UPDATE - I am editing my original text with information we've learned of the past few days. However the same "ignorance disclaimer" still applies:
My wife and I decided we wanted to raise chickens. We are not yet ready to begin, but some friends were leaving on vacation and asked us to house sit and care for their chickens while they were away; it seemed the perfect learning opportunity! Unfortunately one of the hens has fell ill and we're not at all experienced in ANYTHING chicken, let alone dealing with illness or injury. Our friends are out of reach and so I have no background information to share. But I will present all the pertinent information I can.
Apologies for the length - but more info is better than too little.
ENVIRONMENT: This is an open, one-acre plot in a suburban setting with 16 chickens (various breeds) and 5 runner ducks. All cohabitate in the same coop. Quail are the only wild birds that frequent the yard. This is southern Idaho, and the weather has been cool, wet and very breezy for several days. Hawks are in the area, but do not typically hunt in the yard. There has been no evidence of ground predators.
The night of 3/17 I was putting the chickens to bed I found this hen her huddled on the ground outside the coop with a fresh wound on her comb. I tried to get her to move, but she only took a few hobbling steps, it appeared that one leg and one wing were not working. Not knowing any better I put her in the coop out of the way of the others and put them to bed. The next morning (3/18) we found a cage we could put her in, inside the coop, so she could still be near others, but not be pecked or have her personal food and water disturbed. She was still listless and did not go out of her way to eat and drink. She had a repetitive head shake as well. We began our chicken health research project in earnest.
1) What type of bird , age and weight (does the chicken seem or feel lighter or thinner than the others.)
I *think* she's a heritage Rhode Island Red. She's golden in color though, but the markings match. She looks almost exactly like this: [deleted RIR picture link as it keeps hanging up my edits for moderation review.]
Age unknown. She is an active layer (until this incident) and not a chick from last season as far as I know. So that would make here between 1-3.
2) What is the behavior, exactly.
- Listless. 3/19-3/21 She can move but definitely prefers not to. 3/22-3/24 she has show a significant desire to move, but cannot move a lot. Each day we take her on "walks" when she gets antsy in the house crate. Each day she goes farther,but she's had declines in the past 18 hours. 3/24 PM UPDATE - We got her drinking vitamin water again, after a morning's rest she wanted to walk a little so we let her hang out in the grass. She's weaker today, but hadn't been eating or drinking... until now!
- Limping: 3/19-3/21 This has progressed in a positive direction in the past almost 48 hours. The first night she seemed to have no use of one leg and one wing. Today, in handling her, she has stood up on both feet under her own power and moved both wings. But she never takes more than 1-2 steps before laying back down. 3/22-3/24 - she can go quite a bit farther in one go, about 10-12 steps. She probably covered 30 feet yesterday. Her wings are in great shape and she doesn't limp as prominently any more, (her left leg is still a bit weaker than the right). But she is too weak to go far and she cannot lift her tail feathers into the air (a constant challenge to keep them poop-free).
- Head Shaking - 3/19-3/21 she has a side-to-side head twitch that seems to be exacerbated when she's not comfortable. 3/22-3/24 - Based on forum feedback and observation I'm quite sure she has a serious concussion. She doesn't eat and drink a lot, her comb (though well scabbed and no infection) is deflated and laying down. I think this (and healing discomfort) cause the head shake that is definitely more prominent when she is perturbed and/or uncomfortable.
- She sits in a hunched fashion with her feathers puffed up, I think more so when she is really not comfortable.
- Eating/Drinking - 3/19-3/21 generally very little. 3/22 - her appetite seems to explode, she didn't drink much 3/23 her appetite greatly diminished, she drank voraciously though 3/24 - appetite gone, reluctant to drink. 3/24 PM UPDATE - Once we switched back to vitamin water, she began drinking very healthfully. Thanks to KayTee we found something she loves to eat: canned corn! We have a few other options, too.
- She sleeps a lot and prefers to be "propped up" with something under her chest to make her more vertical. We made a "chicken wedge" out of folded up towels to help with this.
- Sleeping - She spends 90+% of the day asleep. She prefers to sleep away from the light (light sensitivity).
- 3/24 only [Remedied!] - She had developed a very rapid heartbeat this morning! This coupled with her appetite had us very worried.
3) How long has the bird been exhibiting symptoms? Almost 5 days.
4) Are other birds exhibiting the same symptoms? No, all 15 other hens and five ducks exhibit any abnormal behavior. This (and visible lack of parasites on her) lead me to believe it is not parasites. It sounds like botulism poisoning can cause some of these symptoms, but all birds feed in the same manner on the same 1-acre urban property, so this doesn't seem to be caused by anything ingested.
5) Is there any bleeding, injury, broken bones or other sign of trauma.
The only visible sign of trauma is her comb. The wound has completely scabbed over and [3/19-3/21 there is no obvious sign of discoloration or infection] 3/22-3/24 her comb is becoming more droopy and pale, I think this is due to her eating and drinking very little.
6) What happened, if anything that you know of, that may have caused the situation.
While a failed attack from a bird of prey could have cause a head injury, the visible would was only in one spot on the back of the comb. There is also a wood pile in the yard. Perhaps a branch fell off it and struck her?
7) What has the bird been eating and drinking, if at all.
