Unwell older hen... I'm totally flummoxed

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by AlaskanSalmon, Dec 16, 2016.

  1. AlaskanSalmon

    AlaskanSalmon Hatching

    Dec 16, 2016
    Hi all,

    I'll preface this by saying that I've spent nearly two weeks now trying to figure out what is going on with this hen, including a LOT of reading through BYC. So far, no luck.

    I'm working with a nearly 6 year old buff orpington (quite old, I know) who is presenting a host of confusing symptoms.

    The initial symptom set was a progressive loss of control over her legs. I was first aware that something was wrong when I found her standing in the corner of the laying section of the coop in the evening. The temperature was around -30F outside, probably around -10F to 0F where she was standing. I brought her in for an evening, then brought her out the next day. At this point nothing seemed unusual, and no signs of frostbite. Two days later I brought out the morning fermented feed and I noticed the hen was hobbling - clearly some problem walking. When I brought her in and set her up on my indoor roost (just a closet door I keep open) I noticed she was having balance problems. The next day she had lost complete function over her legs - I ultimately had to make a sling for her, which works quite well.

    The leg paralysis is unusual. Sometimes it presents as one leg forward, one leg back - usually it's just both legs locked forward so that she is resting on her back end. This only presents if she is bearing any weight on her legs; when she is in the sling she sits with both legs tucked under her, toes curled. If I set her on her feet unsupported she "kicks out" in what seems like convulsions for a moment, then both legs end up locked forward.

    I thought this looked like some sort of vitamin deficiency so I've given her a fair amount of vitamin E and vitamin B complex along with her fermented feed. Neither of these seems to have had an effect. Meanwhile her appetite has been steadily decreasing, to the point where she shuns everything (even scrambled eggs) except chicken crack. Two days ago I noticed she wasn't drinking water and started giving her water using a dropper - after about 10mL she began convulsing (legs and wings), and turned her head back several times. This was followed by what is best described as two rounds of broody poo, and an hour spent panting with her mouth open. I've continued giving her water with electrolytes mixed in, but her appetite has stayed poor and she spends much of her time sleeping. I have noticed that there will be a sound much like when a person's stomach rumbles, and this is accompanied by a brief bit of higher pressure in her crop. This is fairly recent. Her poo continues to be infrequent, large, on the runny side, and dark green.

    No signs of lice or mites. No signs of subdermal tumors a la mareks. I don't believe she is egg bound, given a physical check and a 30 minute hot soak. Despite the declining appetite and refusal to drink, she has remained quite vocal (she is very upset when I turn off the music) and will even make raptor sounds now and again.

    At this point I am well aware she is unlikely to live, and the decline in appetite may indicate she's ready to be done. I just want to figure out what the issue may be. Worst comes to worst I'll be donating her to the veterinary medicine program at my university for a necropsy if they're open to it come Monday.

    Any help or insight would be much appreciated. I think there are multiple issues here that may have been keeping me from figuring out the initial problem.

    Thanks in advance for any help!
  2. Eggcessive

    Eggcessive Free Ranging Premium Member

    Apr 3, 2011
    southern Ohio
    It can be hard to diagnose a problem like this in a hen without vet help. Mareks disease or vitamin deficiency may come to mind, but a injury to her legs or hips, or even an internal problem, such as a tumor or internal laying putting pressure on her nerves could be possible problems. Mareks usually affects young chickens under 6 months old, but if she has been exposed to a Mareks carrier in the last month or two, it could still be a problem. If she is not laying or had problems laying eggs, egg yolk peritonitis and internal laying problems can cause many symptoms including lameness. The curled toes does sound like riboflavin (vitamin B2) deficiency, but a neurological problem could also be the case. Please let us know what you find out if you get a necropsy done. I just put down a 4 year old hen with sudden lameness and refusal to eat, but I have never had Mareks in my flock before.
  3. azygous

    azygous Free Ranging

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    I have a hen right now with these exact symptoms. She's the third hen in ten years to come down with this. But it's no mystery. I had a necropsy done a few years back on a very young roo and I learned that an avian leukemia infects my flock. (Lymphotic leucosis) My hen is going lame from tumors growing on her leg joints.

    Have you had any chickens sicken and die for unexplained reasons? There are viruses that cause tumors to grow on organs, joints, even eyes, of chickens. The cockerel that was necropsied had a two-pound liver riddled with tumors. The viruses are all related and similar to Marek's with small differences in how long they will survive in the environment. Marek's virus can last for decades while others last only a very short time.

    Most chickens carrying these viruses show no symptoms and live to a very old age and never have any health problems, while others become symptomatic, get very sick and die. I have a nine-year old hen who has had a tumor over her right eye for the past five years but no other health problems. She's happy, active, and probably will live another several years even though she carries the virus and even has a tumor. The hen with the crippled legs is actually putting some weight back on and getting around a little better than she was. I will hold off a while longer before I euthanize her.

    I'm glad you plan to get a necropsy. It will tell you exactly what is going on and you will be much more equipped to manage your flock going forward.
  4. AlaskanSalmon

    AlaskanSalmon Hatching

    Dec 16, 2016
    Hi everybody,

    Got super busy after the necropsy, but I'm here to provide closure to this post for anybody who comes across it in the future trying to figure out what's wrong with their own bird.

    azygous was on the right track: it was cancer. Luckily it wasn't viral in origin, so the rest of the flock is safe. To quote the pathologist directly:

    "Your chicken had a mass (tumor) adhered to the cranial portion of the liver and caudal portion of the lung. The mass infiltrated the vertebrae, and most likely the spinal cord, which would explain her paresis. I have decided your chicken had an ovarian carcinoma, which had infiltrated the liver, kidney and vertebrae, as well as metastases in the lung."

    Ultimately the best call would have been to euthanize my hen. Her refusal to eat should have signaled to me that she was ready to be done. At the very least she was warm when she died - a big deal in January in Alaska!

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