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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Bird Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 21464
Experience:  As a veterinary surgeon, I have spent a lot of time with bird cases and I'm happy to help you.
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My chicken is swollen, lethargic and is eating and drinking

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My chicken is swollen, lethargic and is eating and drinking but not much, also her head crest is starting to change colour.She is one
Hello, I'm Dr. Bob.
I'm sorry to read of you hen's condition, but I don't think your entire question came through. "She is one....." ?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
That was all I had to say
Okay, then I'm afraid I don't know what you meant. Did you mean she's your only chicken?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Her age is 1
Okay, got it!
What part of her body is swollen?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
She looks swollen all over,
Her abdomen, face, legs?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Okay, thank you. but I must go off line for the evening, I will opt out to see if another expert can help you.
I hope they can work this problem out with you.
Best regards,
Dr. Bob
Thank you for your question.
I am afraid Dr. Bob had to step away but hopefully I can help you with this wee hen.

How long has she been showing abdominal distension?

If you palpate her abdomen does it feel hard like there is a mass or like a taut water balloon?

You mentioned her crest was changing color, but can you tell me what color it is now?
(ie yellow, pale or intensely red)?
Hi again,
I haven't heard back from you, and see you are offline.
Therefore, I will give you my thoughts based on the history you have given. I am still concerned about the nature of her abdominal distenstion and this color change to her crest, but hopefully my information will direct you on treating this bird.

I am very concerned about your hen. When we see a chicken bloated we have to consider a few different reasons for this. First, we have to consider the nature of what is 'filling' her abdomen. We can see bloat in hen's that have a a bound egg, a mass (ie. tumor) in their abdomen, ascites (fluid), peritonitis, or hemorrhage (which sounds less likely in her case). Just to note, any of the 'space occupying agents' will be compressing the gut, so this may be why she has gone off her food and may be having fewer (and possible when she does defecate, larger) bowel movements. As well, any of these extending her girth will affect her gait and make walking difficult.

Trauma induced hemorrhage can appear as a bloated hen, but I would expect you to also see a paling of the comb, collapse, possible death. That said, a slow bleed could still be a consideration if we are seeing a paling of the crest.

Tumours in the abdomen are not uncommon, and are something we have to consider if one hen is affected. Still, she is younger, so I would probably put this lower on my list initially.

Ascites is the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and is a very possible cause for the bloating you are seeing. We can see ascites appear in chickens for a number of reasons. If she has a heart condition, the mismatched pressures in the circulation will cause a back pressure and fluid will leak from her blood vessels into her body cavity.

As well, if she has liver disease (which you might also notice a yellowing tint of her skin/comb/mucous membranes) can cause ascites since a suffering liver won't be able to produce albumin (a blood protein it makes to regulate osmotic pressure in the vessels) and thus cause an imbalance in the blood's protein levels. A similar problem can also be seen if the hen has had a long history of diarrhea. Because with diarrhea protein is lost, thus over a longer period (or profuse output), the blood protein balance will again be imbalanced. And we must consider, that some tumors can cause ascites, as well as take up space, by their mucking with the body's blood supply.

Now in laying hens, we also have to consider those troubles that arise from the reproductive tract. Egg binding is a big issue that can cause a bit of bloating and decreased fecal output, though we also often see straining and such. As well, there is the issue with egg peritonitis. Because the hen's ovary and reproductive tract aren't actually connected (imagine the ovary throwing the ovum into a basket ball hoop to make a successful egg), a stressed hen can occasionally have their ovum not make it into the tract. When this happens the material ends up free floating in the abdomen. This is problematic, as I am sure you know, because 1) it doesn't belong there and inflames the delicate tissues, 2) it is the perfect media for growing bacteria. So, if a hen ends up with an egg peritonitis, we can see bloating, lethargy, anorexia, and it can progress to a fatal state.

So, these are what we have to consider with your wee hen And the problem I am sure you will appreciate with birds to that they do a very good job of covering up when they are sick. This is because as a prey species, attention to your illness will make you a target for predation. So, if we are seeing this bloating, then this might be our only hint until the problem is too advanced to treat. Therefore, we must take this as a serious issue that needs to be resolved.

