This series is the result of my partnership with Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist. We team up to look at my file of interesting chicken health issues: she does her best to diagnose “What Is This?” and I get the task of collating and writing them up. Our latest round of pathology cases have included the head, legs and toes and now this one is all about the digestive system. I’ve tried to include a variety of stories starting at the beak and ending at the vent.
I knew something was wrong because this hen’s crop was empty at bed time. I gave her something to eat; she took one bite and struggled to swallow so I looked closer and noticed a large firm lump inside her throat. It could be manipulated up and down. I was able to work it up and out. Is this canker? – Kendace Miner
Dr Bowes: The mass looks dry and friable, with caseous fibrin. It doesn’t appear to be part of a crop infection like canker which would have been deeper and not easily popped out. It might be a localized infection (unlikely to be fungal like thrush). You’d need a vet to culture it to determine what kind of medications to prescribe. My recommendation would be an oral antibiotic like Trimethoprim Sulfa.
Upon discovering my hen like this I lifted her up and the strange anomaly seemed to have lost some of its density and sure enough I watched it shrink and return to her throat. I decided it wasn’t worth experimenting with her life and opted to euthanize her using the broomstick method. I unintentionally separated her head from her body, which wasn’t what I wanted but I learned a lot from it.
When I inspected her head and neck, I saw there had been an obstruction. I stuck my finger down into her throat and sure enough, my fingertip was visible through the side of the obstruction. I believe she ate something sharp that punctured her throat, and when she tried to throw it up, it pushed her esophagus up her throat and turned it partially inside out, just enough to protrude out of her mouth. – Victoria Stephens
Dr Bowes: This looks similar to chemical burns we see in small wild birds that ingest pelletized fertilizers or something similar. It would be interesting to know what she ate that would cause that level of damage (i.e. the size and shape of the hole).
“My favorite hen had a ruptured crop. She’d had a pendulous crop problem for the last six months. We treated her for it as recommended (isolated her for 2 weeks, gave electrolytes for the first few days, slowly reintroduced soft foods), which didn’t help very much. I used a topical lidocaine gel to help numb the area and then used surgical glue to bring the sides together. Four days later she died.” – Ruth Campbell
Dr Bowes: Pendulous crop is a condition that is the result of an impacted crop and doesn’t have a good outcome. When the muscles get stretched they become distended, thinner and necrotic. The affected bird loses muscle tone to push food down through the digestive system so they are in a constant state of starvation. When the crop ruptures it may involve the vagal nerve, artery and veins so it’s not a simple fix of just sewing the opening back up. There are a few vets skilled in dealing with a ruptured crop but the prognosis isn’t good. Some hens have a genetic predisposition for crop issues so this may happen again. Note: your use of topical Lidocaine is okay, but don’t use injectable which can be toxic if it gets into a blood vessel.
“This is the weirdest thing I’ve pulled out of a chicken. She was about four years old and died from egg binding and peritonitis.” – Melanie Rose Hill
Dr Bowes: This is unusual. It appears that the small nodules are mini abscesses that are growing around the intestines causing constrictions. The yellow exudate is caseous debris.
I have a 2-3 year old hen who stands ruffled and lays down a lot. It’s been getting worse for several months. Today I found something very bloody/clotted in her stool. I’ve had her indoors for a couple weeks and she definitely has very small watery poops. I dewormed her two weeks ago. – Gina Michaud
Dr Bowes: These are massive blood clots caused by a significant hemorrhage. They are not digested or black, but clotted which is indicative that they occurred low down in the digestive system. I believe they are unrelated to her other symptoms and no parasites would cause those kinds of clots. This may be a one-off, acute event. It certainly isn’t common. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Impacted Digestive System
I hear a lot about crop impaction, but has anyone had experience with poop impaction?
Last night Wilma laid a partial broken chain of shell, followed by this giant poop this morning. It is about 30cm/12″ in length, contains no shell or membrane, smells significantly of urates, and is filled with a super fibrous, matted material with normal poop gritty bits thrown in. I’m not sure if it’s natural (long grass) or synthetic. Her crop is very full so I’m withholding feed. Her conditioning isn’t great: I can clearly feel her keel and her pelvic bones, moreso than a couple of days ago. – Carla Kent
Dr Bowes: It would be interesting to know if this was a case of swallowing long grass or something like binder twine. The fibrous impaction indicates that she doesn’t have enough access to grit. There is also evidence of whole grain which also implies that her feed wasn’t ground down. Ensure she has plenty of grit.
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
Fibrin: an insoluble protein formed from fibrinogen during the clotting of blood. It forms a fibrous mesh that impedes the flow of blood.
Friable: easily crumbled
Necrotic: Dead tissue caused by too little blood flows to the area.
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.
Thanks again to Dr Vicki Bowes for her willingness to share her wealth of knowledge and experience to build capacity and skills in small flock keepers.
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