Impacted Crop Diaries

Discussion in 'Pictures & Stories of My Chickens' started by bmayer, Jan 25, 2016.

  1. bmayer

    bmayer Out Of The Brooder

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    Early on Saturday, January 2, 2016, my sister noticed that one of our 4 buff orpington hens, Mindy, was lethargic and had a hard mass on her chest. As we are first time chicken owners, we had no idea what was wrong or what to do. She hopped online and searched for what the culprit could be and quickly found that our little one had an impacted crop. She researched different treatment options and began massaging several time a day, feeding mushy pellets, and of course, keeping her in a crate away from anything that was likely for her to eat and add to the impaction. She had access to clean water and had a comfortable bed of recycled paper critter bedding left over from a guinea pig we recently lost. Things seemed to be running smoothly except for one thing... The crop never emptied.

    A week went by and nothing had changed except for the mass becoming slightly more pliable. She was passing small pieces of hay here and there but only one or two tiny pieces a day. At that rate, the impaction was never going to move.

    On Monday, January 11, 2016 I got a text message from my sister at 9:05AM I got the following text from my sister:
    "Any chance you could take care of the chicken for a few days? I'm beginning to hate her. I might have to eat her.... I need a break". My sister and her boyfriend of 7 years just moved into my grandmother's house with a couple of friends of theirs and there are 4 crazy dogs now living in a small house with 4 people. A chicken added to the mix was practically impossible to cope with considering 3 of the 4 dogs are chicken eaters and one of the roommates kept egging the dogs on.

    So anyways, I told my sister I was happy to take Mindy for a while, expecting for it to only be a few more days before the impaction passed through. My husband and I just bought our first house on New Years Eve and now I had to tell him that we would have a chicken living in our new house. He barely tolerates the 2 cats we have, let alone live poultry!

    I had just gotten Mindy settled into her place on top of my Guinea pig's cage in the living room when he came home. I yelled from the living room a quick hello and said "don't get mad..." Well, he turned the corner to the living room and saw Mindy's cage as I began to tell him what was going on. He took it rather well, (not that he had a choice) as I told him it was probably only going to be a few days until she was better or until my sister was rested enough to take her back.

    Mindy spent her first 2 days with me happily eating her mush and drinking lots of water and enjoying morning and pre-bed time snuggles. However, on the 3rd day, she wouldn't even look at her mush. She wasn't interested in pellets in ANY form- mushy or dry. I started offering her favorite foods- peanut butter, meal worms, banana. She would eat all of that but I soon stopped the peanut butter after several people from BYC advised against it. The next day she ate tuna and diced tomatoes. I thought I had found the solution! Until the next day.... She wouldn't even LOOK at either of those foods. But she did give birth to this:
    [​IMG]
    So even though her appetite was not right, I was still optimistic she was going to wake up the next day with an empty crop and a beastly appetite. The rest of the day the only thing she would eat was a slice of wheat bread soaked in water and a few slivers of banana. (Not the most nutritious, I know but it was all she would do).

    The next morning, I woke up confident she would be normal. I was very, very wrong. The crop was about as hard as it had ever been and still big. For the first time I was beginning to lose hope. She had lost a lot of weight and wasn't interested in eating anything. I began thinking surgery might be the only option if I wanted to save my baby. She had always been my favorite of our 12 girls and I just couldn't bare to lose her. I searched the Internet for surgery costs and couldn't find any helpful information. I found a user here on BYC who had put one of her chickens through crop surgery back in 2013 so I sent her a message asking if she wouldn't mind sharing with me what the expenses were. I got a lengthy reply from @TheSpiceGirls detailing the cost and care from her experience and that it was a last resort. Needless to say, it was far more than I could justify spending on "just a chicken". I was beginning to think I might have to be one of the people who open up their own chicken but Mindy wasn't that bad just yet so I held off. TheSpiceGirls was extremely helpful with my questions and situation and gave me a ton of advice, support, and encouragement. I swear she was the only reason I was even remotely hopeful she might survive another day. So a HUGE thank you to her and everything she has done for Mindy and me from halfway across the country behind a computer screen even when she didn't know me from a hole in the wall!!!!!

