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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 28931
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience
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I have a hen, 3-4 months old. Yesterday I noticed she was having

Customer Question

I have a hen, 3-4 months old. Yesterday I noticed she was having trouble walking. She does not try to walk much, but when she does, she stumbles and losses her balance. She is also eating and drinking less than normal. My other hens seem fine and I have separated her from the rest of the flock.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Bird Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
Any ataxic ("drunken sailor") hen of her age should be considered to suffer from Marek's disease (herpesvirus) unless proven otherwise. Please review this link and then return to our conversation with further questions or concerns if you wish:
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
The individual that I have received all of my hens from assured me that she does not have Marek's disease. Although his hens are not vaccinated for such, he has advised me that he has never had a hen from his flock that has appeared to have or been diagnosed with Marek's. Could this be inaccurate? Is there anything else that could be wrong with her?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
No, the fact that he has never recognized Marek's - and it can take many forms and also be subclinical - doesn't preclude this hen's being affected.
Certainly, the symptoms you've mentioned can indicate any number of illnesses or health issues. In avian medicine, there's rarely one cause of a condition, so we usually begin with a list of differential diagnoses and use lab tests, X-rays, and physical exams to differentiate one from another. With this in mind, your best course of action is to reach out to your county-extension poultry personnel or avian-oriented veterinarian (please see here: for help in differentiating the various causes of what you're seeing. Veterinarians can perform a physical exam and run diagnostic tests, including X-rays, to distinguish between the various etiologies.
It's best to approach the diagnostic process with a clear sense of this bird's financial value to your operation. Although some services such as your county animal disease diagnostic laboratory might be available free of charge through a county agency or land-grant extension office, the expense of some diagnostic tests and treatments can add up quickly. While it’s always worth your time and money to identify a bacterial or viral infection that could potentially impact more than one member of the flock, this might not be the case with a condition that only affects one hen.
Please continue our conversation if you wish.
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
I'm just following up on our conversation about your pet. How is everything going?
Dr. Michael Salkin
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thanks for following up. Everything is about the same. She is still having a hard time walking. There have been no changes from what I can tell. I have made sure she has enough food and water within a short distance, and she seems to be consuming well. I'm not sure what else to do at this point. She does seem to be exhibiting a sign of Marek's disease, but from what I've read there are a variety of other things it could be as well. What do people normally do in situations such as these? I don't want her to suffer, but I hesitate to euthanize her without conclusive evidence that she has a life-altering or terminal disease.
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for the update. As long as she continues to eat and drink and her quality of life is reasonably good, there's no reason to consider euthanasia. You'll know when, or if, she deteriorates and the choice to euthanize or not will be made for you. Some birds can remiss from Mareks.
Unfortunately, conclusive evidence of the etiology of her symptoms would entail the use of an avian-oriented vet and quite an expense as I mentioned above. To answer you directly, backyard poultry flocks are often pets and so people are more likely to allow nature to take its course and hope for remission. Larger breeding/laying flock owners will cull quickly if only because an ill bird might present the danger of contagion and quite a financial hit if the rest of the flock becomes infected.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Ok, l I too will hope that she goes into remission, unless things happen to get worse. Must I keep her separated indefinitely? I feel rather awful that she has to sit in an enclosure all by herself.
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
Pragmatically speaking, she has already exposed the rest of the flock to an infectious agent and so keeping her quarantined isn't necessary.