Big Head is a young rooster who was brought to see Dr. Rebecca Gounaris at the Pleasantville Animal Hospital of Fallston for frostbite following a recent cold snap. Although all chickens are susceptible to frostbite, breeds with large single combs and wattles like Big Head are more at risk. When exposed to extreme cold, the body will respond by constricting blood vessels, and so more distal aspects of the body will not receive decent blood flow, causing those tissues to freeze. In chickens, this is their combs, wattles, toes, feet and legs.
Affected areas of the comb and wattles will turn white with superficial frostbite and black with deep frostbite. The black color is indicative of tissue death/necrosis. Blistering may also occur. It can take several weeks before the full extent of damage is determined and if the affected tissue will heal or die and fall off.
Big Head’s case was a severe case of frostbite, since the tissue along the top of comb and edges of his wattles were black. Parts of his comb were blistering. Dr. Rebecca prescribed carprofen to help with the pain, antibiotics to help prevent infection which can occur within blistering or exposed tissue, and pentoxifylline to help improve circulation of blood to the distal tissues in the hopes of saving as much as his comb and wattles as possible. There is a good chance Big Head will eventually lose the tips of his comb but since he started treatment early it may help reduce the amount of tissue loss.
Since it will take several weeks for Big Head to recover, Big Head will need to be kept somewhere where there will be no risk of re-exposure to freezing temperatures. Dr. Rebecca recommended applying ointment such as silver sulfadiazine (SSD cream) or aloe vera to help provide some relief and promote circulation. Since his comb will be very sensitive, it will need to be applied very gently.
The most important aspect of frostbite is prevention. If you live in an area where temperatures dip below freezing in the winter then steps should be taken to properly winterize your chicken coop and run. Applying emollients such as Vaseline to the comb will not prevent frostbite. Providing adequate shelter during winter by preventing drafts and excess humidity will go a long way. If you live in an area with particularly harsh winters, you will need to take additional measures such as insulating your coop and if electricity is available, providing a safe heat source (not heat lamps). For additional ideas, tips and information on winterizing please refer to our ‘Infographics’
Follow Dr. Rebecca on Instagram at @beccawithchickens
Pleasantville Animal Hospital of Fallston, located in Fallston, Maryland, is a family-owned, full-service hospital that provides veterinary services for dogs, cats and birds. Their expertise in the field now spans over three family generations, and they are very proud of this unique heritage. The hospital has an in-house laboratory, allowing for rapid diagnostic testing for critical care patients, digital radiography (xrays), surgical suite, and an on-site pharmacy. Dr. Scott Gounaris has been practicing veterinary medicine for 35 years and founded Pleasantville Animal Hospital in 2002. His daughter, Dr. Rebecca Gounaris, now works alongside him, and they approach each case as a team.
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About Dr. Rebecca Gounaris
Dr. Rebecca L. Gounaris is a small animal and backyard poultry veterinarian at Pleasantville Animal Hospital of Fallston in Fallston, MD. She is a 2016 graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to her lifetime love for cats and dogs, she has a deep passion for birds and participated in externships at several exotic veterinary clinics during her senior year. She worked for many years at Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research in Newark, DE, where she formed the foundation of her career caring for birds in need. Dr. Rebecca acquired her first flock of chickens in 2019 and has completely fallen in love with backyard poultry. She now has close to 30 chickens (yes, they all have names) that live on her wooded property in PA, where she lives with her husband, Brandon, and baby boy, Ezra. One of her greatest ambitions is normalizing medical care for backyard poultry.
About Dr. Scott Gounaris
Dr. Scott Gounaris graduated from the University of Florida Veterinary School in 1982. His lifetime love for animals drove him to choose veterinary medicine as he wanted to help animals that could not help themselves. Dr. Scott Gounaris enjoys the teamwork that we and the pet owners employ to work together for the welfare of their pets. The greatest reward for him is a positive outcome for his patient and their owners. With over 40 years of experience in the veterinary field, Dr. Scott Gounaris has seen it all. Prior to opening Pleasantville Animal Hospital of Fallston, he worked for his father, who was also a veterinarian. Now the father of a recent veterinary school graduate, a current veterinary school student, and a college undergraduate, he has shared his love of the profession with the next generation of Gounaris doctors.