    By this point, she had been living in my house for over a week. Hubby was getting frustrated that she wasn't gone yet but I had had the best luck with getting her to pass hay in her poop so it looked like she was going to be with us for the long haul (however long that would be). He finally did touch her though and while he'll never admit it, I think she was starting to grow on him.

    I had found that Mindy would eat tomatoes again, she was enjoying mealworms soaked in olive oil, and she loved destroying blackberries and apples! I finally felt like I was at least getting some vitamins into her. The crop seemed to be diminishing too! It was now down to the size of a baby's fist! I was ecstatic! It had shrunk by more than half in the last couple of days!

    The next day, however, she was lethargic and disinterested in berries and even mealworms. She was still devouring tomato and apple but how long would that keep her alive? Hell the blockage in her crop grew again and she hadn't pooped anything more than water all day. She had already dropped to 2.7lbs and couldn't afford to lose another ounce! As I sat on my living room floor, discouraged and hopeless I got a text message from my mother. "We have a dead chicken. Norma is gone. She was alive this morning and just now I was collecting eggs and she was in there dead." My heart practically stopped. My beautiful Norma baby. My gorgeous americauna hen, my other absolute favorite girl was gone. How did I have any chance of keeping Mindy alive when I couldn't even keep my healthy ones alive? I was heartbroken and devastated. I was almost ready to throw in the towel when right as I was crying into Mindy's feathers in a heap on my floor, *squish*. There it was, I big, steamy pile of chicken poop. Not just water, a real poo! Maybe there was a chance after all. I CAN DO THIS.
     
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  2. TheSpiceGirls

    TheSpiceGirls Overrun With Chickens

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    YEA, you can do it. She's a tough little bird. Just needed some special love and attention to help move things along. I'm so happy for you.
     
  3. bmayer

    bmayer Out Of The Brooder

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    With a renewed faith in Mindy's ability to overcome this beast of an impaction, I found new ways of breaking the knot in her crop apart. First, I took a vet method of a warm water lavage and managed to do it non-invasively. It took taking care of this chicken as a practically full time job but I would wait for her to guzzle water and then massage immediately after. She would drink approximately every 2 hours and drink between 60-100ml each time. This was significantly more water than people tell you to force in if you're going to do this by tuning water in so I felt like we were in good shape! The second method to breaking the monster apart was to start from the bottom and try breaking it apart bottom to top. I would massage the entire knot but put more effort and time into the bottom quarter. I was also beginning to get more confident with the pressure I could apply to the crop while massaging without bothering her (which should be expected after a week and a half!). I began digging my fingers into her chest and even using my nails to pull at the pieces of hay I could feel in her crop. This worked unbelievably well considering each time she pooped, more and more hay would come with it. She gave birth to a second huge hard hay-rope-poop:
    [​IMG]


    I was ecstatic! I was convinced this crop impaction was a thing of the past when I saw this! But upon feeling her chest, my hopes were yet again shattered. It felt no different. In fact, it felt WORSE! What was I doing wrong? It turned out she would soon tell me, but not for another day or two.

    I continued massaging multiple times a day and trying with all my might to break up the knot but it felt like I was getting nowhere. Each morning I would dread going down the stairs to palpated her crop because I just knew I would be disappointed. Morning after morning I felt that awful knot. Morning after morning, I messaged TheSpiceGirls to give her a disappointing update. But morning after morning, she was there messaging me back telling me to keep doing what I was doing. That I was doing all the right things. That tomorrow would be the day. Morning after morning, it never was.

    Mindy's appetite was no better, but her weight was holding at 2.7lbs with the apple and tomato diet and she had begun to eat limited amounts of dry pellets. I would give her pellets after a good drink and massage, knowing with the moisture in her crop, the pellets would soften and not add to the knot.

