Most of us are aware of predators and somewhat prepared for attacks. Some of us free-range our birds and weigh the benefits against the odds they will be injured or killed by any number of native animals looking for an easy meal. What is sometimes more difficult and insidious, is to think of dogs as potential predators. Most of us have them and can be surprised when our faithful companions see our flock as animated play toys. My first dog, once trained, was very reliable around my flock. In fact, he appreciated they were purveyors of one of his favourite treats: chicken poop. My current dog went through a stage of running around our acreage, barking, so we erected a fenced area on ¼ acre just for her. My flock is in their own pen and there is no opportunity for them to meet up.
If you scroll through Facebook chicken groups, dog attacks are common. Jordan had the misfortune of her young dog getting to one of her hens. She spent considerable time and care nursing her patient back to health after the wound got infected.
Dogs carry bacteria in their saliva and that might have been the source, but it’s just as likely that the hen’s open wounds came into contact with bacteria while she was dust bathing or out in the yard.
There are a number of bacteria including Streptococcus and Staphylococcus that are ubiquitous in the environment and are part of the normal flora of the skin and other mucous membranes of poultry and other animals. Skin wounds can introduce the bacteria into tissue or the bloodstream. Since there wasn’t microscopic lab work conducted to culture the sample it’s just a guess what kind of bacteria were involved in Ash’s infection.
Ash, Sex-Link Hen, 8 Months Old
“Our puppy had started nipping at the chickens, no bite marks or blood that we’d found. When I went to do a head count for the night one hen was missing. I found Ash hiding in a corner of our yard, outside the coop, which was totally unusual. It was 10 o’clock at night, so we assumed all the chickens had made it back to the coop and didn’t think we needed to monitor the dogs. Unfortunately, she was easy prey. This time the dog basically skinned her alive. Her back had no feathers and looked as if her muscles was showing. We immediately brought her inside and put her in a sick bay to recover.
The next day she was eating and drinking as usual so I was hopeful she’d be ok. The wound scabbed quickly, but I noticed a bubbled up area that was full of green pus. I wasn’t sure how to treat such a severe injury. I started with a bleach rinse, Dakin’s Solution, to disinfect what I could, but soon realized that the infected areas needed to be removed before it could heal. I gave her an Epsom salt bath, but the water was quite dirty from her feet, vent and feathers and because the wound was so high on her back and neck, Ash was reluctant to remain submerged.
I rinsed her with the Dakin’s and applied triple antibiotic ointment to help soften the crusty bits so I could remove them. Using tweezers and cuticle scissors I was able to lift and remove the infected areas and but left the scabbed area not wanting to disturb any healing. I applied a non-stick bandage with triple antibiotic ointment and carefully wrapped her so it covered her back. Ash was checked on at least once, and usually multiple times, a day to monitor her progress.
Week 2: She still had areas that were infected, so I cleaned Ash again and found some feathers that were embedded and stuck within the infected areas that were contributing to the problem. I pulled them out, cutting them and any others that were close enough to possibly cause further issues. I wrapped her up and let her outside to get some grass and assess how the others would accept her and if the bandage would stay in place.
She did well, but the following day the gauze had fallen off overnight and Ash was left with only the wrap which didn’t cover her sufficiently and became dried into the wound. The other hens were also able to see her injury, which prompted pecking. Unfortunately, I also found lice on my birds so they all – including Ash – were dust bathing frequently. When I did her bandage change, I not only had to clean the wound, but also remove dirt from it as well. I flushed her with Dakin’s and picked out any problematic feathers.
While removing the crusty parts, I found that some of it appeared more like dried ooze. It was very thin and flaky and her feathers were matted. The area extended from her back wound down under both wings. As I peeled what looked like a giant wound area which had been covered by this flakey crust, I found healthy skin and tiny, almost healed wounds.
Under her right wing, the matted area looked like it was a 3”x 3” wound, but after peeling off this crust, there was an almost healed puncture that was only about the size of a pencil eraser.
The left wing had a matted, crusted area about 2”x 2” and after removal, there was a tiny scratch that didn’t even look to have broken the skin. I peeled as much off as I could and Ash was grateful because it allowed her more movement in her wings. It was like a blanket that ran across her back so she hadn’t been able to stretch her skin or wings. She had attempted to flap her wings before, but could only raise and lower them slowly. I thought her movement was limited by pain, but after that she was able to flap normally.
I now found a wound on the left side of her neck that looked like a black scab, which turned out to be a mass of feathers. As I pulled them out, more and more feathers as well as scab came loose. The right side of her neck also had a puncture and I could see what looked like mash (wet food). I thought it was a puncture into her crop and was able to pick out corn from the hole. There were white areas I thought might be tendon/nerve and was hesitant to mess with it and cause more damage. I continued assessing her every day, cutting off infected tissue, picking out dirt or feathers, spraying with Vetericyn and applying antibiotic cream.
Week 4: The punctures all seemed to be healing, except the one in her crop which I chalked up to being surrounded by food making it difficult to heal. One day I was picking out what I thought was crusted dirt from the wound and it smelled atrocious. I felt it from the front (her breast/crop area) and attempted to squeeze the ‘mash’ through the puncture wound, but it turned out to be a hard lump. The smell, coupled with the lump and the fact that it wasn’t healing, led me to believe it was actually an infection.
I was afraid to be wrong and that it might be a hole into her crop. YouTube to the rescue. I saw that chickens survived having impacted crop surgery and the incisions required were much bigger than the one I needed to make.
I used a razor blade and extended the puncture a little wider and tried to squeeze from the front to push it out the back. I used tweezers to pull out anything I could. I widened the hole again and squeezed until I saw what looked to be an encapsulation. What I thought was food turned out to be the visible infection inside a thick membrane.
All the infection came out within the encapsulation with no remnants left behind. Once it was removed I flushed the hole with Dakin’s and super glued the skin back together.
While I had the razor blade out, I removed the tops of the infected skin and allowed the pus to come out and applied triple antibiotic to everything.
After that everything seemed to clear up pretty well. Her back didn’t become green anymore and her incision healed as well.
She stopped laying at the time of attack, but the morning after lancing and removing the infection, she laid an egg and has continued to lay every day since. Ash was allowed outside in a dog crate so she was able to eat some grass and see her flock mates, but not take a dust bath. When that went well she was reintegrated into the flock with any issues.
Many thanks to Jordan M for sharing her story, notes and photos, used with permission.