Case Study Emergencies/Illness Health Issues Necropsy

Case Study: Feather Follicle Cyst

If you’ve ever had an ingrown hair you’ll remember that it’s a hair which instead of growing normally, curls back into the skin forming a small irritated bump. Think of feather follicle cysts as being the bird equivalent involving feathers instead of hair and because feathers are so much larger than hair so are the resulting cysts.

They are oval or elongated lumps caused by damage on one side of the follicle. The result is asymmetric feather growth, with the feather curling back into the follicle and filling with yellow-white keratin (what feathers, beaks, toenails and fingernails are made of), various cells and feather fragments. If you dissect them, cysts can be doughy, crumbly, soft or fatty.

Cysts can be caused by a variety of issues: infection, genetics, trauma or damage to the feather.

Treatment depends on the location, size, and impact on the bird’s comfort level, but often requires the removal of the cyst and follicle. In doing an internet search I found they appear more common in budgies and parrots than chickens and mostly affect primary feathers.

I did find an article with necropsy photos of a Lohmann Brown hen that died of a feather follicle cyst. It had grown into her spinal cord causing neck paralysis, disorientation and ultimately, starvation. Her cause of death would never have been determined without a necropsy.

Prevention

Amino acids are recommended for molting birds and may also prevent feather cysts. Foods such as oranges, broccoli, corn, peas and spinach are rich in amino acids, lecithin (unsaturated fatty acid), B vitamins, folic acid and biotin.

Case Study

Lady Grey, Lavender Orpington Hen

Shawna noticed an ingrown feather on her hen’s wing. She removed the lump and debrided the area, scraping away the accumulated debris. The hen healed well and Shawna added her back into the flock with the thought that the procedure may have to be repeated.

Unfortunately Lady Grey’s cyst reappeared and was the size of a golf ball within a week. Not only was the lump large, but the hen had pecked and eaten half of it before Shawna could intervene.

That required another visit to Shawna’s ‘Kitchen Vet’s Office’.

“So today was a test of my nerves and kitchen vet operating skills. My husband, Greg, was my nurse and did a fabulous job of keeping Lady Grey calm and comfortable. She had a long soak in an Epsom salt bath, was cleaned up with some antibacterial soap and then the wound was washed with betadine.

After wrapping her up in a nice warm towel with her wing out, I took a deep breath and made the first cut. My girl didn’t flinch. Oh good, not a lot of nerves or blood in this mass of fat and hard pus. I was sure I was about to pass out. I was sweating like crazy and my hands were shaking because I knew I had to keep cutting away at this so she had a chance at survival.

Lady Grey was a champ. She seemed to know we were trying to help her and never got upset or tried to get away. At the end I had to cut the two big feather follicles out. She was still very calm and didn’t fuss, but I could just tell that she felt it. That part broke my heart.”

“Finally after about ten minutes (which felt like an eternity), I made the final cut with the scalpel and we were done. 100% of the mass was gone. We cleaned her back up, put antibiotic spray on the wound, gave her a shot of antibiotics and wrapped her wing. After she was dried off, she was put in our warm garage and given some scrambled eggs.” – Shawna

“Throughout the whole process I had one hand on her back and the other cupping her face, blocking her from seeing what was happening. She would crane around my hands to bite the towel. She would accidentally nibble me, but that towel received her full force bite, jerk, shake, and release. Best animal patient ever.” – Greg

Many thanks to Shawna & Greg Etheridge for sharing their story and photos with permission.

Credits: NCBI; Poultry DVM; WagWalking Featured Photo: Backyard Chickens

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