Keeping chickens means taking care of their welfare and there may be no more disconcerting thought than your flock suddenly perishing because they’ve eaten the wrong thing. Smoking is a filthy habit and worse, is it possible that discarded cigarette butts could harm your chickens?
Chicken Ate A Cigarette? Here’s What To Do: Nothing. Eating a cigarette butt may be an unpleasant thing to think about but there’s not enough nicotine to poison a chicken in one. However, we’ve included the symptoms of nicotine poisoning so you can keep an eye out for them. We’ve also examined some of the other unusual things you might catch a chicken eating and the risks that they post.
Do Chickens Eat Cigarettes?
Chickens are omnivorous and they’re also not very bright. When it comes to what they eat, most chickens make their decisions based on “is this small enough to fit in my mouth” and “does it look tasty?”
So, yes if someone is smoking around your home and then they discard the cigarette butts on the ground, it’s entirely possible that a hungry chicken will start wolfing down the butts.
Chickens don’t really have much in the way of taste buds, so it won’t put them off eating cigarettes in the future, either. Even if they did learn by experience, as we said earlier, they’re just not very clever and it takes a lot of effort to get a chicken to learn anything.
The good news, however, is that if a chicken does swallow a cigarette there’s probably nothing to worry about. Probably.
What Should I Do If A Chicken Eats A Cigarette?
We tried to find cases where chickens had consumed a cigarette butt and suddenly fallen ill, and we couldn’t find a single one.
In most cases, a cigarette butt will simply pass (possibly uncomfortably – we couldn’t ask any chickens for feedback on this) straight through the chicken’s digestive tract and emerge in a fairly unpleasant manner at the other end.
The Impact Of An Individual Cigarette Butt
While it is true the cigarettes contain poisons such as nicotine and tar, an individual cigarette shouldn’t contain enough toxins to cause any lasting damage to your chickens even if they’re young chicks – if they managed to swallow it, there’s no choking hazard (which would be our major concern if very young chicks got hold of cigarette butts).
Clear Your Space Of Cigarette Butts
If you do find chickens munching on cigarette butts, your best course of action is simply to go around and clear up any butts that you find laying on the ground where your chickens are free to roam.
We’d also recommend having a chat with any smokers in your family and explain that while they are free to smoke, your chickens don’t get much choice, and could they please use an ashtray and dispose of their cigarette butts in the bin? This is much better not just for you chickens but the environment as a whole.
Did you know cigarette butts can take a decade or more to fully decompose? Worse, some of the plastic in butts will never decompose. So, it’s best to put them in the bin and not in your yard or any other public space.
What Does Nicotine Poisoning Look Like?
This doesn’t mean, however, that your chickens can eat unlimited amounts of cigarette butts and in fact, there are several recorded incidents where eating cigarette butts has had a toxic effect on the animals involved, such as this report of dying fish which have been exposed to large quantities of nicotine.
In their paper, “Tobacco and cigarette butt consumption in humans and animals” Novotny et al. feel that there may be long-term harm caused by eating cigarette butts such as nerve damage. They argue that the topic hasn’t been explored well enough for us to dismiss it as “risk-free”.
We would acknowledge that the most poisonous chemical involved in cigarette butts is nicotine and that nicotine can cause serious neurological problems in human beings when digested in sufficient quantities. In fact, if a human were to consume enough nicotine they would die.
However, we remain unconvinced that it would be possible to consume enough cigarette butts to cause nicotine poisoning even in a chicken given that there is fairly little nicotine remaining in a discarded butt. The majority is consumed by the smoker.
But for the purposes of full disclosure, these are the common symptoms of non-fatal nicotine poisoning:
- They may feel queasy or vomit
- They will have pain in the stomach
- They may find they produce excess saliva
- The rate of breathing goes up and breath is heavier
- They have an increased heartbeat
- Their blood pressure increases
- They may act, dizzy or confused
These symptoms might be hard to detect in a chicken, but it is likely that a mild-case of nicotine poisoning would be dealt with by their bodies within a couple of hours and the chicken would then return to normal.
A heavy case of nicotine poisoning would give these symptoms:
- They might have diarrhea
- They might have shallow breathing
- They might have a slower heartbeat
- They might have falling blood pressure
- They might act lethargic
- They might have fits or poor reflexes
The good news is that while these might be more distressing for a chicken and its owner, the bird would return to normal within 24 hours.
What Should I Do If I Think My Chicken Has Nicotine Poisoning?
There’s not much that can be done if a chicken does get nicotine poisoning except wait to see if they return to full health. You might want to consult a vet if you’re unsure of the source of the poisoning (a cigarette butt wouldn’t do it but contaminated water with hundreds of butts in it, might).
One thing you should be aware of is that it would be a bad idea to eat a chicken that has died of nicotine poisoning unless you want to risk being nicotine poisoned yourself.
However, we want to stress – there are no recorded cases of nicotine poisoning in chickens and we think it highly unlikely that there ever will be.
Other Unusual Things Your Chickens May Eat And What To Do About Them?
It’s not just cigarette butts that we’ve found chickens are prone to eating and there are a range of other unusual items chicken owners have caught their birds wolfing down. So, we thought we’d investigate the risks of each here:
Buttons are about the same size as a bug and we all know that chickens are quite happy to scoff the occasional beetle. They’re also, often, shiny and attractive – when the sunlight hits the button, it gives off a little glint – the same glint that appears in a chicken’s eyes just before it decides to dine on the button, in fact.
Assuming that there’s nothing in the button which resembles food (which is likely) it’s going to end up passing through the bird and out the other side pretty much in the same state as it went down. Buttons are made out of non-toxic materials to stop children from eating them and dying.
String is roughly the same shape as a worm and chickens love worms for fodder. There’s nothing intrinsically dangerous to a chicken about string but they sometimes might try and eat a long piece of string and when it starts to re-emerge only some of it appears when they defecate and they’re not wandering around with string hanging out the back.
Don’t pull it. But don’t leave it. Pulling it can seriously damage a chicken’s insides and it might get caught on something and get pulled, so you can’t leave it either. Grab some scissors and cut off the bit that’s poking out – the rest will make an appearance at a later date.
We’ve talked in more detail about the issues surrounding chicken’s eating mice elsewhere but, in general, chickens are omnivores. They’re quite safe to eat small animals though it’s not the happiest of endings for the animal being eaten, obviously.
Chickens actually need to eat rocks. They don’t have teeth. So, they can’t cut or grind anything they eat themselves. So, they swallow rocks which get trapped in the gizzard to do the grinding for them. Now, there is a small risk of choking on a rock if they pick one that’s too big – so it can be a good idea to offer some grit near their feeding area to avoid that risk.
Chicken Ate A Cigarette? Here’s What To Do: nothing. We couldn’t find a single recorded case of a chicken dying or even becoming ill from eating a cigarette butt. It’s probably best to ensure they don’t become a regular dietary item, mind you, clean up around where your chickens are to prevent it from happening in the future.
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