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Leg or spinal injury? Hen with trouble walking and standing.

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

I just went out 30 minutes ago to feed the ducks and pigs, and I noticed one of our 4-year old hens (easter egger chicken from tractor supply stock) was 'sitting' near the duck coop. I thought that was odd, so I approached her. This particular hen is named Psycho, because since the time she was a chick she has been an outright spaz, screeches when we get close, and flies like crazy, running when we try to grab her. Although she squawked, she struggled to stand. He entire left side or leg seemed unable to take her weight, so despite her screeches of protest, I picked her up and checked for an injury. There was no blood, but her fenzied pecking and flapping prevented me from checking for swelling or heat in the leg itself. Her feet were dirty, but there was no sign of an injury or infection.


I put her down to see how she stood, and although she put most her weight on her right side, her left leg shook constantly, and she staggered forward a bit. Her tail droops for balance and the feathers are splayed. I tried to move her inside so she could at least eat but she didn't want that, so she staggered outside, tripped, and fell down the stairs, wings flapping. It didn't faze her much, but she mostly lays down when she can't keep her balance any more, 'on her hocks' so to say, but her legs aren't splayed and she isn't falling over so much as losing balance or acting very 'stiff'.


Do chickens get arthritis?


She managed to stagger around a bit, using her tail feathers for balance, legs shaking. I can't be sure if she was injured from a rooster (she's an old, small hen, compared to the big roosters), or if she fell from something, or if it's something worse.


No other chickens are having any issues walking. She has no other symptoms of anything wrong, and has normal poops. She's a crazy old hen who hates to be handled, so anyone have any advice on what we can do for her?




Definitely not paralyzed. My second attempt to check her legs ended up with me getting kicked and clawed at with both legs, so she can definitely move it. She didn't like me feeling her leg. Not one bit. Angry, crazy little bird.


My best guess is she injured it, as of now she keeps falling over trying to rise on that leg and cannot put weight on it. She is acting her usual angry self.


It is cold, wet, muddy, and nasty out. That can't be helping matters, and likely is causing whatever injury she has to stiffen.

Edited by arrowti - 3/24/16 at 3:04pm
post #2 of 15
Psycho is aptly named for sure, LOL. I have an EE similar to her. It really does sound like an injury, but any animal can develop arthritis. I would approach her when she is sleeping tonight and grab her off the roost or floor and transfer her to a crate. Look for swelling in the foot and hock joints, bumble foot on the pad. Put some and water, and some chick vitamins in her water. Leave her there for a week, and let her out close to dark to see if she is better. If not put her back in for a few more days. Older hens if they haven't laid regular, can have internal laying, egg peritonitis, and other problems that may affect their ability to walk, but I would look for an injury since she is such as spazz. Let us know how she does.
Edited by Eggcessive - 3/24/16 at 4:24pm
post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 

All our EE's were flighty but she was the queen of flighting! Thanks for your response.


It wasn't hard to get her with some help as she couldn't run well (she could lunge forward and flap her wings for a few feet), and we brought her to a crate with some nice hay bedding for extra warmth. Her legs didn't feel out of the ordinary, but the hip region did feel warmer than usual, unless it was just because she had been hunched down and laying on them for awhile.


She is not a very happy camper right now. We put her in the crate and I went and got her some food and water, and when I came back I heard loud squawking and flapping wings so I expected the worst - we've lost a few hens in the crate from various things and worried she was dying too. Instead, I found her doing gymnastics in the crate, screaming and lunging for the wall, flapping and bouncing off the sides and doing her very best to get that crate open.


I'm almost certain she's not 'sick', just from that attitude!


I opened it to put the water in and she nearly escaped, in her staggering, tumbling way, but I got her back in and shut the door. She noticed the water and calmed down and just laid there and rested for a bit while I got the food in, though she did try to move and ended up falling and spilling some of the water (fortunately, it splashed outside the crate). I gave her food mixed with some veggies and cracked corn for vitamins and she did finally eat and drink.


I checked on her a little later and she was nice and calm. She even made herself a nice nest in the corner of the cage, wrapped neatly with bedding. Finally. I was worried she was going to hurt herself while she was freaking out.


There are no injuries on her feet, and they don't look swollen, fortunately. I will keep an eye on her for swelling and try and make sure she keeps calm and doesn't make too much a mess. Her wild flailing certainly won't help her leg any, so hopefully she realizes we're just trying to help her and not trying to eat her.


We have 40 hens, and of all the possible hens that could have been injured, it had to be the crazy one!


I do wonder if her injury was from a bad mating, as she is the smallest hen on our farm. I also worry she got stepped on by one of the juvenile pigs, as she sneaks into their enclosure to eat their food and they are very excitable. They like to jump around, and if she wasn't careful, they could have landed on her leg. They aren't aggressive to chickens and seem completely indifferent to their presence, so none of them would have hurt her intentionally.

post #4 of 15
It can take several weeks for a bad leg sprain to heal. Lucky you, LOL. Hips are said to be tougher. A bacterial arthritis such as mycoplasma or staph causes swollen joints, so no swelling is good. I have a hen was attacked by a neighbor dog a few months ago, and she could barely walk. She didn't like being penned up, so I just let her heal being with the rest. She quit limping after a month.
Edited by Eggcessive - 3/24/16 at 5:09pm
post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 

A little update. Unfortunately her clumsy, inability to balance and stand caused her to constantly stagger, flap her wings, and spill her water everywhere. We found her lying in soaking wet bedding, shivering and in a sad state this morning. I dumped out the crate to give her fresh, dry shavings instead of hay (she kept getting her foot stuck and falling), and instead of falling she just slides through the shavings to the plastic surface and flops onto her side. She seems perfectly fine on her side, and just looks around calmly, clucking on occasion. We put her out in the sun to help her dry off and get warm, and I made her a make-shift waterer from a cleaned out soda bottle and a nipple feeder, and attached it with zip-ties to the top of the crate so she can drink without getting soaked.


