Practitioner Updates

Top Tips for Seeing Backyard Chickens

Dr. Krista Keller ausculting a patient using the "chicken restraint device"

Tips to Help Busy Practitioners with Chicken Cases

Have you been seeing a lot of backyard chickens at your practice recently?

Dr. Krista Keller ausculting a patient using the "chicken restraint device"
Dr. Krista Keller ausculting a patient using the “chicken restraint device.”

If yes, you are certainly not alone. More and more clients are reaching out to veterinarians to ensure health and treat emergent issues in their hens, and the issues they are presenting with are not the issues we were trained to recognize in veterinary school.

If your poultry medicine training was much like mine, it focused on classic chicken infectious and nutritional diseases that are far more likely to occur in large production flocks. Backyard chickens, on the other hand, are much more likely to present with traumatic lesions secondary to predation and reproductive associated diseases (salpingitis, oviductal impaction, and oviductal and ovarian neoplasms).

Here are some of my favorite tips to help busy practitioners with chicken cases.


Chicken with Clock Face
You already perform a digital rectal exam on every dog; make sure to perform a digital cloacal exam on every chicken. Specific organs can be found in specific regions on the clock face when thinking of the coelom as a clock face.

The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD) is a crucial resource for every veterinarian. Every time you see a chicken, ensure that you ask whether the clients eat or plan to eat the eggs or meat. If clients are unwilling to turn their chicken into a pet and not eat their eggs or meat, you must follow FARAD guidelines for approved drugs and egg/meat withdrawal times. Easily search the FARAD website for approved drugs using the VetGRAM module, and you can even ask for advice if an unapproved drug is to be given. Most importantly make sure that you know which drugs should never be given to food animals, including chickens!

Use the ‘Chicken Restraint Device’

This sounds awful fancy, but is in fact just a bowl of some seed and colorful parrot pellets. Bonus if you have wiggly worms! Most chickens will stand still on an examination table with a bowl of something delicious to eat and allow you to perform the vast majority of an examination including auscultation, body condition score assessment, coelomic palpation, and more. You will likely need to have a more definitive restraint method for cloacal palpation and evaluation of the oral cavity, but you will be surprised how much you can do by simply providing a bowl of seed.

Cloacal Palpation

Radiograph of a chicken showing a hen suffering from an oviductal impaction.
Backyard chickens are far more likely to present with reproductive associated disease than we were ever taught. This radiograph shows that the hen is suffering from an oviductal impaction that was palpation on cloacal palpation and reveals the cause of this impaction is likely secondary to ingestion of metal foreign bodies and subsequent heavy metal intoxication.

If your chicken practice is anything like mine, you are seeing a lot of hens with reproductive disease. Maybe they present with a distended coelom of fluid, active straining, or have stopped laying eggs, but many will present just fluffed and depressed and it will be up to you to find evidence of reproductive disease.

External palpation of the coelom is just not that rewarding in the chicken as their coelom is rather large and often has a “doughy” palpation. Performing coelomic palpation with your nondominant hand while simultaneously performing cloacal palpation with a lubricated gloved finger on your dominant hand will facilitate diagnosis of reproductive disease.

Thinking of the coelom as a clock face when the hen is facing away from you, the empty oviduct will be found in the 8 to 11 o’clock region, the full (egg, infection, cancer) oviduct will be lower in the coelom, in the 6 to 9 o’clock region, and a coelom full of fluid will have fluid collecting ventrally (in the 3 to 6 o’clock region). I have diagnosed a variety of reproductive diseases this way, and I hope you will be able to as well!

Chicken with surgical drain
There is no such thing as “just a chicken” any more. For your clients who are interested in advanced diagnostics and therapeutics, consider a referral. This chicken presented with a large degloving wound that had penetrated its coelom. It was treated with surgical placement of a drain and made a full recovery.

Regardless of what type of chicken case you are seeing, the Zoological Medicine service faculty are happy to chat about cases, give advice, and discuss what diagnostic and therapeutic options we have available here at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Feel free to call to speak to us any time: 217-265-6437.

Useful References