Did you know that there is a special law protecting animals?
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease. In this section, you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your chickens are free from pain, injury or disease.
Just like you have a family doctor that you see when you are unwell, your chickens need their own doctor too - a veterinarian is an animal doctor.
It’s a good idea for your family to find out which veterinarian they plan on using before you get your chickens. Not all veterinary clinics specialise in birds, so it is important you find a vet that is experienced at treating birds.
If possible, visit the clinic beforehand and look around. Ask yourself: Is the waiting area clean? Are the staff helpful? Find out the opening hours and if they handle emergencies after hours as well.
Once you get a new chicken, your family should have it checked by your chosen veterinary clinic straight away.
Make an appointment as soon as you can for a check-up. Your vet will have lots of useful advice that may help your chicken settle in.
It is helpful to write a list of the questions you want to ask so everything can be covered.
Chickens feel pain in the same way as other animals, including people, but they are not very good at showing outward signs of pain and may be suffering a great deal before you notice anything is wrong.
A change in the way your chicken normally behaves can be an early sign he or she is ill or in pain. If your chicken is not eating or is more quiet than usual, they are highly likely to be ill, or in pain. You should talk to your chicken’s veterinarian immediately.
The main health problems that we see in chickens are:
Regular health check-ups with a vet are the best way of detecting any problems with your chickens early. Remember, if any of your chickens show any signs of injury or ill health, you must take them to their veterinarian immediately.
If it is late at night or on the weekend and your veterinary clinic is closed, there are great after-hours clinics available for emergencies. Make sure your family know where your closest after-hours veterinary clinic is.
Chickens moult one or two times a year, which means they can look very scruffy during this time. It is extra important to provide the best nutrition you can during this time, as moulting can be exhausting for a chicken.
If you see your chicken plucking out their feathers, contact a vet, as this is not normal. Your chicken is either stressed, frustrated or bored, or maybe has a medical problem that is causing them to pluck out their feathers.
It is important you seek veterinary advice immediately. If your vet determines that your chicken is bored or frustrated, here are a couple of ways to make your chickens life more interesting:
Ask your parent or caregiver to help you check your chickens for signs of illness or injury every day. The best time to observe this is when you put food out for your chickens, as you can watch how they move and feed.
Make sure this is done by someone else if you are away. Consult your vet immediately if you suspect your chicken is in pain, ill or injured.
Eyes, ears and nostrils
These should be clear, clean and bright looking with no discharge (gunky liquid). A chicken’s ears can be hidden underneath their feathers. The best way to find them is to look directly behind their eyes on each side of their head.
If your chicken is shaking their head a lot and scratching around its ears this could be a sign of ear mites. You will need to take your chicken to see their veterinarian.
Your chickens’ poo can tell you a lot about their health! Find out what normal droppings look like for each of your chickens and show an adult if you ever notice them looking different.
Check that your chickens are having no difficulty eating. If any of your chickens are having difficulty eating, they can become underweight and ill very quickly.
Claws and feet
Bumblefoot is a common foot problem in chickens where a wound or cut in the foot becomes infected. Check your chickens’ feet daily and contact a vet if you believe your chicken may have bumblefoot. Symptoms include cuts, wounds or ulcers on the feet, or limping.
Keep an eye on your chickens’ claws, as these can become overgrown if they are not able to wear them down on hard surfaces. Your vet will be able to show your family how to trim them if they are becoming too long.
People often think a trip to the vet as something only needed when one of their chickens become unwell. However, it is also important to remember that annual health checks are important for your chicken’s wellbeing.
These annual checks are a great way to detect any small problems before they become more serious. During this 15 - 20 minute appointment, your veterinarian will carefully examine each chicken’s entire body – from the top of their head, to their wings and tail!
Your veterinarian will also discuss any concerns you have regarding your chicken’s health, diet and behaviour.
If any of your chickens ever shows any signs of injury or ill health, an adult must take them to their veterinarian immediately.
Chickens can become highly stressed by being physically handled. To find out the best ways to pick up and transport a chicken, see our freedom from fear and distress section.
If it is late at night or on the weekend and your vet is closed, there are great after hour clinics available for emergencies.
If you find a chicken that doesn’t belong to you or that shows signs of sickness or injury, get an adult to contact your local bird rescue or RSPCA immediately.
Remember to always find an adult before you approach any chicken that appears sick or injured – even your own chicken. Chickens may respond differently because they are in pain.