My hen became terribly sick. Any guesses on cause to prevent a repeat?

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by TortillaChile, Mar 7, 2013.

  1. TortillaChile

    TortillaChile New Egg

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    Mar 7, 2013
    Brazos Co., TX
    Hi! I am a long-time user, first time poster. :) I have a small backyard flock of 7 hens in Texas. The birds I currently have, I acquired all of them when they were older (but mostly as pullets). My Dominique hen, Rocky, suddenly start going downhill early last week. She was acquired as an adult, but I got her from another local backyard chicken farmer who was reducing his own flock size. I have no idea how old Rocky was, but starting last week, she started showing signs of lethargy. She was still eating, drinking, and pooping, so for the first several days, I was sure she'd recover on her own. I checked her for signs of being egg bound or crop bound, but everything seemed/felt fine. She was moving slowly, but would still follow the other hens around the yard. She WAS holding her feet funny, though, and seemed to take a long time to extend her toes when she'd take a step. And I noticed that her poop seemed runnier than normal, and was sticking to her butt feathers. When it dried, it appeared yellowish-green. I was keeping a close eye on her. Unfortunately, we left town over the weekend, and when we came home on Sunday, she'd taken a plunge downhill. She could now barely walk, didn't seem interested in trying to forage, but would still eat a bit and drink a bit but spent a lot of time just lying in the grass. I scooped her up and put her into a cat carrier in the house. Her abdomen felt slightly puffy and full, but I caught another of my ladies to feel her in comparison, and at the time, I didn't think it was much different.

    Over the next couple of days, I could get her to eat (barely) and drink (barely). She took down some egg and some yogurt, and some mushy feed. I also soaked bread in water to get fluids in her. Her poop had been fairly normal in the yard, but was now very runny--almost all liquid. It appeared brown, but when soaked up by paper towels, the liquid was very yellow. I also noticed that her abdomen seemed much more swollen.

    I have never wormed my girls (I've had most of them for under a year), but have never noticed anything in their poop. The other girls are still running around and seem fine. Rocky wasn't making labored breathing noises, which I figured ruled out gape worms. She could move her head and neck and beak just fine. However, in 2 days my poor hen got to where she could barely move her legs (maybe moving them hurt her abdominal area?) and stopped talking, which I read means they're in pain. My husband helped me last night, and we swiftly put her out of her misery.

    However, being the biologist I am, I tried to autopsy her as best I could, although I admit that I did a poor job as I was as horrified as I was fascinated by the whole process. However, I did note 2 things: 1) her entire abdominal cavity was full of a transparent yellow liquid. The best I can find online is that this is called ascites and is caused by liver failure/damage, or heart issues that cause liver problems, but mostly in meat birds. 2) One of her organs, near the small intestine which I would assume would be the colon or pancreas, was completely covered in little white nodules. They were hard and looked like fish eggs, but they had so completely covered the organ, I couldn't tell what it was (and I admit, I didn't have her opened up enough to have my bearings). These little nodules were also found in smaller numbers attached to the nearby other organs and on the abdominal cavity walls. I took a photo, but am not sure I should post it here, without giving warning! It is slightly graphic.

    Does anyone have any theories? I couldn't bring myself to cut into her anymore, but now I am regretting that I didn't look for worms in her intestinal tract or her trachea. If it was something that could possibly spread throughout the rest of my flock, I would like to know what precautions to take. I also didn't get a good look at her heart or liver. There are limits even to my curiosity, especially when my neighbors drove up and I was sitting in our side yard with a dead, somewhat mangled hen and a butcher knife. Figured it was time to dig a hole, say a few words, and bury her.

    Any help would be much appreciated!
     
  2. AccidentalFarm

    AccidentalFarm Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Mar 29, 2007
  3. TortillaChile

    TortillaChile New Egg

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    Mar 7, 2013
    Brazos Co., TX
    Thanks for the lead; Blackhead is definitely a possibility. I spent a really long time last night online trying to figure out what I was dealing with (and lamenting more and more that I hadn't spent more time looking at HER so I'd have more to go on). Similar to trying to self-diagnose my own symptoms on Web MD (why does it always turn out that you probably have some terminal illness?!), I kept coming up with things like tuberculosis and lymphoid leucosis as potential causes--both of which, if they're what did her in, have the potential to take out my whole flock. Scary!
     
  4. TortillaChile

    TortillaChile New Egg

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    Mar 7, 2013
    Brazos Co., TX
    I think I figured it out! In another thread, I found this:

    Ovarian Carcinoma: After finding this during necropsy and doing a little research, it was discovered that is the most common tumor of unknown origin in hens. It is associated with advancing age, which is why most vets are not exposed to it. Often fluid will accumulate in the abdomen. As the tumors spread, the intestine becomes constricted and the hens become emaciated. At necropsy there are countless white, firm tumors on the surfaces of the intestinal wall and oviduct. Birds that are forced into laying by additional light sources had an increased incidence of the tumors. In the experience of one poultry disease researcher, "birds began to die at 3 ½ years of age, and all had died of ovarian carcinoma by 9 years of age." (Helmboldt and Fredrickson, Diseases of Poultry 6th edition) Since most production birds are not allowed to live that long, it is not commonly seen. We have not been able to find any treatment that will reverse or stabilize this condition. Because the hens at Farm Sanctuary are treated, and have a much longer life-span then they ever would in a factory, we are seeing this more often. To keep the hens more comfortable, we drain the fluids in their abdomens when necessary.

    This sounds like what I found, exactly, and it explains her symptoms! Now I just have to hope the cause is not something I'm doing wrong and was just old age!
     
  5. AccidentalFarm

    AccidentalFarm Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Mar 29, 2007
    I'm glad you've found an answer. I know how nerve wracking it can be when you're worried about contagious 'stuff' hanging around to get the rest of the flock.

    Let us know if you find out any more about it.
     

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