I would advise moving her to a little 'hospital cage'. Make sure she has access to food and water near by her. You can place a heat pad under half the cage to give her the option of warmth. Or you can use a clean sock, and fill it 2/3 with uncooked white rice. Tie it closed and microwave (approx 1-1.5 min). Make sure to shake it before adding it to the cage, to allow the heat to distribute. Make sure its not too hot (as we don’t want to burn the bird. If it cools, you can re-warm as required). This is quite a good way to keep them warm in their carriers en route to the vet as well.

Since she isn’t eating/drinking, then you do need to consider intervening at this stage.
You will want to monitor her water intake, since as I am sure you can appreciate, dehydration can weaken a bird and contribute to worsening her illness and cause additional issues. To maintain her hydration, in a drinking bird, you can offer water with electrolytes instead of plain water. There are readily available electrolyte solutions available on the market (ie. Vi-tal) or you can use Pedialyte or diluted Gatorade (diluted 50/50 with water).

You can offer these in a bowl or if she isn’t drinking on her own you can administer fluids (and hand feeding) via towel restraining and a syringe or dropper. Wrap bird “burrito style” and hold securely upright in lap. You can drip water on top of the beak, as reflex will cause them to catch the droplets with their tongue. (some will even drink from the syringe directly). In doing this, do make sure not to get water into the nares.

Feeding wise, we want to make sure she keeps eating. If her appetite is waning, try her favorite foods. You can also get Nutrical paste to supplement her diet (either mixed in food, water, or via syringe) which will provide extra calories or nutrition. Offer fresh foods, high in nutrition and water content like cucumbers, Romaine, grapes, melon, oranges, etc. Hard boiled eggs mashed shell and all are extremely nutritious and delicious to birds. And cooked brown rice is good for them too.

While we are doing all this, we do want her to see a vet. The vet will be able to have a feel of her abdomen, perhaps xray her, and determine the culprit for this bloated appearance. As well, if it is fluid that is present in her abdomen, the vet will be able to take a sample of the fluid with a sterile needle and evaluate it under the microscope (as a lot of the ascites have distinct appearances) Depending on their findings, the vet will to provide appropriate treatment, give you an idea of her overall prognosis and give you the best chance of getting her back to being herself.

If you don’t already have a specialist avian vet, you can check where you can find one by using the bird filter on the RCVS register to find a bird vet near you. You can find that here (LINK).

As well, you can find a few more avian vets listed via the Avian Web (

And there are a few more listed on the Parrot Society (LINK) website

I hope this information is helpful.
Please do let me know if you have any further questions.
If you have no further questions, feedback is always appreciated.

All the best,

Dr. B.


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Dr. B., Bird Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 21464
Experience: As a veterinary surgeon, I have spent a lot of time with bird cases and I'm happy to help you.
Dr. B. and other Bird Veterinary Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
She is eating and drinking she just seems to struggle to get around and keeps closing her eyes
Hi again,

I am glad she is eating/drinking, since your initial history had said she wasn't doing so as normal. I would keep monitoring that and if it changes then institute the support I outlined before. The closed eyes are going to part of that lethargy and not feeling well. So, I would consider having her seen when your vet is open, before she does go off her food, to give her the best chance.
Take care,
Dr. B.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
I have just been back down to the chickens, she seems brighter and I have found a broken jelloid egg in the coop. I forgot to mention there are 10 week old chicks in a smaller cage inside the coop to try to integrate them
Hi again,

I am glad to hear that she is looking brighter and you have found this strange egg. (The young chicks are not likely to be causing these signs in this hen). It is possible that she could have egg bound, as it was one of our differentials for her.

That said, I would keep a close eye if she is still looking distended and her crest abnormally colored. And if this egg is jellied, then you may need to double check the diet regime for your hens, since this could be a calcium issue (which low calcium effects eggs but also effects muscles and makes passing abnormal eggs even harder in the deficient bird). As well, we'd have to keep egg drop syndrome in the back our mind, especially if you see other birds with similar signs down the line.

So, at this stage, continue to monitor this bird (possibly isolate for monitoring) and consider reviewing the calcium levels in your diet.

All the best,
Dr. B.