House Chickens

Chicken Diapers: Do’s & Don’t’s

I’ve written a series of articles on keeping house chickens including one dedicated to chicken diapers. Who knew that there was more to say on the subject, but apparently there is. Guest contributor, Gigi Ahrens, has house chickens as well as makes chicken apparel so she’s a far more reliable source of accurate information on the ins and outs of diapers than me. I’m happy to present her pointers for the do’s and don’ts on chicken suits.

There is a lot of bad information being tossed around about chicken diapers. Many people using bird diapers either haven’t given it a lot of thought or they aren’t aware that it’s not just a poop catcher. I have been making bird diapers, costumes, and harnesses for years and have had personal experience, discussions with other bird people and vets that are the basis for what I am about to share.

A bird should never wear a suit (diaper) for more than 10 hours straight. The recommendation that I give my customers and fellow bird freaks is 4-6 hours on, one hour off, repeat if desired. Leaving a diaper on any bird for longer than 10 hours without a ventilation period of at least an hour is risking the danger of harbouring a bacterial bloom. The damp warm environment of the vent is always home to some kind of nasty bacteria, but cover that up and then you have a bloom and the bacteria explode in number. When women get a yeast infection, the best thing is to let the affected area breathe which reduces the recovery time.

I have had birds get swampy foul smelling poops that were like black sludge and watery, a result of wearing a suit for too long. By simply adding a probiotic to their food and removing the suit for a few days would clear it right up. The fact that it is easy to remedy isn’t the point. The fact that it happened at all was a result of letting an animal wear a diaper too long. Even though I changed the liners out on every diaper every four hours or so didn’t help, the need to let the bird’s butt air and dry out is very important.

Diapers can be more harmful than beneficial if not used correctly. If your birds are always in the house, as mine are, instead of having them penned up to keep the poop to a minimum, try setting up a poop friendly zone where it’s easy to clean the floor and let them do their thing. I try to limit the diaper time for my chickens. While in the house they spend most of their time on linoleum or hardwood, both of which are easy to clean. Even if you have carpet you can invest in a cheap washable throw rug or simply put a sheet down and shake it off outdoors and toss it in the washer.

I could triple my sales if I told people that every bird should be dressed in a diaper, but the fact of the matter is not every bird is suitable for diaper use. If your bird has a history of being sick, having vent infections, or suffers from intestinal issues, then they should not wear one. Birds should also never share suits without being thoroughly washed between uses. One bird’s minor bacterial colony could kill another bird who has a different chemistry. You wouldn’t wear your friend’s underwear, would you?

One way you can reduce the chances of infection and other problems resulting from wearing diapers is to use unscented baby wipes to surface clean your bird’s butt before and after use, and use the fully dried baby wipes as liners. They are antibacterial, deodorized and are treated with skin softening agents safe enough for a baby’s bottom. I use a dozen wipes a day for various things. If they aren’t nasty with poop or totally covered in gunk, I shake them out, lay them out to dry, then trim them into the proper shape with the help of a diaper liner template I made from a piece of cardboard. I keep a stack of these to use in my suits and they work perfectly. Panty liners can be expensive if you’re using them a lot, so it’s a nice cheap alternative. A three pack of generic baby wipe refill packages runs around $4 and you get almost 300 wipes that can be cut up to provide almost 600 liners. You won’t get that many from $4 worth of panty liners.

In addition to cleaning your bird carefully before and after dressing them in a diaper, you should inspect their vent carefully every time you remove the suit. Is it red? Is there poop stuck to the feathers? Are the feathers damaged and causing discomfort? Vitamin E oil or other bird safe skin-moisturizing agent can be dabbed on to help sooth any tender bits. If you see that your suit is causing feather damage, you need to change to a different style.

Every diaper suit is different. Some are made of non-breathable material that can cause a lot of problems if not maintained properly, some are made from abrasive materials that can cause discomfort to the bird by breaking feathers, rubbing the skin, or not being fitted properly in general. Suit styles differ for intended purposes. A looser fitting more breathable style is better for night time use when the bird isn’t moving around a lot and is meant just to keep the poop from hitting the floor.

