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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 29711
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience
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We are renting a house and it came with chickens. 2 are in

Customer Question

We are renting a house and it came with chickens. 2 are in excellent health but the 3rd refuses to roost with the others, spends most of her day sitting under the dust bath table and often likes to roost in the near if she can. When she roams free she runs away from us quite fast but is not as sprightly in her walk as the others. Her bottom is bare of feathers. She otherwise looks healthy (mucus membranes clean, eyes clear, feathers glossy). No obvious parasites. This afternoon I noticed her breathing heavily with her beak open and her eyes were intermittently shut. It is not particularly hot or cold. I suspect she is not laying, as the others are regular layers and we get 1-2 eggs daily total. She does drink and eat and they have clean bedding weekly with an organic diet and probiotic drops in their water. I am really worried I am missing something. I am a chicken novice (but a doctor and quite sensible/observant!) Any advice greatly appreciated. This has been going on for 6 weeks or so but today she is letting me hold her and examine her and when I put her back in her coop she flapped out of my hands and fell over onto her side and didn't get up. I am really worried about her!
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Bird Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Dr. Sophie, you've described quite an ill hen. Unfortunately, her behavior, bare tush, and dyspnea followed by collapse today can indicate any number of illnesses or health issues in chickens. I would suspect respiratory compromise in a dyspneic bird but such dyspnea can be an agonal symptom of metabolic disorders as well. In avian medicine, there's rarely one cause of such a presentation, so we usually begin with a list of differential diagnoses and use lab tests, X-rays, and physical exams to differentiate one from another. Necropsy of a newly dead or a sacrificed severely ill bird then refrigerated (not frozen) can be an important diagnostic particularly in large flocks. 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.

It's best to approach the diagnostic process with a clear sense of her 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. It frustrates me that I can't be more specific for you but such is the dilemma of poultry owners and vets alike.

How old is this hen, please? Can you check a few things for me? Is there a change in her eyes - a change in iris color or conjunctivitis? Can you assess her respiratory rate at rest? She should be taking less than 37 breaths/minute while asleep or at rest. Is there nasal discharge? Has she regurgitated/vomited? Is her comb still red and not flopped over? Is she lame? Please respond with the additional information and further questions or concerns if you wish.