Emergency chicken bath. Wait, what? September 20, 2013
Backyard pet chickens don’t normally need to be bathed. There are exceptions; the most common being in preparation for showing your chickens at a poultry exhibition. But there are other occasions where you may need to bathe your chicken, times when an emergency chicken bath may be in order.
A reader of Lissa’s chicken advice column writes:
My best laying chicken has a lot of debris by her vent. I have tried washing it with a wet cloth and I can feel hard lumps (I think of dirt or whatever congealed near her rear end). This is disgusting, but I’m afraid she’ll soon have trouble laying eggs with all that junk accumulating. Should I be conerned? If so, how do I clean her?
Well, BB, these could be circumstances in which an emergency chicken bath may be appropriate. Compare it to baby chicks who can get pasted. A little poo or debris in a chick’s feathers is not a cause for concern, but a lot can cause serious problems. Young baby chicks are especially vulnerable to “pasting,” a condition in which poo has dried so hard around the chick’s vent that she’s unable to defecate.
Pasting is possible, but isn’t likely to happen in an older chicken. There are other worries, though, that may make an emergency chicken bath something to consider. Usually, an older chicken will groom out dirt or poo in her feathers herself, and frankly, it’s okay for feathers to be a little dirty. Especially if you range your chickens, your birds may occasionally get muddy or dirty. They’re not going to be in that perfectly clean and shiny condition show birds are expected to be in!
However, if poo builds up around the vent, even when it isn’t keeping your hen from defecating, it can be a reason to be concerned.
Concern number one is just that your hen may be sick. Droppings of normal consistency don’t usually get stuck in your hen’s feathers, so having her behind covered in poo can be an indication that her droppings are loose and watery. But before you freak out, consider that this isn’t always an indication of illness, either. For instance, your hens are fairly likely to have watery droppings in heat waves, when they’re drinking extra water to help stay cool. That’s normal. But if your hen’s vent area is covered in droppings, be sure to keep and eye out for any other symptoms that could indicate she’s ill. Parasites like worms can cause loose poo, and there are other serious illnesses that cause diarrhea, too. If tis is the case, you probably don’t want to give her an emergency chicken bath as much as you want to get her to the vet. After she’s recovered, you might consider an emergency chicken bath, depending on your vet’s recommendations.
If she’s not ill, though, there is still concern number two about a bottom covered in droppings: it can attract myiasis, or flystrike. Flystrike occurs when certain varieties of flies lay their eggs in, say, a wound that your chicken has… or in fecal material caught in her feathers near her vent. When large amounts of fecal material are stuck in your birds’ feathers, it can attract flies to lay their eggs in the mass, just as they lay their eggs in any rotting or fecal material. When the maggots hatch, which doesn’t take long, they can cause a severely painful infection. Some will only invade a wound or tissue that is already dead, but others will simply invade the vent itself. Even something as simple as a scratch or bug bite might be enough for some species like screw flies to invade.
This is all very creepy, but don’t get too worried. Flystrike is not overly common in chickens, and the regular housefly is not usually a danger. This usually occurs with specific types of flies, such as bot flies, green/blue bottles or screw flies. Still, even if it’s just a small risk, that’s still a reason to offer an emergency chicken bath to remove large build ups of feces, just as a safeguard. If you’re sure your bird isn’t suffering from an illness causing the loose poo, before going to an emergency chicken bath, you can try a wet wash cloth. If that doesn’t work, you may see if you can enlist the aid of a partner to carefully trim the vent feathers.
If that doesn’t work, either—or if it would leave her bottom too bare!—you may want to give her an emergency chicken bath. Bathe her only when it’s warm, and make sure to use warm (not hot) water. She shouldn’t get chilled. Sometimes plain water should be enough, but if you must use a shampoo, ideally pick up some that has been formulated specifically for birds at your local pet store. Other shampoos can strip your bird’s feathers of important oils that protect them.
Does your chicken need to be bathed as a matter of course? In most cases the answer is absolutely not. But there are times when an emergency chicken bath is in order.
Do any readers have any stories to share about experiences with flystrike? Or how about some chicken bathing tips?