Rainbow bridge. Care and comfort of dying chickens with FAQ.

What to do with dying and dead chickens.

I keep over 300 chickens and over the years I have had to deal with more than my fair share of dying chickens. Sick chickens should be treated but you can not prevent old or very unwell chickens from dying.

I see a chickens dying of old age as success on my part, knowing that I have given them the best care I could all through their life.

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Easing the passing of our pet chickens is something we can all do to make their final hours more comfortable.

Chickens can die very suddenly but this article is more about birds that are dying of old age or incurable illness.

If your chickens are dying one by one or many of them are sick you should get a vet to look at them.

Signs that a chicken is dying:

Chickens are a prey animal in the wild and have evolved over time to hide any weaknesses as long as possible so by the time their human keepers notice a problem it is often way too late to do much about it.

Chickens in their last few days and hours seem to be aware of death and behave in very specific ways when they are dying, they begin to act in a solitary manner and head away from the rest of flock and find quiet dark places to hide.

Old and sick chickens begin to get more unsteady on their feet and will begin to use their wings to keep them upright.

The eyes lose their sparkle and colour and begin to look sunken and withdrawn. The eyelids may only be half open.

Below: Chickens with a deep purple comb like his one are suffering heart, breathing or circulation problems and are close to death.

Dying chickens will often refuse to move and do not struggle when picked up.

Chickens in their last few hours will often spend a lot of time asleep and be very limp when handled.

Chickens that are about to die lose a lot of weight very fast and when you pick them up they feel like they are all bones and feathers.

How to make a dying chicken comfortable:

I would say the most important thing for me over the years with my pets is that I have been there for them.

When I spoke to my vet about dying animals and euthanasia he said the biggest cause of distress was the owner leaving the pet.

Below: Make the chicken comfortable in a warm, dry and dark place.

If your chickens liked being held and petted then it is likely everyone will get some comfort from a gentle touch. Take care not to move or use too much force if there is any pain involved.

The twitching, flapping and vocalisations is often random muscular contractions indicating the end is very near.

You should:

  • Move the dying chickens away from the rest of flock. Even if they do not intend to, other chickens will cause distress to a dying bird which is the last thing anyone would want.
  • Reduce the light levels. The right amount of light will allow you to be able to read black text on white paper.
  • Make use of the services of a veterinarian or qualified professional and administer any medications or pain relief.
  • Make a comfortable nest in which they will feel secure. Use deep soft bedding and a hot water bottle if the weather is cold.
  • Keep the bird in a warm place or add a source of warmth for the chicken. A chickens body temperature is a few degrees higher than a humans.  Aim for at least 25 Celsius (77 F).
  • Cover the chicken in a light cotton cloth if there is a lot of flapping.

A cat box or dog travel crate is good for keeping single chickens in for short periods of time. They are sturdy and can be covered easily and washed down afterwards.

You can add some ground herbs or lavender to the bedding and wash the eyes with warm water.

You should not:

  • Make loud noise or quick movements. This can cause them to struggle and injure themselves further.
  • Try and force the chicken to eat or drink. Use a dropper to keep the oral membranes moist with the odd drop of fresh water. A chicken at this stage of life is unlikely to eat anything.
  • Change the diet if the chicken is still eating.
  • Treat or medicate the bird on a random guess.

Euthanasia of chickens:

Sometimes the kindest thing we can do as pet owners is to put them to sleep and end their suffering quickly.

There are two schools of thought, the first being to put the chicken out of its' misery as soon as possible when you know it is not going to survive and the second is to make the bird comfortable and allow its natural passing.

Both methods have their supporters.

Euthanasia of a chicken involves either the administration of an overdose of barbiturate by a professional or the quick cervical dislocation of the neck. Both methods cause death within a few seconds.

The method you choose will depend on the chicken status in your household, If it is a family pet you are most likely to take it to the vet. 

Great care must be taken if you plan to euthanize the bird yourself as you may not forgive yourself if you get it wrong and there are laws against animal cruelty which mean the chicken must not suffer.

You should never give or euthanize chickens with medications meant for humans unless told to by a vet. Human drugs may react in odd ways with chickens. 

A chicken which is dying slowly will benefit from euthanasia.

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