Suspected Marek’s, anything I can do?

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May 21, 2017
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Popcorn is a 3 year old mixed breed (serama/d’uccle) hen.

About a week and a half ago, I noticed Popcorn was a little skinnier and was standing still a bit more than usual. I didn’t think it was too weird, seeing as she was molting. I also suspected mites, since there’s a lot of house sparrows in my yard and the sparrows definitely have mites. I went on a short trip, planning to treat Popcorn for mites once I returned. However, I now know this isn’t due to mites.

Popcorn is noticeably skinnier than she was even two weeks ago, despite the fact that her crop is full and they have food available (she’s also the top hen, and still is, so isn’t being bullied away from food). Her comb is pale and shriveled, her face is pale, and she is having balance issues. She’s limping, though there’s nothing wrong with her leg or foot, and she’s breathing heavily (though not with her beak open). She seems to be unable to fly well, or really doesn’t want to fly, as I can place her on my hand (she lays down) and move, and she will stay put (previously she would’ve tried to fly away). She seems hungry, though a bit reluctant to eat her crumbles, I suppose because her crop is full. She’s still drinking, and I am not sure if she has been able to get water, so she may be dehydrated.

Popcorn’s symptoms are almost identical to the symptoms her brother had before he died of suspected Marek’s. About a year and a half ago, her brother, Cheeto, started to struggle to keep his balance while walking and standing. Gradually, he became fully paralyzed and wasted away, then he had a seizure(?) and died. Here’s the thread about him: https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/rooster-losing-balance.1332429/.

Ever since Cheeto’s death, I’ve highly suspected I have Marek’s in my flock. If not Marek’s, I’m sure it’s some other very similar disease that spreads quickly, stays with a chicken for life, causes paralysis, is often fatal, and doesn’t have a cure. Over the years, I’ve had many “unknown” sudden deaths, where chickens would get weak and pale and die soon after or die with no symptoms at all. I’ve also had an instance where a cockerel, upon being introduced to my flock, developed a limp for no discernible reason and then recovered, as can happen with Marek’s.

I know that Hypericum, vitamin B, cranberry, and acyclovir can all prevent symptoms/help symptoms from getting worse. I know they are no guarantee, and even if Popcorn recovers, she will eventually relapse. However, I am willing to try, as Popcorn is a pet. If she becomes paralyzed and/or is bullied by her flock mates, I am even willing to make her a house chicken for as long as she has left. Though if Popcorn starts to suffer, I will either find someone who can euthanize her, or will take her to a vet to do it. I know Cheeto suffered near the end, and I do not want Popcorn to suffer, even though it will be hard decision. And I know that choice may come sooner rather than later.

I started this thread to ask if anyone has any suggestions on how I could make Popcorn more comfortable and possibly slow the progression of her symptoms. I also wanted to document this, since it may be helpful for others.

Pictures and videos:
(The red on her foot is juice from a plum, not blood.)

(You can see her breathing in this video.)


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molting. I also suspected mites
crop is full

She seems hungry, though a bit reluctant to eat her crumbles, I suppose because her crop is full. She’s still drinking,
She’s still drinking, and I am not sure if she has been able to get water, so she may be dehydrated.
Does she lay eggs?
Does she have mites?
Is she molting?
Is her crop emptying?
Still drinking or not drinking - it's unclear?

Make sure she's hydrating. Feed her her normal feed and make sure her crop is emptying completely overnight.

If she's got mites and is molting, then she's not too comfortable. Get rid of the mites.

The limping could be from a reproductive issue.

Birds that are molting sometimes don't eat well, but if she's got a crop issue, this could be a cause of weight loss as well.

As for Marek's...the only way to know would have testing if you were to lose her. She's 3 years old, so I would be looking at other causes - injury, rough mating, reproductive problems, etc. Marek's is always a possibility. It won't hurt to give her 1/4 tablet B-Complex once a day for a few weeks to see if that helps.
 
