Shock in Backyard Chickens

December 13, 2013

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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19 thoughts on “Shock in Backyard Chickens”

  1. Hawks are just terrible. Many a time they have swooped by the barn yard and sent all the chickens running for cover and a few times actually attempted to carry one away! Usually, we are able to save the chicken, but sometimes it's not possible 🙁 Glad you're friends chicken was OK. I'll be back later to link up!

  2. I'm so glad the chickadee was ok! Good thing you knew what was going on and knew how to deal with it. That photo of the hawk on the coop is so scary! That's way too close for comfort, yikes! Good thing the chickens were safe inside the run.

    • That guy was a juvenile. He was so confused and came everyday to the coop two summers ago. The poor girls. They were so scared instead of running inside, they ran out! I finally kept them away from the coop (perched in a tree 30 feet away) by hanging some old CDs on the coop.

  3. I am so glad to read this. I had an incident this summer with a small keet that my daughters dog brought up from behind the barn. We're not sure where it came from as we weren't having in new "missing keets" from our flock. When we got the keet from the dog– it was limp and could barely hold it's head up, was panting heavily and breathing with it's mouth open.
    Not sure what to do. I instinctively wrapped it in a towel and placed it in a deep pot with a heat lamp positioned high enough above to provide warmth, but not over heat. After it began to come out of it's stupor, I offered it water with a spoon, a drop at a time and it drank. After a while it was up and moving about. I placed it in a pet carrier with water and kept it separate from my own keets about 8 hours and then placed it with my flock at which time it blended in comfortably.
    It was truly strange. I never knew to call it 'shock'. It just didn't occur to me.
    Great post. Thanks, Pat

    • Hi Pat! Wow, lucky keet! I am so glad to hear that your instincts kicked in and you were able to save the little one. Sounds like we had a very closely related experience. Thank you for sharing yours with me.

  4. Great post, I love the instructions for the fish tank heat/safe place! I lived on the Vineyard and saw red tails often in the sky and many pictures but I am amazed seeing this juvenile, I guess seeing it on the coop, knowing the scale of it and I assume full size chickens in the run…..WOW! They are big!! I have even seen a photo of one taking a b path in a friend's birdbath but WOW, they are immense.

    • i am in australia and a fox attacked our flock last week.2 chickens were killed and they were all very traumatised..the rooster was very shocked altho mini with the girls and he drinking etc but the vet says the shock has ca used this 'blindness' and that it happens with chooks..has anybody any knowledge of this..he said he shoul come good
      thxmal damage he has been blind..eyes closed tight for 4 days!!
      He is very sweet and i am putting

    • I have never heard of this. Poor boy. I think eventually he should open his eyes. Make sure he feels safe. You could try to hold him in your lap. Stroke his feathers and speak gently to him. Also, treats work wonders. Maybe introducing his favorite treats to him. He's might just open his eyes to find some. Keep me posted. I'll be thinking of you.

  5. it took 3 weeks but after much care and attention..and homeopathics on his skin for shock and moving off and on perch etc and to and from water, our beautiful rooster finally opened his eyes…I need to tell the story …yes the vet was right..but many may have euthanased their chooks if this had happened…so they really can come good after all that time ..

    • I have had 2 recent experiences lately. The first occurred last month with a group of 30 two week old keets. I had just moved them to a larger enclosure and latter that day I noticed a few had some build up of manure on some of their feet. I had caught three of them, held their feet under warm running water and slowly worked out the junk. I tried to keep them calm but they struggled and squawked, but it takes some time to remove it right without the risk of injuring their little toenails. With the last one, when I was done I noticed the keet had gone into shock. He had gone limp with his eyes closed while gasping for air.He looked just like he was dying. I quickly wrapped him up in my shirt keeping him calm and in the dark. After about 5 minutes the keet was back to normal and eating out of my hand again.
      The next one was more serious. I also have 16 two week old chicks that I have been working with, taming them and teaching them to eat out of my hand. We also have 4 dogs and all of them have been very interested in the keets and chicks. So far the 3 cats have left them alone. I have been trying to get the dogs adjusted to the fowl while watching them closely. Well today I let down my guard. I was working with my favorite little chick, when he unexpectedly hoped off of my finger and and jumped down to the top of his brooder. Well at the same time my Queensland Heeler, Jake instantly grabbed my little chick and ran off with him. I quickly scolded Jake and he dropped the chick. It was obviously traumatized but since Jake has a soft mouth, the baby didn't appear to be injured in the typical sense of the word but was deeply in shock. I did the same as with the keet, wrapping him up keeping him warm and in the dark. I made a little box for him and have been keeping a close eye on him. He would often pep up a bit peeping some.opening his eyes, then would go back to what seems like sleep. When he would wake up I would give him a drink of an electrolyte/glucose drink. After 2 hours of this he pepped up enough to start eating out of my hand. But after a bit he started breathing heavy again so I put him away and he went back to sleep. I can only hope he will recover.

  6. One of my 8 week old chicks escaped from the brooder box and was attacked by a rooster. I found her and treated her for shock and treated her minor wounds. She’s recovered physically but not mentally. When I try and put her back in with her other brooder mates, she freaks out, trying to run and hide from them. She will hurt herself trying to escape if I leave her in there. How can I get her confidence back and reintroduce her to her friends?

    • Poor baby! I am so sorry to hear of this but glad she is making a good recovery. I would add her back to the brooder but sub-divide it so she can see them and they can see her but they are not “together” yet. It might take a few weeks but they can get reaquainted that way. Does this make sense? This way she is safe.

  7. Hello! I am so glad I found your site! I have 3 day old chicks. Unfortunately, the brooder light fell and hit one of the chickens. It is breathing very heavily, eyes are closed, and not getting up much. I currently have him/her separated from the other chicks with a warming lamp on her. I am giving her water through a dropper. She chirps a little bit. But I am worried. Any suggestions?

    • Oh no, accidents sometimes happen. Please forgive yourself. Glad you are trying to help this little one. I think it sounds like you are doing all you can. You can try and add a bit of sugar to the water as well as vitamins and electrolytes via the dropper as well to try and get some calories and nutrients into her. I think that is all you can do to see if she makes a recovery. If she becomes more alert, you can try feeding her a scrambled egg, but only when she seems awake enough not to choke. Please keep me posted.


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