    My mother and I started feeling sorry for ourselves, wishing our old vet hadn't retired. She would have been able to fix this problem a week ago, but our new vet wouldn't touch a bird with a 10 foot pole if his life depended on it. Feeling sorry for yourself never gets you anywhere but we were running out of hope and it felt like the only thing we could do. As we were discussing the vet issues sitting at the kitchen table at her house, where I brought Mindy on the days I had to feed her horses and teach riding lessons, we saw Mindy scratching at the base of her crate and pecking at the bottom. She was eating something... I had changed the bedding from the recycled critter bedding a few days earlier because I noticed some of the bedding in her poop. I figured that couldn't be helping the impaction so I changed her to sand on one side and saw dust shavings on the other. She loved the sand side and spent an hour on the first day dust bathing in it and she also loved the grit she was getting from it. (I think she was getting bored with her store-bought grit!). Everything seemed to be in order and I never saw her eating the shavings. As far as I knew, things were hunky dory. Well, apparently not because what she was eating as my mom and I watched her was her shavings. I immediately dumped the bedding and sand out of the crate and replaced it with towels. "She can't eat towels, right?" I said to my mom and in a message to TheSpiceGirls.

    Now that I KNEW she wasn't ingesting anything but what I gave her, I was able to monitor her better. Who knew taking care of an impacted crop would have so many obstacles?! I began sifting through each of her poops looking for pieces of the blockage. What was coming through were bits of apple and tomato, meal worm skeletons, pieces of hay, and now TONS of sawdust. This continued for 2 days before there was no more sawdust exiting my chicken. But hay pieces kept on coming. Eventually, the bottom part of the knot broke off and that came out the next night. Upon dissecting it, I found a 5" piece of plant matter. It was thread-like and almost unbreakable all tangled up in hay pieces and bits of leaves.

    It was now the 3 week mark from when we found that her crop was full. It had shrunk from that first day but I just could not seem to break apart that knot anymore and every morning she would still have other food and debris in her crop other than the knot. Each morning disappointment.

    Finally, on January 24, 2016, 22 days after we found the impaction, I went down the stairs, feeling no more optimistic than any other morning, and felt her chest. There was the knot, in all it's disheartening glory. But something was different this time. Not the size. No, it was the same size it was the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and so on. No, it wasn't any softer. It was still as hard as ever. But it was what I could feel around it that was different. I kept on feeling... "This can't be right".... There was NOTHING else in her crop. Just the knot. This was big news! It was the first time in over 3 weeks that the crop was empty of all but the knot! I messaged The SpiceGirls:
    "UPDATE! The crop is not completely empty but it is empty of all things except the last
    part of the knot! It's about the size of a large marble. Yikes. I have taken the food out of
    her cage this morning so I can work the knot without other things obstructing my feel. I
    am hoping to work it after a good long drink so I will be spending my morning staring at
    her until she drinks. Sounds a little stalker-ish when I say it like that! Haha I will get that
    thing broken up TODAY if it's the last thing I do!"
    Then another message:
    "So after massage number 1 I am less confident I can break it apart today. This thing is
    a beast! I can make it change shape but I can't get it apart! There's still hay pieces
    passing through so it must be breaking down but it certainly doesn't feel like I'm making
    any progress with it! This knot is a monster!"

    I spent the day with my girl. Every time she drank, I massaged. Every time I massaged, I would feel like it was useless because it was still just as stiff and hard. She began swallowing strangely and cocking her neck every few seconds after one of the morning massages that day. My mind immediately jumped to the worst- that she was about to drop dead, I massaged too much and not I've killed her. After about 5 minutes of her doing weird things periodically, she was fine and never did it again. Clearly, my "mommy" brain was overworked and thinking ridiculous thoughts.

    That night, I put her to bed and waited. I was so disappointed I hadn't accomplished anything with the knot that day. 22 days and not much to show for both of our hard work. Another restless night of sleep for chicken mama.

    I woke up this morning around 7:00am. I stared at the ceiling for a while debating whether or not I should even bother getting my hopes up or not. I laid there for 20 minutes. Finally, my bladder got the better of me and forced me out of bed and down the stairs. I trudged into the living room and stood in front of a very sassy hen. I examined the 2 poops she made over night. It didn't look good for an empty crop. She normally poops at least 4 times over night and these ones didn't look at all impressive like they were part of the knot. I opened up the crate and she hopped out. I stared at her. Should I even bother feeling it or just wait until she drinks so I can waste another day hopelessly massaging a skinny chicken's chest? I decided feeling it would be the more optimistic thing to do and since I try to be as optimistic as possible in life, I had to at least give it a poke. I picked her up and say her on my lap facing away from me. I poked her chest with a very pessimistic finger... "I must have somehow missed the crop..." I buried my whole hand into her feathers... "NO!".... ITS EMPTY!!!!!" Ok, maybe not ENTIRELY empty but the only thing left was a flat, quarter sized pancake left of the knot and no other debris that I could feel. It was such a relief to finally feel a squishy, mostly empty crop for the first time in over 3 weeks! I massaged what was left of the knot and gave her the usual peeled apple. She had more energy today than she has had in almost a month. She strutted around the house purring and making happy chicken sounds. She sunbathed beneath the window and she even ran after me to the kitchen a few times.

