Chicken First Aid Kits
Sometimes in chicken-keeping, things happen that no one expects. It could be a sudden disease, a squabble between birds causing injuries, or even a predator attack that leaves your birds wounded and weak. For your birds, having certain supplies on hand could make the difference between a recovery and a loss.
The list that I have compiled below is as extensive as I could make it, and you may find that many of the items you won’t ever need. I do suggest that anyone keeping chickens, whether as livestock or as pets, keep at least the supplies for emergencies on hand where they can find them.
As a disclaimer, I’d like to note that I am not a veterinarian, nor am I involved in any way in the medical field. Both of my parents are in the (human) medical field and I have followed their advice for some of the supplies I’ve picked for my own chicken first aid kit and some of the information I have added to this page. Much more of the information below is from some in-depth research around BYC.
If you need immediate help, try typing in your birds’ symptoms in the search bar or making a thread at the Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures board!
Protecting Yourself and Your Patient
Vinyl or Latex Gloves
Gloves can protect your bird from anything on your hands, and prevent you from getting anything on your hands that you might carry out to healthy birds. For the queasy, having a protective layer on may help as you work in an emergency, and it makes cleaning up afterwards a little easier.
Protective Eyewear and Mask
If you are performing a procedure (such as a bumblefoot surgery), having protective gear for your face can be valuable to prevent anything from getting on your face. It will also prevent you from breathing anything into your bird’s wounds.
When performing any sort of surgery, it is important to clean the area on the bird first. Rubbing alcohol is an effective way to clean and disinfect the skin, but should not be used near the bird’s eyes. Rubbing alcohol can also be used to disinfect minor cuts and scrapes, but should not be used for deep wounds.
Aspirin is used to alleviate pain. Avoid using aspirin if the bird is bleeding, as aspirin causes the blood to thin and can make bleeding worse. The ideal dose of Aspirin is 25 grains or 1625 mg per gallon of water.
This chart from Chicken Health for Dummies explains how to prepare and administer an Aspirin solution. Note that Aspirin is difficult to mix into water and sometimes won't mix completely into a solution, and so it should be stirred often and changed at least daily. Enteric coated aspirin is not preferred for mixing into water.
Hydrogen peroxide is useful for cleaning wounds. Dilute it in a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water before applying. Rinse the wound out after the solution has done its work. Many posts around BYC say that hydrogen peroxide slows healing because it also kills healthy cells, so it is recommended that you only use it for the initial cleaning of a wound.
Chlorhexidine solution is a wound cleaner that does not kill healthy flesh as Hydrogen Peroxide allegedly does. This can be used in the initial cleaning of a wound instead of hydrogen peroxide or used in any following cleanings after the use of hydrogen peroxide.
Triple Antibiotic Ointment (Neosporin)
Triple antibiotic ointment is used to prevent infection and promote healing in wounds. There are many posts on BYC that state that you should not use the ointment that has pain relief. However, other posts say that as long as the pain reliever in the ointment is NOT a “caine” type (like benzocaine or lidocaine), it is okay for use in chickens. Still others have found that there is no problem with using any of these painkillers on chickens. If it makes you more comfortable, I would suggest buying the kind without pain relief to have on hand. However, do your research to decide what is best for your birds. Triple antibiotic ointment should be applied to a wound only after it has been cleaned. It also works well when needing to keep an egg membrane from drying out during emergency hatching assistance.
Vetericyn HydroGel Spray
Vetericyn comes highly recommended as a wound covering. Use to cover clean wounds instead of ointment, spraying wounds at least twice a day. Safe for all animal species, and safe for ingestion.
Non-Stick Pads, Gauze, Waterproof Tape, Self-Adhering First Aid Wrap (VetWrap)
These products are all to cover and protect wounds, especially if the bird will be going back outside after treatment. Large non-stick pads are very convenient in case of large wounds, and can be cut to size for smaller injuries. Gauze holds the pad in place and waterproof tape prevents water from getting in. The self-adhering first aid wrap can be used to cover the bandage if the bird or other birds are picking at them. If the wound is on a foot, cover it with duct tape instead of first aid wrap to prevent dirt and droppings from sticking and to add another layer of waterproofing.
