Ways to give medications to chickens & other birds

How to give chickens medicine orally by mouth
These "force-feeding" or "gavage" methods can also be used to feed soft food or supplemented liquids to a sick bird that is starving or weak from not eating enough.

*Note: Some Injectible forms of some medications may be given by mouth instead of injection if you prefer. Research online or ask a vet.

Giving LIQUID or SOFT medications or food orally
Medicine can be given orally down the throat via a human syringe, which you can buy at a pharmacy for people. A 1-cc size syringe is best for accurate, small measurements. If the syringe comes with a needle, be sure it is a kind that can be removed.
  • Syringes sold at feed stores tend to be larger, so they are more difficult to use if you need to measure small doses accurately.
  • To "tube-feed" bigger quantities of food, you can use a medium or large syringe and attach several inches of flexible fish aquarium tubing (Beforehand, use a match to slightly melt the tip so it will be smoother and won't scrape the chicken's throat). See video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtHvRkdskwY
  1. If the bottle has a removable lid:
    • Remove the needle from the syringe & discard the needle.
    • Place the medicine bottle in a stable, slightly larger container (such as an empty tin can) that will help keep it from tipping over & spilling.
    • Open the medicine bottle & insert the (needle-less) syringe.  Pull the plunger back to draw the appropriate amount of medicine into the syringe. Remove syringe from bottle.
  2. Place the bird on your lap and restrain it in your arms.
  3. [These suggestions on how to position your hands are approximate. Experiment with what works best for you.] Put your left hand to the side of the chicken's head, with the thumb behind its head/neck. Be careful that you don't press against the bird's eyes.
  4. Take your right forefinger, and push it against the side of the bird's beak until it opens its mouth. If you're right-handed, when the bird opens its mouth, push the forefinger of your left hand in across the mouth from side to side inside the beak and keep it there so your finger acts as a wedge to keep the mouth open.
    • The bird will STRONGLY resist this. Patiently persist. Once you have your finger put in place, within a few seconds the bird will suddenly stop squirming & sit still.
    • Birds mostly try to open their mouths to get away from your finger. They rarely bite hard while you do this, and they can't bite as hard with their beak in this wide open position.
  5. Tilt the bird's head back so the beak almost points skyward; then the throat passage will be straight & it will be easy to insert the syringe.
  6. Hold the syringe in your right hand and gently slide it past the breathing hole (that is on the floor of the mouth on the back part of the tongue area) and on down the very back of the throat (which is the passage for swallowing). Slide the syringe far in (almost halfway down the throat) to be sure no medicine ends up going down the air hole. Be gentle so you don't scrape the sides of the throat.
    • This sounds intimidatingly risky, but it is actually VERY EASY to see and slide in the right area safely.
  7. Depress the plunger on the syringe to dispense the medicine.
  8. Withdraw the syringe from the bird's throat & take your finger out of the bird's beak.
  9. Hold the bird so its side is close against your body so it can feel secure & burrow its head into your arm.
    • Many birds will also be comforted and reassured by the following: With one hand, hold your fingers flat & pat the bird's outside wing/side in a gentle thumping way to reassure & comfort it.
    • You can tell the bird is feeling more relaxed when it closes its eyes, makes chewing motions, and then makes gentle exhaling noises each time it breathes out. (Note: This is different that the open-mouth breathing a bird may do when in pain, or panting it may do when overheated.)
Giving SOLID medications orally (such as a pill)
A small pill or portion of a larger pill can be pushed down the throat. Follow the steps above, except instead of using a syringe, hold the pill in your fingers.

