a veterinarian.

3. Does your bird have bumblefoot (pododermatitis) that is not improving?

If Epsom salts soaks and drawing salves are not working on your chicken’s bumblefoot, do not perform surgery on your own. Surgery is a delicate procedure that may result in damage to the bird’s foot. Surgery is also very painful, and your bird will need pain medication.

4. Does your bird need antibiotics?

Antibiotics are prescribed based on the kind of infection, the location of the infection, and the purpose of the bird. Some medications are not approved for use in chickens. An avian veterinarian will know what medication to use and how to administer it (injection, drinking water, with a syringe, etc.). It is important to limit unnecessary use of antibiotics; if antibiotics are given too often, bacteria can develop resistance to them, and infections may not respond to future treatment.

5. Does your bird need pain management?

How can you tell when a chicken is in pain? Chickens tend to hide pain to avoid predation and prevent being excluded from the flock. They also do not have facial expressions that can be easily read. A chicken in pain may withdraw from the rest of the flock, show little interest in food, or stop vocalizing. Limping also may be a sign of pain, as well as breathing hard, panting, or a heartbeat that is faster than normal. Chickens often peck at a painful area. Birds that require pain management should be taken to a veterinarian.

Avian Vets in the Chicago Area

If you live in the Chicago area and have a chicken that needs medical attention, I maintain a list of recommended avian vets in the area. Go to the Resources tab of my blog. Tell these practices that Home to Roost sent you!

Jennifer Murtoff
Photo by Liz McCrory, kosmicstudio.org

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