Dog Crate, Carrier, Large Box, or Small Coop for a Hospital Pen
Once a bird is cleaned up and seems to have stabilized, they could go back out to the flock, but if a bird is weak, in shock, or sick for another reason, they may have to stay in a hospital pen. If you prefer not to have a chicken in your house, a small coop works for the job; just keep it very clean and make sure that the bird has plenty of ventilation, no drafts, and predator protection. If you think it necessary, a small dog crate or carrier can be used inside for a bird to stay in and heal. Be aware that any bird that is away from the flock for a long period of time may be forgotten by her flock and have to be carefully integrated back in.
Lubricating Jelly (K-Y Jelly) and Hemorrhoid Cream (Preparation H)
These two supplies are in case of a prolapse. The area should be cleaned with mild soapy water before beginning. Hemorrhoid cream eases swelling and hopefully makes the bird more comfortable. Lubricating jelly allows the prolapsed tissue to be gently pushed back in.
Diphenhydramine Allergy Liquid for Children (Benadryl)
Diphenhydramine liquid can be used if a hen has been bitten or stung by something nasty. Treatment is 1 mL of liquid for an adult bird. (I have read about Benadryl tablets being used as well, but I cannot find a dosage for it.)
Amprolium (Corid) or Sulfamethazine Sodium (Sulmet)
Corid and Sulmet are both treatments for coccidiosis in young chickens. Typically, coccidiosis does not affect adult birds, and so you should only need these on hand if you are planning on adding new chicks to your flock. Chicks with coccidiosis will be lethargic and spend much of their time standing with their feathers fluffed out. Typically (but not always) there will be loose, bloody stools passed by the birds who have coccidiosis.
Amprolium is recommended more because Sulfamethazine Sodium can be harsher on the guts of affected birds and extend the period of bleeding. Corid (a common Amprolium brand name) usually comes in a 20% soluble powder or a 9.6% liquid. For the POWDER, dose 3/4 teaspoons per gallon of water for at least 5 days; 1 1/2 teaspoons per gallon for 5 days is recommended for severe outbreaks. For the LIQUID, dose 1 teaspoon per gallon of water for 5-7 days; in the case of severe outbreaks, use 2 teaspoons per gallon for the same length of time. Change the water daily for both!
Sulmet (a common Sulfamethazine Sodium brand name) can be used if Corid is unavailable where you live or if Corid has failed to help your birds. The dosage for Sulmet liquid is 2 tablespoons per gallon for two days, then 1 tablespoon per gallon for an additional 4 days. Also change the water daily for Sulmet!
If any of your birds are laying eggs while being treated with Corid or Sulmet, it is recommended that eggs are thrown out for at least 10 days after the FINAL dose.
Vitamins & Electrolytes (Sav-A-Chick)
Vitamins and electrolytes give birds a boost in extreme heat and can help them if they’re in shock from a predator attack. Sav-A-Chick is at many feed stores and comes in pre-dosed packets—one packet per gallon of water. There are also pouches of Durvet Vitamins & Electrolytes sold at feed stores for use in any livestock. The dosage I use of Durvet Vitamins & Electrolytes for my chickens is 1/2 teaspoon per gallon of water.
Petroleum Jelly or Coconut Oil
Petroleum jelly has a few uses, including suffocating scaly leg mites and protecting combs and wattles from frostbite. Coconut oil can be used in the same way and is regarded as a more natural alternative. In either case, when applying for leg mites, use a thick coat, but when applying for frostbite prevention, only use a thin layer! In the case of frostbite, coconut oil cooking spray can make application easier and faster. I have heard that coconut oil is also good for healing wounds or slowing damage from already established frostbite as an alternative to antibiotic ointment, so I decided to put it in the emergency section.