A more tailored fit is better for outdoor use, like going out in public. Some have a leash attachment and a placeholder for owner information in the event the bird was to get loose. The swaddling effect of a tailored suit can help calm an uneasy or skittish bird as well. One of my birds gets unhinged during thunderstorms so I suit her up and she calms right down. Fleece suits (full body style) are wonderful because they are soft, stretchy, breathable and warm. If you are in a climate where it gets chilly, then by all means put a fleece suit on them, but if you’re in a hot environment you could be harming your bird by raising their core temperature, thus overheating them. Fleece harness style suits are great because there isn’t a lot of body coverage so the birds won’t overheat.

Suits with bare elastic straps can be good or bad depending on how they’re made. Less fabric makes the suit lighter weight, but elastic can catch and grab feathers and skin. Covered straps are easier on the skin and feathers but too much bunching on the strap covers can be uncomfortable if they’re too tight. Ribbon straps are gentle but nowhere near as strong as elastic and should be inspected regularly. Sharp beaks can shred a ribbon strap, then your suit can become entangled and injure the bird.

Velcro fasteners should always be positioned with the coarse hook side facing up away from the birds skin/feathers. If Velcro rubs or comes loose, it’s less likely to cause irritation if the rough side is facing away from them. Snaps are good as they are very difficult for birds to unfasten but they should have a cover over them so the metal or plastic does not come in contact with the bird’s skin or feathers. Buttons are also good, but make sure they are sewn on well because you don’t want your bird to eat one.

A person willing to spend the money to buy a diaper suit for their birds should be willing to do their homework and look into each source to see that the suits are safe, well made, and as comfortable for the bird as possible. Never base your decision on price. Cheap mass produced cookie cutter diapers are low cost, but aren’t going to be a good fit for everyone.

SOCK SUITS AND FACE MASKS SHOULD ONLY BE USED IN AN EMERGENCY! I cannot express this enough. Even someone with no sewing skills can make a suit better and a lot safer than a sock suit. Sock material unravels, and strings and elastic get ingested and wrapped around feathers and toes. Take the time to make a decent suit or find someone to make you one for you. I have traded with people for suits because I’d rather make sure the bird has a safe garment. Barter is not unheard of, so if you feel you can’t afford what you need, then talk to the designers and see if they are willing to trade something for it. I have exchanged everything from miscellaneous handmade stuff to having a guy cut my grass in exchange for a suit. It’s not about the money for everyone. Purchase a diaper rather than using face masks or socks. They just aren’t worth the risks.

If you already acquired a diaper for your bird but they walk in circles, act like they’re in pain, or freak out about wearing a diaper then it doesn’t fit them properly. It could be too big/small, something could be poking or rubbing them, or it could be bending a feather or putting pressure on something it shouldn’t.

Inspect it, refit it, and keep trying to find out what is making them uncomfortable. I start my chicks out with diaper training at four weeks old and not one bird has ever given a moment’s grief about it. Some took a bit of tinkering to get it right for them but they are all diaper trained and it took less than 24 hours to do it.

I make flight suits, suspension harnesses, and other things that cater to special needs birds in addition to general suits. I have spent a lot of time researching how to minimize discomfort and extend the usefulness and safety of each product that I make.

Many thanks to Gigi Ahrens for her advice and photos, used with permission. Stay tuned for a link to her new website.

1 comment on “Chicken Diapers: Do’s & Don’t’s

  1. What intrigues me the most is Gigi is willing to barter. How nice would it be if more businesses could or would reasonably barter for services. A veterinarian friend who I worked with had a plan if we ever opened a veterinary clinic together, we would offer bartering services for money strapped clients. Thank you Gigi, for doing the homework and to help educate the importance of fit and air time required to keep indoor chickens healthier and happier.

    Liked by 1 person

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