This spring we found one of our chickens badly injured. We think it was a raccoon or a fox. Something had grabbed her back, just above the saddle area and dug claws into her. She escaped, but in doing so ripped a huge chunk of skin and meat off of her back! The wound started between her wings and extended to her tail, and down both sides of her tail.
By the time we found her, it was evening, she was rather lethargic and the wound smelled bad. She is one of our favorite birds and super-friendly, so even though the prospects were grim, we knew we had to try and save her. We brought her inside and together my husband and I did what we could to clean up the mess.
First we offered her some wet canned cat food. I don't know about anyone else's experience but when I can't get a chicken to eat I try that and it always works! So she gobbled up some canned cat food (which is high in protein!) and we felt a little bit better seeing her eat. Then we got to work...
First I washed my hands!
I took a pack of sterile gauze 4x4. Added warm water, and squirted some Hibiclens in there until the water was all pink.) Then I squeezed the warm water over the wound and gently wiped it with the gauze.
This is what Hibiclens looks like. I am an OB nurse in a hospital birthcenter and the sterile gauze + warm water + Hibiclens is what we use on women who have just given birth to wash off episiotomies and perineal tears and prevent infections. It is the first thing we clean them up with. I figured, if it is effective and gentle enough for "down there" then it should be gentle enough for such a massive wound.
Here is the first picture of our lovely Middle. This is after we had rinsed her off, peeled up some of the feathers which had been sticking over the wound, and cut all the feathers short that could possibly get stuck to the wound.
What you see here is chicken meat. There were no feather follicles left and no fat. The dark area in the bottom right with feathers comes out of it is a large flap of skin that was just hanging. We trimmed the feathers to reduce weight on the flap but did not try to trim the flap of skin in any way. The feathers on the right-hand side is the top of her tail. We didn't realize it for the first few days but she had another gash right at the top of her tail behind those feathers as well. It looked pretty grim for her.
The dark areas are bruising. She had more purple/green areas the second and third day.
Here you can get a better idea of the extent of her wounds.
After washing it well and making sure there wasn't any dirt, I then coated all the raw areas with bacitracin. Like, half a tube almost. I didn't use triple antibiotic (Neosporin) because certain components of the triple compound can actually increase scar tissue build up. But if triple antibiotic is all you have then it is better than nothing and you should use it! Just make sure it does not have pain-relieving additives "-caines." I have heard those can be toxic, though I don't know from experience.
After coating her back with bacitracin, I washed my hands again, then covered her back with Xeroform gauze, which is a petroleum gauze that won't stick to the wound and keeps the wound bed moist.
This is my favorite brand, but others are out there. Some of it is yellow, some white. I prefer the yellow stuff but what I had on hand was white. I used two sheets of this and tucked some of it into the gashes which extended beside her tail.
After the petroleum gauze she looked like this.
I covered that, very imperfectly, with one layer of non-stick Telfa gauze. Telfa gauze is a thin layer with a shiny top layer which doesn't easily stick to wound beds.I covered it with the telfa just to keep the moisture in the petroleum. I know from experience that the Xeroform can dry out if left for too long and I didn't want to take any chance of having to peel that off my poor chicken's back.
After the top layer of telfa I took some extra-wide co-ban.
And wrapped it VERY loosely around her. Starting at her chest In front of her legs, and under her wings, over her back, and under the other wing and back to the front of her chest.
It was really important for me to pull ALL the coban I was going to use OFF of the roll BEFORE starting to wrap it. The goal was not compression, so I wanted almost no tension as I wrapped. Since Coban sticks to itself, once I got it back to my chick's chest, and insert my fingers underneath the first wrap of coban in press the two layers together. I did not put pressure on her chest to stick the layers together. Does that make sense?
Finally, to make sure she would be able to walk unhindered, I took the coban immediately in front of her legs and folded it up a little towards her chest, then got my fingers under the bandage and pressed those layers together so that it stayed up and out of the way of her legs.
It was so wonderfully effective that I wish I would have taken pictures of this part.
My husband and I repeated the above steps of washing, dressing, and re-wrapping. We did this twice a day for 7 days. After 7 days we went put it on in the morning and took it off at night, but still washed it off in the morning before dressing it. Also, after the first four days we stopped using antiobiotic on the raw area and started just using vaseline.
Our chicken stayed in a large dog crate that I had built a perch into last winter when it got so cold I had to bring the chickens inside a couple nights. I feel like having a perch for her to roost on was important in keeping her bottom clean. In the crate enough room for a waterer and bowl of feed. We put this crate in our back porch. After the first three days, in the daytime we would open the crate so she could wander around the small back porch. We put fresh clean straw down in the crate and on the floor on the porch. The porch was screen-enclosed and we kept it closed to prevent flies from landing on her.
So to recap:
7 days of twice-daily dressing changes, 4 days with antibiotic and 3 with vaseline.
Note: When taking off the Coban just use scissors and cut through it, don't try to pull it off and reuse it. It's more trouble than it is worth.
Then for 3 days we only put the dressing on during the day but took it off at night. This was because the wound didn't seem quite so raw and you don't want healing tissue to stay "wet" or it can become macerated and will just slough off. After the third day of doing this it seemed like the wound was scabbing up and so we left the dressing off.
We kept her in the back porch and separated from other chickens for 3-4 weeks. She wasn't 100% re-feathered by the time we put her back out with them but her back was dry and scabbed up and her feathers were starting to grow back. That flap of skin had shriveled up really small but portions had reconnected so we left it alone.
Most importantly, by the time we put her back with the other chickens she was acting normally, scratching, running, and dustbathing, etc. For the first few days she could barely walk, much less run or scratch so that was the biggest sign that she was feeling good.
I mentioned earlier that I am an OB nurse. I also used to work in ICU and currently work in ER sometimes. So I feel like I have a bit more experience with wounds than the average person.
There was never any necrotic tissue so I never had to do the "wet-to-dry" dressing changes to stimulate new growth. I never gave her oral antibiotics. With such a strain on her body already I didn't want to inadvertently hurt her with too much antibiotic.
It has been 3 or 4 months since all this and Chicken Middle is back to her usual friendly self! I am not sure if she has started laying again but I don't expect her to. Next time I get out to the farm I will get an "after" picture of her.
I hope this helped someone to have hope! We considered putting her out of her misery but I am so glad we didn't! We thought we could at least give it our best shot and she would make it if she had it in her! And make it she did!
Also, I got the medical supplies from a Habitat for Humanity Restore, Health & Home. I don't know if any of you are familiar with Restores but they are awesome! The Home Depot meets Goodwill. Our local Restore has a Health & Home section, where people donate new and gently used medical supplies that are no longer needed.
If taking care of your chicken is cost-prohibitive for you, send me a message and I can send you some Xeroform gauze and some Telfa as well, because they can be pretty expensive if you buy them at a Walgreen's or pharmacy. I now have a box labeled "Chicken First Aid" and keep a bunch of this stuff in it.