Archive for the ‘Emergency House Calls’ Category

When Should I Call the Vet?

When a member of your flock is injured or sick, sometimes it is difficult to know if veterinary care is needed. A predator may have attacked your chicken, and you are not sure if the cuts or scrapes will heal on their own, or if there are worse injuries to attend to. Perhaps your chicken is showing signs of a respiratory infection. Or that bad case of bumblefoot is not responding to home treatments.

While not trained in veterinary medicine, Home to Roost provides “in-between” services for hurt or sick birds that require assistance. We provide first aid and simple at-home, animal husbandry-related solutions; however, for more complicated issues, we will refer you to avian veterinarians for diagnosis and treatment. Visit the “Home to Roost Services” tab of my blog for more information.

Do you need to see a vet? Here are some guidelines:

1. Does your bird have an injury that is life threatening or that involves a wing or leg?  

Any kind of trauma, such as a predator attack, broken bone, amputated limb, or deep wounds, requires a visit to the vet. In these cases, your chicken may need pain medication and/or antibiotics. A trained avian veterinarian should know how to assess the bird’s condition and treat appropriately.

2. Does your bird have a respiratory infection that is not improving?

Signs that suggest a respiratory infection include sneezing, coughing, rattling, wheezing, and mucus coming from your bird’s nares (nostrils). Bubbles in the corner of the eyes can also suggest a respiratory infection. Birds have a complex respiratory system that involves nine air sacs positioned around the body. Because of this complicated system, respiratory infections may not resolve on their own and may require antibiotic treatment. While you might be able to access antibiotics for chickens, antibiotics must be prescribed by a veterinarian.

3. Does your bird have bumblefoot (pododermatitis) that is not improving?

If Epsom salts soaks and drawing salves are not working on your chicken’s bumblefoot, do not perform surgery on your own. Surgery is a delicate procedure that may result in damage to the bird’s foot. Surgery is also very painful, and your bird will need pain medication.

4. Does your bird need antibiotics?

Antibiotics are prescribed based on the kind of infection, the location of the infection, and the purpose of the bird. Some medications are not approved for use in chickens. An avian veterinarian will know what medication to use and how to administer it (injection, drinking water, with a syringe, etc.). It is important to limit unnecessary use of antibiotics; if antibiotics are given too often, bacteria can develop resistance to them, and infections may not respond to future treatment.

5. Does your bird need pain management?

How can you tell when a chicken is in pain? Chickens tend to hide pain to avoid predation and prevent being excluded from the flock. They also do not have facial expressions that can be easily read. A chicken in pain may withdraw from the rest of the flock, show little interest in food, or stop vocalizing. Limping also may be a sign of pain, as well as breathing hard, panting, or a heartbeat that is faster than normal. Chickens often peck at a painful area. Birds that require pain management should be taken to a veterinarian.

Avian Vets in the Chicago Area

If you live in the Chicago area and have a chicken that needs medical attention, I maintain a list of recommended avian vets in the area. Go to the Resources tab of my blog. Tell these practices that Home to Roost sent you!

Jennifer Murtoff
Photo by Liz McCrory,

Fatty Hemorrhagic Liver (Hepatic Lipidosis) [CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES]

Here’s the necropsy report for the day. Yesterday I visited a friend who has chickens in the city, and her birds were fine; today she called with a dead hen. The hen had died between 2 PM and 4 PM today.

The hen had laid (and eaten part of) a soft-shelled egg. When I opened her up, I found a HUGE amount of fat and a massive amount of blood in the body cavity, seemingly a liver hemorrhage. In addition to the liver issues, she had a nice collection of ascaris (roundworms) in the intestinal tract (one was over 2 inches long). Her gizzard contained very little grit and a large amount of grains/vegetable matter and some plastic pieces.

Dr. Sakas of Niles Animal Hospital reviewed the necropsy pix and said that the underlying comdition was the fatty liver, and death was caused by an aneurysm. She died shortly after laying an egg, and the strain of egg laying can cause a hemorrhage.

Fatty liver disease (hepatic lipdosis) is also seen in caged birds (like parrots and parakeets) that are fed a diet of strictly seeds. A diet that is too nutrient dense, as well as lack of exercise, can cause fatty liver syndrome. Fat builds up in the liver and the body cavity and can cause shortness of breath, organ failure, egg binding, and hemorrhage. I’ve taken my parakeets off of a seed diet and put them on a pelleted formula for this reason. [NOTE: Diet conversion of caged exotics must be done slowly and under very careful observation. Birds to do not take to change well and can starve themselves to death during a diet conversion. Check with your avian veterinarian before trying this on your own.]

