Domestic dogs account for the majority of backyard chicken losses. They’re often the most overlooked predator because of their status as pets. But any dog, no matter its size, may pose a threat to chickens.
Please note that this doesn’t mean all dogs do pose a threat. In fact, many individual dogs and various breeds make fabulous livestock guardians.
Other than these few trustworthy canines, exercise precaution around new or unfamiliar dogs, whether they have a great reputation or not. Domestic dogs with a high prey drive will kill for sport. Feral dogs, on the other hand, are more likely to consume their prey.
Many dogs that attack chickens do so out of play, rather than with the intention to kill. There are also some dogs that will chase chickens relentlessly, forcing them into dangerous situations, causing injury, heart attack and/or death without meaning to.
Canine Calling Card
Domesticated dogs will often strike during the day. Dogs usually continue their killing spree until all of the birds in a flock are dead. However, you may find some that have survived a dog attack.
These birds will likely be fatally wounded and should be humanely dispatched as quickly as possible. Since many dogs that attack chickens kill for sport, the telltale signs of a canine presence can be pretty clear:
- most, if not all, of the chickens dead or fatally injured
- bodies scattered around the enclosure haphazardly
- chickens with broken necks
- a very big mess, with blood and feathers everywhere. Surviving chickens may have large puncture wounds, broken legs or wings or skin pulled off.
- chickens mauled but not eaten
- torn fencing where the dog has gained access
- holes dug under fencing where the dog has gained access
- whole eggs missing or empty shells in and around the nests
If a dog attacks your flock, it’s important to remember a few things. First, it isn’t the dog’s fault. The dog was simply acting on instinct.
As the flock’s keeper, it’s your responsibility to keep your birds safe. It’s the dog owner’s responsibility to monitor his or her pets and keep them on leash or in their own yard or home. If the attack occurs by another person’s dog, rather than your own, report the incident to your municipality’s animal control department. While rules vary from city to city, the dog’s owner is likely responsible for reimbursing the cost of your lost birds, damaged fencing and other financial losses you may have incurred.
Finally, if any of your chickens should survive a dog attack with little apparent physical injury, remember that they’ll still be suffering from the severe stress and trauma of the event. They’ll likely cease laying for a while, from a few days to several weeks.
Watch them closely for other signs of distress and minimize stressors in and around the coop for several weeks following the attack.
Your Flock’s Defenses
You can protect against dog attacks in much the same way you would against coyote attacks: Erect tall, secure fencing, bury fencing or mesh along perimeters, or use electric netting for pastured birds.
Exercise a few extra precautions when protecting your birds against man’s best friend. If you own one, first determine if your own dog is trustworthy around poultry. Stay on top of his training and be consistent. If need be, take measures to keep your pup and your poultry separate.
Next, speak with neighbors about their dogs and any stray dogs you encounter in your neighborhood. Share your concerns with neighbors in order to reach an agreement and report stray animals to your municipality’s animal control division.
Domestic and feral cats appear to be smaller than most standard-sized chickens, but don’t be fooled. Cats may consume young chicks in their entirety or attack larger birds that are sick, injured, isolated or unaware. Of all the predators on this list, cats pose the least threat to a flock of adult chickens.
But this doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.
Once in a great while, a very hungry feral cat, a large house cat or a particularly bold feline will take on a grown chicken. If the chicken is a bantam or rather petite, the cat has a better chance of causing some real damage.
However, the true danger that cats pose is really toward small chicks. House cats, in particular, find squeaking, chirping, flying chicks to be alluring “play things,” and they won’t waste much time before inflicting potentially fatal wounds.
Cat Calling Card
Domestic and feral cats hunt for both food and sport. The remains from a cat attack may indicate either or both scenarios. Consider a cat to be the culprit if you find the following at the scene:
- Dead chicks in a brooder (indoors).
- Dead or fatally wounded chicks around the house (taken from the brooder and played with).
- A large mess, with lots of feathers and bird parts strewn about.
- Muscle and meat of the birds consumed; feathers, wings, head and bones remain.
- Attack occurs either day or night.
Your Flock’s Defenses
Since the vast majority of cat attacks occur in household brooders, the remedy is simple: Secure vulnerable chicks away from house cats. Always. A brooder with a mesh top and solid sides is all well and good, but it may not keep a determined feline from getting in.
Cats especially like to paw at their prey and will easily slip a leg through chicken wire to investigate chicks.
Remember also that cats are nimble and are excellent climbers and jumpers. And, as any cat person knows, they like to pounce.
Ultimately, the best line of defense is a closed door. Keep your chicks in a separate room or part of the house away from the cats entirely. If you are keeping a brooder in a barn, shed or other structure where a mouser lives, consider building a partition or moving the chicks to a more secure area.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Chickens magazine.