What killed my chicken? Aspergillosis

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by spencecat, Nov 3, 2016.

  1. spencecat

    spencecat New Egg

    Jul 7, 2016
    Taylorsville, UT
    I'm posting this so others can reference it - not because I need help (she's already gone).

    Here are the symptoms that I observed in my Welsummer, Raspberry ChocolatePants (she went by Chocolate for short). Chocolate was hatched this spring and just died this weekend, so she died at about 7 months old.

    Baseline: Raspberry ChocolatePants was a 7 month old Welsummer. Other than when she was a chick, she was only touched once, because she was very fast and very adverse to the idea of my hands on her. It is likely that her symptoms were not observed until quite late because she was so very adverse to human interaction.

    1. Oddly loud squawks - First, I noticed that she was making really loud, non-rhythmic squawks. By non-rhythmic I mean that unlike the egg-laying-song, the timing between squawks was random. These were loud, odd sounds that made me do a double-take more than once. I kept giving her a look-over, assessing her gender, to reassure myself that these weren't premature crows from a late-developing rooster. I observed these odd sounds for a week before noticing any other symptoms.
    2. Normal posture - Upright and normal bearing - at no point did she hold her head against her body, hold it down, droop, drop her wings, etc. I would have taken the other symptoms much more seriously except that her bearing seemed fine. She was walking around, looking at things, and there was nothing odd about her posture or movements (at least to my new-chicken-mommy eyes).
    3. Gasping - She was breathing with her beak open, and kept opening her mouth and sticking her tongue out. I did not notice this until at least a week after the loud squawk started, but I believe it is likely she was doing it before that.
    4. Hissing sound - while she certainly appeared to be gasping, once I caught her and listened closely, I heard a hissing sound. It sounded to me like she had an obstruction in her throat that was forcing the air through such a small hole that it was hissing.
    5. Lethargy - after I noticed the gasping, I knew we had a serious situation, and I caught her - way too easily. She was definitely slow.
    6. Holding wings out - ever so slightly. This was not noticeable in a "oh, she's holding her wings out" way, but her chest appeared broader than usual when observed from the front. It was so slight that I didn't notice it until I focused on her with intent to diagnose our problem.
    7. Lack of interest in food - I noticed the gasping on Thursday, and also noticed that she was not interested in scratch. Unfortunately, I did not have time to explore her issue on Thursday as I had prior engagements. On Friday she again showed no interest in scratch.
    8. Weight loss - this was really a guess, since she never allowed herself to be held, but she certainly felt very light and was obviously lighter and thinner than the other ladies
    9. Empty crop - poor girl! It was empty when I checked it on Thursday, Friday and Saturday

    The Husband and I spent a frustrating few hours calling every vet we could to see if anyone would see her on Friday night after we got home from work. In the end an exotic pets specialist agreed to see her but the appointment fee was $150 because it was after hours, so we opted for an internet diagnosis instead. We concluded that gapeworm was the likely culprit and administered a de-wormer that night.

    On Saturday, knowing that her crop had been empty when I had checked it on Thur and Fri, and having noticed she weighed almost nothing, I decided to feed her with a syringe. My sister had come over for some gardening fun so I convinced her to hold Chocolate while I attempted to get water-thinned chicken feed into her. It didn't work because chicken feed remains too grainy when watered down, so we strategized and decided to dilute an egg with water and give that to her.

    She stopped breathing after about 5-10 minutes of attempted syringe feeding, and after being held upside down, all the food came out and she resumed breathing... but all the food had come out so the syringe feeding resumed... at which point she stopped breathing again (we didn't notice at first, but then my sister put her down briefly and she just...flopped...on the ground). I held her upside down and stroked her throat to no avail. It was obvious she was struggling to breathe and was unable to do so. She struggled for several minutes and died in my arms.

    This was my first chicken fatality, and doubly awful that I had roped my sister into assisting me in this task that essentially turned into us killing my chicken. After we bawled like babies we realized we didn't know what to do with a dead chicken. Did we need to bleed her? Should we put her in the fridge? It was obvious to me that we needed to get to the bottom of what had killed her for the health of the whole flock. We called Jesus for help (not that Jesus. The Jesus that married our sister Holly and who grew up in rural Mexico with chickens). He wasn't available. We called a vet who told us about the state lab. It took about 15 minutes to find an after-hours number for the state lab. It then took 2 hours to drive there. We were not thinking very clearly at this point, having been traumatized by killing Raspberry ChocolatePants, and it did not occur to us that we could store her in a cooler with ice over the weekend. So instead we took a 6hr roadtrip with a dead chicken. We did get to watch the necropsy, though, which kind of made it worth it, as it was interesting and it means that I can report on her internals now.

    Necropsy observations:
    1. Thin - this girl had virtually no fat on her
    2. Empty crop
    3. Healthy organs - all her organs looked fine and healthy at a glance
    4. Nothing in the trachea except a small amount of mucus - this really surprised me, I thought for sure that the hissing sound had been caused by a blockage. We had suspected gapeworm or a foreign object
    5. Full gizzard - she tricked me! Her crop was empty but the gizzard was packed
    6. Undeveloped ovaries/eggs - the pathologist said "she is not even thinking about laying an egg" and said that none of them were developing. This is likely totally unrelated to her illness. But as a side note - Wellsummers are supposed to lay medium-dark brown eggs and we never saw a single one. I thought she was laying the regular-brown spotted eggs we are getting - but we are still getting those spotted eggs. I now suspect that she had never laid an egg at all.

    The necropsy did not reveal the cause of death. I received the pathology report yesterday. It reported that her bronchi were completely blocked from the fungal disease and she officially died of aspergillosis.

    I hope that others can refer to this if they see similar symptoms! My girls have a lot of ventilation but I did (negligently) leave the straw bales out in the rain and they got a bit of mold at the bottom. I then (double-negligently) used it in the run and under the coop. I believe that straw to be the source of the over-exposure to fungal spores.
    amanda1 and FoodFreedomNow like this.
  2. FoodFreedomNow

    FoodFreedomNow Chillin' With My Peeps

    My condolences on the loss of Chocolate. Thank you for taking the time to share your detailed and well-written account of her illness and ultimate diagnosis...it will likely help another BYCer with a similar problem. Also serves as a cautionary tale about straw's propensity to mold.

    (while the subject matter was inarguably somber, I appreciated the lightheartedness of your writing - brava!)
  3. theoldchick

    theoldchick The Chicken Whisperer Premium Member

    May 11, 2010
    Sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing the info.
  4. amanda1

    amanda1 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 5, 2015
    Thank you so much for sharing this! There is such a lack of current information out there about this. My hen was diagnosed with it in April. The vet indicated she did not know of a cure. My hen is still alive, eating, but lethargic, skinny, hoarse, and straining to breathe. I have been researching this disease prior to my hens diagnosis, as I came to the conclusion it was aspergillosis by her symptoms . I JUST found an article where a vet in OH has successfully cured aspergillosis by using a fungicide, terbinafine, orally and by nebulizer, for 6 weeks or so. I have just written to my local avian vet to request a prescription. I find it especially interesting that your bird never laid an egg. Neither had mine. At six months when she hadn't laid, I realized something must be wrong and that is when I observed the labored breathing. I just want people to know there is hope, despite the lack of updates knowledge out there.

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