Emergencies/Illness Health Issues

Case Study: Egg Yolk Peritonitis Surgery

Egg Yolk Peritonitis is an inflammation in the peritoneum (tissue covering the inside of the abdomen and most organs) caused by the presence of yolk from a ruptured egg or a retained egg in the oviduct. The yolk may result in only mild inflammation and be absorbed by the peritoneum. Unfortunately the yolk is also a medium for bacteria, which can lead to infection.

I sent a hen, who had died unexpectedly, to the Animal Health Centre for a necropsy. Her cause of death was gout, but the lab work also revealed the presence of both E. coli and Staphylococcus, which are just two, of several, bacteria associated with EYP. It’s a condition often caused as a by-product related to other reproductive issues: salpingitis, impaction or torsion of the oviduct, ovarian neoplasia, cystic ovarian disease and obesity.

This is Mary Anne’s story of dealing with EYP and the lengths she went to save her hen.

Pretty Girl, Sapphire Gem, 2 years old

Pretty Girl had already experienced a near brush with death when a hawk attacked her 18 months beforehand. At that time, the injury required stitches to close a wound on her head. She fully recovered, but still carries the scar as a reminder.

Day 1: I noticed one of my hens, Red, had a lot of nasty, yellow diarrhea and was acting off. I ruled out the possibility of coccidiosis, vent gleet, or diet. It turns out she was egg bound and we were able to manually guide the egg safely out with no further issue.

A second hen, Pretty Girl, started sitting in odd places so I got concerned and examined her more closely her. I noticed her belly was hard and thought she might be egg bound. I checked another chicken for comparison and her abdomen felt soft.

Day 2: I’m a Vet Tech/Assistant and took her to the all species Vet at my clinic for X-rays, which revealed a large mass in her abdomen. The doctor and I knew the mass was calcified from looking at the radiographs (tissue masses do not show up as bright on X-rays). I felt like a horrible chicken mum for having missed it.

We decided to attempt a surgical intervention as it was her only chance at survival. My Vet said she had never done that type of procedure before and wasn’t sure Pretty Girl would make it.

Later that day Pretty Girl was prepped for surgery. I monitored the anesthesia while the Vet made a 5” incision and removed a whopping 2.1 lbs of accumulated material from internally laid eggs. Some of the egg yolk material had leaked in between her abdominal muscles. The area was flushed with a litre of NACL (sodium chloride), which is the least caustic chemical to use on tissue in the abdominal cavity. 

Once the surgery was over it took her about thirty minutes to fully regain consciousness. An hour later, I offered her a piece of shredded cheese from my salad, which she ate so I gave her some pellets and water which she gladly ate and drank.

She was prescribed Metacam (for pain) for 5 days and a Clavamox suspension (a broad spectrum antibiotic used to prevent possible infection) for 14 days. Hiding her meds in scrambled eggs in order to get her to eat them stopped working on the second day, so I had to give them to her via tube.

We did not spay Pretty Girl (to prevent future egg laying which might lead to a repeat episode of EYP) at the same time as her surgery because we were focused on removing all the material and infection from her body and hoped that would be sufficient.

Week 1: I kept her in a large dog crate in my spare room where she would stay warm. I placed a disposable face mask over her incision (with the elastic straps over her wings) so she didn’t peck the stitches out.

Week 2: After the first week I thought she needed vitamin D so I put her in a wire crate without the plastic bottom and set her in the front yard to eat grass and soak up some sun. Her flock mates were free ranged during the day so they would come over for visits. I did this daily, weather permitting. 

After her sutures came out on day 14, I opened the crate door and she rejoined her flock with no issues. I have a total of five roosters, but none of them harassed her. She stayed close to my guinea fowl who thinks he is a chicken and is top “rooster” so no one bothers his girls. He doesn’t try to mate with the hens, so no worry there. 

Week 3: She had fully recovered and I felt surgery was the best decision given her prognosis. I didn’t care if I didn’t get any more eggs from her, the important thing was we saved her. There were no signs of masses or anatomical issues that might have contributed to EYP, so I hoped it was a fluke and it never happened again.

Week 4: I think she started to lay again. I checked her abdomen often to make sure everything felt normal. 

Bitchin’ Chickens Note: I showed the surgery photos to Dr Vicki Bowes, Avian Vet/Pathologist and asked how long it would have taken for that material to have accumulated in the hen’s abdomen. Her opinion was at least 6-8 weeks. Her recommendation for antibiotics would have been Baytril or Sulpha class drugs.

Many thanks to Mary Anne for her story and photos, used with permission.

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