Building Your First First Aid Kit for Chicken Injuries
Repurposing Simple Household Items Can Give You All You Need To Keep Your Flock Healthy
By Jen Pitino, Idaho
Dealing with an illness or injury is unavoidable when raising any animal. Usually medical help for your sick pet is no further than a car ride away to your lo-cal veterinarian office — this is not true for chickens and other backyard poultry. Despite the exponential growth in backyard chicken keeping, veterinarians who provide medical care for chickens can be scarcer than hen’s teeth to find. Consequent-ly, backyard chicken owners (more than any other common household pet owners) must rely upon their own skills and wherewithal in order to provide medical care to their backyard flocks.
As a chicken owner, it only makes sense to prepare before crisis strikes and build your own poultry med kit. A high quality poultry med kit can be assembled without breaking the bank and will serve you well in an emergency.
A Place For Everything
The first step in preparing a med kit for your flock is to get a container to store all of the tools and medicines in one place. Storing all of your supplies in one place allows you to avoid having a bleeding bird in one hand and digging through a cupboard looking for a necessary item with the other hand.
One of the cheapest solutions is to buy a plastic, lidded tote to dedicate as your poultry med kit container. I have also seen plastic file boxes, holiday snack tins, fishing tackle boxes and ammo canisters repurposed as practical med kit containers. Whether you decide to purchase or recycle a container that you already own for your med kit, just be sure that the box will be practical for the storage of your medical supplies.
When you assemble your supplies, you may have to pur-chase duplicate items such as scissors and tweezers, which you may otherwise already own.
Be sure to invest in these duplicate items and reserve them solely for this med kit’s use. It will defeat the purpose of having a special chicken med kit if a key item, such as the scissors, have been “borrowed” for a craft project and not returned to their proper place. Avoid stress to yourself and your poultry when medical crisis strikes by keeping med kit items strictly reserved for med kit purposes.
Don’t Break Your Budget
Purchasing the necessary items for your chicken med kit does not have to be expensive. Many of the basic tools and medicines are available at discount stores. Be aware that there is a wide variety of specialty poultry medical items available for purchase in feed stores and on-line, many of which can be quite expensive and have limited shelf-life. When building your first chicken med kit focus on including basic items that will be useful in many different scenarios rather than specialty items that have limited application.
Kit Medicines That Didn’t Make The Cut
There are many other useful medicines for poultry that are not on the list above. Some items such as calcium alginate rope dressing (a very useful product for packing wounds that need to be able to drain) have short shelf-life spans and are therefore best bought at the time of need from your local drugstore.
Other common poultry pharmaceuticals such as Sulmet (for treating coccidiosis) and Ivermectin (used as a wormer) have been purposefully omitted from the med kit list above. These sorts of pharmaceuticals though effective, are expensive and highly controversial. Both Sulmet and Ivermectin residually taint a treated hen’s eggs for a period of time rending them unsafe for human consumption. You may want to fully research these sorts of medicines before using them with your flock.
Additionally, a few products were omitted from the sug-gested med kit above because of inexpensive alternatives. One example of such an item is probiotic powder. Though beneficial, it would be easier, cheaper and more nutritious to simply feed your flock some yogurt with live probiotic cultures. A little common sense and resourcefulness will help keep down the costs of building your med kit.
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
It is inevitable that a member of your backyard flock is going to become injured or ill at some point. However a healthy diet, pure water, a clean and well-ventilat-ed coop and preventative care (such using food grade diatomaceous earth and apple cider vinegar with your flock regularly) will go a long way to prevent many chicken re-lated health problems. It is much simpler and less expensive to prevent illness and injury than to cure it later. — Jen Pitino
Poultry Tool Kit:
• 1 pair small, sharp scissors—These scissors should be small enough to fit inside of a bird’s mouth if necessary. It is not uncommon for chickens to swallow and tangle feed bag strings around their tongues. In these sorts of situations only small scissors will be of use.
• 1 tweezers—Tweezers are quite useful when removing dirt or other detritus from wounds and as a surgical tool.
• Scalpel—A scalpel is an absolutely necessary tool if you are required to perform surgery, such as Bumblefoot surgery, on your bird.
• Pet Nail Trimmer and Nail File—Both of these items are useful for trimming, shaping and smoothing rough or overgrown nails and beaks.
• Cotton balls and Cotton Swabs (Q-Tips)—These are useful for cleaning wounds and applying ointments.
• Cotton Gauze and Non-Stick Gauze Pads—These are useful to cover and dress wounds.
• Self-Adherent medical tape and Duct Tape—Self-adherent medical tape (this is called “Vetrap” at farming stores) has a couple of important uses. Its primary application is to wrap wounds (often covering gauze). Self-adherent medical tape is also indispensable when treating Spraddle Leg (also commonly called ‘Splay Leg’) and curled toes in baby chicks. Duct Tape is necessary for covering foot wounds to keep dirt out of the wound dressing.
• One box of disposable medical gloves—Disposable gloves are necessary to prevent the spreading of germs and to provide you some protection as you treat your chickens, including feeling inside of their vents in cases of prolapse and egg-bound.
