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Supportive Therapy

    Supportive therapies are any additional treatments other than the normal or prescribed medications.  Supportive therapy can be as simple as keeping a bird in a warm and draft free cage or changing the bird's diet to something more palatable.  In some cases, supportive therapy alone can save a sick bird.
    When a bird becomes sick in my flock, I use supportive therapy before I begin medicating, as well as, throughout treatment.  Using this method I can identify a disease accurately without jumping headfirst into the "begin treating with a broad spectrum antibiotic" method.  Never medicate willynilly.  Pathogens grow immune to antibiotics and medications when treated too often or treated improperly.  So give yourself time to identify a disease by practicing good supportive therapy.
Electrolytes and Vitamins
    Adding electrolytes and vitamins to a sick bird's water or feed helps compensate for poor diet and water absorbtion.  It may also make the water or
food more palatable.  Most electrolytes come premixed with vitamins.  If your brand doesn't, find a new one.  Electrolytes are nothing special; they are simply charged ions that aid in proper water absorbtion by sending electrical impulses to the brain.  They can make a BIG difference though!  Electrolytes are especially useful for dehydrated or overheated birds or birds that refuse to drink.  They can be used regularly too.  Electrolytes can be purchased at most feed stores.  They are inexpensive ($3-5) and last a long while.  Most serve multiple species and come in a lunch bag size.  Unless dilutions are posted, 1/2 tsp per gallon of water is usually adequate.  You can buy fancy electrolytes too.  I use a generic brand for sick birds and a special brand specifically designed for stressed birds for my show chickens called Energize.  
     Water soluble vitamins are a great thing to add to a sick bird's water.  Vitamins are important for the body to function properly.  Sick birds may not be correctly utilizing vitamins and might need higher amounts to balance out this irregularity.  If you are unable to find a poultry specific brand of vitamins, I've found that some dog vitamin mixes usually have the same ingredients and levels.  I recommend you contact the supplier for their input and clarification. 
Diet Changes
    Depending on a bird's symptoms, a sick chicken might benefit from a diet change.  Underweight birds should be fed higher protein and high carbohydrate diets.  Interestingly, I've found canned (drained) corn and grated cheese are good treats for underweight chickens.  Crop bound birds or birds afflicted with  Coccidiosis should be fed a soft or laxative diet; a moist mash fed regularly is a good option.  Moist mash should be replaced regularly and it should only be left to sit for about one hour, otherwise it will spoil.  Only add enough water to soften the food, too much water will give the bird diarrhea.  If the bird won't eat, offer whatever food it will eat.  If the birds refuses to eat, you may have to force feed it.  Baby parrot food, mixed according to its directions, is effective, but be sure to add a pinch of electrolytes to the mixture.  Expect the bird to suffer diarrhea on this diet.
    Sick birds may not drink water.  Add a few drops of blue food coloring to encourage the bird to drink.  This works especially well with chicks.
Green Treats and Homepathic Remedies
Fresh greens added to any bird's diet will improve health.  But remember....certain plants are poisonous. At the same time, many plants have holistic properties, some more than others, and mankind has used plants to treat illnesses for many, many centuries.  Chickweed (Stellaria species) is my favorite of all the holistic plants.  While it doesn't cure any specific disease, it boosts overall health, has an effect on pain, and is packed full of vitamins and minerals.  Chickens love it!  I recommend feeding it whenever it grows.  Chickweed prefers moist, cool conditions. 
(Image to the left, from left to right: Miner's Lettuce, wild soft grass, Chickweed / image to the right: Miner's Lettuce)
    Miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) is a good treat too, whether it be for your birds (or yourself).  It is high in Vitamin C and most chickens like it.  Birds do not require vitamin C, but it is still a good plant to offer.  It also makes a
great winter time slip-n-slide when it's grown on a hill (oh the muddy memories...).
    Grass is a welcomed food in the chicken coop.  Let your chickens free range in your backyard and they'll mow the lawn for you.  Or, next time you mow your lawn, throw the unwanted clippings in the coop... they'll love you for it!  As a reminder, be careful not to let your chickens free range your lawn immediately after applying fertilizers and/or pesticides.
    Many plants are used in homeopathic remedies.  Homeopathic remedies work on the theory that "like cures like."  In other words, by giving the bird the symptoms you will cure the bird of symptoms.  Stange, huh?  But  my experience thus far has shown that it works!  Sometimes, homeopathic remedies can work better than conventional medicines, and othertimes, they are the only known treatment for some diseases.  You can always find them at health food stores or organic/natural markets. 
