Backyard chickens 101

A quick guide to urban poultry for small animal veterinarians

Backyard poultry are increasing in suburban and even urban areas. The animals are often obtained as sources of fresh eggs, but many become pets after their egg production has ended. In addition, many of these animals are treated more as pets than as production animals even during their production cycle, and the owners and their families may become very bonded to them.

Companion animal practitioners may be requested to provide veterinary care for backyard chickens or livestock. This can present challenges for some companion animal veterinarians who might receive calls or walk-ins involving these kinds of animals, especially for those who have rarely worked with such species or have not dealt with them since veterinary school. These animals present unique challenges because they may be treated as pets by their owners but remain food animals in the eyes of the state and federal laws and regulations.

Here are the top 5 things that can help when small-animal veterinarians receive unexpected calls from clients about pet chickens (AVMA members only).

  1. Consult or refer. Create and keep a list of local veterinarians who regularly treat birds, as well as any nearby veterinary facilities or teaching hospitals with poultry specialists.
  2. Know the legalities regarding treatment options. If you choose to treat a backyard chicken, be aware that there are very few drugs approved for use in chickens (chickens kept exclusively as pets included), and you must not cause food safety problems with the eggs or meat, or run afoul of FDA’s rules.
  3. Seek advice. Use other expert resources to guide you, such as extension veterinarians and diagnostic labs, if you choose to start treating backyard chickens.
  4. Educate yourself. Learn more about avian/poultry medicine by reading poultry texts and manuscripts and attend relevant continuing education sessions if you want to start treating pet chickens.
  5. Consider your credentials and coverage. In order to perform some duties, you may need additional credentials, such as Category II USDA accreditation or liability insurance.

The AVMA would like to thank Kayleigh Bull, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2015, for her contributions to this resource.

Live poultry, including those in backyard flocks, can carry harmful bacteria such as Salmonella

Educate your clients about the risk of zoonotic disease associated with handling backyard poultry.