How to mix in Drinking Water:
Note: Some injectible forms of some medications are also suitable for mixing into drinking water.
  • Some medications and supplements taste bad and even thirsty birds will resist drinking it. To make it more tasty, you can mix in something sweet. Xylitol sweetener (available in health food section or baking sweeteners section at grocery store) is ideal since it doesn't foster the growth of internal fungi. [Cautions: Too much xylitol will cause diarrhea in birds. Also, keep dogs away from xylitol because it can be DEADLY to them.] Fruit juice and/or sugar can be used if that is all that is available.
  • The effectiveness of some medications is reduced if they are combined with specific minerals. If you are giving a medication like this, you can use distilled water or water that has gone through reverse osmosis for the birds' drinking water.
  • The effectiveness of some medications decreases over time after they are added to water. If you are giving such a medicine, mix up a fresh batch as frequently as indicated in the package instructions.

How to Give Injections

Note: If you are giving Penicillin, also read special notes on Treating with Penicillin.
Important: Buy needles and syringes from "people" pharmacies, rather than feed stores, whenever possible. You can give much more effective and kind treatments with these.
Don't worry--At the great majority of pharmacies, there is no requirement for you to prove or even claim that you or your animals have any disease. Note: Wal-Mart pharmacies do tend to be difficult about selling needles.
  • "People" needles have much finer, sharper tips. "Animal" needles are suited for larger livestock.
  • The plungers on "people" syringes slide much more smoothly. "Animal" syringes tend to stick and then suddenly slide jerkily, which can cause you to accidentally squirt too much medicine or inject it too quickly.
  • "People" syringes are usually smaller. The plunger travels further through a thinner tube with measurements marks further apart, so you can more accurately see and control the small amounts of medicine you are injecting.
  • For thick medicines, a "Luer Lock" type syringe is ideal because it holds the needle tightly onto the syringe and is less likely for the needle to fall off under pressure.
  • Note: Do not buy the ~30-gauge diabetic needles. The needles cannot be removed on many of them, and are too thin for many uses.
If you must use an "animal" needle, never use one that is 20-gauge or thicker
Injection syringe and needle size for bird medications
(thicker = lower gauge number) intramuscularly on any bird!!

  1. Choose correct size of syringe (plastic injection tube with markings for dose amounts)
    • "cc" or "ml" numbers relate to the amount of fluid a syringe can hold.
      • Note: 1 ml = 1 cc
    • A small syringe is needed for accuracy for injections for chickens. A size between 1 and 3 cc is optimal.
  2. Choose correct size of needle. You need to know the correct thickness and length.
    • Thickness of needle
    "Gauge" or "ga" numbers relate to the needle's diameter thickness. HIGHER gauge numbers = thinner needles.
    (Ex.: 25-gauge is thinner than 16-gauge.)
    Dull, thick needles can potentially cause great pain and damage to chickens, especially if used intramuscularly.
    When possible, use one needle solely for drawing medicine from bottle, and use different needle(s) for injecting into chickens. This saves injection needle from getting dulled by the bottle's rubber stopper / lid.
    Gauge size for drawing medicines into syringe
      • Thick needles are easiest and quickest for drawing medicines, though thinner needles can be used.
