Rabbit and Chicken Frostbite Prevention Methods
How to Keep Rabbits Warm in the Winter and Avoid FrostbitePromoted by Vetericyn
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Rabbit and chicken frostbite occurrences are preventable. Adopting good cold-weather management for your small livestock buildings will go a long way to preventing rabbit and chicken frostbite in the first place. All buildings have ventilation, drafts, and humidity that need to be controlled. A sealed up building is not good because it allows little ventilation. Likewise, an open shed does not provide enough protection from drafts and strong, cold wind blowing through. And humidity or the level of moisture in the air must be kept low. All living things expel moisture through breathing and eliminating waste products. Removal or management of the waste in the coop or hutch needs to be taken care of to keep the humidity level down.
Rabbit and chicken frostbite occurs in the presence of sub-freezing temperatures, moisture, and drafts. The exposed parts of the chicken most affected are the wattles and the combs. Breeds with large combs and wattles are better suited to warmer climates. There are chicken breeds that are considered more cold hardy due to heavy feathering, and closer cropped combs and wattles. Roosters, who often have larger combs and wattles are particularly prone to chicken frostbite. The large combs and droopy wattles are farther away from the core where the blood flow is concentrated during cold weather. In addition, the combs and wattles are not protected by a feather or downy covering.
So, do chickens need heat in the winter to stop them from having a case of chicken frostbite? Not at all! Chickens are designed to withstand the cold months. Their feathers include a layer of downy undercoat near the skin. When they go to roost and fluff up, the air trapped next to the skin in the downy layer warms and is trapped by the outer feathers. This is enough to keep the chicken warm even during sub-freezing temperatures. If you have a chicken breed with a large comb, protecting the comb as described later in this article, will prevent chicken frostbite.
Big Comb and Wattle Breeds
Chickens with large combs and wattles may need extra care to avoid frostbite. These chickens may include the following breeds: White Rocks, Barred Rocks, Australorps, Cochins, Leghorns and Rhode Islands Red. We have a Blue Andalusian with an incredibly large single comb that is quite floppy.
Small Comb and Wattle Breeds
Chicken breeds with smaller combs such as rose combs and pea combs include: Ameraucanas, Brahmas, Wyandottes and Dominiques.
Chicken coops can be structured to minimize chicken frostbite. Place the roost bars out of drafts. Keep the interior bedding in the coop dry. Remove wet manure droppings to help reduce the humidity level.
Rabbits will most likely exhibit frostbite on the tips of their ears if left in a cold area with inadequate protection from the wind, drafts, and moisture. If your rabbit gets a bit wet from rain blowing in, then temperatures drop below freezing, the rabbit is likely to suffer from both hypothermia and frostbite. In addition to the tips of the rabbit’s ears, occasionally the feet can suffer frostbite if they are thinly furred.
Even though livestock is kept outdoors, they require shelter and protection from the elements. Your rabbit hutch design is a critical factor in protecting your rabbits from the weather. Give the rabbits a space that simulates a rabbit warren. If they are able to burrow under a pile of dry straw, as they would burrow underground, they will be less likely to suffer from frostbite.
Preventing Chicken Frostbite
In addition to providing suitable housing and winterizing chicken coops, there are a few other steps you can take to prevent frostbite on your chickens. Feeding warm food during cold spells encourages eating. Feeding the chickens frequently also helps them keep their body temperature up. The chicken grain mixture commonly called “scratch” also helps keep chickens warmer. Scratch grains produce more body heat during digestion.
Coating the exposed combs and wattles with products such as Vaseline or Waxlene will insulate the area from the damage of frostbite. If you discover frostbite or conditions that lead to it, make appropriate changes immediately.
Treating Rabbit and Chicken Frostbite
The goal when discovering a patch of frostbite is to minimize tissue damage. Immediate attention is needed. A patch of frostbite will look pale or grayish. On a normally red comb, the color will look weak and washed out. The chicken may look like it is in pain or uncomfortable. It may be reluctant to move because it hurts.
If the area is still frozen, the first step is to gently thaw the skin. Use a damp warm water compress and gently apply to the affected area and hold it in place until it thaws. Apply antiseptic/antibiotic gel or spray. My choice in animal care skin antiseptics is Vetericyn.
The frostbite affected area may have already thawed and may be swollen and painful. You may feel that the affected area is hot to the touch from the inflammation. Itching, peeling, pain, swelling, scabs and infection can occur. This is another reason to have the Vetericyn antiseptic spray close at hand.
When to Contact the Veterinarian
Rabbit and chicken frostbite cases are not to be taken casually, and a call to the vet might be necessary. Particularly, contact the vet as soon as possible if part of the area turns black. This is a sign of tissue death and gangrene. At this point, surgical intervention may be necessary.
What type of things have you done to prevent frostbite in your chicken flock or rabbit colony? If you have had to treat one of your animals for frostbite, please share your experience with us in the comments.