3/19-3/21 generally very little. 3/22 - her appetite seems to explode, we fed her cooked eggs and some cooked potatoes and bell peppers. She gobbled that down. She showed no interest in dry feed. We tried feed with water, no interest.
We tried mixing egg yolk with feed, she ate around the feed to get at the egg, which was messy, and she didn't like getting raw egg on her. So we cooked eggs fresh for the remainder of the day and she ate that more readily.We mixed vitamin/mineral/electrolyte supplements with her water and she sipped on it all day, but not as much as she was eating. She would both eat and drink out of dishes on the floor. 3/23 - her appetite dropped SHARPLY. We tried tuna with eggs to mix things up and she showed zero interest in it. Also the day before she would peck at her food. The little bit she ate was mostly by hand. She ate almost nothing the entire day. She still refused the mixed water, so we switched back to plain water and she voraciously drank that throughout the day (though we had to hold the tray for her to drink). She got diarrhea. Not surprising with a diet of mostly water. 3/24 she is refusing to eat or drink anything and is almost completely listless. 3/24 PM update - with the switch back to vitamin water and the magic of canned sweet corn, she is eating and drinking again!
8) How does the poop look? Normal? Bloody? Runny? etc. 3/19-3/21 There has not been much (I think due to lack of food/water) but it did appear normal, brown, somewhat solid. Not green, runny or totally absent. But only twice in 24 hours. 3/22 - looked normal, three times. 3/23 - turned into diarrhea, two times, slightly greenish 3/24 - completely white and runny (she basically only drank water for well over 24 hours). Now that she is eating again I will watch to see that it moves back towards normal.
9) What has been the treatment you have administered so far?
Foolishly none the first night - ignorance. 3/20 Starting the next morning and for 24 hours she was in a cage inside the coop with her own fresh bedding, water and feed. 3/21 she was pressed up against the front of the cage and had tipped her water and feed. When we opened the cage she hobbled out and plopped down on the dirty coop bedding outside the cage. It was obvious she did not like the cage at all. It was all we could find in a pinch but rather than force her back in it we let her rest on the coop floor while we headed out to buy a much larger pet carrier. We cleaned and prepped the carrier as a pen in the house (fresh bedding, water and feed dishes). We gave her a warm bath, gently washed the nethers, feeling for signs of a bound egg (nothing that we could tell). We tried touching up the comb but she recoiled a bit so we left it alone. No other chickens had pecked at it and it didn't show signs of infection. She seemed to very much appreciate the bath, she was completely alert and made a few calm noises as we dried her gently in a towel. There was no head twitching. She obviously does not like cages, but we removed the top of the pet carrier (she's not leaping over hurdles at this point) for easy access and she can look over the lip of the carrier into the room. We've set it in the kitchen were we spend 90% of the day anyway so she's not completely alone.She spent a quiet day/night in the pen.
3/22 - her appetite exploded and she was a little stir crazy. We fed and watered her and took her out for a walk on the porch in view of the other chickens who showed a lot of interest from the other side of the fence. She ate heavily and drank electrolyte-mix water in limited quantities.
3/23 - Her appetite fell off sharply and she was not drinking. We switched to plain water and she drank a LOT of it. She was still stir crazy so we put her in the yard with the chickens (supervise, of course). She did a much better job of walking around but quickly grew tired. She napped in the sun, but when cold wind whipped up we brought her back inside. We gave her another bathShe continued to drink a lot of water, but ate very little.
3/24 - today she is not eating, drinking very little, as listless as ever and has a very rapid heartbeat. PM UPDATE - we got her back on the vitamin/electrolyte water in the late morning and her heart rate immediately slowed. By the afternoon she had been drinking very well and started eating again and it is "normal" as far as I can tell!
10 ) What is your intent as far as treatment? For example, do you want to treat completely yourself, or do you need help in stabilizing the bird til you can get to a vet?
We were specifically instructed to take no drastic measures to save hens if something unusual happened. These are empty-nesters with 18 laying animals on the property! They have more eggs than they know what to do with. But we of course don't want any of them to suffer under our watch.
11) If you have a picture of the wound or condition, please post it. It may help. Apart from the scabbed (and now paled) comb, no visible signs exist.
12) Describe the housing/bedding in use. "Rosebud Horse Bedding" kiln-dried wood shavings.
From what we've learned all the signs point to a concussion, and perhaps a very serious one. But for all my searching I can't find information about very serious concussions beyond "contact a vet."
Could this be permanent brain damage? Or does it just take more time than a four or five days?
Things are looking MUCH better this afternoon (3/24). We're still wanting to do what we can for her. Any advice is always welcome! We'll post updates as she HOPEFULLY recovers over the next few days. Thank you all so much!
["Legacy" text from the original post: NOTE - the following commom symptoms/signs of common ailments are NOT present: comb discoloration [this is no longer true, but the others are], foot texture/discoloration, abnormal body temperatures, signs of parasites, respiration difficulties, swelling or discoloration on the face, discharges from eyes, ears or nostrils, distinctly abnormal or absent pooping. We have not probed the cloaca, but we gave her a bath and felt for bulging and tightness due to a bound egg. There was nothing we could detect. ]
Edited by HoopyFrood - 3/24/16 at 2:47pm