    Hypericum treats pain and is the only treatment for Marek's Disease.  Hypericum numbs nerves to either relieve pain or return function to paralyzed limbs.  It costs about $8 for 100 doses.  Hypericum requires a special dilution before it can be used succesfully on poultry.  The mixture is as follows:
  • 1 tablespoon distilled water (It must be distilled!  The ions in tap water deactivate the hypericum, rendering it useless)
  • 1 hypericum tablet (Do NOT touch it with you bare hands.  This, too, deactivates the hypericum).
  • Please the hypericum tablet and water in a tiny glass bowl.  (I use my mom's custard ramicans).  Again, don't use a metal container.....it will electrically charge the hypericum so it will not work.  Once the hypericum has fully dissolved, give 5-10 drops per bantam or 10-15 per large fowl.  Let the liquid touch the tongue; be sure that the bird rubs its beak together so that the tongue touches the roof of the mouth.  The liquid must touch the sinuses (located at the roof of the mouth) in order to work.
  • Repeat twice daily, morning and night, with a fresh batch. When the symptoms appear to be lessening, stop treatment. If the symptoms appear to worsen, begin immediately treating the bird at the same rate and frequency.
Rescue Remedy is another homeopathic remedy that works to relax a bird and prevent shock.  It is intended for use in humans and large dogs, but is perfectly safe for use in poultry.  To use on poultry, you will need to dilute the concentration.  1/2-1 tablespoon of distilled water per 1 or 2 drops of Rescue Remedy should dilute it to a safe concentration.
    There are far too many remedies to list here, so you'll have to do some personal research.  Here is a website with a few more. 
Please keep in mind that many plants are poisonous.  I know that Arnica (mentioned on the previous link) is poisonous if ingested.  Be sure to check this list to see if the plants around your home are toxic.  This list also provides safe plants.
(Image to the left, from left to right: Hypericum, Rescue Remedy box, Rescue Remedy)
Poultry Cell
    Poultry Cell is a wonderful supplement for recovering or stressed birds.  It's rich in... everything good for a chicken!  High in iron, it is designed for large, active cocks but any chicken will benefit from its' use.  It helps build strong immunity and helps injured birds heal quickly.  I definitely recomend keeping this in your  medicine cabinet.  You will need a single cc syringe to properly dose.  Large birds require 1-3 full cc's, while bantams require .5-1 cc.  It can be added to feed or water, or given orally.  It claims to make feed more palatable but my birds don't seem to like the taste.  Don't give on a regular basis; too much iron can cause heart conditions.  A word of caution too... be careful when giving it to your white show birds, they tend to shake their head after swallowing.  If they shake some onto their white feathers, it will stain.
    Warmth is a must for recovering birds.  The last thing a chicken needs to worry about when it's sick is staying warm.  Heat lamps are ideal or better yet, bring your bird inside your home.  If this isn't possible, set up the bird's cage under a heat lamp so that one side of the cage remains cool and the other side is warm.  That way, the bird can find a comfortable spot in their cage.  Keep the water on the cool side and the feed on the hot side.  Birds don't drink water is it's too hot.  Even if your bird is not sick but may be injured, always provide warmth... ALWAYS.
    Sick birds should be isolated in a draft free cage.  In the Fall and Winter months, I place a heat lamp above the cage and wrap a towel around it, leaving an opening at the top for the lamp's warmth to shine through.  Be sure to allow for some ventilation.  You want fresh air, but you don't want a chilly breeze.  Remember though......the lamp should be placed high enough above the cage so it provides adequate warmth but does not overheat your bird.  Birds "pant" just like other animals when they are overheated and just like other animals, they can die when overheated. So check on your bird regularly to see how it is adapting to the environment you have provided.
Calm Environment
    Sick birds should be housed in a quiet area where few people or animals go.  The bird needs to rest and if people (or worse yet, the family dog) are constantly poking their head in the cage, it won't be able to rest.  Some birds may benefit from complete silence, others won't.  In prey animals, silence is usually associated with fear.  Prey animals become completely quiet when a predator is spotted.  A sick chicken might interpret a quiet room as a predator's hunting grounds.  This may sound funny but playing soft classical music or nature CD's might relax a bird, but keep the volume low.  Avoid music with screeching, long high notes, or sudden loud changes.

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