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.

Emergency chicken bath

Here is Autumn’s hen Isa, after having been bathed for the fair

A reader of Lissa’s chicken advice column writes:

Listen Lissa,

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?

~Bath Bother

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?

Judy B. September 20th, 2013

I had two chickens with flystrike. One died before i realized what was wrong. The other was acting very sickly and upon examination I found that she indeed was suffering from flystrike (you may want to stop reading here if you get queasy.). The maggots had eaten a hole into my poor girl near her vent. It was July, so I used a Rubbermaid container with warm water to bathe her. I also used a turkey baster to flush the maggots out of the cavity they had eaten into the chicken. I think i also did a peroxide flush as well. I did this for several days. I am happy to say that my hen made it through this terrible experience and went on to live a long, normal life. Previous to this, I had quite a phobia about maggots; however, by the time I was finished treating my hen, I had gotten over it.

Lissa September 20th, 2013

She’s so lucky she had you to care for her. With chickens especially, it can be awfully easy for them to die before you realize there’s anything wrong. They’re very good at hiding illness. 🙁 Thanks for sharing your story.

Rachelle September 20th, 2013

We have a hen with a perpetually “sticky” butt. It got so caked at one point we soaked her bum in a Rubbermaid tub of warm water, and then while hubby held her, I worked out gunk with an old toothbrush. (And I thought changing diapers was gross). She did seem to enjoy the hair dryer fluff part of this process. We now periodically squirt all the hens bottoms with a mixture of vinegar water. It keeps Sticky Butt’s bum cleaner, allows all the hens to benefit from its cleansing properties and gives them all vinegary smelling bums so they don’t gang up on Sticky Butt.

Michelle Zabell September 20th, 2013

I just recently bathed my black Silkie, named Davy Wexler, because she had these freaky looking balls of scariness on her toes. Didn’t know if they were rumors or mud and they were stuck in there really, really we’ll. she had her spa day in my master bathroom suite, and then I blew her dry. She was in Heaven and lived every minute of it. They were, by the way, mud clumps.

Barbara September 20th, 2013

Can you use baby shampoo? Or dish soap?

Lissa September 20th, 2013

Barbara, I doubt it would be the end of the world to use a gentle shampoo like baby shampoo. I know Dawn dish soap is used to clean oil-covered waterfowl. However, keep in mind that something used specifically to clean birds that have been soaked in crude oil may not be appropriate to clean non-oil-soaked feathers. Will it strip away the natural oils we want to leave for feather condition? The best bet would be to use products specifically designed for bird feathers. Your vet (or even a local 4H club that shows chickens) might have specific recommendations–they might say it will work just fine! But until we hear confirmation that it works just as well, we don’t feel entirely comfortable recommending products that aren’t designed for birds. On the other hand, it would be better to use what you have on hand if you do see specific signs of flystrike. You wouldn’t want to order something and then have to wait for it to arrive before you treat the girls!

TR Kelley September 20th, 2013

Having the water at chicken body temperature really helps (101-102F) to keep the bird calm during the bath.

Sarah September 20th, 2013

I have bathed my hens during molting. The first time, I noticed that one of the girls feather follicles were red and inflamed. I thought it was probably due to her dust bathing as the new feathers were coming in, so thought a nice wet bath was in order.
I used luke warm water and a small amount of Dawn original blue dish soap in the kitchen sink. She loved it. Her inflamed skin got to soak for about ten minutes while I rubbed her and poured warm water over her body. Afterwards, she was wrapped in towels and held for a few minutes. Then I used the blow dryer on the medium heat setting (the air seemed room temperature.) She loved being blown dry. I gently lifted her feathers to make sure she was totally dry. She was in chicken heaven! When we went back outside and I put her down, she looked at me like she wanted more pampering!
Since then, I bath each girl once a year during their molt. They have all really seemed to enjoy the warm soak and the drying afterwards.

Amy September 20th, 2013

We have 1 hen that tends to get debris caught in the feathers around her vent – she has had a few baths usually 1-2 per season. She has been to the vet in the past – no health issues, that is just her way.

I have used a small amount of color-free – dye free gentile animal soap from petsmart in a basin (as noted above by Judy); filled with a few inches of warm water – and with a pair of gloves, I work to clean her back end while my husband holds her, talks with her, and keeps her calm. I have omitted the soap at times – and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in feather sheen etc. Once she is cleaned, we towel dry and let her air dry in the yard (on a nice warm sunny day of course) – she is not fully submerged at any point so it is just the back-end that needs to finish drying – not her whole body.

She’s not excited about bath time for sure, but she does seem happier after she is dry and fluffy again. I would imagine as the dirt and poop start to collect and harden, it must pull/pinch her skin as the feathers get caught in there. It can’t be comfortable!

The other hen has never had a bath & doesn’t seem to need one.

Linda September 20th, 2013

Some time during the night a few months back, my white leghorn fell onto the dropping board and spent the remainder of the night getting pooped on by other birds above her. What a mess. With a rubbermaid dish pan, Dawn liquid, warm water, and tender words I bathed her and she was a good as new and I think very appreciative. I used Dawn because that is the soap used on oil-soaked sea birds.

ann September 20th, 2013

my kids show our chickens for 4H, we have 25 so bath days are an experience. we have a bath kit : baby bath(only plain no scented) several wash cloth’s, a hand towel for each, tooth brush to work out the tough spots, nail clippers and a file. we put a towel in bottom of sink so no one slips. each chicken is bathed then rinsed under running water (we don’t want to leave soap on them) then they are wrapped in their towel and held by one of the kids from there they go under the heat lamp until dried. although we don’t use soap except for show time we “bathe” randomly so everyone is ok with the process. and I swear some enjoy it we have a couple who fall asleep in the warm water and we have to support her it’s pretty funny.