    I am filled with so much relief that this seems to all be finally coming to an end. Not just an end, but a good end. She will be staying inside for a while longer even after her crop has fully cleared so that she can regain her strength and weight. It is far too cold outside for her to survive with no fat. So miss Mindy will be a house chicken for a while longer and I will be able to continue her daily snuggles on the couch listening to her purr and feeling her snuggle up as close as she can get. We aren't out of the woods yet, and I am tentative to post such an optimistic thought but I do really believe we are just about done with this monster impaction.

    Thank you so much to my family here at BYC for all of your help through this whole ordeal. I have learned so much from this whole experience and all of you. You have all been so supportive and knowledgable and I could not have done it without you all. It felt like you were here with us as we battled the impaction beast! I can't show my appreciation enough.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2016
  4. b.hromada

    b.hromada Flock Mistress

    Great pic! You and Mindy have been through a lot. Let's hope she keeps improving. [​IMG] You know what, they aren't "just" chickens, as you have found out. We get down right attached to those fully ones, don't we. Keep up the good work. [​IMG]
     
  5. N F C

    N F C dem crazy bones Premium Member

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    Your story was really interesting, I enjoyed reading it. It sounds as though your care and dedication to Mindy is really paying off now. Thank you for sharing your experience.
     
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  6. TheSpiceGirls

    TheSpiceGirls Overrun With Chickens

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    Awe, what a sweet photo. She loves you.
     
  7. bmayer

    bmayer Out Of The Brooder

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    She follows me around the house and hops up on the couch for snuggles now. She's getting a bit too used to living in the house! But I love it!
     
  8. bmayer

    bmayer Out Of The Brooder

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    Mindy update! Her crop has been totally empty for 3 mornings in a row. She is eating better now and I feel better about leaving her with her dry pellets as her only food source. This didn't go well the first 2 days as far as she was concerned but she got hungry enough to eat the pellets. (But not before throwing several temper tantrums flinging the food all over the floor both mornings [​IMG])

    Now that the crop problems seem to be behind us, I have become more aware of swelling in her ankles and feet. She came to me from my sister's for crop treatment with a small lima bean sized lump on the outside of each ankle. Considering we were worried about the crop and we still not sure if she was going to live at the time, the lumps were the least of our worries. As her crop emptied and we came to a close to that ordeal, however, her feet began to swell. Now that her crop is empty and the swelling is increasing, I have begun looking up any of the things that could cause these symptoms.

    The first thing through my head was bumble foot. But nope, that would be to easy to manage so of course, no black spots anywhere on either foot; sop scratch bumble foot off the list. The next thing I found was gout. I have done a bunch of research and a lot of things about it match what's going on with her- her diet has been crazy because of her pickiness and the impaction so maybe she ended up with too much protein, calcium, or vitamin D and not enough vitamin A. But then there are also things that don't match up. She hasn't limped or shuffled around at all. She jumps up for treats, runs after me when I leave the area she's in, and roosts just fine. The pictures also don't match what I see in her. None of the birds I saw pictures of had the lumps on the sides of the ankles and the swelling looked lumpy and gross, Mindy's swelling is a consistent swelling pattern radiating from the ankle downward and diminishing as it goes into the toes. Her toes are not affected at all at this time. SO gout is a possibility, but I'm still not 100% convinced. The next thing was leg mites. Scales all look beautiful and perfect (just like her[​IMG]) so leg mites are out. (and besides, leg mites would've been too easy to treat! Can't have THAT in my life!).

