Case Study Emergencies/Illness Health Issues

Case Study: Mucocele (Damaged Salivary Gland) In Chickens

A couple of years ago, I came across a rather dramatic post in an online chicken group asking for a diagnosis and advice on how to treat the condition.

This comment was made from a veterinarian advisor in response to seeing the photo: “The esophagus and crop are made of similar tissue compared to the colon/vent. Pressure and straining can cause prolapse. I don’t know what caused this crop to prolapse – trauma, squeezing, being held upside down, poor anatomy, crop impaction, etc. There are too many factors involved to narrow it down to just one.” (Name Withheld)

When I met up with my mentor Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist in the summer of 2021 I asked her about prolapsed crop and she’d never heard of it.

I sent her the photo above and the vet’s comments and this was her response: “My first, and final, reaction to the “prolapsed crop” is ABSOLUTELY NOT. The mass does not have the tissue consistency or conformation of a crop. For a crop to prolapse (anatomically next to impossible, it’s tacked down pretty tightly to adjoining tissue unlike an oviduct or rectum), it needs to evert so that the lining would be exposed to the outside and that certainly is not the case here.”

“A key piece of the puzzle would be the duration and final outcome. My best educated guess is that this is a tumour, possibly of muscle. I’ve seen tumours involving the supportive structures of the larynx. At this point I would have loved to touch it and biopsy it to get a definitive answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not crop.”

Over the next five months I saw two more cases posted in online groups, one of them attributed to being caused by a snakebite and the other, a wasp sting. Since this is clearly a ‘thing’ with chickens Dr Bowes and I revisited the photos, some of which were accompanied with notes.

In all three cases, the birds presented as normal at the beginning of the day and then, within hours, had a fleshy mass protruding from their mouth.

After a little online reading Dr Bowes’s best guess was that this phenomenon is caused by trauma to the salivary gland, resulting in what is called a mucocele. For whatever reason, the gland gets ruptured or impacted and a profuse amount of saliva builds up in short period of time expanding it under the tongue. She thought that if you tried to drain the fluid with a needle and syringe it would be a short-term fix because birds create lots of saliva as a way of digesting food in the absence of teeth to chew it.

Dr Bowes made the following suggestions: a) take good photos, including inside the mouth, if possible, b) euthanize the bird immediately and c) send it to her lab and she would perform the necropsy free of charge just to be able see the condition in person.

I’m familiar with mucoceles as my dog had one – much smaller – under his tongue. My vet figured that a splinter from a stick might have damaged one of his salivary gland. He lived with it for well over a year, but when it started to get a bit bigger and redder from being abraded, the vet performed a procedure to deal with it.

In the cases I’ve mentioned those birds were euthanized as no effective treatment options were offered. I came across a similar case recently, which I could identify as a mucocele. Fortunately the owner, Krista, persevered and found both an accurate diagnosis, directions for treatment and sought veterinary care.

Chatty Cathy, 2 year old Whitehackle American Game Fowl

Day 1: I found my hen looking like this at night time lock up and had no idea what had happened. I posted these photos in several online chicken groups asking for assistance.

Typical of many Facebook groups, the comments ranged from folks suggesting it was a prolapsed or impacted crop, a swollen tongue, sinus infection or canker, with many calls to euthanize her.

One of the responses to her post steered her in the right direction: “Every spring there are posts of pictures like this after a chicken eats a bee, spider, or stinging insect. The throat swells up like a ball around the tongue, so the assumption is an insect stung them on the way down. Give Benadryl to treat it. The photos I usually see are in daytime before the swelling is that large, but it’s still like a ball forcing their beak open.” – Phil Peterson

Krista took this poster’s advice and found a vet to exam her hen.

Day 2: I gave her liquid Benadryl last night, but not sure if it helped. Chatty Cathy looked the same this morning. I was on the phone till 1 AM trying to find another animal hospital that would see her as the University of Florida isn’t seeing birds right now. We saw Dr Peice at Black Creek Animal Hospital who suspected C.C. tried to eat something that damaged her salivary gland. He was able to drain fluids in the gland and reinsert the trachea back into her throat. We were sent home with tube feeding supplies, liquid Trimethoprim-Sulfa (antibiotics) to be given twice/day and liquid Meloxicam (pain management) for three days. Total bill: $140

Day 3: Tube feeding was not required as she was able to drink water and eat a puréed combination of scrambled egg, herbs, veggies, and Kalmbach chicken feed.

Day 4: She’s 100% back to full personality, drinking, talking nonstop, and still eating soaked feed as a precaution.

Someone posted my piece about mucoceles including Dr Bowes’ suggestion to euthanize an affected bird in Krista’s thread, which almost had her giving up hope that it could be fixed. Certainly, the resounding comments in all those groups were to cull Chatty Cathy. Although cases do pop up occasionally in online groups there is remarkably little information I could find on the subject. If you Google ‘mucoceles in chickens’ the first, and only, article that appears is the short post I wrote as part of my Avian Pathology Cases series with Dr Bowes.

It’s not often that I’m able to present a happy ending story about a life-threatening condition that neither cost an arm and leg, or was particularly intrusive or painful for all parties to treat. Admittedly, this case wasn’t as severe as some, but I’m relieved that Krista was able to offer some tangible proof that it’s a condition that may be treated successfully. I’m curious if the treatment or prognosis is different based what caused the mucocele (i.e. sting vs penetrating injury).

I’ve updated my original post on mucoceles and will be passing this case on to Dr Bowes as a learning experience, in case she ever encounters one in person.

Many thanks to Krista Bailey for sharing her story and photos, used with permission. Featured photo credit: Heather Mp

2 comments on “Case Study: Mucocele (Damaged Salivary Gland) In Chickens

  1. Your blog/articles on Avian pathology are really interesting and helpful. Have you done any pain and inflammation meds for older hens that no longer lay?

    My 9 year old Buff Wyandotte has had a chronic COPD-like condition for about 4 years. Her breathing is labored and she makes high-pitched sounds (sounds like a squeak toy). One Vet X-rayed her 3 years ago and said it’s something to do with her air sacs not working properly. He suggested euthanasia, but I have declined because she still eats, scratches, and bosses the others around. She lives her life but I am sure this constant “snicking” is uncomfortable and probably due to inflammation .

    The Vet refused to give me any meds for her because she is “livestock” even though I told him she no longer lays eggs.

    Any advice on an anti-inflammatory/pain med I could give her ? thank you, Janet in N. CA

    Liked by 1 person

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