Our Experience Treating Wry Neck / Torticollis In An Adult Hen


Apr 24, 2019
Our little Buttercup, a 2-Year Old Serama, developed wry neck around the beginning of August. It has been an incredible struggle and I’ve spent a lot of time on this forum and in books trying to help her. Reading about the experience of others has helped me navigate her care and may have saved her life. In an attempt to pay it forward, I would like to talk about our experience in hopes it might help someone somewhere. I will also be transparent in all the things I know I did wrong.

Last 2 Weeks of July

My husband noticed Buttercup was “off” the last couple of weeks of July. She was very stoic and often kind of standing off by herself with her clique. This was unusual, but we both brushed it off as some drama between the hens in her group—they bicker and negotiate temporary alliances all the time. Mistake #1: Assuming a change in behavior is a personality change. It was also during this time frame that I wormed and treated the entire flock with Corid for 7-10 days. I treated them with Corid as a precaution without a solid reason to dose them. That was Mistake #2.

August 8 – First Week

In the days leading up to August 8, Buttercup’s neck was “loose”. You could tell she was having trouble controlling her head. I checked on her that afternoon to find her kind of stuck with her head down on the ground. We separated her from the flock that day and put her in her own carrier.

Her neck worsened to the point she had no control over it at all and was unable to hold it up. After a few days she was losing balance on her little roost so we had to remove it from her enclosure. Everything I read pointed to Vitamin E / Thiamine Deficiency. Marek’s, Botulism, and worse was on the table but she literally had NO other symptoms other than wry neck. She was eating normally and drinking water best she could. I immediately started Vitamin E / Thiamine / B Complex supplements. At this point she was still eating her crumble and it was not hard to get her to eat her vitamins—and I was pumping her full of them! In my research I learned that Corid is a Thiamine blocker and I was absolutely convinced that my treating them with Corid is what caused the deficiency. That was Mistake #3. I should have realized none of the other chickens had a deficiency, but I was stuck on that being the cause. She didn’t respond at all to the vitamin therapy. During that first week she didn’t get better but didn’t get worse. If I hadn't been so confident that Corid was the reason for this, I might have gotten her to the vet sooner.

August 15th – August 21st – Second Week

She stopped eating her crumble and drinking water. I think it was too painful for her and she didn’t have enough control of her neck. During this week she didn’t get nearly as many vitamins. I had to hold her in one arm and feed her with the other so I could hold her neck straight. She had lost her appetite. I had to be choosy with what I gave her because I knew I wouldn’t get much of a chance before she would be “done” eating. Still not sure what was going on, I kept her hydrated with apples, watermelons, strawberries, and watery fruits—very finely chopped/pureed since she wasn’t getting grit. She would still eat a little yogurt, occasionally a little wet cat food, but all I could get in her was a little fruit 4-5 times a day. If I felt like she had too big of a bite of something or if her crop felt full, I let her have about a dime size of coconut oil to help keep things moving.

Oddly enough, throughout all this—if we took her outside in the grass she would walk around normally pecking in the grass. She was a little wobbly, but walked around and appeared to be a normal chicken. As soon as you picked her up; however, her head would go limp and she would lose all orientation. She couldn’t really stand or walk much in her enclosure at all but in the grass was relatively normal. It was bizarre.

It was also during this week that we started propping her up with pillows to keep her from having her head upside down—and continued to monitor from this point on. My husband and I took turns on night duty making sure she wasn’t on her head in the middle of the night. We were afraid of her brain swelling in that hard of a position.

August 22-28 – Third Week

It was getting harder and harder to get her to eat anything. It was a struggle just to keep her hydrated with fruits. Couldn’t get any vitamins in her and she spent most of the days sleeping. She often didn’t even want to open her eyes to eat. We had to use a small flashlight to flash across her closed eyes to signal it was time to eat and we had to keep a flashlight on the food she was eating or she couldn’t focus on it enough to peck at it. She was very weak and missing a lot when she tried to eat. We had no idea what to do at this point. She was fading fast. The outside trick stopped working as well. When we would set her in the grass she would just slump over with her eyes closed. Her eyes were closed 95% of the time and she had lost a lot of weight as you might expect.

Toward the end of that third week, we finally found a vet that would see her 2+ hours away. The vet seemed to think this was a bacterial infection causing the neurological issues/deficiency. She prescribed Amoxiclav and an anti inflammatory.