She wouldn't eat when she was cold but she's eating again now, but not sure if she drank.


I noticed when she lays on her side she splays out her injured leg, and flexes it forward on occasion. Her curls toe when she does and her leg shakes uncontrollably until it relaxes. Probably more likely a muscle strain, than an injury to the bone as I had worried about initially.


No swelling so far.


She's feeling a little better in the sun now that she's drying off. Hopefully she didn't catch a chill from the soaked bedding!


post #6 of 15
Thread Starter 

There was an unfortunate change today. I checked on her and saw her feet were swollen and small brown lumps were appearing (like bumblefoot). They were not there yesterday and I don't see any injuries on her feet. If she had an injury then it must have been extremely small. I did see a pinprick sized hole in her upper left leg, as if she had gotten stabbed with a thorn or something like that.


Now, if this is bumblefoot or something like that, we have unfortunately few choices - our feed stores are closed until Tuesday.


We have Tylan-50 but that is, from what I hear, for respiratory infections.


We also have powdered, Aeromycin(sp?) that we used for a piglet with swollen hocks. I feel the ampicillin would be a better choice, if she has an infection, but I would like some advice on how to use it. Do we put it in her food, or would it be better to soak her feet in a water/ampicillin mixture, and 'cut off' the soft brown lumps? They aren't hard or scaly.


Both her legs now shake constantly.

Edited by arrowti - 3/27/16 at 3:28pm
post #7 of 15

Can you get a picture of the swollen feet with the brown lumps? Bumble foot doesn't appear overnight, and the swollen feet doesn't sound right. Was she vaccinated for Mareks disease? It's not common in older chickens unless they have been recently exposed by a carrier. The pictures will really help.

post #8 of 15
Thread Starter 

She was part of the first flock we ordered from a catalogue at our local Tractor Supply, so I'm not sure if she or the others were vaccinated. The last chickens we added to the flock were Rhode Island Reds from a farming supply place (can't remember the name), and all of them were perfectly healthy - so were the easter eggs and buckeyes we got from the same place earlier than year. That doesn't mean they aren't carriers, but I'm unaware if any of our chickens are vaccinated.


We did not ask for vaccinations so most likely none of them are.


I'm wondering if the lumps are a result of standing on the wet hay for that night - I've known from our ducks that it can cause brown sores and swelling on the feet if they sleep overnight in it, could be the same with her. The shaking comes and goes. She has been unable to stand for the past two days, and although she tries to stand and can move both her legs she has no balance and slips onto her side. Her wings both work properly, evidenced by her viciously flapping when I picked her up to check on her, and she still kicks and scratches.


She has not been eating as much. I have not seen her drink at all so I have been helping her drink by dipping her beak in water until she does - the shaking could perhaps be a result of hunger and thirst, as far as I know.


The pictures aren't the best because the lighting is terrible at night. I can get more in the morning. The brown spots are not hard or scabby and I cannot 'pick' at them in particular when I feel them. They feel like the normal foot skin.


Left Foot:


Right Foot:



I have found some more red marks on her legs today as well as a reddened area on her lower left egg, as though inflamed.


No other chickens in the flock are acting abnormal. She has no neurological symptoms such as head shaking, tilting, or wry neck. Her eyes are clear, her breathing is normal, and she is always fully alert, observant, and behaves healthy.


It's almost as if her legs are giving out while the rest of her body is perfectly fine.


I haven't seen a poop in the past two days though. I'm worried she may have a tumor that is blocking the passage and effecting the nerves in her legs. Pressing and squeezing on the 'swollen' lumps on her feet does not get any reaction other than her annoyance at being held. I can move her legs without her being bothered or even acting as though there is any pain.

post #9 of 15

I don't know what is causing this, but I thought I'd throw in that I strongly doubt it's just leg injury or bumblefoot. I have had several hens with sprained legs and several cases of bumblefoot, and their legs don't shake and they don't have trouble maintening balance as you describe. My guess is that it's neurological, but the underlying cause, I'm not sure. Look forward to seeing better photos. If she were mine, I'd just provide supportive care as you are doing, and wait it out.


Raising chickens, gardening, cooking, foraging for wild edibles, watching wildlife, and blogging about all of that, in and around our One Acre Farm.



Raising chickens, gardening, cooking, foraging for wild edibles, watching wildlife, and blogging about all of that, in and around our One Acre Farm.

post #10 of 15
Thread Starter 

The swelling in her feet has gone down, though the brown spots have turned hard like scabs but there is no noticeable pain in her feet. The tremors in her legs are now randomly occurring but when I pick her up she kicks constantly with both legs, almost like a reflex, like when a chicken is dying. There is a lot of strength in both legs, so much so that I can't hang onto them. She doesn't appear to have any control over them, as she flips and rolls when she kicks like that, so I found it best to minimize picking her up and stressing her.


I decided to check her head out for any injuries, and pressed down on the back of her head, lightly. She squawked, thrashed, pecked at me and everything around her until I stopped. I didn't feel a bump but checking for an injury would be outright impossible with her conscious. The spot seems to give her pain.


That or she hates me touching her head!


What is the outlook for a hen that got a hard hit on the head to the point she lost motor function? If that is what it is (her reaction points to that), what is the timetable between determining whether the damage is temporary or permanent? Laying in a box unable to move towards food and water is not much of a life for her, but I don't want to give up on her if there's still a chance.

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