Medications can be given to chickens in a number of ways: orally, in water, by injection, topically under the wing or in the nostril. The easiest, of course, is something that can be added to their water. The problem with that is sick birds might not drink enough and if they spill some, it might be difficult to gauge how much they actually did consume. Many medications are more effective when given orally and, when done properly, are totally safe.
You can use this technique for administering non-medicine oral treatments as well (e.g. olive oil to treat impacted crop or Epsom salt and water to flush out toxins or to combat botulism).
If your bird requires medication, most likely you’ve already got it segregated from the flock for observation and to minimize the risk of transmission, if its condition is contagious. In that case, it will be easy to lift it out of the crate for treatment.
If your bird is still with the flock it is advisable to deal with them at night. When I’m treating my chickens for mites I go out to the coop at night, and wearing a headlamp, pick the bird off the roost bar. Once it is dark they are totally manageable.
If you have to give meds to your bird during the day try to make to make it as stress-free as possible: I sprinkle some food on the ground and nab the bird when it comes close to eat. If it’s not being cooperative you may need a net to catch it. Having a second person to corral the patient will help.
Always carry your birds upright, wings at their sides and tucked up against your body. Do not pick them up by their wings or carry them upside down by their legs. Wrapping a towel around them will immobilize their wings and feet and minimize injury to either of you.
- Small needleless syringe (size 1 ml/cc), or an oral dosing syringe, which you can get from your vet or pharmacy. Larger syringes are more difficult to handle so it’s preferable to use multiple smaller syringes than one large one.
- Weigh scale (for meds given by weight of patient)
If the meds came from your vet or feed store the dosage information should be on the package. The dose will depend on the medication, the weight of the bird, and what you are treating the bird for.
If you don’t have the correct information, then ask your vet, check the product website for directions or research online sites where folks have veterinary experience (i.e. Poultry DVM).
How To Give Oral Meds
If you are experienced giving oral meds it can be done by one person. If you are a novice, or nervous about doing it correctly, have a friend help out.
Have everything set up in advance (i.e. meds, syringes, scale) to ensure things go smoothly and to decrease the chances that your bird will get stressed.
Hold your bird upright, against your body to keep them from moving. Do not put them on their back, which can put too much pressure on their heart and lungs. Wrapping them in a towel will reduce flapping and scratching.
Once you’ve weighed your patient and calculated the dosage, draw the meds up into the syringe.
Holding the bird firmly against your body use your thumb and finger to gently pry open the beak. In my experience even sick birds are still strong enough to resist your attempts, so this might take a couple tries to do it successfully. The trick is to keep your finger in between the beak in order to keep it held it open.
This is the critical step and one that requires a little knowledge of anatomy. The opening in the center at the back of the tongue is the entrance to the glottis and trachea, which lead to the lungs.
It can be dangerous to drip liquids into a bird’s mouth as they can be misdirected into the glottis and lungs. Birds can’t cough or physically expel liquid or food so they can develop foreign body pneumonia or drown. When manually feeding or giving liquid to your chickens, it’s important to physically bypass the glottis and direct liquids into the esophagus.
Gently insert the syringe along the right hand side of the bird’s tongue and inject the medication slowly to make sure that it does not spill over into the trachea. Do not go so fast that the bird spits some out.
If giving pill medication: they can be mixed into food or water; or given orally – administer in such a way to avoid the opening to the trachea (i.e. pop it in as far back or to one side, if possible)