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Andrea Scheer
Andrea Scheer, Bird Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 128
Experience:  DVM
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I have a henApproximately one year old. Several days ago she

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I have a henApproximately one year old. Several days ago she began to get lethargic, does not move much, will not go outside, does not walk, does not eat or drink water. She will click as if she is quietly content. I have seen a picture of a hen with Marek's disease. She looks like that – does not walk, is ataxic, most of the time stays in one spot. Legs may be splayed. Please advise. Diagnosis and treatment if any --the other six hens in the flock seemed okay. How do I protect them?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Bird Veterinary
Expert:  Andrea Scheer replied 2 years ago.
Hello this is Dr. Scheer and I am a poultry veterinarian that sees many pet and backyard birds.
I have read your post about your hen and with the splayed legs and I think Marek's is definitely a concern. I am assuming that your hens were not vaccinated for it as chicks? Are your birds free range? Have you brought in any new chickens recently?
Generally hens get the disease when they are exposed to it as adults and have not been vaccinated. They can get it from other birds that were carry the disease without symptoms or from wild birds.
Unfortunately there is very little you can do for treatment and the best way to protect the rest of your flock is to remove the sick bird and isolate her where she has no contact with the other birds and at least a solid wall between them. Watch your other birds for more subtle signs of disease and if any start showing signs, isolate them as well. One of the earliest signs is a drop in egg production.
With this hen, you may collect blood samples to test for Marek's but there are few labs in the US that offer that blood test. Contact a local veterinarian and ask if they could find the lab nearest you that might do it. Many labs only do post mortem testing and most state veterinary labs will offer this. You can choose to euthanize this hen and have her tested for the benefit of the rest of your flock.
Marek's disease is a viral disease that causes cancerous tumors in the hen's body. There is no treatment short of chemotherapy which is forbidden in chickens because they are considered food animals. To my knowledge, it has never been tried and very unlikely to be successful anyway. You can offer her supportive care like putting food and water within her reach. Make sure she is someplace dry, warm and protected and clean her vent so it doesn't become soiled. You can add a poultry vitamin mixture to her water and make fresh scraps and meal worms available to her. Unfortunately, once neurologic signs develop, there is no way to reverse the disease.
The Merck Veterinary Manual offers a great description of the disease here:
There are few other things that it could be besides Marek's with the symptoms you described. Sometimes an egg bound hen can limp or drag a limb but only one side will be effected. Other diseases cause paralysis in younger hens like B vitamin deficiency that is treatable but not likely in an older hen. You can try supportive care and if there is improvement than it is not Marek's.
Hope that information is helpful and I am here if you'd like to discuss things further.
~Dr. Scheer