Chicken Wound Care
Be Prepared in Advance with Antibiotic Ointment and Blu-Kote for Chickens
Reading Time: 4 minutes
If you have chickens, sooner or later you’re going to need you to know chicken wound care. That wound could result from a predator attack, feather picking by other chickens, or just from an encounter with something sharp around your homestead. You will need to be prepared before your chicken gets injured by having both the supplies and knowledge for chicken wound care.
When your chicken is hurt, they are likely in pain, scared, and perhaps confused. Wrap your chicken gently in an old, clean towel to prevent them from hurting themselves (or you) further with struggling and panic. If your chicken is not in serious condition, treating them at night may help them to be more calm and relaxed. In this case, you would need a headlamp or small portable battery-operated lantern. Take your chicken away from the rest of the flock. The last thing you need is a nosey hen getting in the way or knocking over your supplies. If the wound is still bleeding heavily, apply wound powder and light pressure for about 10 minutes with a clean cloth should do the trick. Feet wounds are notorious for heavy bleeding.
Clean the Wound
Now you need to clean your chicken’s wound. This is best done with a saline solution that you can pour or squirt into the wound to clean out dirt and debris. Saline solutions can be purchased in first aid sections or made with 4 cups of (cooled) boiled water and 2 teaspoons of salt. The salt should be non-iodized and not contain any anti-caking agents. If the wound is deep then you will definitely need to use a squirt bottle or syringe to clean it out. Tweezers are great for carefully grabbing larger pieces of debris. If you are having a hard time getting everything, the foaming action of some hydrogen peroxide can lift debris out, but is damaging to soft tissues and should only be used as a last resort. Gently dab the wound dry with a gauze pad.
Treat the Wound
Once the chicken’s wound is completely clean, it needs to be treated to prevent infection. You may want to keep a few types of antibacterial products handy for different uses. A simple spray such as Blu-Kote works great for small wounds such as scratches or feather picking. It not only disinfects, but it also colors the area purple so most chickens will actually leave the area alone rather than continuing to peck at it. For larger wounds, povidone-iodine is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial available over the counter. Gently pour the iodine on the wound and allow to air dry. You may follow with antibiotic ointment for dry wounds or antimicrobial powder for oozing wounds.
Dress the Wound
If you are only treating minor feather picking or some superficial scratches, Blu-Kote for chickens or a similar product is usually enough covering to aid in healing. If not, then you may need to dress the wound. First, check for feathers that may get in the way of the wound healing and clip or pluck them away. If the wound is no longer bleeding and is in a place where the chicken will not peck at it, you may leave it open so that you can check it more easily. Otherwise, cover the wound with a gauze pad and tape it either directly around the wound or make a body wrap around the chicken to hold the dressing in place.
I know that your chickens are social birds, but you must keep your chicken isolated until it heals. This can be accomplished by having a separate wire cage away from your other chickens, or even with a box in your closet. Your healing chicken needs rest, warmth, quiet, and no more stress. It is likely that your chicken’s injury may have put it into shock, and you need to ensure that you do not cause that shock to go deeper. Be sure that your chicken has adequate food and water. You may need to tempt them with some favorite treats as they may be disinclined to eat while they are in pain.
Sometimes, even though you did everything by the book, a chicken wound can still become infected. This is easier to spot if you are either checking the wound under the dressing daily or opting not to use a dressing. An infected wound will be red, may ooze pus or fluid, and the scab may get larger as time passes. If a wound just isn’t healing within about two weeks, assume it is infected. You will need to remove the scab. Rather than simply ripping the scab off, soften it first by repeatedly applying a thick ointment such as zinc oxide (diaper rash cream works great) or Ichthammol. This may take a day or even two of repeated applications. Clean out the infection once again using your saline solution and retreat the wound just as before. Once again, if the wound is oozing or weepy, an antimicrobial powder is better than an ointment.
If the wound is from an animal bite, you may need a stronger antibiotic such as Terramycin. Also, if the chicken’s wound doesn’t stay closed with a simple dressing or is multiple layers deep, it may need stitches. This is best done by a veterinarian or other professional.
List of Supplies
- Old, clean towel
- Headlamp or battery-operated lantern
- Saline solution
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Gauze pads
- Medical tape
- Blunt-tipped scissors
- Antibiotic ointment
- Antimicrobial powder
- A thick ointment such as zinc oxide or Ichthammol
- Antibiotic such as Terramycin (talk to your vet)
- A safe place for your chicken to heal
While we all hope that we will never face our chickens getting hurt, we must be prepared for proper chicken wound care. Having these supplies on hand and knowing what to do will speed your ability to help your chickens in their time of need.
Damerow, G. (2010). Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
Originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.