Taking our chicken to the vet

Guest post by ChaeBird

We’ve talked about raising backyard chickens… but what happens when one needs medical attention?

What's wrong with my butt!?
What’s wrong with my butt!?
Our Rhode Island Red hen, Rosalind Franklin (or Rosie, for short), laid her very first egg for us Saturday. Sadly, her little chicken body wasn’t quite ready for it, and it caused a prolapse, which is when part of the cloaca protrudes from the hen’s vent. It’s a very serious condition that can cause death.

We kept it as clean as we could, bathing her and blow-drying her (which she loved), but there still seemed to be some sort of obstruction that we didn’t know how to deal with.

With Rosie’s prolapse showing no signs of getting better, and having reached the end of our knowledge in treating her, we decided to take Rosie in to the vet.

We gave Rosie her (now) customary bath and blow dry and packed her in the car. She was a very good passenger and pretty much just chilled out the whole ride there.

Rosie Vet 1

There were a few dogs that came over to say “hello” when we sat down in the waiting area. Luckily no one was feeling aggressive and everyone was just curious about each other.

The vet, Dr. Robinson, was very good with Rosie. We explained that she’s been prolapsed for three days, resulting from trying to lay her very first egg, and that there seemed to be some sort of blockage there that we were hesitant to remove ourselves, not wanting to injure her.

Dr. Robinson cleaned her up and removed the blockage and some dead tissue, and her vent immediately looked worlds better. He said he felt good about her potential for recovery because as soon as the tissue and blockage were gone, Rosie’s body started pulling the prolapse back into herself.

After pushing the rest of the prolapse back in and applying some antibiotic ointment, Dr. Robinson threw in a couple sutures to hold everything in place while it heals. Throughout the entire examination and suturing, Rosie made not one peep. She didn’t struggle, she didn’t squawk, and Dr. Robinson and his assistant said that she was one of the best-behaved chickens they’ve ever treated. She didn’t even require sedation when he was suturing her.

She's such a sweet little hen.
She’s such a sweet little hen.

We put her back in the big brooder in the living room, this time covered and blocked from the light to discourage further laying. If she does start to lay an egg while the sutures are still in, they’ll have to be removed immediately so she doesn’t tear. We also have Preparation H and Vetericyn handy to help with keeping the swelling down and protecting against infection.

A week later, Rosie is officially reintegrated into the flock. We removed her prolapse sutures Saturday night and kept her inside for observation until Sunday. Her vent is looking very good, and the prolapse has not recurred, much to my relief. She hasn’t started laying again, but I’m not worried.

Although, in the process, she has lost her status as the alpha hen. And we’ll have to be vigilant about checking her for prolapse for the rest of her life, as once it happens, it’s prone to reoccurring. I’m just so relieved to have gotten her looked at by the vet. For our piece of mind and her health, it was totally worth the $95.

Things I have learned from Rosie’s prolapse:

  1. Have a chicken first-aid kit on hand. Ours is stocked with hemostats, small snipping scissors, Vetericyn, Preparation H, bandages, epsom salt, electrolytes and gloves.
  2. Chickens are both more delicate and tougher than we think. We could have removed that troubling tissue on our own, but having never done something like that before, we were too wary to do so. Should something like that happen again, we now know that it’s okay to attempt to remove the tissue ourselves. The Chicken Chick has a great post on how to treat a prolapse. I followed her advice, but since Rosie’s prolapse looked so different, I opted to take her to a vet just in case.
  3. Know the location of the nearest vet who will treat chickens. I feel so much better knowing that we have a good vet who knows his chickens near enough that we can get the girls to him without too much hassle.
  4. Enjoy your chickens everyday! They won’t be with you forever.

Comments on Taking our chicken to the vet

  1. It definitely depends on how you view your chickens. For example, my mother-in-law raises chickens mostly for eggs but also for meat. And so I imagine that if one of hers had a prolapse that wasn’t going away on its own, she’d just slaughter it for the meat. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, since she’s basically farming them. But definitely, if you’re treating your hens as pets and not just goods, you should know how to take care of them properly.

    • This is very true. I know a lot of people on backyardchickens.com who, when faced with a similar problem, opt to cull the hen. If this becomes a constant problem when Rosie is laying, we would probably opt to cull her as well, to be humane, though eating her wouldn’t be an option for us as I am both vegetarian and as attached to our hens I am to any of our other pets.

      • Just curious: if you would have to cull your chickens, would you opt to bury her or donate her meat to someone who does eat it? I would understand either option.

        • I’ve thought about donating her for food because I don’t like waste, but I don’t know anyone around here who processes chickens, and honestly it would kind of hurt my heart for someone to eat my pet. I feel the same way about my rabbit, even though lots of people are eating more rabbit these days. We would probably bury her.

          • We are vegetarians and keep chickens. I’m pretty sure we will bury them in the yard when they pass. That isn’t waste, it is returning their energy to the earth.

            And since they are such good composters in life (poop!), why not return them to the earth in death?

          • We’ve buried chickens near the compost heap- it’s their favorite spot to dig for bugs/kitchen scraps and they are being returned to the earth (just not IN the compost heap, ours isn’t big or hot enough to break down a whole chicken quickly). We thought about eating them, but really, we love them too much.

  2. we had chickens when i was a kid, as pets. in retrospect, i’m pretty sure we lost at least one of them to prolapse, possibly two. the other may have just been eggbound though. 🙁 my parents didn’t believe chickens were vet-worthy pets though.

    • It was a discussion Mr. Bear and I had to have; how much we were willing to spend on a $2 hen. A one-time visit to the vet for less than $100 was worth it to us, and now we know how to effectively treat this problem at home. But we probably wouldn’t bother with taking one of the hens to the vet regularly if they had a chronic problem.