• Turkey Baster or Medical Dropper—Either of these items is useful to treat a prolapsed or egg-bound vent with olive oil.
• Catheter-tipped Syringes (Oral Syringes) Catheter-tipped Syringes (also called ‘Oral Syringes’) are invaluable when treating a chicken with olive oil to clear sour crop. Also it’s the prefect tool to deliver other liquid oral medications to your birds.
• Headlamp LED Flashlight—This is very helpful tool provides extra lighting while keeping your hands free to treat the patient. Make sure it has working batteries in it.
• Clean Towel and Rags—A clean, old towel can be used as a wrap to calm and control a chicken’s movements, used as a clean treatment table, or as bedding in a sick bay with an injured or ill bird. Clean rags are useful for wiping hands and cleaning up.
• Superglue—Superglue is essential when home-treating a cracked beak. It is also useful (in some situations) for closing up wounds.
• Popsicle Sticks or Tongue Depressors—These thin wooden sticks are essential when splinting a fractured limb.
• Anti-bacterial Hand Gel—This is an easy solution for you to sanitize your hands before treating your injured chicken.
Poultry Med Kit Medicines:
• Antibiotic Ointment (e.g. Neosporin)—This is a useful antibiotic treatment to avoid infection of wounds. Be very careful not to use any antibiotic ointment which includes a pain killer in it. The pain killer ingredient will often end in a “-caine” or “-cane” (e.g. benzocaine or lidocaine). Such pain killers are potentially fatal to chickens.
• Rubbing Alcohol—This is a “must-have” item for the med kit. Rubbing alcohol is an eff ective disinfectant for minor cuts and wounds (not appropriate for deep wounds). Be careful not to use this near your chicken’s eyes.
• Petroleum Jelly (e.g. Vaseline)—This is a wonder item for your med kit with multiple uses. It can be used on legs to fi ght scaly mites. It can be used on combs, watt les and legs to prevent frostbite. It is a terrifi c lubricant to treat prolapsed vent and other cloaca/vent issues. Th is is a “must-have” item for the med kit.
• Povidone-Iodine (e.g. Betadine)—Betadine is just a brand name for topical povidone-iodine solution. This is a strong antiseptic which is commonly used to clean wounds. Be aware it will stain your skin a reddish-color, so be sure to use the disposable medical gloves with this product.
• Blu-Kote—This topical antiseptic spray (though not as potent as povidone-iodine) is very popular with chicken keepers for treating wounds caused by pecking. Blu-Kote stains the wound a dark blue color which helps to reduce further pecking of the aff ected area. Be aware that this is another product which will stain your skin; use of gloves with this product is highly recommended.
• Sterile Eye Wash/Saline Solution—This is a useful item to flush out and clean deeper wounds. Sterile Eye Wash is particularly useful in minor surgeries (e.g. Bumblefoot surgery.)
• Epsom Salts—Epsom salts is another “must-have” item in the chicken med kit as it is an effective treatment for several internal and external ailments. Epsom salts, for example, can be used to relieve muscle pains, treat abdominal swelling and irritated skin. When consumed it can help intestinal tract issues, neutralize ingested toxins and even treat botulism!
• Vetericyn Wound & Infection Care—This non-toxic, gel spray kills 99.9% of all bacteria, fungi and viruses without the use of antibiotics or steroids. Th is truly is an amazing product and a more natural alternative to antibiotic ointment.
• VetRx-Bird—This 100 percent natural, camphor-based formula was originally created in 1874 and is still considered one of the very best products available to treat respiratory ailments, eye worms and scaly legs. VetRx can be administered orally, topically or simply added to the drinking water. The other benefit to this product is that it has a long shelf-life.
• Styptic Powder—Styptic powder is used to quickly stop bleeding wounds. There are effective commercial products such as Kwik Stop, though simple corn starch will also work.
• Electrolytes/Vitamins mix When you have a stressed and/or dehydrated bird an electrolytes/vitamins mix (e.g. Sav-a-Chick) can be very helpful to have on hand.
Additional Resources To Consider Having On-Hand
Injured or ill chickens often need some time away from their flock mates to rest and recuperate. Nursing a sick bird indoors requires some pre-planning — either you need to be equipped with chicken diapers so that the bird can be inside without a mess or you need to have a chicken sickbay at the ready. Dog kennels, large, plastic totes or even large cardboard boxes may be used as sickbays for a convalescing chicken. Avoid unnecessary scrambling and stress during a difficult time, plan ahead by having either diapers or a sickbay container on-hand to use.
It may also be well worth investing in a chicken health reference book. The most popular chicken health guide available on the market is The Chicken Health Handbook writ-ten by renowned poultry expert Gail Dam-erow. This handbook is a veritable chicken health bible for the backyard keeper and ac-cidental home-veterinarian. Remember that not all advice available on the internet is ac-curate. I turn to The Chicken Health Handbook first when I have chicken health questions. — Jen Pitino
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