WARNING! Somewhat graphic photos! NOT for the squeamish! (this is a very long and detailed post. It is for educational purposes.)
It all started July 17, 2013. I had my 10 week old pullets outside in their cage so they could get some fresh air, grass, and bugs. I went out at about 9:00am to check on them. I noticed that one of my pullets was violently sneezing and shaking her head, then she was running around and acting like normal, so I didn't think much of it. I went out 2 hours later and she wasn't at all herself. She was huddled in a corner of the cage with her head down and her eyes closed. I got her out again and this time noticed she had yellow mucus coming out of her beak. I brought her into the house and we started looking her over. We noticed she was holding her neck in an s shape with her head tucked close to her body, and when we were looking in her mouth she had a lot of mucus build up and she was gurgling. My dad said that she was showing all of the signs of choking that humans get, so she must have something stuck. We tried squirting tiny amounts of water into her beak to try and get whatever we thought was stuck to go down, but the water just kept coming back up like she couldn't swallow it. Then we thought to try olive oil, thinking it would help make it go down. The olive oil seemed to calm her and it went down okay, but she still seemed like she had something stuck. She continued to hold her head in that weird position, no matter what we tried. I thought maybe we should try gently massaging her throat to try and get what was "stuck" to go down. While my mom was massaging her throat she kept gurgling, and when we tried looking in her mouth again she let out a very loud scream. We thought maybe whatever it was finally came un-lodged and went down. That night she was preening and jumping around again, so we let her be.
The next day Sunni was rapidly declining, and we couldn't figure out why. We looked her over again. The only thing that seemed different was that her tongue was way back in her throat. All you could see was just the very tip of it. We tried giving her some watered down feed thinking maybe it would help give her some energy to help fight off whatever was going on, but we couldn't get any food to go down. We started to think she tried to eat a wasp and got stung in the throat, and that was why her esophagus and larynx seemed so swelled. We almost put an end to her misery because she was clearly in a lot of pain and wasn't improving. I went on BYC and did some research, and someone told me to try pureeing boiled egg and yogurt and syringe feed it to her. That seemed to go down okay, and she started gaining more energy. We fed her about 20cc of mixture every two hours, and that evening she started to improve.
(A picture of Sunni three days after she first started showing symptoms)
We continued to feed her the egg mixture every two hours for a week. She seemed to be getting better. On July 24, 2013 we noticed her tongue was severely swelled and was turning a sickly grey color, and she was getting these yellow/brown cheese looking spots on her tongue. Back to BYC I went, desperate for answers. I came across Wet-Fowl Pox, and all of her symptoms were an exact match. The sneezing, the mucus, the swelling in her tongue, the really smelly breath and some swelling in her esophagus. All of the threads I found said to try wiping her tongue with tiny amounts of Listerine on a q-tip to get the pox off of her tongue. We did that twice a day for several days and it didn't seem to be helping her in any way, and it was very painful for her to have us messing in her mouth.
(Sunni 13 days after she started showing symptoms)
We started feeding her ground up chick starter mixed with water. We did that for 5 weeks and she never got worse, nor did she get better. She spent all day, every day, running around the yard picking for bugs and trying to eat dirt. Everything she tried to eat would get stuck in the front of her beak. She couldn't even drink water on her own because of the massive swelling in her tongue. We switched her to tube feeding because she was having such a hard time swallowing, and that seemed to help her. But it was still so frustrating. She never got any better, when all of the threads on Fowl Pox said she should have after 5 weeks. It had been 7 and a half weeks since she first got sick.
Back to the computer we went, (August 31, 2013) and my mom looked up Trich (cankers) thinking maybe that's what it was. That wasn't it. Other than the gunk on her tongue, her symptoms were nothing like Trich. We searched more on Fowl Pox, and found that in order to get the pox off of her tongue, you had to be persistent, and use Listerine and iodine every day until the problem went away. As we were in the process of cleaning her mouth with the Listerine, some of the gunk on the side of her tongue came off. My mom was the one swabbing her and she said, "It looks like her tongue is being strangled by this stuff." A minute later when she was trying to get more stuff off of her tongue, there was a pop and my mom dropped something and covered her mouth and said, "OMG!!! Her tongue just came off!" I couldn't believe it. I started crying and I just couldn't stop. There on the floor laid Sunni's tongue. Once I pulled myself together we cleaned her mouth good with a wet paper towel. My mom was looking at her tongue and taking pictures so that I could post them on BYC to give an update on Sunni's condition. That's when my mom found the string. It turns out this whole time it was a string suffocating her tongue. That explains every single one of her symptoms, and why she never improved. Her tongue turned grey because it died. It never fell off because there was still a tiny tiny amount of blood-flow traveling through the part that the string was wrapped tightly around. Below are some pictures of her tongue to better explain what was going on.
You can see where the tissue died and broke off on the back of her tongue, and you can also see the plaque that her tongue is still covered in, and you can see how tightly the string was wrapped around her tongue. We think when she tried to eat the string, it got tangled around her tongue. Her trying to swallow more stuff after that, made the string pull tighter and tighter around her tongue. Which explains why her tongue was so far down the back of her throat those first couple days, and why she was holding her head in the weird position. The string was already so tight around her tongue, and if she moved her head at all it would pull tighter. We also think that after about two days the part of the string that was down her throat finally broke. Which would explain why she was suddenly able to hold her head up, but why she still couldn't eat. It also explain why after two long months, she never made any improvements. I can only imagine the severe pain she must have gone through all of this time. After doing more research I have learned that chickens can easily survive without a tongue. She may have to eat wet chicken feed the rest of her life, but she should at least be able to eat on her own.
I learned a very important lesson today that I want to share with all of you. NEVER leave any string of all shapes and sizes where your chickens can get it. NONE. After doing more research, I have found several stories of chickens who tried to eat string and they lost their tongues from it. It is something that can and should be prevented. Sunni has had an extremely painful two months, and I don't want anyone else's chickens to go through the same thing. I found out today while I was outside that the string that Sunni tried to eat was from a towel that I used to cover a corner of their outdoor cage for shade. At least I know not to use it anymore.
(Sunni on the far right. Having a good time free ranging with some of her sisters. This picture was taken three days before we found out the cause of all of this.)
Today (October 4, 2013) she laid her first egg at 21 weeks and 5 days old.
Eating is still a huge struggle for her, but she is learning. She is my little miracle chicken.