I am by nature curious, attracted to oddities and driven to learn new things. I collect photos and stories about interesting chicken health issues hoping to find the answers. Dr Vicki Bowes and I spent more than a dozen hours over a few visits studying my files to identify the conditions of sick birds or cause of death diagnoses from necropsy photos. Those sessions produced the first six installments of the Avian Pathology cases.
We met up again in April after a hiatus of almost five months. Dr Bowes is a specialist Avian Pathologist with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Animal Health Centre. A weather system called an atmospheric river flooded the lab, forcing it to close for months. By the time we got together again our visit was short and we zipped through just a few cases, and not in the same depth as usual. Although they may not meet our usual standards there are still things to be learned, so I present them here as an opportunity for your learning.
Tuberculosis or Tumours
“If you able to show these photos to your Avian vet pathologist I would greatly appreciate it. Never seen this before and I don’t like being stumped. There were fluid filled sacks inside body cavity, two were green/bile coloured and one was milky and burst.” – Sarah Violet Atkinson
- The nodes on the surface of the intestine are suggestive of Tuberculosis or transplanted tumours (can’t diagnosis without biopsy/labs)
- Green = bile or breakdown of blood products, discoloured haemorrhage
- The ovary is dysfunctional with a cystic follicle
- The cheesy looking stuff (exudate) is from the infected oviduct
Mass On Head
“What is this and what should we do?” – Dara Gilliland
- This looks like an abscess or tumour caused by squamous cell carcinoma, which is very proliferative (develops quickly)
- The area requires debriding to reduce the size of the mass which will cause pain and impede the bird’s mobility
- Without veterinary care I’d recommend humane euthanasia
“This was one of the new Serama hens that we had shipped in and who subsequently passed away while still in quarantine. There was a huge amount of fluid in the sac around the heart/pericardium so that her heart was barely recognizable. She was lethargic for a week or two, had ascites, congested breathing and a significant load of roundworms in her intestines.” – Sheena Carlson
- The cheesy fibrin is suggestive of a bacterial infection such as E.coli
- The pericardium has inflammatory debris causing it to be pale/nodular
- Liver mostly good, with one spot
- Round worms in the intestine
“My hen is still laying an egg a day, eating, drinking and pooping like normal. There are no mites and lice. She’s been on two different antibiotics and two different eye/ear ointments. She seems to get better and then worse. I’m at a loss for what to do.” – Lindsay Kerr
- This could be an infected injury or bite
- The area is inflamed. Cellulitis has gone into the ear canal and the infection has entered the subcutaneous tissue.
- Treat as a dirty wound by washing, clearing and disinfecting the site
- Treat with injectible and topical antibiotics
Suspected Marek’s Disease Or Peritonitis
“I did an at home necropsy on a 6 month old chicken that suddenly passed away. The liver showed the multifocal to coalescing fibrotic type lesions and the duodenum and the pancreas also contained similar lesions. I checked the sciatic nerves and they looked normal. Any ideas on what might cause these lesions? My mom was told this was a hen – I think those are testes but not 100% sure.” – Chloe Bellerive
- The yellow spots are bacterial necrosis.
- The yellow area is indicative of an intussusception (intestinal obstruction)
- The hyper mobility of the gut is an attempt to get rid of the worm load
- I would suspect a Marek’s tumour infiltration or localized peritonitis
- And yes, those are testes and that is a cockerel
One of the things I appreciate about Dr Bowes is that she’s a good teacher, neither condescending or talking above my level of understanding. She uses medical terms, but often stops to confirm whether I am following. If not, she explains them in lay terms. I thought I would pass on that lesson and have provided a short glossary here for some of the words used above. Maybe they’ll come in handy when you’re trying to impress someone or need some new words for your next Scrabble game.
Cellulitis: (sel-u-LIE-tis) is a common, potentially serious bacterial skin infection. The affected skin is swollen and inflamed and is typically painful and warm to the touch.
Debride: remove damaged tissue or foreign objects from a wound.
Exudate: a mass of cells and fluid that has seeped out of blood vessels or an organ, especially in inflammation.
Fibrin: an insoluble protein formed from fibrinogen during the clotting of blood. It forms a fibrous mesh that impedes the flow of blood.
Intussusception (in-tuh-suh-SEP-shun) is a serious condition in which part of the intestine slides into an adjacent part of the intestine. This telescoping action often blocks food or fluid from passing through. Intussusception also cuts off the blood supply to the part of the intestine that’s affected.
Necrosis: the death of most or all of the cells in an organ or tissue due to disease, injury, or failure of the blood supply.
And that wraps up this edition of case studies, but I’ll have some new ones soon.
And lastly, my ongoing appreciation for Dr Bowes’ willingness to share her expertise to improve the care of small flock chickens.
If you’ve got an interesting health issue you’d like to share or have diagnosed for you please feel free to drop me a line using the ‘contact’ button on my home page.