Treating the Pet Chicken – Part 1

Presenter – Victoria Roberts BVSc MRCVS. An honorary avian lecturer at Liverpool Vet School,

honorary vet to The Poultry Club, she edits the British Poultry Standards, has had a column in Country Smallholding for 10 years, and is currently President of the British Veterinary Zoological Society.

At last, the moment I have been waiting for, some long awaited CPD on how to treat the pet chicken. I have been moaning for months about the fact I have somehow been labelled ‘the chicken expert’ of the practice and all sick birds seem to end up on my consulting room table. I arm myself with a stack of books in an attempt to try and do as good as job as possible but inevitably we don’t see a lot of these birds until they are heading rapidly in a downwards direction. Unfortunately, euthanasia tends to be a fairly common outcome and I sometimes ask myself whether I could be doing better.

So I was really pleased to see that The Webinar Vet had organised Victoria Roberts to cover this increasingly relevant subject for general practitioners. Victoria started with the basics offering great advice on how to handle a chicken in the consulting room – gone are the days where I attempt to restrain a flapping and difficult chicken, from now on I will be clutching the chicken firmly by the legs, which, Victoria reassures, will make the chicken behave as the perfect patient.

As with any animal, a thorough clinical examination is key. Nostrils should be dry, eyes should be bright and feathers shiny. Body condition should be scored by, most importantly, assessing the chicken’s breast and pin bones. A chicken’s vent should always be clean and its mouth should always be opened to check for any abnormalities. Temperature should always be taken, with 40-42C being the normal range.

Ex-battery hens are becoming increasingly popular as pets, and are also common visitors to our practices. These birds can be problematic as they often come out of the battery environment after 72 weeks of hard work. This makes ex-battery hens relatively old and prone to carrying disease. These hens often have no plumage, so putting them in an outdoor environment is not appropriate without some sort of protection. As silly as it sounds, woollen jumpers are now available to buy online – also testament to the current popularity in homing ex-battery hens.

It was clear listening to Victoria’s webinar that client education on husbandry and biosecurity is key to maintaining the health of these birds. Just as a large flock of chickens would get a flock health plan, we should be considering compiling these for our backyard pet chickens, however small the numbers. Hopefully by client education and implementing health plans we will get to see these birds well before they get too sick, and euthanasia will become a much less likely outcome.

It was a pleasure to listen to Victoria’s enthusiasm and expertise on a subject she clearly loves. She offered a vast array of practical advice on how to approach the treatment of the pet chicken and I would strongly recommend logging into this webinar. I already feel more confident with the information provided and I can’t wait for part two.


The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

One Comment

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Re-homing a few ex battery hens is an incredibly rewarding experience. Battery hens have never been able to express some of their most natural behaviours; like foraging, scratching the ground or nesting to lay their eggs and seeing them able to do this for the first time is certainly very satisfying.


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