Using Injectable Medications on Poultry

Are you in the dark about giving shots? Many fanciers are. This article will try to help people feel more comfortable with the idea of USING INJECTABLE MEDICATIONS on their poultry (as opposed to other delivery methods), and to provide some tips on doing it easily and successfully.

First, I would like to say that I rarely use medications. But when I feel there is a bonafide need for one and the product comes in an injectable form, then that is what I prefer. The reasons are simple and I’d like to share some of them with you.

I would like to know that the dosage of medication that I am administering to my bird is both the prescribed amount based on body weight, and that the dosage I actually administer into the bird is precise. (Obtaining an exact weight of the bird before calculating the dosage is very desirable.)

There is almost no guesswork with injections. The bird receives the exact amount of medication and that helps rule out certain things when the medication is not effective. In other words, if you think you have a bacterial infection that needs to be treated with an antibiotic, then treating the bird with the antibiotic that would cover such an infection would allow you to rule that type of infection (bacterial as opposed to fungal, etc.) out, if the drug does not work after three to five days of treatment. That’s provided the bird gets a precise dosage via an injection (or a highly controlled drench).

If the same antibiotic were to be administered through a method other than injection, as in the drinking water shared by other birds, there would be no way convenient way of knowing whether the bird had received the entire recommended dose. Without the recommended dose, not only does one run the risk of not properly treating and thus curing the bird, but also risk having the bacteria build resistance to that particular drug, which is an even greater problem over the long term.

Another risk is a possible overdose during hot weather, since the birds are likely to drink more than they would on an average day. It is also true that most birds are off of feed and water when ill (other than something like Coccidiosis, in which case they tend to drink more). And I have also found that my hens drink more water (while in production) than my roosters do.

Another reason I prefer to inject is because if I have one sick bird, I do not want to treat my entire flock. The proper way to address an illness is to isolate the sick bird and treat it away from the other birds to keep the spread of disease down. Many people believe that preventive treatment with antibiotics is a good thing. I believe that in some cases when dealing with a serious illness that is throughout the flock, and the birds are valuable, this may make sense. But if antibiotics are constantly administered when no other birds are showing symptoms, there is a great risk of not only raising birds with weaker immune systems, but of also helping to increase the number of antibiotics that are no longer effective against certain bacteria.

The best way to learn how to inject is to have your local small animal Vet (or better – an avian Vet) teach you directly. But if that is not possible, here are some tips for learning on your own. To successfully administer an injection to your bird, you must first get over your own fear that you may hurt the bird or yourself. Creating a ‘dummy’ representative of your own flock (duck, chicken, turkey, etc.) may be beneficial – even if you just buy a stuffed toy to serve this purpose. Don’t laugh – it may be very helpful and I promise I won’t tell anyone if you do – just don’t let the neighbors see you ‘shooting up’ your Hanna the Hen.

Before you begin, have the following items right in front of you and at countertop or above level so that no bending is necessary once you’re holding the bird (let’s pretend the medication is already drawn into the syringe with the proper dose and there is no air bubble between the medication and the needle): the syringe, a bottle cap from the rubbing alcohol filled with alcohol, and a cotton ball soaking in the alcohol. (This article is for the practice of giving injections – addressing proper syringe size, proper needle size, drawing up medication, etc., will be addressed in a separate article.)

Let’s assume the injection calls for ‘IM’, which means inject into the muscle, and that you are right-handed (reverse everything for left). I give these injections in the breast muscle. These are easy (I know, a relative term). I’m going to give instructions for bantams – you’ll need to modify slightly (for strength) for larger birds. Use your left hand to slide it under ‘Hanna’s’ belly to the point where you can firmly grasp both of her legs between two different sets of your fingers. It is helpful to keep your right hand squarely on the top of her back while you do this. Once securely in your left hand (you’ll know if she’s secure if you can hold onto her with only your left hand by her legs even if she flaps her wings), bring your left arm in front of you so the bird is secure but your left arm looks like the same position you would hold it if in a sling. Hanna’s head should be facing your elbow.

Using your right hand for support and guidance, gently roll Hanna toward your body until she’s breast-up. A slight angle away from you with part of her back against your belly instead of completely upside down is fine (and preferable), since you only need one side of the breast muscle. Now secure her head (gently but firmly) under your elbow between your arm and body. This is to keep her from moving, and keeps her head out of harm’s way if she moves. If done properly to this point, you should have full control over the bird (she’s not suffocating) and your right hand should be completely free. The bird is not usually stressed because it feels secure against your body and won’t fear falling.

Take the saturated cotton ball between your thumb and forefinger with your right hand and find Hanna’s breastbone with your little finger. Once you locate the breastbone, use the cotton ball to saturate the feathers and breast skin just to one side of the breastbone (in the fleshy part). The alcohol works to both sterilize the injection site on the skin, and to part the feathers and fluff quite nicely. If you can see the skin clearly and the feathers are out of your way, then you’ve administered enough alcohol to the site.

Take the syringe in your right hand and insert the needle just into the breast area you’ve just sterilized (not too deep into the muscle, but also not just under the skin), and pull back ever so slightly on the plunger of the syringe. If you have hit a vein, blood will come into the syringe and you will be able to see it. If this happens, do not inject the medication – simply pull the needle out slightly and try again until you don’t get blood (hitting a vein is highly unlikely but this precaution should always be taken since most IM medications are not intended to go into the bloodstream directly). Once you’re confident that you did not hit a vein, simply push in the plunger to administer the medication into the breast muscle. Pull out the needle and put up safely. You’re done and you can simply put the bird down (or in Hanna the Hen’s case, back on the shelf).

If you’re working with a dummy, a few practice sessions should prepare you for trying it on one of your real birds (if they’ll let you catch them once they’ve seen you practicing on ‘Hanna’).