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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 24426
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience
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Beautiful healthy hen suddenly acts blind. Eating and

Customer Question

Beautiful healthy hen suddenly acts blind. Eating and drinking well (with help getting to bowl). Have given poultry drench etc. no signs of illness. Beautiful healthy feathers. Was vaccinated as day old chick for mareks what on earth do i do? No poultry vet within 5 hours!
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Bird Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I need you to look closely at Fuzzer's eyes and at the photo of eyes in this link: http://www.birdhealth.com.au/#!mareks-disease/c1qzk and tell me what you think. Remember, the vaccine doesn't prevent a bird from contracting the herpesvirus of Marek's but does prevent serious manifestations of the virus such as the formation of tumors.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I did look carefully at her eyes first thing and see no irregularities at all. I used a pen light to check dilation and it was non existant to minimal. The right pupil after extended exposure to the light however showed slight contraction. I think she may be able to see dark shadows. She appears to be a beautiful and healthy bird and when she hears me she is bright and has a lot to say about the problem. They are wormed with valbazen 3-4x yearly as well.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
If it is mareks is the onset sudden? This appears to have happened suddenly two days ago...
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for the additional information. No, the uveitis of Marek's - inflammation of the iris and its attachments - develops slowly over a few days but it doesn't sound as if you're seeing the tell-tale changes of Marek's in Fuzzer's eyes and if she's 3 years old - not 3 months old, correct? - severe Marek's isn't expected in any event. There are other causes of a lack of visual acuity, however - ingested toxins, inappropriate drug therapy, trauma, and other infections involving the pathways of vision.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
she is about 3 or so years old. She is one of my more dominant hens. My girls are pets, handled with affection daily so egg/meat production is of no concern to me (I am vegan) so they are very well cared for and kept in a nice coop that is cleaned daily. The only change for them has been the switch in feed to scratch and peck non gmo organic feed in the last month. They have free choice oyster shell, a flock block and an added non gmo commercial layer pellet available at all times. The scratch is also non gmo organic and contains flax and sunflower seeds. Since fall is upon us, most of my girls are molting but this hen has already completed her molt and has beautiful plummage. Could the new feed have been a problem? It appears to be very fresh and is kept dry in plastic containers...
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
We have horses, they are used to the chickens but Im wondering if she might have gotten bumped by one of the yearlings in the arena? It is doubtful as peace reigns here but just scrambling for ideas...is there an anti inflamatory I can try to see if maybe just a swelling type issue? She has been shaking her head and scratching her right ear and making a yawning like gesture when she does...nothing apparent on or around the ear tho? Can they get ear infections? If so can this cause vision impairment?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

If the feed were responsible I would have expected other hens to become symptomatic - epidemiologically speaking. They eat better than I do and so I'm not going to incriminate their diets particularly because they free range. Whether she got into something she shouldn't have I can't know, however. "Watchful waiting" is appropriate at this time. We need to see what - if anything - more develops. Can you contain her and place her food and water at easy access for her?

Yes, you can dose aspirin at 5 grains in one pint of drinking water. Ear infections are very rare in chickens but her scratching at her ear and yawning is certainly suspicious that something else is going on in her head. Do you see any swelling on her face suggestive of sinusitis? Have you looked into her oral cavity for any unusual lesions/swelling?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I do not see anything unusual or any discharge in or around her head. I have not looked inside her beak yet. In the morning I will look again and photograph her for your inspection. Is that permitted here?When I check on her she perks up to the sound of my voice and as long as I am touching her and talking to her she will eat and drink heartily. I tap on the bowl and waterer so she can find it. When she is finished she carefully goes off to a corner or wall where she is out of the traffic of girls coning and going to lay.Watching her i have only seen her stumble a couple times when walking, only when she gets to the step or the floor level changes. She does not bump into stuff, although close, so i think she may see faint shadows. Taking her out into the sun does not seem to make any difference in her ability to see.I feel very sorry for her but she is a pretty smart cookie and is staying in the safety of the coop instead of venturing out with the other girls.I am monitoring her closely throughout the day but have not isolated her only because she appears to feel safe in the coop and I thought moving her would stress her more.Please advise how I measure 5 grains of asprin? I have poultry drench in her water, will that be a problem mixed with the aspirin?I will take close up photos for you in the morning. I am so afraid of the mareks possibility. I have three older hens that were not vaccinated that have lost vision in one eye and I suspected Mareks from reading copious amounts of literature but they never showed any signs of anything and just ended up with one eye each with a fixed pupil. In the case of Fuzzer who was vaccinated, I am seeing dialated pupils and the periodic head shaking/scratching symptoms that I never saw with the other girls so I am stumped?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Yes, you can upload photos by using the paperclip icon in the toolbar above your message box (if that icon is visible) or you can use an external app such as imgur.com or dropbox.com. 5 grains of aspriin = 325 mg = an adult aspirin. No, the drench is compatible with aspirin. I'm stumped, too, but such is the state of poultry medicine. I'll watch for your next post.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
THANK YOU! I will get photos posted first thing in the morning! THANK YOU!!!!
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