August 29th – September 4th – Fourth Week

Several days into the antibiotic and Buttercup showed NO improvement. In fact she seemed to be fading away a little more each day. There is a line between “do everything you can” and “it’s time to do the humane thing and end her suffering” and she was on that line for days. She was still in there and still fighting and giving us little indications not to throw in the towel, so we persisted. It was up to her at this point.

Around this time another hen in our flock became gravely ill and died suddenly. Our little miracle baby Molly, only 10 months old. She had different symptoms but it took her fast and out of nowhere—didn’t respond to treatment at all. We were (and still are) terrified of the implications of her death. Was it related somehow to Buttercup’s condition? Did Molly have Marek’s? Is there something in the yard, coop, or run that’s hurting them? These are things we are also trying to figure out in the midst of Buttercup’s care. But we persist.

September 5th – Fifth Week to Present

Buttercup’s fever broke that Sunday morning, Sept. 5th. Her eyes, both of them, popped open that morning and it was like she could finally see us. Her appetite returned and we resumed Vitamin E / Thiamine / B Complex therapy. Every day has been an improvement over the day before it. Her sassy attitude is back in full force and she begs for food off our plates at dinner and loves watching King of the Hill on Hulu! (Her little carrier is with us at all times.) She can hold her head normally and eat normally, but drinking is still too difficult to do without assistance.

We noticed a few days ago that she still wasn’t able to stand. Over the course of all this, her left leg has been stuck out straight in front of her for the most part. She uses it to balance herself but we worried about permanent paralysis and her never being able to walk again. The reflexes were still there so we were pretty confident that it wasn’t a slipped tendon.

I hit the books again and found evidence that Calcium / Vitamin D deficiency can cause problems with their legs. That made perfect sense because this chicken has basically been living on fruit for the last 6 weeks. She hasn’t been getting Calcium at all except what little is in yogurt. I crushed up egg shells into a fine powder and mixed it generously in her food this morning, along with some Vitamin D rich foods. I also put some of that homemade calcium powder in some yogurt with her regular vitamins.

This evening Buttercup wrapped her little toes around my finger! I also saw her back toe moving independently while she was eating today. She is moving her toes and the leg appears to be getting elasticity back. We are cautiously optimistic of course, but I felt in my heart the moment she grabbed my finger that everything is going to be ok. It’s just going to take a little more time.

This is long enough at this point but I’ll say this—if anybody needs any tips on getting vitamins, medicine, and/or food into a sassy (or very sick) chicken, let me know. I feel like I've earned the girl scout badge for sneaking vitamins into food.

Edited To Add 9/11:
Bump in the road the last couple of days. She appears to be losing appetite and tired again like she was before. We immediately started freaking out. Then we noticed her poops were more infrequent and when she did go, the smell would knock you down. Afterward, she is hungry and acting normally again. We think all the substantial food she is now eating is constipating her a little bit. Now the plan is to offer her food at her normal meal times, but we won't freak out if she doesn't eat if she hasn't used the bathroom. After she uses the bathroom, we will offer food again and she will eat. This seems to be working. Fingers crossed.
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Excellent in your persistence, but please come here for a second opinion at the first signs of trouble that you don't recognize.
There are AMAZING people on this forum with TONS of experience under their collective belts that can advise you quickly, saving lots of mistakes and getting your birds healthy again, even giving quick directions on how to get a bird to take therapy that can go as far as a feeding tube for difficult cases.
I'm glad your girl is better, and you've gone over and above in her care. Well done.
Excellent in your persistence, but please come here for a second opinion at the first signs of trouble that you don't recognize.
There are AMAZING people on this forum with TONS of experience under their collective belts that can advise you quickly, saving lots of mistakes and getting your birds healthy again, even giving quick directions on how to get a bird to take therapy that can go as far as a feeding tube for difficult cases.
I'm glad your girl is better, and you've gone over and above in her care. Well done.
Thank you for your kind words! For this particular situation I was too afraid to post much about her condition because I knew so many people would just assume Marek's. I'm afraid if I was convinced it was Marek's we would've resigned defeat too soon. I did find lots of good advice on vitamin therapy which was invaluable during all of this.

We are at the physical therapy portion of her care--do you think there might be people that could give tips on rehabilitating her walking, standing, etc?

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