We’ve been talking about flystrike and the need to keep chickens’ butts clean in our chicken care classes but we didn’t expect to get a hands-on experience last month! Sweetie, our newest rescued hen, was looking less active so I picked her up and put her on my lap. I immediately smelled that something was wrong and saw a bloody stain on my clothes. I looked at her butt and saw maggots crawling all over her. I can’t describe how disgusting it was. I wish I had some pictures to share but my only thought at the moment was to get rid of all the maggots as fast as possible!
Flystrike, also known as myiasis, is a painful, often fatal, ailment caused by flies laying eggs on another animal, which then hatch into maggots and eat their host’s flesh. The open sores and deep lesions created by the hungry maggots are an open invitation to infections. If left untreated, it can cause bacterial bloodstream infections or sepsis, and eventually lead to anorexia and death.
Flies are attracted to moist, warm, smelly, and dark areas like open wounds and feces. On a chicken, the vent area is a favorite. Weak chickens are more vulnerable than healthy ones, as they don’t generally groom themselves as well to clean their butt feathers and dislodge the eggs before they hatch. That’s why Sweetie was an easy target. She has salpingitis, some soft stool, and doesn’t preen herself very well.
If your chicken has maggots, don’t panic! There is a lot you can do to help your chicken. And if you can’t, bring her to the vet without delay.
Step 1: wash the maggots of. Bring the chicken to a sink and bathe her in warm water making sure to submerge the affected area. You want to assess the extent of the damage and drown as many maggots as possible. Physically remove all the visible maggots in and around the wound. Yes, it’s nasty but they are eating your chicken alive! Flush the bath water as often as needed, to keep the water clear of dirt, blood, and maggots.
Step 2: pain management. Even if she is quiet, your chicken is in pain. Give her pain medication if you have some. If you don’t, ask your vet so your first aid kit is complete. Also, if the wound is deep or looks infected, put her on antibiotics. Again, ask your vet to prescribe you these medications.
Step 3: remove more maggots. Once the bath water is clear, add some Betadine (povidone-iodine) to start disinfecting the wound. Inspect it closely. Trim all the feathers around the wound if necessary. If you see maggots deeply buried in it, try to flush them out with diluted Betadine in a syringe. Remove as many maggots as possible.
Step 4: clean wound. Once you don’t see any more maggots, dry your chicken with a towel or a hair dryer (they usually like that spa treatment!). Clean the wound with diluted Betadine and apply some SSD (silver sulfadiazine) cream on it. You could also spray it with Vetericyn instead.
Step 5: setup a chicken hospital. Keep your chicken inside in a clean environment until the wound is completely healed. Make sure she eats and drinks well. Provide extra protein like tofu and eggs (Sweetie loves tofu!). We also added some Nutri-Drench to her water for the first couple days to boost her immune system.
Step 6: check for more maggots and clean wound. Clean the wound twice a day and keep her under pain management until the wound is closed. If you still see maggots, remove them.
If she isn’t perking up after couple of days, or you can’t remove all the maggots within the first few days, or the infection is too severe, please bring her to the vet for further treatment. In some severe case of flystrike, euthanasia may be recommended.
It’s critical to catch flystrike as early as possible, so they haven’t got the time to cause too much damage. It’s therefore important for you to know your chickens and be able to notice when one is acting a little bit off. As soon as you notice something, pick her up and look at her, all over. I cannot stress that enough. I saved Sweetie’s life because I detected the flystrike within 24 hours.
Charlie, pictured on the right, wasn’t so lucky. Her guardians noticed she was a bit less active than usual but didn’t do anything. By the time we got involved, the maggots had pupated, transformed into flies, and were gone leaving a big chunk of her body missing. Charlie unfortunately didn’t make it. She became the spark behind Clorofil and led us to create our classes to educate and empower chicken keepers to feel confident with the care of their birds.
Even better than catching a flystrike early is to prevent it. The key is to control the fly population as much as possible. Yes, it’s hard but keeping a tidy coop goes a long way. Don’t let poop accumulate anywhere in the chicken yard. Also make sure to keep your chickens’ butt clean, trim their feathers if necessary. And if they have diarrhea, find out why and treat accordingly.
In short, keep a clean coop, and pick up your chickens when they look not quite right.