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Thick Saliva + Sudden Death = Infectious?

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 

Went out to care for my hens as usual this morning, and noticed my Coraline was sprawled out in a fluffy lump and did not respond to me as usual, just looked up at me rather than jumping up for treats. Picked her up, and she seemed normal (clear eyes, good color skin, comb, no wounds or injuries, etc.), except she was panting slightly and seemed to have slightly thicker than normal saliva hanging in her open mouth. It was clear, not bubbly or frothy, and not at all an excessively thick or viscus mucus.  I opened her beak and wiped it up on a tissue I had in my pocket, and offered her a drink of the fresh water I had brought out but she was uninterested, but not in any way distressed. The same amount of saliva I had just wiped away was once more in her in mouth so I decided maybe she had a chicken "runny nose" and carried her back up to the house intending to keep her in an enclosure in the basement so she could recuperate in peace. I had just set her in her enclosure when she began thrashing about, and immediately reached back in to get her out thinking she was uncomfortable. Instead she died in my arms. From discovery to death was less than ten minutes.

I am now worried that whatever killed her might be infectious to her remaining 6 sisters. I have sterilized everything of theirs I can and changed their litter, but if it was infectious they are undoubtedly now exposed. They are a completely closed flock, no new birds for years, hardware cloth screens on everything to keep out other birds, varmints and such. No recent change in feed, no moldy straw and fresh water twice a day, or more depending on how cold it gets. I do keep a quartet of ducks but they are not kept near to each other, their supplies are kept separate, and the ducks have also been kept separated from other critters by hardware cloth. These are the only poultry that I ever interact with so it couldn't have come from another flock. I don't think it would be from too little ventilation as this is the same coop she's been living in her whole life without issue. Coraline was old, we can't remember if she would be 9 or 10 years old this spring, and most things I can find online about chicken disease symptoms refer to decreased laying or soft shelled eggs, when I don't think she's laid an egg in a years. Yesterday she was her normal shelf, no coughing, sneezing, lack of appetite, diarrhea, or other symptoms I often see listed.

Could it have been just an old chicken's time to go, or does anybody recognize these symptoms (or lack thereof), of something contagious? Just wanted some kind of input so I'm not sitting around waiting for more chickens to die if I could be doing more for them. Its hard when you've kept a friend for almost a decade and then she dies without you being able to help her.

post #2 of 3

I'm sorry for your loss :hugs

Hopefully someone with more experience than I will give their input.

I can't say whether or not it was contagious or not. But given her age and your chicken keeping practices I would have to say her death was most likely age related. This is my line of thinking: When you found her she was "sprawled out in a fluffy lump and had saliva..." I think  she had experienced a seizure or some sort of system failing  before you came in and you were finding her coming out of it. Chickens try to hide any type of illness, so she would have tried to respond to you as normally as she could. The last episode was most likely a seizure or pardon me for lack of better words "throes of death".

It sounds like you are very attentive to your flock, so just keep an eye and ear out for any signs of sneezing, wheezing or congestion, etc. so if it were an illness you can address it quickly.

Hope this helps.

post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 

On the off chance that someone is looking for help with a similar situation, I would like to add to my earlier post.

Two more of my chickens have now died. I wasn't there for either Alice or Merry Gold's passing, but my neighbor tells me she saw Alice die from her kitchen window.  Apparently she was scratching in the dirt in the day pen with her sisters, then sat down to rest, then began thrashing about and was dead by the time my neighbor ran over to check on her through the enclosure.

I couldn't tell if either of them had thicker than normal saliva since I was at work and didn't get to them till they had been deceased for a good while. I've been watching my girls very closely but there is nothing wrong with them that I can tell, no signs of sickness or distress. Alice was from the same hatch as Coraline, about 9 or 10 years old but Merry would have been 5 years old come April, not very likely to have died from old age.  I still don't know what is going on, but if anybody has any ideas I would appreciate any input.

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