Preparations for Euthanasia
Like it or not, sometimes you simply cannot help a sick or injured chicken. And when a vet office will not help you with this task, or you cannot afford to have it done at a vet's office, you'll have to be ready to do this yourself. I am not going to cover this here, but there are a few articles and threads here on BYC that talk about ways of euthanizing chicks and chickens. I will link some at the bottom of this page.
Handy to Have Around
Blu-Kote is an antiseptic wound spray that is blue or purple in color to disguise wounds from the other birds. There has been recent mention that Blu-Kote can actually slow healing, similarly to Hydrogen Peroxide, and so I only recommend keeping it to apply to bare skin from feather picking, not to actual wounds. BE CAREFUL when applying Blu-Kote—it permanently stains clothing and takes a lot of scrubbing to get off of skin!! It appears using Purell hand sanitizer makes Blu-Kote come off skin easier.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
ACV is a worm preventative, reduces slime buildup in waterers, and has many healthy benefits to birds. It is typically recommended that you buy the unfiltered kind with the ‘mother’ still in it. Store-bought, filtered ACV will have no ill effects on your birds, but may not have as many benefits as the unfiltered kind. Dosage is usually between 1 and 3 tablespoons per gallon of water.
NEVER, EVER, EVER use ACV in galvanized waterers! The acidity causes corrosion of the metal, which can lead to zinc poisoning in your birds.
Syringes can be used for administering medicines when used properly, or careful encouragement to take water by dripping it on the outside of the beak and letting it roll inside. They are also handy if you need to tube-feed a bird that is refusing to eat. I keep syringes from 3 mL up to 60 mL, and with oral, Luer slip, and catheter tips for dosing medicines and wormers, and feeding or getting water into birds. Consider keeping needles (and, if you prefer, Luer lock syringes) for administering fluids and medicine via injection as well.
Epsom salt is handy for soaking bumblefoot, can be used in warm baths for sore muscles or hens who are egg bound, and can be used in a drench as a laxative to clear the system. For baths, there are usually instructions on how much to use on the back of the package; generally, 1-2 cups per gallon of warm water is suggested. For a laxative drench, it can be administered in two ways. For an easier method, remove all water from access and replace it with Epsom salt water at the rate of one teaspoon per cup of water for one full day. If you would rather administer it all at once and let your bird have regular water to drink through the day, dissolve one teaspoon of Epsom salt in about 2 tablespoons of warm water and carefully drop it on her beak so that it rolls in and she drinks it, or administer it as you would a liquid medication.
Cotton Swabs (Q-Tips)
Cotton swabs allow you to apply ointments and clean wounds with relative ease. It’s a good idea to keep some with your first aid kit to be safe.
Pet Nail Trimmers and Nail File
These are good for clipping overgrown beaks and nails, and filing them down to prevent them from snagging on things or breaking. While they may not be needed often in a free-ranging flock, they are good to have at hand in case you really do need them. I recommend the scissor-like trimmers over the guillotine-like kind for better control and visibility of what you’re working with.
Scalpels, Tweezers, Small Needle and Thread or Super Glue
Scalpels and tweezers are handy in case you need to perform some sort of surgery on one of your birds, such as a bumblefoot surgery. Be sure to sanitize before beginning, and clean thoroughly after the surgery is finished! The needle and thread allow you to apply stitches to the opening to help it heal. Fishing line works well as the thread, but remember to sanitize it before using it! Super glue can also be used to close a wound if the skin is dry.
Superglue is also handy to have on hand in the case of a broken beak. Sometimes, the beak will break and fall off, but if it does not break off fully or is just cracked, superglue can be used with a tiny piece of thin fabric or filter paper to hold the pieces together until the beak heals. Use just enough glue to dampen the fabric--making sure not to use too much!--and place over the cleaned and held together crack. Hold the crack together until the glue has a chance to dry some, and keep the bird contained until it dries fully.
