Help - Listless Hen, Comb Color changed, and beak open?


In the Brooder
10 Years
Aug 23, 2009
Kitsap County, WA
My wife went out to feed the hens this morning and found one of them showing signs of distress.

We have 4 hens, all about 2.5 years old; 3 are RIR and one is a RIR/Buff Orpington cross. So far, they have all been healthy (as far as we know), and not required any special attention. They have plenty of food and water.

Now, one of the RIRs has something wrong. She was sitting listlessly in the dirt, her normal red comb is a purplish color, and she has her beak open a lot as though she is trying to breathe or is really thirsty. I picked her up and she flapped around and hopped back on the ground, and slowly walked off. I could not find any physical injury, and there is no sign of a predator getting into their run. She urinated a small amount a minute or so after hopping back on the ground. She seems to be of normal weight (no noticeable change from usual).

I will do some searching here on BYC for other threads that may help, but I thought it best to post something right away and see if anyone has suggestions. Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.
Visually inspect her for lice/mites. However, purple colored comb could possibly be a blood circulation problem, a heart or heart valve issue possibly failing. If it's not lice or mites, all I can recommend is supportive care at this stage. Hopefully she'll pull out of it......good luck.
Thanks Dawg, I'll check those out. From looking further on BYC I am also suspecting gapeworm or a respiratory infection as possibilities.
For a respiratory issue, put your ear up to her side and listen for gurgling, wheezing, rattling...that is a sign of a respiratory problem. Swollen face/eyes, runny eyes/nostrils, sneezing are possible signs also. If you hear a clicking noise while listening to her side, it's a heart valve going bad.
If she's been eating and drinking, most likely it's not gapeworm. Gapeworm clogs the windpipe, the hen wont eat nor drink. The worms are literally choking the bird and she would be struggling greatly to breathe. If it is gapeworm, treat with valbazen or safeguard liquid goat wormer. Several dosings will be required, gapes are hard to get rid of. Here's pics of gapeworm in the windpipe:

Just did the flashlight inspection, her throat was clear and I did not see anything wormy looking or obstructing the windpipe. She wheezes on both inhalation and exhalation, and so I am suspecting a respiratory infection.

Cenex store nearby carries Terramicin and Sulmet, both water soluble, and the gal there says those are pretty effective for a broad variety of these kinds of infections. So, unless I see something here on BYC saying "don't use those", I will head into town and get some. We are keeping her isolated for now.

Funny how d====d attached you can get to a bird, and how worried you get if she is sick....
I just had the same thing with my Dutch Roo who was only 5 months old. I read posts from multiple people and decided is was a cardiac issue. He was still eating, drinking, and grazing although was not really active and had stoped crowing. He went on like this with his comb color changing from red to purple for almost two weeks. He did die and I know that he had a good life while he was here. It is hard to lose anything but he was very well cared

Hope your girl has something different and she pulls through.
OK, I have some Sulmet 12.5% liquid and have mixed that up per the bottle directions (2T per gallon), along with some vitamin/electrolyte supplement. I am not sure how much the bird is drinking, or will drink, so along with putting this out for her to drink, my wife and I plan to administer the water by dropper to make sure she is getting her fluids.

Any idea how much water a bird this size/age should be getting each day?
My wife helped with the eye dropper, and although the bird was at first a little wary of it, once she got the first squirt or two down her throat, the bird was eager for more, and so we were able to give her quite a few drinks before she seemed to "fill up" and not be as interested in drinking. So I guess we will just keep an eye on her and try to make sure she is getting plenty of her water and also eating something too.

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