Some of you may have heard the term ‘lash egg’, which is a bit of a misnomer because technically it’s not an egg. The correct name is salpingitis, an inflammation of the oviduct caused by an infection, which occurs in various species including both chickens and people.
It’s a common condition in poultry, especially among factory-farmed birds, who lay large numbers of eggs. High-producing hens tend to have more relaxed egg laying muscles, which may allow fecal bacteria to migrate up the oviduct. Or sometimes it’s a result of respiratory infections that move down into the oviduct. Salpingitis is often associated with Mycoplasma and bacteria like E.coli and Salmonella.
Warning: following this article are a number of graphic necropsy photos, which are illuminating if you aren’t squeamish. You can skip them if you are.
Some of the symptoms are so generalized they could be many things: lethargy, loss of appetite, ruffled feathers, yellow poop or respiratory illness. An affected hen will eventually lay fewer eggs or stop laying altogether. Other typical signs include distended abdomen and laying soft or wrinkled eggs.
An early infection might have been the result of damage from egg binding. The two conditions share symptoms such as standing upright like a penguin and straining as if trying to lay an egg.
All the components of unlaid eggs accumulate and fester in the oviduct, filling it with a smelly, rotting mass. The tell-tale diagnostic clincher is the production of a ‘lash egg’: the passing of an egg-shaped mass of hardened pus, tissues and bits of unlaid eggs. If the hen is unable to pass the mass it continues to accumulate material and may affect her ability to breathe.
So what’s the prognosis? By the time you see a lash egg the infection will be quite advanced and unlikely to respond to treatment (i.e. antibiotics). A hen may survive, but is unlikely to resume normal egg laying, if at all.
I read one article in which it was suggested that a hen could be spayed (removal of the oviduct) or have hormone implants to prevent her from laying again. I love my girls, but feel that’s going a bit far. For me, death is a natural part of life and although it can be sad I’m not interested in prolonging the potential suffering of a short-lived animal for dubious benefits.
The best thing is to try to avoid conditions that might lead to infections in the oviduct: respiratory and bacterial pathogens. Provide a balanced diet, including garlic, apple cider vinegar and probiotics, which keep your birds’ immune systems strong; practice good hygiene by cleaning and disinfecting your coop and waterers regularly and don’t let poop accumulate. Salpingitis is not contagious, but some of the underlying conditions that lead to it are. Watch your other birds for any signs of illness and treat them early.
I have no direct experience with salpingitis. The following story and necropsy photos were offered to me by Christie: She had a two-year old Olive Egger who had recently finished molting and appeared healthy. One evening, Christie found her sleeping on the ground, brought her into the house and treated her for egg binding (warm bath with epsom salts). Christie put her in the bathroom for observation and an hour later, upon checking the patient, found she’d died. Until her death she was eating and drinking normally and displayed no symptoms of illness. None of her other birds were sick.
I’m appreciative that Christie did a necropsy and took photos as we’d be guessing what the cause of death was. In this instance, it’s quite obvious that she had a severe infection resulting in salpingitis.
It’s amazing how resilient chickens can be and how long they can hide major illness or infections. It’s always a good idea to do routine checks of your birds and watch out for any birds that appear ‘off’ or separated from the flock.
All photos courtesy of Bitchin’ Chickens friend Christie Miller. Featured photo: Hobby Farms