I met up with Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist a number of times over the last year to study necropsy reports, X-rays, photos and stories that I collect from folks about their chicken health issues. She refers to it as ‘show and tell’ and I aim to please by curating things of interest, sometimes oddities she’s never seen before.

We had a marathon session of almost four hours in the late fall of 2021, then met briefly five months later. This go round we spread our studies over a couple of days on a weekend and managed to get through 42 cases. I’ll present them over several posts and hope you find them an interesting learning experience.

Remember the old children’s song “Head and shoulders, knees and toes …”? Well, this post is all about injuries and illnesses that affect the head. Next week it’s ‘Legs & Feet’. Sorry, I couldn’t come up with one for ‘shoulders’.

Neurological Issues

“Our rescue rooster was found in the road and we wondered if he’d been hit by a car, although there were no visible signs of trauma. He was always a little quirky; he had balance issues, seizures and would run into things. His vision was fine. Today he was lying in his cage with his head tilted all the back and I knew he was not going to recover. I performed a DIY necropsy on him and am interested in what was going on for him.” – Kelly Tomioka

Dr Bowes: His heart and gizzard were in good condition; his liver was swollen and fatty but that wouldn’t have killed him. I would need to see his brain to better understand his neurological issues. They may have been a result of a traumatic injury. Another possibility is an inner ear infection caused by a bacterial infection.”

Malformed Skull

Dr Bowes: This chick’s eyes appear to be normal size, which implies that the skull is malformed, pushing the eyes outward. If it can’t close its eyelids properly that will lead to ulcerated corneas. In that case the recommendation is humane euthanasia.

Cutaneous Horn (Cornu cutaneum)

“What’s going on with my hen’s beak?” – Ellie Crouse

When I first showed Dr Bowes a photo of a chicken with a cutaneous horn (left) back in November 2021 she had no idea what she was looking at. Now she’s seen one she’s confident to say this is another case as well.

The scientific term is conical hyperkeratosis cutaneous horn, which is a mouthful meaning a lesion consisting of keratotic material above the skin that resembles an animal horn.

Keratin, of course, is a type of protein that makes hair, fingernails, claws and feathers. Cutaneous horns can be found in a number of species including cats, dogs, people and chickens. The horns come in various shapes and sizes and are often benign; in people, they can be linked to skin cancer. They can be removed, but often regrow.

Fowl Pox

“I rescued this turkey two days ago. His head feels like a big scab. I’ve never seen anything like this. He keeps picking at his feet and peeling the skin off them. I wrapped his feet and putting some cream on his head.” – Shannon Tison

Dr Bowes: This is a classic case of Fowl Pox, which is often self-limiting if the nares (nostrils) aren’t blocked, affecting breathing. The scabs heal from the inside out and then drop off. Those scabs carry the virus and can affect other turkeys and chickens. You can use iodine topically that help them heal faster. The pox virus lives in the environment so it’s difficult to sanitize after having sick birds. This is one of two viruses (the other is ILT) that I would recommend vaccinating even when a bird is already sick as a means of boosting the immune system. Note: That bird was probably sick for 4-6 weeks before you adopted it, meaning the previous owner did nothing to treat it.


“My smallest rooster hasn’t been himself for about a week. I finally got close enough to snap a picture of this bump, which is only on the one side. I’m not sure if it’s an abscess, infection, tick or what. Should I lance this? Or apply warm compresses?” – Katherine Gaitan

Dr Bowes: The infection has ulcerated and the intraorbital sinus has been extended by caseous exudate. You can see from the residue on his feathers that he has been rubbing his face against them. The area should be lanced and drained and he should be given pain medications.

Infected Nare (Nostril)

Caroline Crnolic found her chick with an infected nare. She was able to extricate the plug using tweezers. These are the before and after photos.

Dr Bowes: This looks like a foreign body infection/micro-abscess that could have been caused by an awn (stiff grass/grain seed). The infection occluded the nare, but once removed healed without issue.

Mass On Head

“What is going on with this bird and how can it be treated? -Lisa Thompson

Dr Bowes: This could be a number of conditions but without more information it is impossible to diagnose. It could be an abscess caused by a wound. I’d want to know how fast it’s been growing and why the skin has ulcerated over the top of the mass? A biopsy performed under anesthesia would reveal whether it is squamous cell carcinoma or not.


Caseous: cheeselike, especially in appearance, smell, or consistency

Exudate: a mass of cells and fluid that has seeped out of blood vessels or an organ, especially in inflammation

Intraorbital: situated or extending between the orbits of the eyes

Occlude: Block or obstruct

Ulcerate: develop into or become affected by an ulcer

Well that wraps up another edition of Show & Tell With Bitchin’ Chickens and Dr Bowes. I hope that it’s been a learning experience for you; it was for me and even Dr Bowes learned a thing or two.

If you’d like help with a case drop me a line using the ‘contact’ button on my home page. Remember to wear gloves, take good close up photos from several angles and supply us with plenty of information (e.g. timelines, symptoms, medications, general flock health, etc) so we’re able to more accurately pinpoint what’s going on.

Again, and as always, much appreciation goes out to Dr Bowes for her generosity in sharing her knowledge with me to improve the health outcomes of chickens everywhere.

2 comments on “Avian Pathology Cases: 8

  1. Anonymous

    Yes, I have a head case now. I’ll be in touch.

    Liked by 1 person

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