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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Bird Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 21419
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 2 year old hen is very lethargic and is just gazing

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Hi my 2 year old hen is very lethargic and is just gazing about. Doesn't want to eat and I have been coaxing her to drink. She is usually the boss of the flock.
JA: I'm sorry to hear that. Could be a lot of things that cause lethargy. The Veterinarian will know how to help the bird. What is the bird's name?
Customer: Ethal
JA: Is there anything else the Veterinarian should be aware of about Ethal?
Customer: It has been extremely humid and raining here the last few days. Not sure if it would have anything to do with it

Hello & welcome, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you today.

How long has she had these signs?

Will she eat anything if coaxed?

Any change to her breathing or gasping/gaping?

Is the inside of her mouth as pink as her friends?

Any fever, coughing, sneezing or diarrhea?

Any palpable masses, eggs, of fluid in her belly?

Customer: replied 3 months ago.
She started yesterday. No coughing wheezing or gasping. No food intake even with coaxing. Belly feels a bit bloated. She is only pooping a little bit and it is normal

Hello again,

Since she is bloated, any change to the color of her mouth/gums?

Can you take a breathing rate for me (just count her breaths for 10 seconds + multiply by 6)?

Customer: replied 3 months ago.
No change in the color. Breathing is 56. She appears to be trying to swallow although she is not eating or drinking. Could it be her crop?

Hello again,

It would be a concern but usually they will have swelling or changes to the crop firmness (you can feel hers and compare it to her companions). Instead, I have to say that for Ethal to be breathing so quickly (nearly twice normal for a bird at rest) with lethargy/gazing and now swallowing I would be more concerned that her signs are respiratory based. Specifically, I'd question if we have a partial throat obstruction from something she ate or throat based swelling, discharge, possibly infectious material or worms blocking up the throat. Differentials for this would be Trichomoniasis (canker), Fowl pox (wet form causes canker lesions in the throat) and Syngamus trachea (gape worm) infestations.

Now in this situation, you can potentially narrow down a few of these differentials at home. If you are comfortable doing so, you may consider having a peek down her throat to rule out you gapeworms. You may be lucky and see them or one of the other causative agents (ie the plaques of Fowl Pox or discharge of canker). If you can't see anything, since you can only look down a chicken throat so far, then you can try the "Q-tip test". To do this, you need to place her in your lap, gently open her beak, and swab a cotton bud down her throat (twirl it as you do this). Twirl as you bring it back up, and if she's got gapeworm, you'll see thin, red strings on the cotton bud. This way you will know if this is the cause. But if you end up with a cheesy discharge then canker or pox would be higher on the differential list. And if there is any other discharge, the bacterial causes would be suspect. And once you have identified what is present, you will be in a better position to know if you are treating them appropriately.

Otherwise, further measures to pinpoint the causative agent and increase your treatment success, you do want to consider involving your vet. Especially as if her breathing rate is elevated. The vet can listen to her lungs, examine her airway, and help you determine the disease local and therefore rule out some of these agents. Furthermore together you can collect some respiratory secretions from this bird to be cultured. This will tell you what agents are present and what treatment will clear them effectively. As well, you might consider having a fecal exam performed as well to tell you if parasites are playing a role (directly or via compromising the immune system).

Furthermore, once you have samples for culture (which will tell you what drugs any pathogenic bacteria present are vulnerable to), you can consider a broad spectrum treatment to try and tackle as many of the bacterial causes as possible. There are a range of options that would include erythromycin, oxytetracycline, tilmicosin, or tylosin. And if Ethal hasn't been wormed for gapworms recently that would be an option too.

Otherwise, supportive care is that key facet that we need to make sure you are addressing for Ethal. If she just isn't eating on her own, then we can gently try to offer 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. As well, if you are comfortable hand feeding her you can make a handfeeding paste with handfeeding powder (ie Nupreen Hand Feeding Formula) and your electrolyte solution. Though of course again use care since she sounds to be resistant to eating due to having to focus so much on breathing.

Overall, there are a range of agents that can be to blame for the signs you are seeing for Ethal. Therefore, we'd want to be more proactive with supportive care, monitor breathing, and take some of the above diagnostic steps to determine which is to blame for their signs. If you narrow down the differentials but cannot identify a cause, then it would be ideal to follow up with your vet so we can target treatment for her and protect the rest of the flock.

Just in case you do need an avian vet and do not have one already, you can check where you can find one at near you at AAV (, Avian web( or Birdsnway(

Kind regards,

Dr. B.


If you have any other questions, please ask me – I’ll be happy to respond. **Afterwards, I would be grateful if you would rate my service by clicking on the "Rate my Expert' button at the top of the page as this is the only way I am credited for helping you. Thank you for your feedback!: ))

Customer: replied 3 months ago.
Ok thank you. Swabbing will be the first line of action. I appreciate all the information and insight.

You are very welcome, my dear. :)

All the best for you both,

Dr. B.


I aim to provide best care for you just as I do for my own clients & their pets. If you have any other questions, please ask – I’m happy to help but please rate me with the **STARS** (or leave a written rating of 1-5; 5 being great) as this is the only way I am credited for my work by the site & this allows me to continue to help here. This is included in your question fee. Once you rate, your question will not close & you can still ask follow-up questions. Thank you. : )**

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