Does she lay eggs?
Does she have mites?
Is she molting?
Is her crop emptying?
Still drinking or not drinking - it's unclear?

Make sure she's hydrating. Feed her her normal feed and make sure her crop is emptying completely overnight.

If she's got mites and is molting, then she's not too comfortable. Get rid of the mites.

The limping could be from a reproductive issue.

Birds that are molting sometimes don't eat well, but if she's got a crop issue, this could be a cause of weight loss as well.

As for Marek's...the only way to know would have testing if you were to lose her. She's 3 years old, so I would be looking at other causes - injury, rough mating, reproductive problems, etc. Marek's is always a possibility. It won't hurt to give her 1/4 tablet B-Complex once a day for a few weeks to see if that helps.
She lays eggs between molting and being broody.
I haven’t seen any mites after a few examinations, but I could still treat for them to be sure.
She is currently molting.
She was pooping, but I’ll check in the morning to make sure her crop is emptying.
She is drinking, but their waterer was a bit low (it’s not anymore) so I was unsure if she could get water with her balancing issues. (The waterer is a tub, so requires a bantam to fly onto the edge and bend down to drink when it’s low.)

I’ve been giving her watered down feed and dipping her beak into water to encourage her to eat and drink. She wasn’t eating regular crumbles, which is why I offered her the water/feed mix.

I haven’t seen any sign of mites, should I still treat just in case?

I have four hens (including Popcorn) and no roosters. She’s still the top of the pecking order, I’ve observed the other three hens deferring to her. I don’t think it’s a pecking order injury, but I will still check for injuries. I mainly think it’s Marek’s because her symptoms are so similar to her brother’s (he was 1 1/2 years old when the symptoms started).
I did give her a portion of a vitamin B complex tablet.

Thanks a lot for your advice!
 
I was unsure if she could get water with her balancing issues. (The waterer is a tub, so requires a bantam to fly onto the edge and bend down to drink when it’s low.)
You may want to make water available for her in a smaller/lower bowl just in case she's not getting enough.

It's a possibility it could be Marek's. Very hard to know unless you get a confirmation through necropsy.

See if she improves with vitamin therapy and getting her through molt. A hen that has reproductive issues may also develop some lameness.
If you have Vitamin E, you could add that to her feed or give her 1 soft gel daily for a couple of weeks too.

She's a sweet pretty thing, I hope she improves!
 
You may want to make water available for her in a smaller/lower bowl just in case she's not getting enough.

It's a possibility it could be Marek's. Very hard to know unless you get a confirmation through necropsy.

See if she improves with vitamin therapy and getting her through molt. A hen that has reproductive issues may also develop some lameness.
If you have Vitamin E, you could add that to her feed or give her 1 soft gel daily for a couple of weeks too.

She's a sweet pretty thing, I hope she improves!
I did get a different tub that is smaller and she can reach standing. I think I have some leftover vitamin E (I treated her brother with it). So I’ll try to find that. Thanks again.
 
Popcorn can barely walk today.
Her symptoms are progressing quicker than her brother’s. Thankfully she isn’t breathing with an open beak yet. She isn’t making noises like yesterday either, unless she sees my pet pigeon, then she makes aggressive noises and tries to fight him.

I checked Popcorn’s crop early this morning and it was still half full and felt doughy. Her breath isn’t sour and it doesn’t feel impacted, so I think it’s a slow crop? Now, a few hours after I checked it, her crop is smaller and less doughy. She is drinking water on her own as far as I can tell.

Today is the second day I’ve given Popcorn hypericum and vitamin B. I can’t figure out how to get acyclovir.

I checked both legs for injury. Popcorn doesn’t react when I feel or bend her legs.
 
Had she had anything to eat/drink at all this morning before you checked the crop?
It wouldn't hurt to give her some coconut oil twice a day, manipulate the crop if it's doughy feeling.

No chance of her eating something toxic, poison, rotten, moldy, etc.?

I'm very sorry that she's getting worse. I was hoping that she would improve:(
 

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