Owning chickens is often a joyful experience but sometimes, as with everything, something goes wrong and you can end up very worried about your pet. When a chicken loses an eye, it is absolutely natural to wonder whether they can cope with this loss. Well, we’ve got some good news for you, and this is what you need to know.
Yes, a chicken can live with one eye, a missing eye ought not to necessitate any such intervention, though the life that the chicken leads with a single eye may not be problem free. In fact, a chicken can also survive if it is fully blind but that may require you to offer additional assistance to help it navigate day-to-day life.
If Your Chicken Injures An Eye What Should You Do?
It’s important to realize that not every eye injury to a chicken has to result in blindness and, in fact, if you discover your chicken has a problem and treat it effectively, you may be able to salvage their sight.
The best thing you can do with an injured eye is to keep it sterile (to prevent infections) and to help promote healing. This is both easily and cheaply done. Get some iodized table salt (the cheap stuff – you don’t need Himalayan Rock Salt here which might well hinder rather than help) and dissolve ¼ of a teaspoon in some warm (but not hot) water.
Then use it to clean and wash the eye. Repeat as necessary. If you feel it is necessary, you can also consult a vet.
Total Blindness In Chickens – The Symptoms And Signs
If a chicken loses sight in both of its eyes, it’s fair to say that things are going to be rather harder for it and most chicken owners that choose to continue caring for a blind chicken, will tend to separate it from the flock and keep it in its own, hazard-free, environment.
Over time, most blind chickens will find themselves adapting to their environment and rather like blind people, they can lead long (for a chicken) and healthy lives.
If you think your chickens might be completely blind, then you should see some or all of these warning signs:
- The chicken often appears lost
- The chicken keeps walking into visible objects
- The chicken seems to peck at empty air a lot
- The chicken starts to become clumsy
- The chicken is depressed
- The chicken becomes lethargic
- The chicken has obvious problems with their eyes
To test if a chicken is blind in an eye – you simply move your finger very slowly toward the affected eye. You can’t rush this because the chicken can sense rapid motion due to the current created in the air when you move quickly.
If they don’t flinch as the finger draws near the affected eye, it is almost certainly blind.
It is worth noting that some chickens are genetically prone to blindness and this defect cannot be treated but it doesn’t have to mean the end of the chicken’s life, if you are prepared to care for it.
Why Might A Chicken Lose An Eye?
While it is not impossible that a chicken loses an eye due to disease, it is highly unlikely. There are two major causes of eye loss in chickens:
- Other chickens. Chickens, and especially roosters, are known to fight each other and when they fight – it can be very rough, indeed. Feet flying, spurs and claws tearing, beaks pecking, and in the heat of the moment, injuries are all too common. There’s no better injury, from a purely evolutionary point of view, than one that puts your opponent at a huge disadvantage and thus, eyes are very likely to come under fire in these fights. Anything from scratches to the eyeball to a burst eyeball is possible and might lead to blindness in that eye.
- Predators. Weasels, in particular, but any rodent, bird of prey or other predator can end up messing with your chickens. This is why it’s very important to ensure that your chickens are properly protected, you need to make certain that the coop is fully secure to avoid this – a weasel can get through the slimmest of cracks and then it’s often death and mutilation incarnate for your poor birds.
Chickens fighting might be a fairly normal occurrence but if you find that one of your chickens is a complete bully, you might want to separate them from the others and possibly, on a permanent basis.
Most groups of chickens are like a family and accidents happen when families roughhouse with each other but sometimes, a chicken (or a rooster) gets a real taste for lashing out and that’s when you need to step in to prevent future injuries to your pets.
What Problems Might Come From A Chicken Losing An Eye?
Chicken eyes are very different from human eyes and that means the problems that a chicken faces when it loses an eye are often more substantial than those faced by a human being too. If you are aware of these issues – you can watch for them but there’s not much you can do for a chicken that has gone blind in an eye than be patient and let them learn to compensate.
A chicken’s eyes are huge compared to ours. They take up around 10% of the real estate on a chicken’s head! That means each eye is 5% of the space and when one is lost, that’s a big chunk of head that no longer works.
Those big eyes give chickens crazy good peripheral vision. Human beings have peripheral vision (if you want to test yours just hold your hands in front of you and then move them apart – at the same rate – until you can barely see them, that’s the angle of your peripheral vision and it’s about 170 degrees from hand to hand in most people). Chickens, on the other hand, can see for an incredible 300 degrees!
So, if you think your chicken has eyes in the back of its head, it doesn’t but its peripheral vision is not far off, either. This allows chickens to be aware of potential predators and scarper when a threat arises. A half-blind chicken loses much of this field of view.
They can use both eyes, as we do, to build up a 3D image of the world, or they can use them separately – each eye concentrating on a different task. Again, if a chicken loses an eye, they lose this neat trick too.
Oddly, they can also sense whether the light is on or off without their eyes! Their pineal gland (which is also in their head) does this for them. This means that no matter how blind a chicken is – it can tell when it’s night or day and even the transition between seasons.
Another peculiarity of chicken vision is that their right eye is near-sighted and their left far-sighted. They say this is due to the way that the fetus develops in the egg prior to hatching. However, as you can imagine when a chicken loses an eye – it becomes permanently near or far sighted too.
The most obvious problem you will encounter with a chicken that goes blind in one eye will be walking in circles and sometimes a complete loss of balance. This is very normal, and you should expect them to take 2-3 days to get used to their loss and start making changes in their behavior to compensate.
Can a chicken live with one eye? Yes. You may find that the chicken exhibits signs of distress and unusual behavior after losing an eye and their vision will never be quite right again (particularly given the different focal distances of the eyes) but after a day or two, they ought to calm down and start learning to compensate for the loss.
Of course, some chickens will find this transition easier than others but unless they stop eating or otherwise appear to be ill or deeply stressed, you should allow them to work through the process. If things do deteriorate, however, you should talk to your vet for advice.