Egg peritonitis is NOT incurable! Soft shells and other egg problems - causes and cures

By Luvmy9hens, Dec 1, 2013 | Updated: Dec 1, 2013 | | |
  1. Luvmy9hens
    BACKGROUND: Ellie is a 15 month old "Self Blue Old English" hen that I raised from hatching. The eggs were sent from Cobb's Bantams in Lavonia Georgia and hatched by our beautiful broody hen Zebra Mama. Pics 1 and 2 below - Zebra and Ellie
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    Ellie was happy and healthy and grew into a beautiful little hen who was as faithful and loving as a hen could be.
    Pics below were taken July 2013 Ellie at 11 Months old.
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    Some time in late October at the age of 14 months, Ellie began to spend a lot of time in the coop in one of the nesting boxes. She is such a tiny little girl (400 grams/14 ounces) and was too young (in my opinion) to be going broody! Day after day, I noticed more and more feathers missing especially on her abdomen which was nearly bare in early November. It was then that I brought her inside due to the cold temperatures at night. I knew that Ellie was experiencing her first molt which, in my opinion, was severe. I supplemented her diet with hard boiled eggs for the extra protein needed for feather development.
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    SYMPTOMS: On the night of November 26, I came home to a very sick little hen. Her behavior included hiding, fluffing up feathers, lethargy, and avoiding food (but drinking). Physically, Ellie looked tattered due to her lack of grooming. Her crop was "watery" due to excess drinking, her comb was pale and laying flat, she had abnormal droppings (watery/green), and a stooped posture with a lowered tail. Her abdomen was soft but not grossly enlarged. As I swept the floor, the broom picked up a thick substance in a darkened corner. YUCK! Upon close inspection, I realized that what I had swept up was runny yolk and egg white with no shell. Ellie would not eat, and could barely walk to the closest dark corner where she wanted to hide. I did not believe that she would last the night. The next morning (November 27), she was still alive and needed immediate veterinary services. My husband brought her in to Champlain Valley Veterinary Services where she stayed for 3 days.

    DIAGNOSIS: "peritonitis due to the inability to form a shelled egg".

    CURE: After 2 X-rays to rule out the possibility of being egg-bound, Ellie was treated with baytril 100 and calcium gluconate 10% injections.

    CAUSE: This is something that could have been prevented. I have read several sources that indicate that it is OK to switch laying hens to either chick starter or grower during the molting period to boost protein intake. While the extra protein is beneficial to feather growth, feeds that are meant for developing chicks lack the calcium necessary for laying hens to form egg shells. If the egg (yolk and white) break inside the body, peritonitis can rapidly develop.

    NOTES: While Ellie was staying at the vet hospital, she expelled the soft shell that had broken inside her body on day 2 of her stay. We picked her up on day 3 and are happy to report that she is...acting like a typical chicken! The picture below is the soft egg shell that was expelled after the second round of antibiotic treatments. Notice the blood in the sample.
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    If a hen experiencing ANY of the above symptoms, she needs treatment. While laying a shell-less egg could be a "fluke", it could also be a death sentence for your hen if left untreated. Her behavior and physical appearance should be closely monitored. Birds do hide their illness VERY WELL! Our vet said that peritonitis is NOT a death sentence and the birds do NOT need to be culled. The condition is VERY curable as she has treated many exotic parrots with the same condition. The key here is to catch it early and treat accordingly!!

    WARNING: After treating a chicken with antibiotics, any eggs produced within the first 60 days should not be eaten and the meat should not be consumed at all. This was stated on the veterinarian's bill per New York State law due to the fact that Ellie is a "food animal".

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  1. Luvmy9hens
    YaY!!! I am so very happy that your little girl is improving! Try adding some yogurt to her diet as well. My hens love it! Ellie (as well as the others) will occasionally lay a thin shelled egg and Ellie will sometimes lay a soft shell. I do what I can.
  2. BuffyBugSlayer
    Thanks! I am really trying to get the calcium in her and yesterday and today she laid a thin shelled egg. Not great but a huge improvement over what she has been laying. I am going to keep trying to manage her with extra calcium and see if it makes a difference long term. She such a sweet little thing and I want her to be around for as long as possible. I am watching her for any sign of problems and so far she isn't showing anything. I guess that is all I can do.
  3. Luvmy9hens
    I am still fighting with that problem although it has gotten better. I provide layer feed with Omega-3 supplemented with oyster shell and ground egg shells. I also use "rooster booster" vitamins in the drinking water. There is an occasional soft shell egg and/or thin shelled egg. I keep Ellie indoors for the most part and keep a careful watch on her behavior. She tends to look ill right before laying an egg (tail down, a bit lethargic) but springs back once the egg is out. Since she is an indoor animal (for the most part) she eats what we eat so yogurt and cheese have become part of her daily diet. I try to incorporate dairy rich products - she LOVES broccoli cheddar soup :) I could not cull a healthy hen. It would break my heart. You could try limiting the amount of daylight she receives so that she does not lay on a daily basis. Since Ellie is indoors, she does not wake up at sunrise. She is usually in her nest by 5:00pm. She lays one egg approximately every three days. Keep us posted about your cute little hen and how she is doing!
  4. BuffyBugSlayer
    What if your hen is eating layer feed, has oyster shell available and is still laying shell-less eggs? She has not developed egg peritonitis yet but she lays them daily and I am worried she will! She is my favorite hen and I don't want to cull her.
  5. Luvmy9hens
    Always good to know of a vet who will treat chickens BEFORE you need one!
  6. MaPa26
    Thank you for telling your story. This is our first year with chickens. We had several eggs with soft shells during the first couple of months that they started laying. I couldn't tell which hen or hens was responsible. We did try to make sure they were getting plenty of calcium. If one had gotten sick, I wouldn't have had a clue what was wrong. If one acts like she is sick, I will get her to the vet, ASAP. I know our vet treats chickens. Back last summer, I was there with one of our dogs and I mentioned that we had gotten chickens and he said they see them, too! Good to know, I said.
  7. Luvmy9hens
    So sorry for your loss :( It is difficult when you become attached to the sweet little hens. I was not sure that Ellie would survive but I had to do what I could regardless of the cost. I had previously lost 2 other hens (displaying similar symptoms) over the past year. If this article could help to save the life of just one hen, then my goal was reached.
  8. Nutcase
    Thanks for this interesting article. I lost a hen to egg peritonitis last year.

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