Tuesday 30 October 2012

Diabetes in Chickens

Reynah the Diabetic Hen

I never thought about diabetes in chickens.  How do you even treat diabetes in a chicken?  Reynah came in to our lives in late January of 2000.  We bought her for $3 more than the other Pekin bantam chicks available, as she was a beautiful silver grey colour, with black flecks - known officially as a lavender splash.  Reynah was absolutely beautiful and I have rarely seen her colour again in Perth since. 


The 7 Day Itch

Early on I noticed that she yawned and scratched the side of her head a great deal.  It was also early days in my independent chicken keeping life and I didn't immediately understand what this meant.  When it didn't stop after a week and was so persistent that it disturbed her sleep, I took her to the Vet. 
The place we bought her from also had lots of parrots, housed very close to the chickens.  The Vet examined the interior of Reynah's ears and took a little sample from them.  Under the microscope it was obvious that Reynah had picked up a mite from the parrots.  A few drops of medication to both ears very quickly killed the mites and later than day, she was absolutely ecstatic to have her ears very gently scratched to dislodge the debris left inside them.  End of problem. 

Massive Thirst and a Dirty Result

Reynah grew in to a lovely little hen and showed all the signs of great health. So protective of her, we were there on the day she laid her first egg - in the lounge whilst I sat next to her, wanting to find some way to make it easier for her (perhaps not making her put up with an audience might have been a start!).   
It was odd to me that once she was closer to a year old, that she seemed to drink so much more than the other hens - a constant thirst.  As a consequence of this, her bottom was constantly saturated from producing very wet droppings.  It was of course ugly to see and also very bad for her skin.  Chickens produce acidic droppings and if left on the skin, produce a burning effect.  So she was getting her rear washed under the laundry tap quite a bit to keep her in check.  It simply wasn't right.

The Vet pondered the anomaly and then had a flash of inspiration.  Could Reynah be diabetic?  Time for a blood test to confirm.  Getting blood from a chicken in a respectful and caring way is really difficult I discovered.  Being such a tame bird, Reynah consented to being turned upside down and laid on her back on the examination table.  I held her in place whilst the Vet took a blood sample with a tiny needle from the vein under her wing.  Reynah's blood sugar was more than 3 times what it should be in a healthy hen.  Bingo!  My baby had diabetes.  

How to Treat Diabetes in a Chicken

It may have been my first time with a diabetic pet, but my Vet had seen diabetes in chickens before and immediately prescribed her with a pill that was actually made for diabetic dogs.  Reynah would have a quarter of a pill each day and if she still kept drinking like it was March 17th, then she could have another quarter after at least another hour.  At that point I had to keep a very close eye on her, as if the second quarter dropped her blood sugar too low, the result would be a staggering chicken who could barely stay on her feet.  To remedy the situation I would get her to have a sip of orange juice, wait a couple of minutes, if still disorientated I would give her another sip and continue the regime until she was back on her feet, meaning that her blood sugar was in normal range again. 

It sounds quite a random and casual approach to treating such a serious illness but it worked wonderfully well.  Her rear view became the typical fluffy, clean bottom of a healthy hen and she really took off.  This is one of the best photos I have of her.  She is just blazing with good health and it was all thanks to a great Vet and a pill for a dog. 

How to Treat a Greedy Hen with Diabetes

On the odd occasion that I gave the girls some left over cooked rice or pasta, Reynah seemed to scarf it down like it was her last meal.  With her pancreas unable to handle the huge amount of carbohydrates, it played absolute chaos with her digestion, sending it to a halt.  She would be so overstuffed it was akin to her having swallowed a tennis ball.  The lump of undigested food in her crop (the first resting place of food for all birds - located pretty much front and lower centre below the neck) simply grew and grew as with no food able to be digested, her hunger increased and so she just ate even more.  The Vet provided a bottle of food grade paraffin oil, which I administered orally, 3mls at a time about 3 times a day.  I then very gently and slowed massaged the food in her crop. 1. To distribute the paraffin oil and 2. To break up the food ball which becomes like a sticky immovable dough when it gets the chance to sit around for a long time.  After a couple of days, the crop began to subside - obviously lots of droppings followed and little madam was restored again. 

I met the person who sold me Reynah one other time and she told me quite insistently that diabetes can not be treated in birds.  I am more than pleased to say that this is incorrect.  We managed Reynah's diabetes for several years with great success, indeed there were times when her medication was not required.  Years later I barely remember the time I spent medicating her, washing her, the blow drying on top of the washing machine and I have no recollection of the money I spent on her.  I just remember a beautiful, friendly and gorgeous girl who we loved so very much.  Reynah was my first experience at managing chronic illness in a hen and she lived a magnificent life for several years. She was worth every moment of care.  


  1. Hi,

    I suspect that my hen also has diabetes. Can you tell me what the pill was that you gave your hen?


  2. Hi Lisa, the Vet prescribed a capsule called 'Ursofalk'. I hope this helps.

  3. Your information has been right on. Thank you so much for sharing