Sideways Gait


In the Brooder
8 Years
May 6, 2011
Sheridan Wyoming
I have four two year old laying hens two Black Stars and two Americaunas. One of the Black Stars has begun walking with a strange sideways gait, and sort of squats while she is walking. It is mostly to the left, and she positions her head on the opposite side of her body like she is trying to balance. Her appetite is good and she is drinking water. She has had other problems. Last spring I observed her "gaping" a few times and worried about gape worm. She seemed to get over the behavior and also seemed healthy and active. Early Summer, she and the other black went into their first molt and she started laying soft and shell-less eggs. I attributed it to the molt because later she began laying good eggs again but the shells were more fragile than the other girls. Now she is molting again even more heavily and no longer laying. I had decided that I didn't care about the eggs because she is part of the flock and the other three lay enough eggs for our family.

I am concerned that it might be Merrick"s. I know the other three will have already been exposed, and I have no way to isolate this hen. I'm not sure where it would have come from as they have lived in the same corner of the yard for a year and a half. One thing - Our yard (their yard) has become a feed lot for the neighborhood doves. They get into their coop, drink their water and eat their food. I am constantly chasing them away, as many as 30 at a time. Are there diseases that can be aquired from wild birds?

They eat organic layer pellets with additional rolled oats and hard wheat (sometimes flax and sunflower seeds). They get yogurt, greens, and meat scraps (no chicken) as well as other vegetable trimmings. They all seem healthy, but this girl has problems. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
I am seeing a similar staggering gait in 2 of my hens, the 2 that are undergoing a very heavy molt. Also some mild respiratory signs. Have had similar mild neuro and resp signs in a few others in past, but mortality rate has been very low. Whatever illness it is, has not affected laying. After much reading, I am suspecting a relatively mild strain of mesogenic Newcastle disease:

I am guessing that molting, especially a heavy molt, stresses certain individuals enough to bring out symptoms of a disease for which the bird is otherwise just a carrier. Only one of mine, a rooster 1-2 yrs ago, had severe neurologic symptoms (circling), and I put him down when he could no longer drink on his own.

Also, it has not affected my younger birds, only the older ones.

I guess Marek's is still possible, but most of what I read suggests it would run through a flock more quickly, with a high mortality rate. Not sure.
Also want to add that Newcastle can be spread by certain species of wild birds, and I believe pigeons are one of them. But if anyone is convinced that either your case or mine is Marek's disease, I would be most interested.
Thanks for the link. I sure hope it isn't Newcastle. The other three seem fine so far. This girl hasn't been "right" for awhile so I hope it is just her. The "circling" sounds right but I see no respiratory distress at this point. I'm not sure why she is molting again so soon. The other black is still growing her feathers in from the summer molt but not losing any more.
The fact that she molted in summer seems odd to me. A fall molt is the norm. I've never had one molt before September, ever. Were they stressed in some way, like did they run out of food or water for awhile, when they molted in summer?

I don't think Newcastle would be any worse of a diagnosis than Marek's. Whatever it is, at least I can tell you from my own experience that one bird with neurologic and/or respiratory symptoms does not necessarily mean the flock will be wiped out, or even produce fewer eggs. Even the affected one might recover, with just a mild neurologic deficit. I have one that had staggering and backward gait for a few days last summer, but continued to produce lots of huge, normal shelled eggs. The only residual symptom is that she occasionally walks backwards one or two steps.
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This was their first molt, and fairly light - mostly their butts. I gather that it varies by breed. The Americaunas molted last October and stopped laying completely for awhile but the Black Stars didn't. I was curious about that too but read that sometimes the hybrids will molt later in the season since they aren't wired for sitting on eggs. We did have a hot dry summer which I'm sure stressed them some but they were always well cared for and had plenty of shade/water/greens and weeds from the garden. The other black is about fully feathered now but the one in question is losing a lot of feathers again. Her poor butt is bare and she also has lost some wing feathers. I went out this evening and sat with them and she doesn't have any discharge or wheezing. She just moves in this strange way, almost like she can't walk a straight line to where she is going. She is still eating and drinking well.
Well, you mentioned the gaping of last spring, so I was trying to attribute all symptoms - both the neurologic (sideways walking/staggering) and the respiratory (gaping), to one disease. Newcastle could do that. If the neuro symptoms are marek's, then something else must have caused the gaping. I'm thinking it may well be all one disease, since I have seen exactly the same symptoms in my flock, so I see them as going together.

But mostly I'm just bumping this up, because I am hoping other people will offer opinions!

Anyone else???
I appreciate your reassurance. With all the glitches this one hen seems to have it doesn't seem to have affected the others. I too hope that someone else will chime in. I looked at some videos of Newcastle and the head/neck involvement is not the same as what I'm seeing, although if as you say it is a mild case anything is possible. The video also showed a very runny egg white which does fit for this hen when she manages to lay a "good" egg. The gaping was short lived but disturbing. I suspected gape worm because they had been eating a lot of earthworms (which I understand can carry the eggs). They were always underfoot while I was turning the soil for the garden! I also watched a video on Marek's and she doesn't have paralysis (yet). I think you could be right about it being one disease, I am just at a loss to identify it.
Yeah, the head/neck involvement you might have seen in videos is wry neck, yet another possible symptom of either disease. Not all of them have that, and none of mine ever have. I think what you saw in your own was exactly what you thought: changing head position just to maintain balance.

Bumping. Any other thoughts on this? Please?
Thanks for the bump, I'm bumping again. She is about the same today, doing some circling and kind of looks like she is duck walking if that makes any sense - sort of a squat walk with her belly near the ground. She was up on a perch this morning so I know she has no paralysis, and she continues to eat and drink and get around. Chased out another 30 doves today. I sure hope they leave when the snow flies!

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