Salpingitis, an inflammation of the oviduct, can be caused by fecal bacteria that migrate up the oviduct or respiratory infections that move down into the oviduct. It’s often associated with Mycoplasma and bacteria like E.coli and Salmonella.

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, laying soft or wrinkled eggs.

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 will continue to accumulate material and may affect her ability to breathe.

Ginger, Appenzeller Spitzhauben x Easter Egger Hen, 20 months old

Day 1: I noticed that Ginger was roosting in the nest box one night at bedtime. If it was a one-off no big deal, but if she continued on that way it would be a sign that she was broody (not) or experiencing some kind of health issue (and probably not a easily remedied one).

Day 5: She was still roosting in the nest box at night and other than being a little underweight she was behaving normally. I treated her with Ivermectin, to eliminate the possibility that internal parasites, mites or lice might be an additional stress to her system.

Week 4: Ginger had continued to participate normally in the flock: she was quite active and had not declined since I had first noticed her many weeks before. I assumed she wasn’t laying, but my flock’s egg production normally drops in the winter months anyway. I had debated about euthanizing her, as I was sure whatever her issue the prognosis wasn’t good. She didn’t appear to be suffering so I left her with the flock.

Week 8: We experienced a cold snap and the forecast was for sub-zero temperatures and snow. I thought of Ginger sleeping alone in the nest box at night and decided to bring her inside, setting up a sick bay in my living room. Not only was I offering her a respite, it was an opportunity for me to observe her intake and output. I kept her in the house for eight days.

While she had been active outside Ginger was quite docile inside. She didn’t move around her crate much and never made a peep. It was pretty easy to forget there was a chicken in my living room – except for the smell, which was hard to escape. She was drinking, but eating only enough to keep her going. She was still underweight, but remained stable during the time she was housebound. I weighed her several times to keep track of any changes (she gained a marginal amount in that time).

What was noticeable was her poop: there was lots of it, liquid, smelly, lots of urates and small chick-sized solid poop. Not a good sign. When the weather got better I added Ginger back to the flock and she was welcomed as though she’d never been gone.

Week 9: Ginger had made no improvement, and more surprisingly, no obvious decline in the many weeks she’d been dealing with a mystery condition. I decided it was only a matter of time that her luck would run out. Sadly my rooster developed Trichomonosis during that time and I decided to euthanize and necropsy him to confirm my suspicions. I decided to include Ginger at the same time.

My friend Thomas humanely euthanized them (while I stood out at the road) and then we completed the necropsies together. (NB: I wear gloves and encourage you do as well, he opts not to wear them).

It was obvious as soon as the first incision was made that Ginger had persevered despite a major infection. Her oviduct was swollen hard and when cut open full of a bacterial infection. We also found several masses of infection inside her abdominal cavity. The remainder of her organs: gizzard, heart, liver and lungs appeared normal. (Sorry for the dark photos, I was experiencing technical difficulties with my camera).

I don’t know the total weight of those masses, but it seemed like a significant proportion of her 1.5kg/3.5lbs (yes, she was underweight, but my most of my birds are on the slender side).

I have had birds develop Salpingitis more quickly – within a month – as a result of a prolapse or found it by chance when doing a necropsy for another condition. This is the first time I have seen an infection so large that developed over many weeks, but allowed a bird to continue living a relatively normal life. Ginger had been affected for some time and never (not even on her last day) displayed the classic symptoms associated with Salpingitis: lethargy, abnormal or malformed eggs, vent discharge, ruffled or fluffed feathers or distended abdomen. And most of all she never laid a ‘lash egg’ that would have alerted me to what might have been going on. (BTW: None of that infection smelled bad, unlike you would have expected).

Thanks again to Thomas for his on-going willingness to help me care for my birds and his open-minded curiosity to learn new things.

All photos Bitchin’ Chickens. Featured Photo is of Ginger being weighed.

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