Chickens Health Issues

Shock in Backyard Chickens

The other day we needed to move some furniture from the house to the garage. I pinned open the storm door, then my husband and I heard it, a loud thump. A black capped chickadee had flown into the window. My husband scooped it up in his hands. It was laid out flat. It’s toes were curled and it’s neck was wobbly. My husband immediately feared it had broken its neck. I told him to quickly warm it in his hands as I fetched a dish towel. The poor thing’s toes were curling around my husband’s fingers. I took it and wrapped it snugly into the dish towel. It stared into my eyes and blinked. Still nestled in the towel, I propped it upright on the front step so that it could peer out into the world. It needed a moment to recover from the shock of the accident.


We checked on it every few minutes and it seemed to be perking up. It was moving its neck. Then it flew off. There was actually nothing permanent wrong with the chickadee, it was just in shock.

Shock is a medical emergency that leads to decreased blood flow to the body’s organs which in turn deprives the tissues of oxygen. There are a variety of stages in shock that progressively get worse and if not properly treated, it can lead to death. It can be triggered from the heart not pumping adequately, a loss of circulating volume (blood loss, dehydration, kidney issues) or even severe infection (sepsis). In this little bird’s case it was cardiac related. The most critical component to treating shock is a quick response.

Thank goodness the girls were safely in the coop and run during this juvenile Red Tailed Hawk’s visit.

Unfortunately, backyard chickens are not immune to shock either. Last year, a friend’s chicken was scooped up by a hawk while the family was out in the yard. They were able to scare away the hawk in time. It dropped the hen, but the hen was in a total state of shock. It had couple of puncture wounds on its wings from the hawk’s talons and laid on the ground listless. It was breathing heavily with its mouth open, limp like a rag doll. With some very quick attention, they treated the chicken for shock and dressed her wounds. If you saw her today, it is as if nothing every happened.

Causes of Shock in Backyard Chickens:
Severe Illness
Late stage of cancer
Egg Bound
Predator attacks
Adverse reaction to medication(s)
Sudden transition from warm temperatures to cold

Signs and Symptoms:
pale wattle and comb
heavy breathing
pale skin
rapid pulse
weak pulse
below normal body temperature
body collapse

Keep the chicken separated from the others.

Keep the chicken in a warm and quiet place.

Try wrapping the chicken in a towel or consider making a warming unit.

If the chicken has lost a good deal of blood, then they will most likely require treatment for hypovolemic shock by a veterinarian. They will require repletion of fluids.

Steroids might be required to treat shock if it is related to recent medication use.

Do not feed the chicken until they have completely recovered, starting with water only.

Vitamins and electrolytes in the water can also help during stressful times.

Once improved, you may consider keeping the chicken separate until they make a complete recovery.

Create Your Own Warming Unit
Veterinarian and avian specialist Dr. Raftery explains how to make your own warming unit in cases of severe shock. Begin by placing a heating pad underneath a plexiglass aquarium. Line the aquarium with some towels. Next place a regular light bulb (60 watt) above the aquarium. Place a moist towel in a bowl on the floor of the aquarium to produce humidity to keep their respiratory system moist. Place the chicken inside and cover most of the aquarium with a towel avoiding the light bulb.  Monitor the chicken now and then for improvement. As you treat for shock in the warming unit, watch for signs of overheating or heat stress.

Resources available upon request.

Photo Credits: Tilly’s Nest

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