Chicken Emergencies: Ascites


Warning: Photos are not for sensitive viewers

Several years ago, I was given an 18-month old Gold Laced Wyandotte. The previous owner, who had had her for 9 months, said she had only ever laid a handful of eggs. In the 4 months I had her I don't know if she ever laid. She appeared healthy (beautiful feathers, red comb), ate, drank and ran around.

One day I saw her in the nest box and was excited that she was finally going to start laying. My optimism was premature because later, when I went to check, there was no egg. The next day she had the classic 'penguin stance' of an egg bound hen.

I did an internal exam and no egg, so I wondered if she was an internal layer. If so, her prognosis wasn't good. I put her in the infirmary for a couple of days and when it was clear she wasn't getting better I decided to euthanize her. I’m both squeamish and not skilled in that department, so I asked my friend Thomas if he would help.

He did, and took some post mortem photos of what he found.

She's the one on the right. It’s clear that she had ascites (fluid retention), which made her appear robust and healthy, and when I picked her up, a normal weight. Once punctured, he found that she was full of a dark liquid and was just skin and bones. I wonder how long would it have taken to have that much fluid build up.

Her liver was normal, but all her internal organs seemed small. The dark liquid had a bad smell, but not overpowering.

The last photo shows a clump of hard pebble-like things. Are they cysts or tumours? Anyone else have experience with this? I am interested to know what she had and if the cause was genetic or a disease. If the latter, all my other birds were fine and so were the birds of her previous owner. Clearly something was wrong for a long time if she only ever laid a few eggs.

It’s the only case of ascites I’ve seen and obviously a symptom of something much more serious.
About author
I live on a small Gulf Island in the Pacific Northwest off the the coast of British Columbia.

I've kept chickens for the last 9 years and although I have some purebreds I love to breed crosses that look interesting (i.e. crests, muffs, beards, frizzles, patterned, spangled, etc) and also lay coloured eggs.


Article information

Last update

More in Member Pages

More from skullgrrrl

Share this article

Top Bottom