Water belly (Ascites) in a 3 year old hen

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GemmaEllen
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Water belly (Ascites) in a 3 year old hen

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My old girl, Pepper (a black/rhode rock) is very soft and water-balloon-like under her vent, between her legs (abdomen area?) I know this is ascites, or water belly, as her sister, Rosie, had the same thing when she got sick and we had to put her down a few months back. However, Pepper is fine - rushing about the garden with her sisters, upright, good-coloured comb (slightly paler than her sisters bright red, but I put that down to her being older) she's eating fine, pooping mostly ok (she gets wet poop a lot but always has - we clean her up once a week now after she got bit by a mild case of flystrike - bleugh) she hasn't laid an egg in a few months, although she did pop out a few just after we got the 'babies' (2 blacktail POL's) She's currently molting so doing a lot of sitting and preening, but is a very average, healthy 3 year old hen.

I was just wondering if she is OK to have ascites, or whether there are things I can do to help her get rid? I was under the impression it was a symptom from kidney failure (as we had with Rosie) but with no other symptoms I'm not sure what to do...
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Marigold
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Re: Water belly (Ascites) in a 3 year old hen

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Hi GemmaEllen, good to hear from you. Ascites is very common in older hybrids at the end of their lay, I’m afraid, - they’re just not bred to live a long and healthy life after the ‘henopause” and usually go down to one kind of incurable internal problem or another. It’s probably a symptom of some other internal complaint, but realistically it isn’t treatable.

I’m glad she’s active and eating well at the moment. As she’s obviously a much-loved pet, I feel the best way forward is to help her live out what’s left of her retirement time, keep a close eye on her, and be prepared to take her to the vet when her activity level drops, she stops eating properly, and it becomes apparent that she isn’t enjoying life any more and may be in pain.

Hens don’t have a very long life expectancy, especially hybrids who are bred to lay constantly for the first couple of years and are then usually culled if kept commercially. The lucky few, like Rosie and Pepper, sometimes get to live extra months or years in the care of kind owners like you, so if you don’t mind that she’s not able to lay eggs any more, don’t feel bad about taking the difficult decision when you know the time has come.
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GemmaEllen
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Re: Water belly (Ascites) in a 3 year old hen

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Thanks Marigod - as always you know exactly what I need to hear. Pepper will live out her days loved and happy. We have a vet who, although knows very little about chickens, knows enough to send them off safely and calmly, so we are content to enjoy her for however long we have her.

I think our next 'generation' of chickens might be pure breed for a change of pace. see how we go with our 2 blacktails!!
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Marigold
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Re: Water belly (Ascites) in a 3 year old hen

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That’s good to hear, GemmaEllen. Good luck with Pepper - you sound as if you have a vet who is sensible and kind, and in fact there is usually little that can successfully be done for an elderly bird with one of the common internal problems. They can’t really tolerate anaesthetic for an operation, even if this were possible or economically feasible in terms of the short time of extra life it might buy them. Do let us know how she gets on.
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GemmaEllen
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Re: Water belly (Ascites) in a 3 year old hen

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Thanks Marigod - one quick question: we've noticed she's been sneezing? I cant see any discharge or swelling on her face, and her breathing doesnt seem laboured, so i'm unsure what the problem is. I wondered if she might have something stuck up her nose but can't see anything (And she's not happy to let me get that close!) I've rubbed her comb and wattle in vet RX, and dotted some in the coop so she can inhale as she sleeps, but wondered if there was anything else I might do? I have no antibiotics but considered oregano, although she doesnt seem to like the taste of it which is a shame!
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Marigold
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Re: Water belly (Ascites) in a 3 year old hen

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As she doesn’t have discharge from her nose or eyes, and apparently her breathing is OK, I wouldn’t worry about a bit of sneezing. Remember, you’re just aiming to keep her happy and comfortable, and I wouldn’t bother with any remedies, especially those she might not like. You could usefully boost her diet with some high-protein snacks, all her favourites such as sunflower seeds, mealworms, bits of scrambled or boiled egg, a couple of grapes or raspberries, mixed corn, the odd sardine - add about 1/4 to 1/3 of pellets and mix it all up gently with enough hot water to make the pellets crumble a bit. Make enough for the others to share, it will be good for all of them, in moderation!
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GemmaEllen
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Re: Water belly (Ascites) in a 3 year old hen

Post by GemmaEllen »

Just a quick update on Pepper. She's stopped sneezing so I assume she had a cold (if chickens can get such a thing!) or had something lodged in her nose which she has sorted out. She has got through her moult and grown in some nice new fluffy bum feathers to cover the bald patch from her run in with flystrike. she has also, amazingly, started laying again!!! I have no idea how she is producing them, but we are getting them every other day at the moment. They are decently sized, although pale and very thin shelled (despite havign access to everything she could need - grit, oyster shell, calcium, etc!) and we are very surprised. She is turning out to be a very hardy old lady! <3
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Marigold
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Re: Water belly (Ascites) in a 3 year old hen

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Well done Pepper! Some hens are tough old birds and come through many problems if left in peace to do so in their own time. Moult can take it out of them, so having grown new plumage and have enough spare protein to make extra eggs is pretty wonderful. The thin shells are to be expected in an older hybrid - they seem to have more difficulty with calcium uptake and simply providing extra in the diet becomes less effective.
What about the ascites, has the swelling gone down at all?
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