      • Exception: If you are administering a medicine containing particles, the needle for drawing medicine from the bottle should be the same thickness as the needle used for the injection. This prevents overly large particles from being drawn up into the syringe through a large needle & then clogging up a thinner needle used for an injection.
    Gauge size for injecting medicine into a chicken
      • 24-gauge to 26-gauge needles are usually best for injections for chickens. 28-gauge to 30-gauge needles may be used if medicine isn't too thick.
        • Note: If you are administering medicine with floating particles such as Penicillin, you NEED to use a somewhat thicker but not too thick needle for injecting to enable particles to fit through the needle. A good size is a 20-gauge "people" needle, or 22-gauge "animal" needle.
    • Length of needle
    "Inch" numbers relate to the length of the needle.
        • Intramuscular injection: 1/2 to 5/8 inch needles are good. If you use a longer needle, be careful to not insert too deep--this can be tricky if chicken is squirming.
        • Subcutaneous injection:  5/8 to 1 1/4 inch are easiest to handle for these.
  3. Prepare the medicine
    • Pull any rubber cap off medicine bottle, and pull off the thin metal circle on the center of the bottle's rubber stopper.
      • Check for and follow any instructions about shaking bottle, bringing medicine to room temperature, etc.
  4. Use separate needle to draw medicine into syringe.
      • Take first needle (which can be a thick one) for drawing medicine. Pull the short cover if there is one off the base end of the needle, & press the base end onto the tip of syringe. Pull the long needle cover off the needle tip end.
      • Poke the tip of the "drawing" needle all the way through the center of the medicine bottle's rubber stopper. Turn the bottle upside down. Pull back the plunger until mark for desired amount of medicine is reached. Pull needle out of bottle.
          • If suction inside bottle seems to restrict flow of medicine, you can draw some air into the syringe, insert the needle into the bottle & then expel the air inside to create pressure that will help as you then pull back the plunger to draw out medicine.
            • Caution: This is not advised if needle or syringe has been used before. If you insert air or press on the syringe's plunger when needle is inside bottle, contamination from them may get injected into bottle.
      • Pull syringe's plunger back to suck in medicine out of drawing needle, plus a little air. Put long needle cover back on needle. Gently twist and pull base of needle to remove it from syringe.
      • Hold the syringe with the tip pointing up in one hand. With the other hand, tap the side of the syringe a few times to make any air bubbles float up to the tip. Then gently press plunger until air has been expelled from tip.
  5. Attach the injection needle.
      • Take a second, thin needle for injecting. If there is a short cover off the base end, pull it off. Press the base end onto the tip of syringe. Pull the long needle cover off the needle.
      • Point needle upwards. Gently push the plunger on syringe until medicine starts to drip out. Then stop.
  6. Use correct administration to inject medicine.
  7. Injections of antibiotics, vaccines, or other fluids can be helpful in some treatments. Some should be given subcutaneously (just under the skin), some intramuscularly (in the muscle), and very few intravenously (in a blood vein). The label on most medicines will tell you which injection method to use.

