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Head Injuries

Cranial Trauma

Head injuries are fairly common in chickens, occurring in multiple presentations and severity, from mild to life-threatening. Head injuries may be outwardly apparent by the presence of hemorrhaging, loss of tissue, and in many incidences, complete exposure of the brain. In other cases, birds may not show any external evidence of a head injury, but will present with a wide range of temporary to permanent clinical signs of neurological impairment. The later case is most commonly seen in crested-head chicken breeds (such as the Silkie, Polish, Crevecoeur, etc.) that possess a vaulted skull (an open void or hole on the top portion of the skull). This makes these chicks, highly susceptible to brain trauma, as there is nothing more than skin and feathers protecting the brain tissue. Sometimes all it takes is one hard peck the head by a flock member or accidentally bumping their head in the right way. Any trauma to the brain can cause neurological signs and/or sudden death. As chicks grow, sometimes the voided area will eventually seal itself shut or at least reduce in size.

Clinical Signs

Blood at wound site
Bleeding from eyes, ears or mouth
Head tilting
Incoordination
Circling
Paralysis

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiography

Treatment

NameSummary
Supportive careIsolate the chicken from the rest of the flock, and place in a cool, dark environment (not a warm environment, which may make things worse). Call your veterinarian.
CorticosteroidsPrednisolone or dexamethasone (2 mg/kg IM, once)
IV fluidsIndicated if the bird is in shock, given at 1/2 to 2/3 of the normal volume to prevent overhydration and cerebral edema.

Prevention

  • Separate crested head chicks from other breeds to reduce opportunities for accidental injuries
  • Handle crested head chicks gently and avoid putting any pressure on their heads.

Prognosis

Usually good if promply and correctly treated.

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Mixing crested-head chick breeds with non crested-head chick breeds
  • Overcrowding
  • Abrupt temperature changes