It's my pleasure.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Good morning! It is very overcast here but I hope these pics help you see right and left eye. If i need to take again for more clarity let me know. I have two of these particular girls and both of them have always had unusually beautiful light green eyes. The last picture is of her buddy Nuzzer taken just last week where you can see how bright and beautiful the eyes on these girls are. Only difference I see is that on Fuzzer, her pupils are slightly dialated, no doubt in an attempt to let light in to see!
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Thank you, ***** ***** photos were posted.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
It shows 5 jpeg photos attached to the message here. I am using my iphone to take pics and message you. Maybe they just take longer than the text? Should i try less pictures in one message, or another method?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

You'll have to use the paperclip icon in the toolbar above your message box (if that icon is visible) or an external app such as imgur.com or dropbox.com. I don't know if that's possible with your iphone. Please contact***@******.*** for help in this regard. I'm a Mac moron.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
There is no paperclip icon above the available message box. However, there is an "add files" icon at the bottom of the message box. I used that successfully to load 5 photos. I checked to make sure they transferred onto the sent message and they are in fact attached. You should see and the paperclip icon, which was added to each jpeg image after it loaded. So on your end, you should have a paperclip icon somewhere on your message window as well for each jpeg photo (5) that you can click on and open...
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Unfortunately, no, I don't. Mea culpa.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I wonder why they would have an add files option on this end and no way to open on your end? 😁 I am driving so I will have to wait until i get home to upload to another application 😕
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I understand. We're in the process of modifying the interaction between customers and experts. There are apparently still bugs in the process.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I just called customer service. They said they can see the photos on the system and are going to communicate the technicalities of the problem with you so you will be able to see the 5 photos. Hopefully they will get the bugs worked out!
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Thank goodness. I'll get back to you as soon as I can see the pics.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I am anxious to hear what you think!
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I am too!

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Good morning! Did you get to see the photos of fuzzer?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Nothing has shown up yet.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Did customer service not contact you? They said the photos are visible on the system. He said they took a minute to download but were there?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

No, I receive an email from them if they've send photos to me and that hasn't occurred. I'll see what I can do from this end.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Good afternoon. Have you received the photos of Fuzzer yet? I responded to an email from customer service and re-sent the photos directly to them again yesterday. In the meantime my poor hen remains without sight and me without answers!
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