    • I live in a town that doesn’t have a regular vet. When one of my chickens got a massive scratch in her cheek, we had to use home-fixes.

      We washed it with salt water, kept her inside (with a friend) and covered the cut. We also gave her minimal doses of children’s panadol (paracetemol) which made her amusingly high, but kept her from scratching her cut and making it worse/infected. Vet friends on facebook gave us tips too.

      It was quite the little adventure and I’m glad our chicken is healthy 8 months on 🙂

  3. I am glad Rosie came out okay and hope that she continues to be! And I learned some stuff today. So thanks.

    Also, the picture with the dogs is very cute.

  4. This was a very sweet and fascinating story!

    So I hope this doesn’t take the conversation in a bad/wrong direction, but I’m very curious about chickens as we’d someday like to have our own small, backyard flock!

    Say this is recurring or some other medical issue did arise where it just wasn’t feasible to have continued vet care for your hen. Can you explain a little bit about what “culling a hen” is, or how you would deal with it? I can’t fathom that we could slaughter any hen for meat, as like you said– I would grow far too attached to them to be able to eat/enjoy them.

    Thanks! 🙂

    • My husband would definitely be the one doing the culling, as I absolutely lack the stomach for it. Breaking a chicken’s neck isn’t that difficult, as they are rather delicate animals. Some people use starter fluid as a form of ether in an enclosed container to “put the chicken to sleep”, so to speak.
      Slaughtering a hen for meat is a different process, there are pluckers and scalders involved.
      It’s a very unpleasant thing to have to think about, but it’s important to know what you’re willing to do to care for your flock, and that includes end-of-life care.

    • The people I know who regularly kill chickens have a cone (a traffic cone with the hole enlarged apparently works) mounted to a wall that they put the chicken in head down, and then they slit the jugular. Apparently the chicken basically passes out as soon as they are upside down and just quietly bleeds out. I have never killed a chicken, but everything I have heard says this is the most humane way to do it.

  5. You should definitely write more articles about chicken care! I think backyard chickens are awesome, and the care is definitely more involved than people initially think. Glad Rosie is okay for now!

  6. Vetericyn is an expensive bottle of 5% bleach solution, so theoretically you could make some up yourself for less. My horse vet calls it “an ingenious exercise in marketing”.

    • That’s interesting, I’ll have to show this to Mr. Bear. We like to make our own dish and laundry detergent and cleaning supplies, so making our own wound care for the animals would be right up our alley!

  7. I had an iguana who had hemiphenal (male gland) prolapses. The first time it happened was on Thanksgiving break, which resulted in my mother and I driving 3 hours to the only vet hospital in the area that took exotics. He kept having them and eventually died (on Valentine’s day a few months later). I wonder if all egg-laying pets are prone to prolapses?

    And how do you have such a sweet chicken? My friend’s parents have chickens that are the meanest, fattest things.

    • I definitely think prolapse is more common among egg-laying species than others, and there seems to be(among chickens, anyway) a genetic component. That is, chickens who are prone to prolapse tend to produce offspring who are prone to prolapse. So, we probably wouldn’t breed Rosie, but as long as we keep an eye on her and she doesn’t have further problems, she’ll be an excellent laying hen.

      We handled our birds a lot when they were little and got them used to being around people and other animals. Some of it is just luck, though. Two of our other hens are very standoffish and difficult to handle. There will always be those chickens that are just ornery.

  8. We’ve never had to take our girls to a vet, but we have done our own at home emergency treatment (a dog got our RIR aptly named ‘Red’ and my husband cleaned and stitched her up and now two years later she’s fine and feisty!).

    I’m so glad your girl is okay!

    • Thank you! I’m glad your Red recovered well! 🙂 We performed home treatment on our Wyandotte, Ada, when she had a constricted toe. The things you learn when you keep livestock…it’s crazy!

  9. I’m planning to raise chickens within a year (after we get a house) as a food source, not as pets. Not having an excess of money, there’s no way I would take a chicken to the vet. A prolapse will mean an early trip to the kitchen. I will attempt to not get sentimental by giving them such names as “Stew Meat” and “Rotisserie”.

    • Yes, if they’re meat birds, culling is the way to go(or sending them to “freezer camp” as I’ve also heard it called), which is what most of the prescribed treatments I found on the internet and the chicken forums suggested.
      I hear it’s easier to disassociate sentiment when you have a flock of all the same kind of chicken, too, so they all look the same.

      • I’d agree with this. Not that I’ve culled any of my chickens, but…
        When we first got ours as day-olds, they all looked just a little bit different and I gave them all names and could say which was which. But then they went got their adult feathers in and BAM!! I cannot tell them apart AT ALL!! I’ve got 6 Hy-Line Browns.

  10. I love chickens! My parents have kept chickens since I was little. We never took them to a vet, but I don’t know if we would have noticed a problem like that. Most of them lived around ten years though. After a while, I could tell them apart even by their voices. 🙂

  11. What a beautiful name! Rosalind Franklin is my favorite scientist of all time. All of the pets in my high school science classroom are named after scientists (Charles Darwin, the Eastern Painted Turtle, Einstein, the Bearded Dragon, and Barbra McClintock the guinea pig.) I’m just waiting for a Rosie to enter our menagerie some day.
    Good luck to you and your chickies!

    • Thanks! All my girls are named after great women of science; Rosalind Franklin(Rhode Island Red), Marie Curie(bantam Easter Egger), Ruth Benedict(Silver Cuckoo Marans), and Ada Lovelace(Silver Laced Wyandotte).
      I’d love to break the tradition, though, and get a Wheaten Ameraucana and name it “Wil Wheaten”…

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