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Sterile Peritonitis

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I just wanted to add here what I’ve learned about sterile peritonitis over the last few days, N.B. this all relates to my personal experience, and I’m no vet!


Symptoms: waddling like a duck, wide leg stance, underbelly puffy and filled with fluid, diarrhoea (white, green), mucky vent, no eggs. The vet advised that normally the hen has been laying well and you get the odd soft egg, but then peritonitis develops where the yolk fluid remains in the abdomen and slowly starts accumulating. My hen hadn’t laid an egg for six months, but I think that is when her illness started.


Diagnosis: my vet did an endoscopy to be sure, but if they have all the normal symptoms, an experienced vet should be able to diagnose it easily. Other tests: my first (inexperienced) vet gave her an X-ray which showed she was not egg-bound, also she had her poo analysed to rule out anything else.


Treatment: we initially got some antibiotics which are important to stop a bacterial infection setting in – yolky fluid can easily become infected, which I imagine would not be good news. But I don’t think the yolk can ever drain away on its own. So we found another vet who drained her belly and gave us Baytril antibiotics (much stronger dose), Metacam anti-inflammatory, and a diuretic. Next steps would have been hormone treatment to stop any more eggs being released from the ovaries. There were 3 choices: a one-off injection (£200), or a series of injections (I think he said this was Leupron, not as effective as the first option, but less expensive), or tablet treatment (the cheapest option but not very effective). Unfortunately my chook didn’t bounce back, so we didn’t get that far.


I’d like to know a bit more about why this started in the first place and if it can be prevented. Another one of my hens stopped laying too, so I’m giving her extra calcium in case this is stopping her producing properly formed eggs. I’d also recommend finding a good experienced vet (who won’t charge you an absolute fortune) before you have a serious problem.

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Information found on another site passed on by Nicola O


"Peritonitis can be caused by a number of things, most often by yolks missing the "funnel" and falling directly from her ovary into her abdomen. Other types of infections and sometimes cancer can also cause peritonitis. There are also two types of peritonitis - sterile and septic. If your girl has sterile peritonitis, it means that the fluid in her abdomen is not filled with bacteria and is not caused by an internal infection. With this type of peritonitis, the best thing to do is leave the hen alone. If she is extremely uncomfortable and having a hard time breathing, you can try draining off some of the fluid to relieve pressure AS LONG AS you do the procedure under sterile conditions- if you introduce bacteria into her abdomen, she will get a nasty infection and the peritonitis will turn septic - then she will likely die. With sterile peritonitis, the hen will have trouble getting around and will have some loss of appetite, but she will continue to eat and will improve gradually over time- potentially she will recover totally or she will always have fluid build-up. I have a hen with sterile peritonitis and she has been this way for over 3 years now. She has a harder time breathing as the fluid has put pressure on her airsacs and lungs (this is especially evident when she roosts at night) but she is still hanging in there. When she stops ovulating for the year, usually in winter, the fluid is reabsorbed into her body and she is totally normal. She's running around and acting quite silly at the moment... Your vet can choose to remove the fluid, but it usually builds up again quite quickly. Massive fluid loss all at once can cause shock, as well, so if fluid is removed, usually only about half of it is taken at a time.


The other type of peritonitis is septic peritonitis- the fluid gets bacteria growing in it and then there isn't much you can do for her as the infection is so wide-spread and huge that usually even massive doses of strong antibiotic aren't enough. In that case, you can tell that your hen has this type because they go downhill rapidly and lose their appetite. Often they have a fever (hot comb- very hot under wings). If your hen has cancer, this can also cause peritonitis, but she will go downhill with this type as well, and will stop eating and act very sick indeed.


If your hen is still eating well and drinking, she likely has sterile egg-yolk peritonitis and may very well just carry on for years without any added intervention. If you have the resources and this hen is a pet, you may want to ask about getting her spayed and having the offending ovary and the yolks removed from her. There is risk involved, but many have done it with success".

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