My friend doesn’t overload her birds with bread, mealworms, or other treats, but as I observed the birds eating from the feeder, they were picking out the bits of corn and leaving the mash. I advised her to feed a finely ground mash without the bits of corn, a crumble, or a pelleted food to prevent the hens from picking the “marshmallows” out of the “Lucky Charms” and leaving the “cereal” behind.

I also suggested minimizing the amount of food available to the birds, limiting it to about 1/4 lb per bird per day. More exercise would probably be beneficial, too.

The pictures below are not for the faint of heart!

The gizzard

The gizzard

Yellow fat with coagulated blood from liver hemorrhage

Yellow fat with coagulated blood from liver hemorrhage

Roundworm (Ascaris)

Roundworm (Ascaris)

Fatty liver with large blood clot to the left

Fatty liver with large blood clot to the left

Yellow fat in the body cavity

Yellow fat in the body cavity

Gizzard contents

Gizzard contents

All in a day’s work….

Well, today was a double-header.

This afternoon, I consulted to a family off the Mag Mile who very kindly rescued baby chicks from a less-than-ideal situation after they were hatched at a school. There are two little ones who are doing their best to hang on.

Then I moved on to a family who lost a hen for unknown reasons. Necropsy revealed a very impacted crop due to grass clippings and a thin-shelled egg, broken in the oviduct.

Update on hen with soft-shelled egg

Great news! Maisie the hen is doing well! Her owner had this to say:

“Thanks again for your help w/ Maisy. She’s doing much better now that she’s got calcium in her. She’s back in with the other hens (has been for a week+ now), and we’re getting 3-4 eggs daily out of the four of them (we waited patiently until she finally gave us one in her private cage before getting her back in w/ the others).”

What great news!

Hard crop emergency call

Last night I went out on a call for a chicken that had a hard crop. I suspected impacted crop.

The owner said the crop had been hard for a while and that she was lethargic and hadn’t eaten in a while. He isolated her in a carrier in the basement and put a heater in to keep her comfortable.

I arrived, expecting to treat a crop impaction, but instead found that Hildegard the buff Orpington was listless and lethargic. She had an empty crop and lots of poop. So the crop and GI system were doing ok; however, she had not eaten since the owner isolated her.

I gave her an external exam and checked the poop. There was nothing abnormal in the external exam, but the poop yielded a stone and a full kernel of wheat, which made me wonder if there was something wrong with the gizzard. It also looked like she had chipped her beak.

My recommendation was that the owners keep the hen warm and isolated and see an avian veterinarian; without the ability to know what was going on internally, this was beyond me. I recommended several avian vets in the area and asked that the owner follow up with me.

It’s always difficult for me when I am unable to help a chicken. They can stymie even the avian vets; birds are good at hiding sickness, and by the time you know they are not feeling well, it’s too late. More on this topic (subclinical illnesses) to come!

Soft-shelled egg removal

Today’s emergency call was a hen with white, watery liquid in her fluff and some odd stuff happening in and around the vent.

The owner did a fabulous job of documenting the case in his initial email query to me: the other birds, symptoms, behavior changes, description of eggs. He even included pictures! My best guess without seeing her was  uterine prolapse.

I asked the owner to isolate her from the flock to prevent spread of contagions and also keep the other hens from picking at any odd things at her back end (yes, chickens do this!).

The owner did exactly as instructed, and I found the hen resting comfortably in a wire cage under the porch. Her crop was full, which I was pleased to find!

Getting down to business involved gently removing the white urates on her vent and fluff. When they were cleared away, I found a tiny piece of eggshell and part of an egg membrane protruding from the cloaca. This was the major key to the solution. The hen had a soft-shelled egg broken inside of her.

Cleaning the vent

I gently cleaned Maisie's vent with soap and water.

She fretted a bit when I gently pulled on the membrane, but it stimulated her to bear down, and the piece of shell membrane came out. I was hoping it would bring the rest of the egg with it, but no such luck.

I was about to attempt a warm water bath when I discovered that I could stimulate her to bear down, and she passed the rest of the egg! Besides, the hen did not really want to sit in a pan of warm water and kept perching on the side of the tub!

soft-shelled egg

This is what was giving Maisie such a hard time!

I cleaned her up a bit more, swabbed the area with alcohol, and by now the uterine tissues had receded inside the cloaca. We put some warm honey (anti-biotic/anti-inflammatory) mixed with KY Jelly in and on her vent.

Home care suggestions include oyster shell, liquid calcium in the bird’s water, honey treatment for a few days or if red tissues appear again, and observation and isolation until better. I also told the owners to keep an eye on egg production, watch the poop for both light and dark waste, and look for the birdie  “I’m not feeling well!” symptoms:

  • eyes partly closed
  • fluffed
  • not eating (empty crop)
  • lack of vocalization.

Egg issues can be a little dicey, but here’s to a full and complete recovery for Maisie the chicken!