Help with Chicken Disease


8 Years
Mar 31, 2016
Ok, a lot has transpired since I originally wrote this post while waiting for BYC to come back up but I'm going to comply and paste my original comments then add in comments at the end.

Hello, thanks in advance for any help or wisdom you can offer. I have one sick hen, Edna. And two others that are acting fine but seem to be having similar effects. And I apologize in advanced for writing a book but I wanted to include all the details I could think of that may help.

Let me start off by giving some background information: we have ten chickens, two are three months old, six are a year and three months, and the other two we got as adults two years ago and do not know anything about their past lives. We have a 12x12 covered outdoor run and three small houses attached to the run. The flock free ranges every evening and weekend and whenever we are home. All the adults eat an all purpose crumbled food from the local feed store (I believe the brand is Rogue or something like that from a co-op about 80 miles away in Oregon). They have free choice oyster shell. This winter was extremely wet. We live at sea level. The chickens in question are Edna (RIR), Edith (RIR), Dottie (Barred rock).

Edna was one of our two original chickens that we do not know the age of. She has been lethargic for about two weeks and last Thursday she started having symptoms of dyspnea (difficult breathing) and I finally realized what was going on with her (I could have kicked myself for not realizing sooner). Her abdomen was full of fluid. The following morning my veterinarian examined Edna and said it was probably some type of cancer that was causing her symptoms and said I should consider euthanasia. Edna still seemed happy, albeit uncomfortable and painful, and had a desire to eat just less than usual. I wasn't ready to give up on her quite yet so we drained her abdomen and her breathing got better. I have been nursing her at home and this is the sixth day since draining her abdomen and she actually had a good day today. Still lethargic and walks very slowly but is eating (she ate pretty well today for the first time) and drinking some and her abdomen is about the size of a baseball now (prior to draining it was about the size of a large grapefruit). I have done a lot of research and found multiple sources that said liver disease or cancers of the liver can cause ascites (fluid in abdomen) so I started her on milk thisle supplement daily and she gets her own special cocktail of organic fruits and veggies all she can eat. I'm not ready to give up on her because she is still fighting to live and wants to be with her family and is happy even though I know she must feel lousy; she's a tough girl. But I still have no idea what's wrong with her.... I would normally agree with my vet on the likely cancer thing, but I found two other hens with swollen abdomens. Edith is Ednas partner in crime and also of unknown age. She has been acting perfectly normal and eating, drinking, and bossing everyone around just like normal but her abdomen is about the size of a baseball as well. And Dottie one of my one year olds started off the size of a baseball but today was about the size of a large orange. She too has been acting perfectly normal. Today it took her a little while longer than normal to lay an egg but it did come out and looked like a perfect egg.

My question to you is could this be some sort of contaminated feed problem? Or is there any other ideas as to what this could be and how I could treat it? I'm just so confused as to what could be going on with my girls and any advice would be appreciated.

Things I've come up with include: mycotoxins or poor feed quality leading to liver and/or other organ damage???? But I feel like I'm missing something in this puzzle and I'm not sure what.

Update: I wrote this the other day when BYC was down still. Wednesday was a really good day for Edna but Thursday she started to get worse again. Friday and Saturday she had steadily decreasing appetite and was more lethargic. Today (Sunday) she won't eat a thing. Strangely her swelling in the abdomen has almost completely gone away. She vomited once that we know of this afternoon and I have tube Fed her with about 14 ml of critical care tube feeding formula. She is very weak and hasn't left her house all day.

After the tube feeding Ednas condition worsened more and I did some reading on sour crop. We believe this was a secondary problem to her original problem. Her Quality of life got very poor Sunday night. Even though it is highly recommended not to vomit your chicken I didn't want Edna to suffer more then she had to and we planned on taking her to the vet to put her to sleep in the morning so I tried it. The first time we got a large quantity of black liquid out that's smelled like rotten beer. This seemed to ease her discomfort and she was finally able to lay down and sleep for a few hours. We tried again at one in the morning very little came out and she seemed uncomfortable again seemed like there was gas in her crop. When morning came we decided not to let her suffer any more and put her to sleep. It was a terrible experience all around. I know now that I shouldn't have tube Fed her but we didn't know about the sour crop... Previously we were going on the cancer or organ damage assumption and wanted to give her nutrition. After the euthanasia we did not do a necropsy. Frankly we could not bear the thought of cutting our sweet girl open. We burried her in a beautiful grave in the back yard.

So hind sight is 20-20... I know this is a lot of information. But my main concern now is helping Dottie the barred rock with the swollen abdomen. Yesterday Dottie had very tight large abdomen, I started her and Edith on milk thistle. Today her abdomen is still large but not near as tight. (Felt more like a soft water balloon). Ediths abdomen seemed almost normal today. They are both still acting normal and eating and drinking and no crop problems in the rest of the flock as far as I can tell.

Any suggestions as to what this could be or how to help the remaining chickens?
As far as the sour crop I've read giving yogurt with probiotics helps keep the crop healthy with active cultures. We also give our goats yogurt. Not letting them eat grass more than 3 or 4 inches because longer strands can cause blockages. We lost a silkie pullet two weeks ago that could have had sour crop or some type of respiratory infection. I'm still a major noob.
Ascites can be caused by heart or liver disease, and is very common in egg yolk peritonitis. Draining small amounts of fluid at intervals can help make breathing better, but in the end, nothing will cure her. Feeding her chopped egg, wet chicken feed, and her favorite foods, and keeping her comfortable is about all you can do. At some point, she may need to be put down when she is suffering. Egg yolk peritonitis is the most common cause of death in hens.
My veterinarian said it was not egg yolk peritonitis because the fluid drained from Edna was simply serum, no infection or parts of egg or anything else. That's why he thought cancer or liver disease. Thank you both for your posts. We are trying to improve their overall crop health and have added Apple cider vinegar to their water after buying a plastic waterer. I read that galvanized metal which is what we had could potentially cause zinc poisoning so we switched right away. And we will get plain organic yogurt for them. Does anyone know if sour crop can cause ascites? Looking back at pictures of Edna over the last week before she died I wonder how long she had sour crop for without us catching it because in the pictures I can still see a little round crop on her neck even from days she hadn't been eating. Now I'm starting to wonder which came first... The sour crop came from slowed digestive system of whatever disease caused ascites or the ascites came from sour crop? Great information posted. And thanks again.

New posts New threads Active threads

Top Bottom