Infertile Hen with Grossly Swollen Abdomen


In the Brooder
8 Years
Aug 7, 2011
Hello, everybody, I'm looking for some fairly urgent help (the condition is somewhat long-standing, but we want to fix it as soon as possible). I'd appreciate if anyone can read through the below and give any suggestions or advice.

I have a Barred Rock hen named Lark we got as a one-day-old chick in March 2011. Lark has only ever laid one egg: her first egg at six months, then immediately got egg-bound. Lark survived but has never laid an egg since. (All of our other hens we've treated for egg-binding and even recently softish-shelled eggs broken internally have continued laying after recovering).

Because she is not using the energy from her food (all the same stuff the laying girls eat) to produce eggs, Lark has beefed up into a sassy, chunky chicken.

However, her abdomen has continued to bulk up in an alarming way. This past year, she lost all but a few feathers on her inflated rump, which have never really grown back. In the spring, her abdomen swelled even more, becoming reddened and causing her difficulty in maneuvering and even dragging on the ground slightly and getting chapped/small sores.

--Lark's bare, swollen red butt back in May (2013)--

--Close-up of the rump, back in May. --

Prior Treatment:
- recurring warm Epsom salt baths,
- coating her sore or simply swollen rump with either antibiotic cream, vitamin E oil, Prep H or various combinations thereof.

She deflated considerably back in the spring, but recently she's swelled back up and has trouble (i.e., does not seem capable of) flying up onto her roost at night, or navigating the chicken ladder up to there. The swelling has spread her legs, and combined with the dragging weight of the bulge, it all makes her very uncomfortable and unhealthy.

She has always had a voracious appetite and still does; acts normally in ever other way and loves to bully chickens lower than her on the pecking order. Overall, an active and healthy hen, but for the swollenness.

There are only two other peculiarities in her behavior. Every once in a while she will be desperate to get in the nest box and will sit in there for quite a while, obviously never producing anything. Also, I have twice in the past few weeks seen her sit on the ground and strain her head forward, eyes closed, beak opening slightly on each forward strain. It does not look like other hens have looked when struggling to lay an egg. Lark's tail remains pointing up, and her vent and that area does not seem to strain more than the rest of her. Is she just finding it hard to breathe while sitting down because she's swollen so tight? I don't know.

I've tried numerous times to research this condition in various ways, but have come up with nothing that matches what Lark is experiencing in all the particulars. Please let me know if you have any leads on making Lark better!

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Thanks for the speedy reply!
I'll look into the cancer more -- I'd be happy just to know what was wrong, so we can make a decision on her.

I've looked at internal laying in my previous searches, but I don't see how this could be Lark's condition because she doesn't lay eggs, and has not for 2 years. She couldn't have been internally laying this entire time: she surely would have died. It also doesn't explain why she got bloated in May, but then got better, rather than the symptoms persisting. Also, everything I've read, and looking those links as well (thanks for providing them!), indicates that internally laying hens either rapidly decline or persist with obvious external symptoms -- gunk build-up, infection around the vent, etc. Lark's butt is just bare, sometimes red, and sometimes sore where her tummy's scraped the ground. Poops do get stuck to it sometimes because it's so round I think it juts out too far so they can't drop if she doesn't squat just right. And it's hard to squat being so round. She does not exhibit any other regular or even occasional signs of discomfort other than the hard breathing/straining I described above, and of course the inconvenience of her unwieldy size.

However, the internal laying condition does seem highly variable among hens, and she may have spontaneously started to try producing eggs after all this time. Our hens seem to excel at the bizarre and unfortunate.

I'll continue going through the threads you provided and do some more investigation. Thanks for your help!
[Crossing fingers really hard that Larky's OK]

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We just found this link which describes sterile peritonitis. This sounds the most like what Lark is experiencing: symptoms of peritonitis/internal laying (e.g., greatly swollen belly), but able to persist and function instead of sickening and dying from the infection. The difficulty breathing is also one of Lark's few and most obvious symptoms: it has seemed to me as though the pressure of the bulge on her organs might be the cause of her "straining" for breath while sitting or being held.

Any thoughts on this diagnosis? or ideas about treatment other than draining if this is indeed what it is?


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Currently we are treating Lark on the working diagnosis of sterile peritonitis and targeting non-invasive methods of reducing the fluids causing the swelling. We do not want to catheter-drain her because there is far too great a likeliness of introducing infection or inducing shock, etc., and all that risk doesn't pay off in long-term relief, as hens fill back up, and the cause, whatever it is, of the peritonitis is still not addressed.

We are instead treating Lark with high-concentration Epsom salts baths and keeping her in the cool and quiet (it is roasting out here in San Diego Co., CA!). We are investigating further methods of leeching off fluids and ways to pinpoint and address the source of the fluids build-up.

I will update as things develop. ;) Please let me know if you have any thoughts!
I had a hen that lived with this condition for a couple of years, it just wasn't nearly as bad. Another hen who became an internal layer developed peritonitis and passed pretty quickly. Chickens are very stoic, they will act as normal as they can despite being in great discomfort. So you will need to consider her comfort level and quality of life as this always gets them eventually, for some it's just a slower process. If you want to keep her around having a vet drain off the fluid will make her vastly more comfortable, we've done this with a couple of hens. It did make them so much more comfortable and did extend their lives somewhat.
I have to agree that draining her would add to her comfort. The likelihood of introducing infection is remote if the skin is prepped with some Betadine and a sterile needle is used. I'd recommend an 18 guage and a syringe.

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