My First Encounter With A Sick Chicken

(Broadcast February 1, 2013)


I came out one morning, and while hanging the chickens’ food under the coop, noticed that someone had laid an egg under there, in a hard to reach area. I took the stick I use to hang their food and tried to roll the egg towards me. I could only seem to get it to move to the side, and it rolled all the way across the ground, right into Henny Penny. Henny Penny? What was she doing under there? Well, it seems she spent the night under the coop in temperatures in the teens. My immediate worry was frostbite, but she seemed fine. But why was she under there? I reached in to pet her, and she tried to move, but one of her feet was balled up and she wouldn’t step on it. So that probably kept her from going up the steps into the coop at night. Not sure what else to do, I grabbed her, let the others out, and brought her inside.

The egg was back where Suzy Creamcheese is.

The egg was back where Suzy Creamcheese is.

I set her up in a box with some pine shavings, food, and water. She ate fine, so that made me a little less worried about her overall health. The foot bothered me, though. I had heard of something called “bumblefoot,” and based on the name, this seemed like it might be something she had. Looking it up, it’s a common issue where chickens get little abrasions on their feet which get infected. Makes sense if they run around in dirt and rocks all day. How do you fix it? If it’s not too bad, one remedy I found was to rub hemorrhoid cream on it. We didn’t have this, and I dreaded having to go buy it. What’s worse, buying hemorrhoid cream, or buying hemorrhoid cream and saying, “This isn’t for me, it’s for a sick chicken?” I didn’t want to find out.
Luckily, we also had bag balm on hand (so to speak). That checked out as a suitable fix, so I greased up her feet and went to work.

With some more research, it seemed she didn’t show the classic signs of bumblefoot, so I ditched the bag balm, and made a vet appointment. I asked my son if he wanted to go with me, and his response was, “You’re taking a chicken to that place?” I told the people at the vet he said this, and they said, “You have no idea how many chickens we see. As a matter of fact, she’s in there with a duck right now.” So take that, snarky 4 year old.

The vet checked her over, and everything seemed good, except for the foot problem, obviously. The outlook there wasn’t so good either. The vet thought it was most likely Merek’s disease, which affects chickens’ legs, but the only way to test for this involves a dead chicken. Another problem with Merek’s is that there’s no cure, and it’s often fatal. We discussed the options and I went home with a sick chicken and some anti-inflammatory pain medicine to give her.

Henny Penny, a few weeks ago when her legs were good (center)

Henny Penny, a few weeks ago when her legs were good (center)

You may have had the experience of trying to give a cat a pill. This is frustrating and painful, usually for all involved. Let me now tell you how easy giving a cat a pill is compared to trying to medicate a chicken. With cats, there are ways to get their mouths open, even if you have to resort to prying. Chickens have a beak that is pretty secure. You need a professional safecracker to get that thing open. My safecracking skills are weak, but I somehow got the medicine in. Remarkably, she seemed a little better when I went to check on her later. She was standing up at least, which seemed like a step in the right direction.

My mother-in-law lives with us, and has to pass the chicken quarantine on the way to her room. She got involved in the rehab, and looked up an ailment that causes chicken foot and leg problems due to a need for riboflavin. How do you get riboflavin into a chicken? With liquid baby vitamins. Of course, this is an even bigger dropper than the one from the vet. I also have experience with getting vitamins into a baby, and as awful as that could be, again, it was easier than getting vitamins into a chicken. I somehow did it, and it seemed like she might even like this stuff. A couple days went by, and I swore she was looking better. She stood up a lot more, and even some of her fight came back. She’s gotten well enough that she has tried to escape the last few days when it’s been dropper time. So this all seems good. Without knowing for sure what the cause is, we can only hope to keep her comfortable. I think we have succeeded with this. If this is the end of the line, I know I’ve given her a life that would make a lot of chickens jealous, but I think she’s still got some time. She really does seem to be improving. She will have to be kept away from the other chickens in case it is Merek’s, but we’re going to get her a stuffed animal to keep her company. Or maybe a bunny. There’s probably room for a few more animals in here, right?



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5 Responses to “My First Encounter With A Sick Chicken”

  1. Hi Erik — Just found you through Linkedin this morning. I’m so sorry about your poor sick gal. I’m also an illustrator and author and have a small flock in my New England backyard….*Twilight Zone theme music*…. And I also have experience with Marek’s. A bit more info for you: it’s not always fatal…. there are several variations of Marek’s, affecting birds in different ways…. if one of your flock gets Marek’s, then the whole flock has been exposed, so don’t worry about quarantining for the safety of the others. I think vitamins and Riboflavin are a very smart treatment for your girl…..Does she have other symptoms as well? Wishing all the best for Henny Penny.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Lauren. She doesn’t seem to have any other symptoms beyond the legs, and I swear one has gotten better since starting the vitamins. I sometimes worry her wings are weird, but I think it’s just her trying to balance. She is getting spunkier now too. We bought a dog crate for her so she has some more room to move.

      Good point about the quarantining. I’d like to put her with the others, but for now I want to be sure she can get around well enough before doing that.

  2. Louise says:

    You’re a good chicken daddy, Eric. And a great guy. Thanks for posting this…

  3. Vickie says:

    I’m glad to hear she’s doing a little better! I’ve been wondering since I saw the first post. Good luck – I have yet to encounter sick chickens. Good thing too because I can’t find a vet that cares for chickens.

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