A small flashlight will help you find and clearly see the wound that you’re treating. A bright desk lamp can be used in exchange during treatments that require the use of both hands.
Scissors are all-around useful to keep where you can find them easily. Use them to cut gauze or tape, remove old bandages, clip poopy feathers out of a hen’s vent, or even clip wings to prevent flighty hens from flying over fences. Wash after use!
A scale allows you to keep a close eye on a bird’s weight to make sure it is at an appropriate level. If you’re force-feeding or tube-feeding a bird, this can let you know if you’re giving the bird enough to eat or not.
Old Towels or Shirts
These items can be used in multiple ways and are really handy to keep with your first aid kit! Use them to wrap birds to hold them still for treatment. Fashion a sling for a bird that is having trouble walking, or make saddles for birds whose feathers are getting worn out. Use them for quick floor covering for hospital pens; clean by wiping or rinsing off any droppings and throwing them in the washing machine.
Flour or Blood-Stop Powder
Flour and blood-stop powder, as you may have guessed, help to stop bleeding in minor wounds. Use if you have accidentally cut a bird's toenail too short or if they have minor bleeding such as with broken nails, blood feathers, and small cuts or scratches on their combs. Sprinkle the wound with a little flour or powder and apply pressure until the bleeding stops. These are not to be used on deep wounds, so I am putting them in the 'Handy to Have Around' section.
Zipper Baggies or Small Jars and a Permanent Marker
Zipper baggies of assorted sizes and small jars like baby food jars can allow you to store medicines and powders in a resealable container. Use the marker to clearly label what is in each bag or jar, and don't forget to add the date it was opened!
In order to keep all of this stuff together, you can store it in a tote, a toolbox, or really any sort of container that’s big enough to hold it all. I use a toolbox with the tray removed, clearly labeled so that I or anyone else can always identify it.
Another good idea given to me by my parents was the expiration date list:
With a quick glance, I can see what is going out of date the soonest and if something is already out of date. To save space, you can just write the item that is going to go out of date soonest.
My water-soluble powder medicines and supplements are stored in the freezer. This extends the expiration date a little and adds some peace of mind to using medicines that have been open for a while. An additional tip—I keep them in separate resealable baggies with dosages written on the baggies. Always read package labels to make sure that medicines can handle freezing temperatures! Some medicines, like Sulfadimethoxine, should not be frozen for best results.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions?
I am happy to hear anything in regards to this page, especially if it is something that can make it better! Please PM me with thoughts on useful changes, suggestions for other items to be included, corrections, absolutely anything! I will take all messages into consideration for improving this page. Thank you for your thoughts!
Links to Informative Threads and Pages
Bumblefoot Surgery (Graphic Pictures!)
Crop Surgery and Excellent Wound Stitching How-To (Graphic Pictures!)
Tube Feeding: Thread, Page
Treating Wounds (Beware of Graphic Pictures!): Wounded by Dog, Wounded by Rooster’s Spur, Excellent Post on Wound Care, Some Info About Shock, Using Super Glue on Wounds
Stings and Snake Bites: Wasp Stings, Scorpion Sting, Non-Venomous Snake Bite
Pain Relief: Aspirin Dosage, Caution on Using Aspirin
Coccidiosis: Prevention and Remedies, About Coccidiosis and Symptoms
Extreme Heat: Heat Exhaustion, Lots of Ideas for Keeping Birds Cool
Thoughts on Combining Medicines and Wound Treatments: Possible Dangerous Combinations
Poultry Pedia; helpful information for diagnosing, especially leg issues.
Euthanasia: Humane Euthanasia Article, Ways to Euthanize a Chicken Article, Euthanasia Discussion (with methods outlined among the posts)
In Honor of Blizzy
Whose illness I was simply not prepared for.
Spring 2009 to December 13, 2012