    So at that point, gout was the only real option for what was going on. Lets recap what I found in my research on gout:
    -2 types of gout, the bad kind and the worse kind
    -treatable, but not curable
    -can enlarge joints because of [insert big science word here].
    -chronic and progressive
    -can potentially kill in hours
    [​IMG]

    So needless to say, I spent a night tossing and turning thinking my chicken was now dying.... again.
    Upon waking up (or should it be giving up trying to sleep?) the next morning, I felt a little better. I had done a bit more research and things just weren't adding up for me. I was out of ideas on what it could be but I knew there MUST be a better explanation than a half-fitting diagnosis. I posted in the emergencies forum and someone replied thinking maybe Mycoplasma Synovitis. *cue typing sounds and epic research music*. This fit the bill better than gout.
    -swelling in joints
    -chronic in a flock
    -swelling around eyes
    -respiratory infection
    Well, we didn't have any respiratory symptoms, but it can either attack respiratory or cause swelling. I realized this morning, my whole flock has had swelling around their eyes before on and off. I looked at pictures and those matched better than gout and some of them even had the same type of lumps that Mindy has! So, I think I have found the culprit! And it is a much better diagnosis (I think) than gout!

    I am emotionally exhausted! Is it too early for a drink?! (8:44AM here). [​IMG]
     
  9. bmayer

    bmayer Out Of The Brooder

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    Mindy's crop has been clear of the hay/grass knot for a couple of weeks now. It took a total 3 weeks to pass! Lots of massaging after she drank water seemed to work the best. Thank goodness she drank so well through the whole thing! She lost 2/3 of her body weight over those 3 weeks though and you could see her breast bone protruding through her feathers. She slept basically all day and would only eat apples, tomatoes, and mealworms for about a week. Her energy is significantly better now, she has barely slept during the day and when she does its only for 5 minutes or so.

    Her weight bottomed out at 2.6lbs and as of this morning she weighs 4.25lbs!! She's still living in my house though. She's still too skinny and she went into a partial molt so her feathers aren't as thick as they should be to handle the cold temperatures of a New England winter. She can free range for a couple hours when it's above 45° but that isn't every day that the temperatures are that warm here. Normally it's in the 30s and she starts to shiver within 10 minutes if it's below 45°.

    She gets stronger and stronger and sassier and sassier every day. Reintegrating into the flock will be quite the process since its been almost 2 months. I have been bringing in one of the nicer BO hens she used to buddy up with and after a half day of mingling they seemed to have settled into old routines. I have 2 leghorns outside that won't be so easy to reestablish old relationships with. They can get aggressive and Mindy doesn't tolerate aggression very well. If someone tiffs with her she will keep tiffing until the other one stops. She's not a confrontational bird by any stretch of the imagination, she's usually one of the lower hens on the totem pole, but she won't give up a fight when antagonized.

    She also has had swollen ankles and feet since shortly after this all basically started. The swelling is significantly better as of the last few days so I hope it continues to go down. She's eating 1/4-1/3lb of crumbled pellets each day now and I have figured out how to make her eat eggs, which she gave me the stink eye about when I tried before. She will only eat them if they've been fried, over easy, in bacon fat. She's a diva! She still won't eat whole pellets but as long as she eats the crumbles, I'm happy enough.

    The only problem I'm seeing right now is her droppings. She hasn't had a normal, balled up chunk of poop since before all of this happened. It's very watery and loose. She does at least pass her normal cecal poop a few times a day but the rest of it is weird. I'll get a pic next time she poops. I haven't been too worried about the diarrhea since her body is still not normal. I'll really start to worry about it when her weight is back to normal and has been for some time. I can only imagine how messed up her system has been from everything that it's been through.

    So that's the update on my little princess house chicken. She's currently mashing herself against the kitchen heater we have under our steps to the living room. She's sprawled out with a leg and wing stretched. She is a little diva!
     
  10. pattyhen

    pattyhen Chicks Ducks oh my

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    You did a great job with Mindy getting her better. If it hadn't been for all your nursing she wouldn't be alive today. You might even try letting her feet and ankles soak in a warm tub of water with epson salts. Don't let her drink the water because it's also a laxative. You might also try to feed her some yogart that might help her digestive system get back to normal.

    I hope everything gets back to normal with Mindy and god bless you for taking such good care of her.
     

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