No, I haven't. I sent a message to customer support and haven't heard back from them. I'll try another avenue now.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
My coop is cleaned daily, religiously. I use a dust free shavings that are essentially like scoopable cat litter. Thus I easily pick the coop every day just like cleaning the horse stalls and there is very little if any visible dust. But a friend mentioned histoplasmosis as a possibility. Can chickens get that? Everyone teases me that when they die they want to come back as one of my critters as I am quite meticulous about both mine and their surroundings and health so it would seem unlikely but she cannot see. Her eyes still appear clear...?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Histomonas, perhaps? That's considered the most important parasitic disease in turkeys although mortality has been documented in backyard chickens. Histoplasmosis isn't found in chickens. I sent yet another request but this time to my moderators. I hope to hear back from them within 24 hours.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I just received the photos. Apparently there's a bug that didn't allow them to appear in my conversation page. The color change to blue-green suggests Marek's...or at least a systemic infection that also causes a uveitis.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I dont see a color change persay? Is this uveitis temporary or permanent? What other systemic infection causes blindness in chickens? If mareks even tho vaccinated can cause blindness?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I see a color change adjacent to the pupil. The uveitis isn't permanent but the damage it causes is. In most cases these birds are culled and so I can't predict what to expect in a specific bird in the future. In general, they become carriers unless additional symptoms arise which isn't as likely because she's been vaccinated. Vaccination doesn't prevent Marek's but it does lessen the symptoms of Marek's. While not common, respiratory infectious agents such as mycoplasmosis and pox can result in blindness, and avian encephalomyelitis in the very young bird can do so as well.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
to wrap this up, since there is no evidence of any sickness, the suspected diagnosis is Mareks, is that correct? And the eyesight will not return?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Yes, by the principle of Occam's Razor, Marek's is most likely and she's now a special needs chicken and need to go to school with other special needs chickens. You can test for Marek's. There's a PCR (DNA-based testing) for Marek's. If you choose to go that route, the clinical pathologist at the lab who runs that test needs to know that she was vaccinated. Vaccination may confound the results of that test and the pathologist would know best if that's the case using the technique that his lab uses.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I do not breed my chickens. They were all vaccinated hatchery chicks. But I have rescued a few that I expect were not vaccinated. Will they likely develop a more severe version of Marek's? If she is a carrier can I expect all of my other vaccinated birds to go blind too? Is any bird immune to this? They are all moulting right now so no doubt are immune compromised. Being as I have 50 birds this could be a mess. There is no way I can "cull" a pet Dr Salkin as long as she is happy, eating well, and having a reasonable quality of life. Fuzzer is toddling around inside the coop pretty well despite clearly being vision compromised. I wonder if she sees shadows as I have not seen her bump into anything yet? I guess the best thing for me to do if figure out what is the best thing to do insofar as an ongoing plan to deal with the circumstances...? 😖😢
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I sure wish there was a poultry vet within a reasonable drive! You guys are like finding a needle in a haystack for us adoring chicken moms!
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Not necessarily. First of all Marek's hasn't been confirmed. If it's responsible, however, you can assume that everybody has been exposed and are carriers. Adult birds are less likely to become ill and if they do become ill, they aren't expected to become very ill. Full immunity is very unlikely. She's not necessarily blind; perhaps she just needs contacts. Not only are avian vets few and far apart but those willing to see poultry are a rare bird indeed.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
No pun intended right? Lol! What worries do I have for the few unvaccinated hens I rescued?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

They would be more at risk but as they're adults, they're not likely to become very ill...if at all. No, we don't vaccinate adults.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thats good although 50 blind birds would be a lot of contacs! I will call the poultry lab at A&M (I am in far north Texas) Monday and find out about getting the test done to confirm. Is there a way to tell just how much vision impairment she has?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
What age is considered "adults"? I have a little roo i rescued that is only about 4 months old. Sweetest thing, very grateful for food and kindness. But definitely unvaccinated. Is he at greater risk? Also i have some young hens about 6 months old but they are vaccinated. Are these birds considered at greater risk because of younger age?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

There's also a less expensive ELISA test. Make sure that they know that Fuzzer has been vaccinated. No, I've never heard of vision testing in a chicken. Adults are greater than 9 months of age when Marek's is the criteria. Yes, the younger birds are more at risk. Recovered roos are desirable to keep around because they can impart their immunity to their young. Another summary:

  • Acute Form

    - 4-8 weeks of age
    - 80% Mortality

 

  • Transient Form

    - 5-18 weeks of age
    - Uncommon

 

  • Internal Organ Form

    - 16 - 35 weeks of age
    - Chronic Illness

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I do not let the hens sit on their eggs. No hatching here. So my girls under 9 months old, even tho vaccinated at risk of more severe case? And the unvaccinated young roo even worse?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

No, vaccinated birds shouldn't become very ill - if at all. The roo is most at risk.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
What can i do to protect him? The younger girls dont hang out too closely with the older girls and have a seperate teenager coop. The roo is there with them. They do share waterers and feeders tho because my big girls are all divas and think the world was invented for them! The little roo gets beat up by them all so he is always by himself and prefers to sit in people laps than do chicken stuff. He is not even crowing yet. I would hate to see him get sick. I guess if he does it will be a worse case symptom wise right?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
How do I know if the "internal organ form" is at work or doing damage? What does it mean by "chronic illness"? And how did they get this if they are almost all vaccinated in the first place??Im so sorry you must be weary of my overactive brain. I have a daughter headed toward medical school (neurology) and so around here the dinner time discussions frequently are about a fascination with anatomical processes et al. We are always seeking a greater understanding of disease prevention in ourselves and our animals!
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

You can't do anything to protect him but its not like every exposed bird is going to come down with clinical Marek's. You can't know if internal Marek's is present without necropsying a sick bird. Chronic illness just means a chronically ill bird with symptoms referable to where the virus is in its body. Herpesvirus is ubiquitous in the environment. The vaccine doesn't prevent Marek's but does ameliorate symptoms.

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