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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 30316
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience
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I have about a dozen semi-free-range chickens brought in in

Customer Question

I have about a dozen semi-free-range chickens brought in in two groups. The first, older group is healthy. in the second group (which have been in quarantine), there were 3 lavender Orpingtons. A few weeks ago a, one died. We took her to a vet and ran through some deworming and antibiotic treatments, but she didn't make it.
A 2nd one, which had been doing very well until this point (ate well, explored outside, roosted fine, gained weight at a reasonable rate) became lethargic. She doesn't freak out when we pick her up, doesn't move around, doesn't eat. We've started force-feeding her water (with de-wormer) mixed with egg yolk to try and keep her going, but she's not eating at all otherwise.
There's so much information online about what "could" be wrong that it's basically impossible to make a reasonable guess at what's going on. Asking for assistance in diagnosing and treating our second sick bird.
We brought her in the house to separate her from the other birds in the shed.
* Checked for mites/lice; no evidence (the bird that died was heavily infested)
* Feathering is good; down is fluffy and full.
* Was eating well and running around on Tuesday of this week
* Only moves if forced
* Eyes are clear, seems aware of surroundings
* Extremely lethargic, not flighty at all. Does not attempt to escape container.
* Constant, rapid breathing
* I think she has an unusually rapid heartbeat, but to be fair I don't have a good baseline.
* Poop is normal colored, but very low in volume (she hasn't been eating)
* Crop seems soft/normal, not hard.
I don't know her exact age so I'm unsure when she should start laying.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Bird Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

"It's basically impossible to make a reasonable guess at what's going on" is what I have to tell my poultry owners far too often. Unfortunately, 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 your hen'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.

The best clue is her "constant, rapid breathing" which suggests lower respiratory compromise - pneumonia, e.g. If I were to presumptively treat her, I would dose her with injectable Tylan-50 given orally at 0.5 ml once daily for 5 days and see if she responded favorably. If so, I would continue the Tylan for an additional 5 days. She should be brought inside and kept in an 85F environment and force fed a "recovery food" such as you might feed a baby bird:

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.

Remember, when you lose a bird it's best to have it necropsied in an attempt to determine the cause of death and then be able to treat the rest of your flock if possible.