Sunday 9 December 2012

Celestial Sunday - Part 6

Egg Peritonitis

I had a vile run of egg peritonitis in my chickens and the first off the line was my Celeste.  I first met my now long term Vet after taking Celeste to the local dog and cat Vet and getting referred onwards.  There are very few poultry competent Vets in Perth.  I could feel a grinding sensation in Celeste's gut and knew something was wrong.  Celeste was diagnosed with egg peritonitis.  

I have tried to find a decent, reputable and easy to understand on line article about what this is but so far nothing matches the requirement.   Pretty much the egg does not make its way successfully along the chain and the liquid contents (yolk and white) settle in the abdomen.  They begin to cause inflammation, resulting from an infection caused by the egg contents stagnating in the abdominal space.  It also results in egg being produced which have a flexible, weak, rubbery shell - not a shell at all actually, it's like extra thick tissue paper at best.  Often call soft shelled eggs. Celeste was more than three years old when her symptoms began. 

We went through some odd treatments.  I recall taking Celeste in to the Vet to get her abdomen drained.  Basically the Vet stuck a rather large gauge syringe in to Celeste's abdomen and this prompted beer coloured liquid to drip out like a tap - a cup of it spilled out on to the surgery table.  I was horrified but it gave Celeste a lot of relief at the time.  I remember she was unable to make a sound but by the time the draining was half way over, she was chatting away again.  

How to give oral medication to chickens

I also gave her eye dropper fulls of anti inflammatory liquid.  My biggest piece of advice to anyone giving chickens oral medication is to avoid pressing the hens eyes when holding the head still.  So, so important.  I gave Celeste liquid medication dozens of time and she lost her sight almost completely months in to the treatment.  I'll never know if maybe I was pressing her eyes when trying to keep her mouth open and permanently harmed her.  

Odd moments in the battle against egg peritonitis included;
  • When soft shelled eggs were on their way, they would cause Celeste huge pain and long drawn out pushing sessions.  The very best way to deal with this is to (and I recently had to do this with one of our elderly hens so I know it's not just silly, sentimental, mumbo jumbo), wrap the hen lightly in a towel - for warmth and to contain her and sit with her on your lap if she'll stay or at least close to you to allow your body warmth to keep her additionally cosy.  I had our latest hen wedged between the couch arm rest and the left side of my torso.  The egg usually comes out within the hour.  Just keep her warm, quiet and comfortable.  So Celeste would be wrapped up in front of the tv with me, laying a rubbery shelled egg on my lap - it was like a home birth of sorts.  
  • Celeste became egg bound (egg stuck just prior to exit) and I found her wandering the backyard, pushing every couple of metres and complaining loudly as she wasn't able to enjoy a scratch in the garden.  I took her into the house and popped her on my lap.  I waited for her to push and then pressed with a mild firmness behind where I assumed the egg was.  When the egg did not come out I stopped and waited for her to push out again.  On the third go the egg shot out like a bullet.  It flew out more than a metre beyond her and she made a sharp squeal to announce its departure.  I showed her the egg and she stared at it and then back to me and then back to the egg, chatting away to me.  Five minutes later she was back in the garden and very pleased that she no longer had an egg blocking her.  It was as though something very inconvenient had stopped her having fun.  She never let anything bother her long term.  
  • The constant infections finally wore down my girl and I remember sitting in the waiting room of the Vet to finally have her put to sleep (she was emaciated, exhausted, blind and couldn't stay awake more than a minute or two at a time).  But she would open her eyes and yell and carry on at the top of her voice - this was standard Celeste language for either; I'm bored/ I'm hungry/ I want to be in the garden/ I want to come inside.  Then she'd go straight to sleep.  Couple of minutes later she would bolt awake and start screeching again.  It was so gorgeous.  Even at the end nothing could get her down.  

How to put an end to Egg Peritonitis

If I had my chance again, I'd find a Vet who would perform an operation to remove her ovary.  A week or two and she'd be well on her way to recovery.  There'd be no months of pain, inflammation, medications, abdominal drainage, perhaps no loss of sight.  Most of my other hens have developed egg peritonitis in their first year or so and if I were breeding my girls, I would at least wait until at least they were 2 years of age before breeding them.  Many things will have taken their toll on a hen by two years eg. cancer, egg peritonitis (Celeste was unusually late in her presentation), diabetes, and it prevents genetic problems getting passed on to the chicks if you wait out the majority of the bad conditions and breed from the healthiest stock.  
Hens like Celeste taught me so much and her sacrifice and difficulties served to provide the hens that have come after her with greater happiness and better health.  Whenever I give my hens oral medication and I carefully cup my hand around their heads, carefully avoiding the eyes - I have Celeste to thank for this.  

Celeste - egg on the way.  My little champion. 

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