Three common illnesses in rescue hens, and how to spot them
Don't tell the adorable bunnies or fluffy guinea pigs, but the UK has a new favourite garden pet: the humble hen. Since lockdown began, hen rescue organisations have seen an unprecedented demand for these entertaining, sociable animals who come with the bonus of laying a fresh egg each day. However, whilst a flock of breakfast-providing chickens may seem the obvious answer to the lack of eggs in shops, it's worth bearing in mind that hens do suffer from medical complaints which require veterinary attention, just like any other pet. Here's our guide to common illnesses in rescue hens:
Egg-binding or internal laying
Unlike their ancestors, the wild jungle fowl, commercial hens have been bred to churn out hundreds of eggs a year, so it's unsurprising their bodies will succumb to a variety of egg-related problems such as egg-binding or internal laying. Hens will become depressed, stay in the nestbox, develop a hot, swollen abdomen or stop producing eggs altogether. Egg problems can quickly lead to infection and even fatality if not treated, so it's always best to seek veterinary advice and diagnosis.
The same hormones that cause egg follicles to grow can also cause cancers to bloom. Because chickens are flock animals, they often won't show signs of illness until they're in real pain, which is why it's important to observe them closely each day and get to know them well. A vet who is knowledgeable about birds will be able to use manual examination as well as ultrasound or x-ray to diagnose cancer and offer palliative pain relief.
Respiratory illness is a common chicken ailment, particularly in winter, but steps can be taken to make sure your chickens are fighting fit. Regularly clean and maintain their house, feeders and drinkers. Ensure their coop has good ventilation and airflow. If you spot a chicken coughing or sneezing, quarantine them and seek veterinary treatment.
Rescue hens make inquisitive, cute and funny pets who respond to their names and help with the gardening. But it's important for owners to be prepared ahead of time for when things do go wrong, and to make sure they have a great vet with proper imaging equipment on standby if the time comes.