Pet chickens come home to roost…
Usually, this space is focused on cats or dogs as is my medical practice, but just for fun today, let’s talk about pet chickens.
Banned by municipal bylaws from the backyards of many urban homes, chickens seem to be finding their way into at least a few livingrooms, sitting in laps and snuggling into chairs. What about the mess? It doesn’t seem possible to litter-train poultry, so inventive crafty-type folks have started producing and selling chicken diapers in a variety of fashionable fabrics. There are at least two websites peddling poultry panties — Pampered Poultry and My Pet Chicken.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not encouraging anyone to adopt a house-chicken. In fact, the issue came to my attention when an infectious disease expert sounded alarm bells about it. Chicken poop is not something you want in your house.
On his internet blog, Worms and Germs, Dr. Scott Weese points out, “keeping a chicken indoors would be associated with a fairly high risk of widespread contamination of the household with bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter, two bugs that cause millions of infections in humans every year.”
Most people won’t need that reminder to put them off, however, there’s a niche market for pet tarantulas and centipedes, why not poultry? Chickens have been kept as pets in rural environments forever. A big old Leghorn named Henrietta was a beloved pet at my friends’ farm when I was a kid and even our parents were sad when she died. She lived in the barnyard and sheds.
There are hundreds of chicken breeds and people raise some of the more exotic strains for show at agricultural fairs or just to enjoy their beautiful colours. No doubt many of these hobbyists have favourites in their flocks they consider pets.
Normally, farmers would not even consider calling a vet for one sick chicken unless there was risk of disease spreading to the whole flock. Now veterinarians are being challenged to treat them as they would pet parrots and it’s not such a new trend. At their conference in 2006, the Association of Avian Veterinarians offered a session on “Diagnosis and Treatment of the Pet Chicken”.
There may even be times when a valued chicken gets sick and is brought into the house for nursing care. There is speculation that this is where the “house-chicken” concept got started – a sick bird is taken in to recuperate and never returns to the yard. The chicken diaper is born.
A young friend here in Trenton recently adopted a scorpion as a pet, a choice I questioned loudly. But at least that scorpion – I forgot to ask its name – lives in a terrarium. It doesn’t roam the house spreading bacteria. Chickens should live in coops, not condos.
Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario