Treating Wounds and Injury in Backyard Chickens

Quite often, I will receive a call or an email from someone who is frantic over the devastating injury caused to their poultry pet, usually by a predator. When the bird is beyond hope and is suffering, then I recommend the humane thing, and that is to put the poor thing out of its misery – as difficult as that is to do for some people. However, through encouraging a process called CELL MIGRATION (the manufacture of new skin cells) to occur, many serious injuries once thought to be too severe to save the bird can now be attempted before giving up all hope.
I’m going to do away with all of the medical language and get right down to simple, plain English in terms of explaining how you may be able to provide a means for your bird to heal in such a way to afford them not only new skin over the injury, but also new feathers without scar tissue. The point to cell migration is to create new skin over the wound by creating an environment that is favorable for the skin cells around the outer parameter of the wound to reproduce, and therefore, replace the skin that has been lost with new skin, complete with feather follicles, and to avoid developing scar tissue, which would create a bare spot, void of all feathering, and susceptible to further injury.
The first thing I need to do is to have you rethink what you’ve always been lead to believe – that for a wound to heal faster, you need to allow it to get air, which will encourage a scab to form. The theory being that a scab would prevent further infection. Forming a scab is the last thing you want to happen for cell migration to work. The basic outline for this to work is first to make sure that the wound does not dry out, second is to make sure that it is kept covered at all times while healing, the third is to keep removing any crusty, hard exudate on the surface of the wound under the bandage during bandage changes, and the last is to keep the bird in a clean, dry environment for the duration of their recovery.
Here’s a specific outline of treatment that I have found to be very successful. Let’s assume that your bird has been attacked by something and it survives the attack with some horrific injuries. The first thing you want to do is observe the patient to make sure that it is otherwise functional (although it may appear to be in shock). In other words, is the bird otherwise very healthy with no other major illnesses or disorders, and as far as you can determine, there does not appear to be any signs of internal bleeding or injury.
Once you’ve determined that you have a good candidate for recovery, you can assess the wound. Chances are that the wound is wide with little chance of stitching. If enough skin were present for suturing, then encouraging cell migration would not be necessary. Cell migration is advisable when there is a gaping wound with no hope of stitching together. This can even be as serious as having an entire muscle exposed with no way to cover it with the bird’s own skin.
Make sure the wound is as clean and free from debris as possible. Do not use Peroxide on an open wound – it does strange things to exposed tissue. Next apply (slather is a better term), copious amounts of a triple antibiotic type of ointment such as Neosporin to the entire open wound. Make sure there is no exposure to the air by any part of the wound.
Cover the open wound with a non-stick bandage pad (it may take more than one, depending on the size of the wound). Securely tape the bandages in place with either a white surgical tape, or any other type of tape that you know the bird is unlikely to be able to remove. It is sometimes helpful to wrap the tape around the entire body in order to secure it.
This dressing should be changed daily, and every time you do, you need to inspect the wound for hardening off (crusty areas). It may appear as an almost translucent gold colored crust at first. You should remove this very gently. (I know – gross.) But this is essential. And definitely don’t allow any real scabs to form over the wound area.
The healing process is going to take a long time, so decide before you begin, whether or not you’re willing to spend this much time with this bird.
Keep the bird in a very clean and dry environment through the entire healing process. I recommend a wire cage so that there is no bedding dust and droppings can fall through to a clean out pan underneath. You don’t want the wound contaminated by droppings. Also keep the bird quiet and located away from the center of attention of the other birds.
As soon as the bird is injured and you’ve decided to treat, get it on a broad-spectrum antibiotic such as Baytril. You should speak to your local Vet about availability and dosage. A full dose of five days is good insurance to keep away an infection in the wound. I would begin administering liquid L. Acidophilus on the third day of treatment and continue through at least three days following the last of the antibiotics. (Continued use is beneficial.)
Since cell structure requires protein, I recommend that during the course of treatment, you boost the bird’s protein by adding Purina KITTEN Chow to a manufactured feed, and drop all treats (they tend to dilute the overall protein level of the entire diet).
As time goes on, you will notice something pretty amazing. You should see signs that the wound appears to be getting smaller. That is because through cell migration, the wound is slowly closing through the reproduction of skin cells spawned off from the outer parameter of the wound (the edge). The opening will continue to close slowly until the entire area is healed and new skin takes the place of the skin that was removed by the attack. Once the new skin is back (and sometimes even before that), you should notice new pins appearing to produce new feathers. This means complete success. Don’t fret if not all feathers reappear. Typically, enough feathers will grow back to cover the area, and that is what you want.
I hope you never encounter a predator’s visit. But if you do and suffer damage as a result, I hope that this article will inspire you to try this method of recovery. It should provide hope for some cases that were once thought of as hopeless.