I first noticed Jessica’s swollen abdomen the beginning of July. It felt like a water balloon filled taut, about to burst. Jessica didn’t show any signs of being sick, though. She was still eating, drinking, walking and running, chatting with me. All the normal chicken behavior of a friendly, social hen. I’d never had noticed if I hadn’t picked Jess up and encountered her big water balloon belly with my hand. WHOA.
I seriously doubted Jessica was egg bound. She showed no other signs (although her swollen abdomen was very similar to Harriet’s when Harriet was egg bound). So, I did what I often do when the girls have me stumped, and I tried to find a reason for her water weight gain via research.
A possible ailment could be that she got a bit of egg-stuff stuck inside her somewhere and it was creating an infection. Some advice said to drain it, others said to leave it. I decided to leave it until the poor girl looked like she was saddle sore, waddling like a pigeon toed duck, and having a hard time jumping up onto things. She was still eating, drinking, happy, but I could tell she wasn’t very comfortable. So, I decided to try to drain it.
I don’t know if any of you ever call local vets and ask for weird items like syringes and catheters? Um, yea. It didn’t go over so well….
“Excuse me? You want what? Do you have any experience with this? Do you have any training?”
Well, I watched a YouTube video.
“We can’t sell you this sort of thing. We suggest you take your hen to a vet who specializes in birds.”
Yea, well, that’s not going to happen. Besides, how hard can it be?
Thankfully I DO have a vet friend, although she’s a cat vet, who has helped me with Peep’s bumblefoot surgery and given me prescriptions when Harriet sounded like Darth Vader. I texted her for the supplies, and told me to swing by clinic, pick up said supplies, and bring them to her house (with Jessica) so she could teach me how to use them.
It really IS a simple procedure, although I’ve never stuck a needle into the backside of a hen before. (It slid in like butter on a hot knife). Jessica didn’t mind. We drained off 2 ounces of fluid that looked like a green smoothie (which is unfortunate since I drink green smoothies several times per week). My vet friend said she’s never seen fluid like that come out of an animal. She took a picture and showed it to her chicken vet friend who said the same thing. Mystery fluid.
For three days straight, I pulled fluid out of Jessica’s swollen belly. She was very cooperative. I think it was definitely one of those times when “This hurts me more than it hurts you” was actually true. But we got by. After removing more than three cups of faux-green-smoothie, she was able to run and jump easier than when she was slinging that volume along behind her.
(For those of you that don’t know–like I didn’t–the proper color of this fluid should be more like ginger ale, not sludgy thick green vegetables.)
To be on the safe side, I started diffusing On Guard essential oil in the coop (for killing germs/bugs growing inside her and to strengthen immunity). I set up the diffuser in a nest box and blew it in on flock at night (I figured since it’s not toxic it wouldn’t hurt to dose everyone). I’m not sure if this contributed, but the mass stopped re-filling with fluid. It’s still there, but not growing (or if it’s growing, it’s very slow). And Jessica is happy as a chicken three cups lighter.
The chicken vet, based solely on photos from the phone, suspects that Jessica might have some kind of cancer. My surgical oncologist friend (with human patients), suspects something like a burst organ (unsure of which organs chickens have–she suggested gall bladder or spleen).
Regardless, Jessica is happy and seemingly doing well. It’s been two months now and she’s not showing any signs of slowing down, although I suspect she will slow down, simply because she’s over four years old and there’s a growth on her belly that won’t completely go away.
But for today, Jessica is living the good chicken life and that’s a reason to cheer.