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Frostbites first appear on the extremities of the toes, feet, and, if applicable, the wattles or comb (the points). The worst case scenario would be that the bird goes into shock and die. Frostbitten tissue does not heal or grow back. Frostbites cause the infected parts to stiffen, darken and eventually drop off.
Infection really poses the biggest risk to the birds. Frostbite should be cleaned with warm, not hot, water, and veterinary care should be provided as soon as possible.
Until veterinary care is available, supportive care should be given:
- Thoroughly clean the affected body parts (feet, wattles, etc.) using e a warm (tepid) saline solution.
- As infection is the main problem, treat the wounds regularly with Neosporin (with the pain killer in it) / or a noncaustic iodine. The use of Neosporin should be undertaken with great care and only when necessary (as assessed by a veterinarian). Neosporin is for bacterial infections and if the bird doesn't have a bacterial infection, it also won't be beneficial. There are risks associated with Neosporin:
- Birds may peck at the area that is covered with this ointment and ingest some of the neosporin.
- Ointments spread rapidly across the feathers and coated feathers quickly loose their insulating ability and this can lead to a pet getting chilled.
- Offer the patient unflavored Pedialyte (from the grocery store in the baby aisle) to drink. It will boost his electrolytes.
- Aloe Vera Gel, applied topically, has a soothing and healing effect on the wounds. *NOTE: Even though Aloe Vera is helpful for many birds, some rare birds may have a reaction to Aloe Vera. Spray one of your fngers and touch your bird's foot. Leave for 24 hours and see if an reaction occurs.
- Place the bird in a "hospital pen / cage " to keep him warm and quiet. Provide plenty of fluids. Make sure that the patient is eating well, if not, then tubefeeding may be necessary.
- Keep patients away from other birds until feet / comb / wattles have healed to prevent other birds from picking at him.
NOTE: If you find infected birds outside, make sure to keep the affected areas COOL until you can provide them with a continuous warm environment. The damage can be severe if the affected area is allowed to warm and then to refreeze.
Aviculturists: How to prevent frost bites:
Primarily two things cause frozen combs – drafts and moisture when below freezing temperature conditions exist.
- Eliminate any drafts and keep the moisture level down inside of the coops. If the temperature gets low enough though, there isn’t much you can do other than providing emergency heat.
- Poultry keepers report that massaging Vaseline into your birds’ combs, wattles and feet immediately before an expected cold spell, will prevent them from freezing. Vaseline seals out moisture and drafts – the two main culprits in frostbites. Increasing blood flow by massaging the extremities also has shown some effectiveness.
- House birds together. It will help them keep warmer at night as they huddle together.
- Deep bedding also keeps birds warm through the night. Nesting log / nest-box material: Options are decomposed non-toxic saw dust, corn cob, wood shavings (i.e., Aspen shavings) or other suitable materials. Please note that wood shavings - such as pine, cedar and redwood - give off aromatic hydrocarbons (phenols) and acids that are toxic and can cause dermatitis, allergic symptoms and irritation of the digestive tract. They should not be used in cages, aviaries, or nestboxes. The larger the wood chips the better, so the parents don't feed it to the babies or the chicks accidentally ingest it. Other options for nesting material include shredded paper and clean straw / dried grass.
- Feather Condition: For those with waterfowl, remember to provide a bath for your birds, even in the coldest weather, as it is very beneficial for their feather condition. A good feather condition will enable waterfowl to keep themselves warmer than a bird with poor feathering. A healthy duck is so heavily oiled that the water should never reach their skin. And the act of bathing will encourage them to preen which, in turn, helps with oiling and feather condition. Even wild birds will bathe in the winter, if given the opportunity.
- Overall Health: The most important thing is the general overall health of your birds going into winter. The healthier the birds, the more likely they are to survives. Providing them with a quality feed, a good vitamin, mineral, and probiotic supplement in clean drinking water, and worming them in the fall, will give them the best chance to survive cold winters. Good feather quality and weight is really what will help them pull through the coldest of winters.
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