    Notes for ALL injection types:
    How to hold struggling chicken still

    • To minimize wiggling, you can lay the chicken on its back or partly on its side and gently hold it between your thighs. (See the Rooster Spurs page for additional photo.) This position calms most birds after a few moments. It is best if you have a footstool to prop your feet up on.
    • At the injection site, spread the feathers apart so you have clear access to skin.
      • Do not twist large feathers out of place too much. The base of the quill of a feather is attached under the skin, and too much twisting will cause pain, damage & bleeding under the skin.
      • You can dampen the fluffy feathers around the spot where you are going to inject, so they don't float around as much. This will REALLY help you see through the feathers down to the skin better, which is especially helpful with subcutaneous injections. Use a spray bottle to lightly mist the feathers, or a damp cloth.
      • You can choose if you want to try to clean area with alcohol--Many people don't. If you do, the bird will likely feel a sting from the alcohol when you poke a needle through the skin.
    • The tip of a needle is slanted. For least damage and pain, rotate the needle so the longest edge of the tip is angled toward the place on body where the needle will go in.
    • To minimize soreness and any scarring, try to avoid giving injections too often in one location. Alternate giving one time on left side, next time on right, etc.
    SUBCUTANEOUS injection
      • Least painful for chicken (Chicken's skin layer sensitivity is different from humans'). Slowest and most even rate of absorption. Possibly lower potency during distribution. Distributes medicine over longest period of time. Can be a little tricky to do--It can be hard to find a spot with loose enough skin.
      • Good locations:
      • EASIEST LOCATION: Just in front of the bird's leg or in the groove just inside the front of the leg. Push the leg a little forward to help skin in area to be loose. You can lay the bird on its back & gently grip
      • In the lower third of the back of the neck.
          • Do not twist the base of large feathers around too much, nor poke the needle into the base of a feather.
          • Be sure the needle points more forward than down, to avoid poking the lungs are located in the body below the neck.
        • Near the underside of the wing in the bird's "wingpit" (similar to armpit).
          • Be careful to not pull really hard in this area, or muscles & membranes can get damaged.
      • How to inject: Gently grab loose skin & feathers between your thumb and forefinger. Lift the "pinch-hold" at an angle slightly away from chicken's body to create a little "tent" of empty space under the raised skin.
          • CAUTION: Do not pull feathers or skin away from the bird really hard, or you will tear the connecting membranes beneath the skin and cause internal bleeding.
        • Look for and try to avoid hitting any veins, tissues or masses.
        • Poke the needle just through the skin in line with the "ridge" of the "tent" (If you poke across the "tent", the needle will likely poke out of the skin on the other side.
        • Before pushing in medicine, pull the syringe's plunger backward a tiny bit to check to make sure you have not accidentally hit a vein.
        • If blood appears in the syringe, withdraw the needle, and try for a different spot that isn't close by. (If you try to use a spot close to the first spot, medicine may leak out of the chicken's body through the first puncture hole.)
        • Slowly depress plunger until dose of medicine you want to give is administered. (Watch measurement marks on side of syringe, or fill syringe with only desired dose.)
      • When you withdraw: Pull the needle out quickly and press a finger on the injection site. Gently massage the area for a minute or two to help spread medicine away from the hole and minimize leaking of medicine.
    INTRAMUSCULAR injection
      • Easier to find good injection site. Likely to cause muscle soreness: may cause limping if injection site is in leg, or some reluctance to move or eat if in neck. Rate of absorption of medicine is faster than with subcutaneous injection but slower that with intravenous injection.
      • If giving injections into a muscle (such as breast), alternate between giving in the muscle on left side of body one day, and the one on the right side the next day. This will help minimize muscle damage that can commonly happen with injections, and also reduce soreness.
      • Good locations: About 1/4 inch deep in the muscle in the chicken's thigh, or in the breast muscle a little to the left or right of the center bone (keel bone).
        • Note: The breast muscles are further toward the tail of the chicken than you might think. With your finger, follow the 'V'-line made by the top of the chicken's ribcage in the middle of its chest. The dip point in the center is the tip of its keel bone. The breast muscles where you want to inject are the area BELOW that point, as you move down the chicken's body.
      • How to inject: Insert end of needle about 1/4 inch deep in the muscle. Pull the syringe's plunger backward a tiny bit just prior to injecting. If blood appears in the syringe, withdraw the needle, and try for a different spot.  Then slowly depress plunger until dose of medicine you want to give is administered. (Watch measurement marks on side of syringe, or fill syringe with only desired dose.)
      • When you withdraw: Pull the needle out quickly and press a finger on the injection hole for a minute to prevent leaking of blood or medicine. Gently press down and massage muscle to help medicine spread well and to help minimize soreness.
    INTRAVENOUS injection
      • Integrates medicine very quickly into chicken's system, but maintains it there for only short period of time. Higher risk of medication overdose. Needle insertion is painful to chicken and may cause soreness. Risk of excessive bleeding and vein damage.
  8. Clean up supplies.
      • You can clean and re-use a syringe, and a needle that is used only to draw medicine from a bottle (unless you are using a medicine that reacts with water).
        • Rinse them out immediately after initial use. Prior to re-use, disinfect by drawing rubbing alcohol into syringe then attaching needle & squirting some inside it, and dribble some on outside of needle. Let soak 15 mins. Then rinse out with water so no alcohol remains to cause sting.
      • It is not generally advised to re-use needles used for injection, because of the  risk of accidentally mixing medicines, spreading disease between birds, & bacterial contamination; plus the needle tip gets dulled each time it's inserted and a dull tip is painful and more likely to cause damage to the chicken's body.
      • Safeguard against accidental punctures from used needles, immediately after injection.
        • Put the needle cover back over the tip, or tape masking tape over the tip. Put needle in a semi-rigid container (such as a yogurt container) that you have labeled "Used Needles". Tape it shut and throw it out with your normal trash.