Surprise Necropsy Finding-Leg Injury Leads to Death in Pullet (CAUTION! Necropsy Photos!)

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by speckledhen, Feb 21, 2013.

  1. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    Sometimes, it's not what you think when you open up a deceased bird. This one was a bit of a surprise, though it does bring home the fact that chickens, as prey animals, hide injuries very, very well. And sometimes, swelling in one area can be from an injury in another. This is a post for educational purposes, something I like to do from time to time on BYC. It's not easy to open up a precious little hen, but you do learn something almost every time you buck up the courage to do so. This was no exception.

    My D'Anver pullet, Leah, only 15 weeks old, died this morning. Two days ago, I found her not as spry, not keeping up with her three siblings. I realized that her left wing wasn't tucked up as well as it should be. Thinking one of the others had swung her around by it, maybe spraining it, I attempted to catch her--she was broody raised and a bit on the skittish side. They all live in the main bantam coop with the adults and are not handled on a daily basis. Usually, the pullets become more friendly as they approach mating/laying age, even if broody raised, so I wasn't worried about them being skittish at this point.

    She wasn't as hard to catch as usual, and the moment I got my hands on her, I realized it was not the wing. Under the wing was a HUGE swelling, bigger than a golf ball, in the hip area. Immediately, she was in a rabbit cage in the house and on penicillin, in case of soft tissue infection. Palpating her leg didn't show any discernible breaks at the time. Since she was still on her feet, nothing except maybe a sprain or a dislocation that had popped back in occurred to me.

    After a day or so, her appetite dropped off and yesterday, it was apparent, she was probably not going to make it, though the swelling had actually gone down a tiny bit. Still, she was occasionally drinking water, though she quit eating. A little while ago, she died and we did a necropsy.

    Necropsy showed the swelling was just that, a huge ball of swollen muscle, not a tumor or infection. There was no infection in her body-if there had been, the 3 days of penicillin had wiped it out. We excised the mass and proceeded to remove muscle from the leg bone and discovered to our utter amazement that she had what appeared to be a compression fracture of the leg bone from just above the foot and up the leg. Apparently, it had been bleeding from the origin of the fracture and due to her obviously sitting quite a lot due to pain, it had pooled up in the hip area, causing a huge mass of swelling, leading me to believe the issue was a hip issue. Never would have figured on a vertically split leg bone, not with her walking without even a limp this whole time.

    Graphic pictures below:


    This is the excised mass of swelling, intact and cut open to show no tumor or infection:


    This shows the vacant area after the excision of the mass, so you can see how high up it was and why I was fooled:


    The next two show the actual fracture, one with marker pointing to it--click on it to view close up. My camera was giving me fits so I hope you can see it well enough.


    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
    2 people like this.
  2. Cetawin

    Cetawin Chicken Beader

    Mar 20, 2008
    NW Kentucky
    Poor Leah. I am still shocked she was not limping. Bless her heart.

    As always, thanks for sharing your findings and wisdom.
  3. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    It was not what we expected, certainly no way to know it was broken, not with this type of fracture, what with her still walking on it, too. And the swelling was so far above the break, it was very deceptive. It had to be a compression fracture and maybe that bone had a weak spot in the first place, hard to say.

    I told someone today that I am constantly confounded and astounded at the ways they find to do themselves in, these chickens. Poor sweet Leah was just becoming such a beauty, too, and starting to show some personality and curiousity toward me, less skittishness. Shame, but it is what it is.
  4. Michael Apple

    Michael Apple Overrun With Chickens

    Mar 6, 2008
    Northern California
    Thanks for the necropsy pics and I'm sorry about the hen. I remember a vet telling me long ago how tough chickens are. Unfortunately it makes them carry on with an injury or certain diseases until it is too late. I remember particular birds that were difficult to cull/say goodbye to. Threads like these remind me to pay close attention and not take their health and stoic nature for granted.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  5. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    Thank you, Michael. They are truly stoic creatures. They suffer in silence up to the very end. I've lost so many over the last years, but this is the very first broken leg here and it isn't the way I expected to experience one, either.
  6. Shellz

    Shellz Chillin' With My Peeps

    Thank you for the education! Great job. Her death was not in vain. Thanks for having the stomach to pursue a detailed diagnosis. Kudos!
  7. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    You're quite welcome. I often kick myself for not seeing something right away, then step back and try not to be too hard on myself. Their feathers hide a myriad of sins, including drastic weight loss and wounds. Skittish birds are especially prone to going without an immediate diagnosis. The only reason I just didn't find her dead or dying in the coop was her left wing just wasn't tucked up as tightly as her right one and I happened to notice. She wasn't laying around, just wasn't as in with her group as normal, but was perched up on the nest boxes. She'd been flying up to the 5' high roost bar and down every single day as normal, too. How would anyone have known?

    This is all to say that even folks who are with their birds closely on a daily basis can't see or know everything. Even if I had xray vision and had seen the break in that bone, I doubt I could have saved her since there was nothing to splint, it being a vertical split.
  8. Shellz

    Shellz Chillin' With My Peeps

    I totally understand! I kept some chicks from a broody hen last year & 2 were roos. Thought they'd all be all right. Then I noticed one hen had a patch of feathers missing on her back. Checked her out & she had a healed gash on one side & a fresher one on the other. Dam roos were getting rough! I have since culled those 2 roos. I have one left doing a much better job!
  9. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    Been there, too, with the side wounds from rooster's toenails. They never show weakness until they positively can't avoid it any longer. They are tough critters, for sure. Generally, they do heal up quite well, as long as there isn't any infection.
  10. bruceha2000

    bruceha2000 True BYC Addict

    Apr 19, 2012
    NW Vermont
    Thanks for the post Cynthia.

    I can't imagine how anyone would be able to figure out that mass was related to a broken leg down low. Like you said, so far from the actual injury. Do you suppose the original fracture was from flying down off the roost or is there some other possibility? Chickens do fly and I would guess even if they had a ramp, they would fly off more often than not just because it is faster when someone comes to let them out in the morning. Mine are REALLY READY as soon as they hear me come in the barn. Lots of talking and lots of flapping before I even get close to the coop door.


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