How to Treat Chickens Suffering from Frostbite
Does your chicken have a frostbitten comb, or wattles, or feet? This article details specific methods of treatment for frostbitten birds.
With the cold weather comes snow, ice, and the risk of frostbite for outdoor animals.
Most breeds of chickens are cold hardy, but sometimes one chicken ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and you find you've got a frostbitten bird on your hands!
What should you do when you find a partially frozen chicken?
Immediately bring the chicken inside to a warm place. Allow the bird to slowly warm up. Too much heat, like that from a heat lamp or hair dryer could further shock the chicken's system.
After an hour, when the chicken has warmed a little, you can better assess the damage.
If the chicken is lethargic or not behaving normally then they will need some sugar or electrolytes to help them perk up. Options include warm water with honey, apple juice or orange juice slightly diluted, or a berry smashed into warm water. Organic apple cider vinegar is an excellent additive to a chicken's beverage on a daily basis.
If the chicken doesn't drink on its own you can take a small syringe and dribble the water mixture onto the bird's beak. Be very careful if you put water into the chicken's mouth--chickens don't swallow with muscles, they instead tip their heads back to let liquid run down their throats, so squirting water into a chicken's mouth can cause it to aspirate and choke.
If your chicken has a blackened frostbitten area on the comb or wattles coat the areas with bag balm or petroleum jelly. If the chicken is alert and behaving normally it will probably be fine to go back outside in the coop. Be sure it has a place free of drafts to go.
Keep an eye out for pecking--other chickens may notice the frostbitten area and begin to peck at it. Once chickens peck and create a bloody spot, they don't stop! If this happens it's best to coat the pecked area in Neosporin. (Be sure to never use anything with pain killers. If anything on the ingredient list ends in -cain then it's lethal to chickens!)
Keep the chicken isolated until the pecked area heals to prevent further pecking from other birds. If you can't keep the chicken separate for that long then coat the pecked area with pine tar or Blue Kote (in the horse section at the feed store.) When a chicken pecks and gets a mouth full of pine tar, it won't want to peck there again.
If your chicken has frostbitten feet then a longer time of healing is ahead. Depending on the severity of the frost bite, your chicken may lose some toes or at worst an entire foot. Keep the chicken inside out of freezing temperatures on a soft bedding, like a towel, that won't cling to the feet. If the feet turn completely black then there isn't much you can do except wait for the blackened areas to fall off.
Often the chicken is able to survive this and continue on with life, though they will be crippled. Some chickens can adapt well enough to hobble around on legs without any feet!
It's possible for the feet to only be partially frost bitten. In this case the tissue will try to heal itself by growing blisters. Do not pop the blisters, even if they continue to swell and produce green or yellow pus. Blisters filled with fluid are a natural band aid for the damaged tissue underneath. They will rupture once the tissue below is healed enough to be exposed.
Treat the feet by soaking them twice a day in a warm water mixture. Add Epsom salt to the water. Be sure to not allow your chicken to drink this water since salt in high doses is damaging to chickens.
Grape fruit seed extract is a semi-natural antibiotic that can be purchased at health food stores. It makes an excellent addition to the foot bath along with the Epsom salt. Also add hydrogen peroxide to the warm water. Hydrogen peroxide helps to rid of dead skin cells and keep bacteria and debris out of the healing feet.
After each soak dry the feet well and then coat them with Neosporin or something similar. On top of that, coat the feet with Bag Balm to form a protective layer. Bag Balm contains menthol, which will improve circulation to speed healing. Loose bandages or an old pair of socks will help keep the feet as clean as possible while still allowing the skin to breathe.
Healing feet from frost bite can take 4-6 weeks!
If your chicken's feet become infected to the point that the chicken is no longer eating and drinking normally then you can administer Penicillin G.
This can be purchased at most feed stores, along with syringes and needles. Full sized large breed chickens should get 0.5 mg injected once a day in the drumstick area of the leg, into the muscle. Injecting a chicken can seem a bit intimidating at first, but if you hang the chicken upside down with the help of a partner, the bird will quickly go limp and you can inject the Penicillin without too much trauma.
While your chicken is healing be sure to feed it plenty of high protein treats along with normal amounts of food and water to help its body recover. Chickens love scrambled eggs, oatmeal, fruit, and most table scraps aside from raw potatoes and salty foods.
With careful treatment and plenty of time most chickens will be able to recover from frostbite and go on to live out the rest of their lives!