By Darcy Smith.
Darcy is the co-founder of the Funky Chicken Rescue, a non-profit 501(c)3 all animal rescue / sanctuary located in Vacaville, CA. You can follow Funky Chicken on social media @imthefunkychicken.
“HELP! My chicken, was attacked by a hawk and was missing for a few days. She finally came out of hiding and her whole face is scabbed over and she can’t see! Can I bring her to you?”
This was the message I received one morning on my animal rescue page. I knew the people didn’t have the time or money for a vet, so I agreed to take the chicken in to see if I could help her. What I discovered right away is that she wasn’t the victim of a predator attack, she had a really BAD case of fowl pox. We named the hen, Larissa and treated her for wet pox.
I know what you are thinking, “chickens can get chicken pox?” The answer is, “YES”. They are not the same chicken pox as people get and they can’t be transmitted to humans, but chickens do get fowl pox.
Fowl pox is a viral infection in chickens that is highly contagious. It is usually transmitted by bug bites, mainly mosquitos. The infection presents itself with wart-like sores on the chicken’s wattles, face, comb, eyelids and ears. The bumps are skin colored but turn black after the chicken scratches them and makes them bleed. In Larissa’s case, she had the wart like bumps encrusting her face completely, even over her eyes so she couldn’t see. She had the worst case of wet pox I have seen.
There are two types of fowl pox, wet pox and dry pox. Dry pox will cause discomfort in your chickens, but will usually resolve themselves. Wet Pox is a more severe infection that can involve the chicken’s upper respiratory system and can even cause death. The pox will not only be on the chicken’s skin, they will also be in the mouth.
Larissa’s case of wet pox was so severe that I took her to see our avian specialists at Medical Center for Birds in Oakley, CA. Because wet and dry pox are both caused by a virus, there is no medication that will “cure” them. But, Larissa was put on antibiotics to help combat any possible upper respiratory issues that could arise due to the wet pox. Because of the sores in her mouth, Larissa refused to eat or drink. I was able to give her a full crop 3 times a day by tube feeding her. Thankfully she returned to eating on her own after 3 days. It took Larissa about three weeks to recover from her severe case of wet pox. The pox slowly sloughed off and her face went back to normal, she doesn’t even have scarring.
Things that you should do if your flock comes down with fowl pox:
Quarantine affected hens if possible
Determine whether you have dry pox (on skin), or wet pox (on skin and in mouth)
You can dab betadine on the sores to help dry them out and keep the chicken comfortable
If you have wet pox, put your chicken on an antibiotic to help fight off respiratory issues
Keep all waterers in the coop clean with fresh water, clean coops, put down fresh bedding
Chickens will spread the pox by shedding the sores, and through dander. If another chicken eats or inhales the scab, or the dander, they could possibly get the pox. Some aren’t bothered by pox and others have a weaker immune system and can come down with it, especially in times of stress
There is a vaccination for fowl pox that can be given to chicks at a day old and chickens that have never been infected.
The best way to combat any chicken illness or disease in your flock is through biosecurity. Quarantine any new flock members, and quarantine any ill chickens. Take the time to know your chickens, you will easily be able to tell if there is something that is not quite right with their health…and trust your instinct, if you think something is off or not right with your chicken, don’t wait, check it out.