Sara K October 6th, 2013

I bathe my chickens with dawn dishwashing liquid. My chickens have had vent gleet and their bottoms are nasty looking. I soak them in epsom salts too to help soothe their bottoms.

Joy Hall January 17th, 2015

I have a 9 month old hen that has clumping of poo around her vent. Problem is, it is about 30 degrees outside. I have read that people bring their hens into the house to bathe, and blow dry them. I recently acquired her from someone else, (about 2 months ago), so she is not entirely comfortable with me yet, as in I can’t really get close enough to pick her up. I don’t want to stress her by doing this, and I also have concern about the cold temps. She seems to be perfectly fine, she lays everyday, and eats and drinks just fine. Any suggestions?

Lissa January 19th, 2015

If it doesn’t seem to be bothering her right now, I would be inclined to simply wait until warmer weather to try to remove it, if you feel it’s necessary then. If you need to pick up a hen who isn’t especially friendly, you can wait until after dark when she’s settled down. Most chickens will be relatively easy to handle when they’ve gone into their sleep cycle.

Lyn January 17th, 2015

One of my chickens seems to have bloody poop. Otherwise everyone seems healthy and happy. Any ideas?

Lissa January 19th, 2015

Poo with blood could be a sign of several things:, some easy to treat at home, but some quite serious. Because you don’t know what she’s suffering from, you’ll have to take her to a veterinarian, or you could be making her sicker and potentially putting other flock members at risk. For instance, if you were to worm her but she’s sick with something else, not only would the worming medications stress her system even further (needlessly), but the actual illness she has would not be getting treated. If it’s contagious, your other hens could get sick, too. So, please consult a veterinarian to get a firm diagnosis and treatment options. Some vets will perform a fecal smear for you to check for worms or coccidiosis for a nominal fee, without even having to take her in for a visit. We hope she’ll be okay!

Lyn January 19th, 2015

Thanks Lissa – will do.

Pam July 21st, 2015

I had this happen to my hen and I had no idea what it was. I had cleaned her butt off a couple of times in the past and noticed it had clumped up again and she had been acting very lethargic and not following the rest of the hens around the yard. When I could finally catch her, I started taking clumps off and HOLY MOLY it was horrendous. Maggots coming out of her vent like the plague. I was not prepared, I had no help around and thought if I let go of her I would never catch her to treat her. So I grabbed a bucket and put a hose running slowly and just put her rear end in it to wash them out in the bubbling water. It was working, they were running out, but she just died in my arms. I think the cold water did it, but I also think she was too far gone to save since they were inside her and there was no end in sight. I felt awful but she had been suffering and at least it was quick. So, a word to the wise… don’t use cold water… RIP pretty red hen

Lissa July 21st, 2015

Oh, I’m so sorry. That must have been awful. Chickens are very good at hiding illness, too good, really. Sometimes just about the time you decide “yes, she’s not acting like herself,” she could be too far gone. Thank you for sharing your story. It isn’t overly common in chickens, but when it happens it’s nothing you’ll forget soon, for sure. 🙁

Pam July 27th, 2015

Thanks Lissa, too true. We keep our coop and pen clean, and they roam free every day in the fresh air, it was not something we ever expected. I will be vigilant with checking the chickens’ bottoms and never forget this experience.

Riley July 4th, 2016

Over time my family has had many chickens. We love animals. One of the chickens we got, Cow, passed away because she had cross beak. We got another one that we named Horse. Horse passed away and we thought it was from nasty bottom. Now, my personal favorite chicken, Maple, has the same thing. I thank this website because otherwise, my chicken might have died. Thank you so much!!! You saved a life…

Riley July 4th, 2016

Happy Independence Day!

Linda Lumpkin March 15th, 2017

Thank you very much because this is the first time having chickens. I have learned how to take care of them by going on the internet. I appreciate the questions and answers.

Debra July 28th, 2020

My chicken had really bad poo stuck around her bottom, I just bathed her in warm water and dried it with a towel it’s now clean but she looks like she is trying to lay an egg or poop and can’t like her bottom is convulsing? I have given her a health mash with minerals so I will see how she is tomorrow.

Mazera August 17th, 2020

I have a very old girl who I just found had stuck on dried poop above her vent. I did a warm water bath in my sink and tried gently pulling it off, and I could smell infection. It came off, but she has this crevice, which is very hard (swollen, infected), and small round holes where the feathers used to be. And it smells! I put Povidone-iodine solution on her and I’m keeping her quite in the house. Tomorrow I’ll try several more baths, or cleanings… probably with epsom salt? Hydrogen peroxide? more iodine? Besides the smell and this hardness, I DON’T see any maggots. She’s acted quite normal otherwise and she’s my very old dear girl. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

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. Parasites like worms can cause loose poo, and there are other serious illnesses that cause diarrhea, too.

Scott Webb April 8th, 2022

Just clipped around poopy area, but it’s a little bare. There were about 50 lice in one spot. Flushed her with mild peroxide and covered with diatomaceous earth. So far, so good.

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