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Do Chickens Make Good Pets?

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Written by Dr. David Hannon, DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice)

The popularity of keeping chickens as pets has skyrocketed in the last few years. Coronavirus, concerns regarding food scarcity, and heightened awareness of where one’s food comes from are just a few reasons that more people are turning toward backyard chickens as a way to keep busy and provide sustainable, affordable food sources.

Dr. David Hannon, DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice), an avian veterinarian with Hello Ralphie, walks potential poultry owners through what breeds of poultry are available to own, what to expect regarding poultry behavior, and the medical care backyard birds need. 

Have a medical question about your backyard birds? Meet with Dr. Hannon on the My Virtual Veterinarian iOS app

Can I Keep Chickens in my Backyard?

advice from 24 hour vet about pet health

Most backyard poultry owners keep chickens, but there are many types of poultry available to own. Common species kept as “backyard poultry” include chickens, turkeys, guineafowl, peafowl, ducks, geese, and swans. These birds are easily obtained locally from feed stores and farmers’ markets or shipped from breeders.

Backyard birds can be allowed to roam loose in the yard, but ideally should be kept in a pen when not being directly supervised or at night. Guineafowl and peafowl have the ability to fly and will often roost in a tree at night.

If you live within the city limits, you should check with your municipality to see if there are any laws about keeping poultry. Your city may have rules on how many birds can be kept, and many municipalities prohibit keeping roosters due to their loud vocalizations.

What Should I Feed my Pet Chicken?

advice from 24 hour vet about pet health

Commercial feed for backyard poultry is readily available at your local feed store or co-op, and their diets can be supplemented with fresh produce. They will also forage during the day, eating grass and other greens, as well as any bugs they might come across. If your birds lay eggs, then layer feed (a type of food made for backyard poultry) should be used. Crushed eggshell or oyster shell can be provided for extra calcium. 

Medical Care for Backyard Chickens and Poultry

For medical care, it is best to find a veterinarian that deals not only with birds, but with poultry specifically. In the U.S., all domestic poultry is classified as food animals, regardless if they’re being kept at a production farm or in your backyard. This means that there are laws surrounding which medications can be used in these types of birds, and many of the medications that we used to treat pet birds and other animals can’t be legally used in poultry. Keep in mind that even drugs that are legal to use in poultry will have recommended meat and egg withdrawal times. This means that if your bird gets sick and needs medication, you may not be able to eat its eggs for a period of time afterward. More information about withdrawal times can be found at the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD).

advice from 24 hour vet about pet health

It’s also important to have someone knowledgeable about the different diseases that can affect poultry in your area. There are many vaccinations available for poultry, but they’re only available in large quantities to be used in production operations. However, most large breeders that supply poultry for the pet trade can vaccinate the chicks for an additional fee prior to shipping them to you. 

Common Diseases in Backyard Chickens and Poultry

Common medical conditions seen in poultry include gastrointestinal parasites, respiratory infections, cancer (unfortunately due to the fact these birds are often linebred or inbred to obtain specific genetic characteristics), wounds, leg or wing injuries, and reproductive disorders, especially in egg-laying birds.

Being a prey species, these birds can be masters at hiding illnesses, so it’s important to know what’s normal for your birds so that you can pick up on abnormalities sooner. For instance, if you have a chicken that lays an egg every other day, and she suddenly stops laying, then there might be a problem. Another way you can objectively monitor your birds’ health is to weigh them regularly. A significant increase or decrease in body weight can signal an underlying problem.

Dr. Hannon is available to help with backyard poultry advice and assistance on Hello Ralphie

advice from 24 hour vet about pet health

Backyard Chickens Make Great Pets

In conclusion, poultry can make great pets. They can have unique personalities, they can learn tricks, they can be cuddly, and they can even be a regular source of eggs for your family. But like any other pet, they will only stay healthy if they are cared for properly. Make sure to do your homework before you get one so that you can provide optimal care for it.

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