SOUR CROP IN CHICKENS. A GUIDE TO DIAGNOSING AND TREATING.

As a blogger who has the utmost interest in providing well researched information pertaining to the topics you enjoy it’s with great pleasure I bring to you today the story of barfing chickens and a cat vet.  You may remember Dr. Mark who although full of chicken information is actually, by practice, a cat vet.  So why all the chicken knowledge then?  What makes him an authority on barfing chickens?  Well Dr. Mark also owns chickens, is a poultry judge and has his own poultry magazine called The Exhibitor.

So when my little Ameraucana chicken Sweetie died of what I suspected was Sour Crop due to a Crop Impaction I emailed photos of my necropsy of her over to the good Doctor Mark to have him confirm my suspicions.

Yup.  She most likely died of Sour Crop, he said.

My next question to Dr. Mark was but HOWWWWW???  And there began my Sour Crop lesson from Dr. Mark.

Karen: But she seemed fine!  How did she get Sour Crop?

Dr. Mark:  Crop impaction happens when there’s a physical obstruction preventing food and other ingested material from passing through the digestive tract. Usually the crop will be swollen and hard and full of solid material. Sour crop occurs when there is a disruption in the normal microflora in the crop, usually because of a change in the ph of the digestive system and a resultant yeast infection with candida sp. The crop in this case can feel big and squishy , and often there is a foul smell from the bird’s mouth.

Karen:  I had my nose right in Sweetie’s mouth checking for bad breath and she didn’t have it.  But once I cut into Sweetie to necropsy I nearly passed out from the smell. Seriously.  I guess that’s a symptom that might not always be noticeable.

Dr. Mark:  Yes, just like some humans don’t show any typical signs of a disease, the same is true for chickens.

Karen:  You mentioned when I first told you about Sweetie dying from a Sour Crop that one of the reasons could have been Marek’s disease?

Dr. Mark:  That’s often the cause yes. Diseases that disrupt the nervous system and decrease movement of the gut, such as Marek’s disease, egg peritonitis, or lead poisoning. Also physical damage to the gut from swallowed metal objects, or intestinal parasites can disrupt normal motility.

Some of the reasons for crop problems are not easily remedied. Marek’s disease is fatal and if the bird has other symptoms of the disease such as ocular or leg paralysis then the bird should be euthanized.  Other possible causes of sour crop and crop impaction include gorging on long grass, hay, straw, wood chips, or sand, or eating strange things like string, twine, or plastic.

Karen:  Yes, it was a little mound of straw that I found in Sweetie’s crop.  So should backyard chicken owners not use straw as bedding?

Dr. Mark:   Some chickens love to eat things regardless what you use. Straw is not particularly attractive to them. But I have some that have even eaten shavings.

Karen:  So what can I, or other backyard chicken owners do, if I notice this happening to one of my chickens?

Dr. Mark:  An experienced avian veterinarian can help determine the cause and offer surgical options, if it comes to that. If consultation with an avian veterinarian isn’t an option, you can focus on the potentially treatable causes with the following advice. These are some treatments for crop impaction and may help if the crop has also begun to sour.

1 ) Isolate the affected bird in a hospital pen and provide good nursing care. A cage with a wire floor and no bedding is preferable.

2) Feed a commercial mash or crumbled diet and offer poultry grit made of crushed granite. Add two tablespoons of vinegar to each gallon of drinking water, preferably apple cider vinegar with the mother still present, and make sure the solution is fresh and constantly available. The granite grit will help to break up the impaction, do not be tempted to use mineral oil as it could end up in the bird’s lungs and will not break up the impaction.

3) In many cases a dilated crop (dilated is a soft pendulous crop that feels squishy as compared to a normal crop that is enlarged but firm d/t being stretched, full from material insideis difficult to treat and the prognosis is not good. This treatment involves draining the crop. One method, which I do not recommend, is to turn the bird upside down and let the fluid be regurgitated as there is a real risk of aspiration with this treatment. I would recommend attaining a veterinarian who would use a local anaesthetic and then drain and wash the crop with sterile saline.

Karen:  Uh oh.  I did exactly that.  It was 1 o’clock in the morning and I knew Sweetie was close to death so I did everything I could think of to help her including turning her upside down to try and drain her crop. Which was largely unsuccessful by the way.   A lot of backyard chicken owners don’t have access to a chicken friendly vet.  In a case like mine would you still recommend not trying to drain the crop yourself?

Dr. Mark:  I find more often than not it does nothing to relieve the impaction and the bird may die from aspiration as a consequence. Aspiration is not a nice way to die.   If the bird is suffering from a physical obstruction (impaction) the prognosis is good with removal.

However if the crop is also soured use of antifungals may be necessary and depending on the underlying cause may only help for a short term. Treatment consists of identifying and resolving predisposing factors if any, and antimicrobial therapy with Nystatin, fluconazole, itraconazole, ketoconazole, amphotericin B, or flucytosine.  Some natural remedies to rebalance the gastro-intestinal health would be beneficial as well. Pre-and probiotics may be beneficial to help re-establish the normal microflora.

Karen:  Where can backyard chicken owners get the sour crop medications if they don’t have a chicken friendly vet?

Dr. Mark:  Trying apple cider vinegar is their best bet, the other medications are vet prescribed (karen’s note: some feed stores carry basic veterinary medications for chickens).  Prevention is an important part of controlling the disease process for both disorders. I would recommend keeping the grass mowed short where your chicken will be foraging. Providing plenty of feeder space and clean water at all times so birds are not stress eating and gorging. Sweeping the pens with a magnetic pick up tool** will decrease the risk of metal foreign bodies. Ensuring the birds do not have access to old peeling paint as it could be a potential source of lead toxicity. Keeping wild birds from access to feed and preventing feed from becoming mouldy may prevent sour crop. The use of apple cider vinegar in drinking water has also been associated with general gastro-intestinal health in poultry.

After talking with Dr. Mark, I felt like I had a bit of sour crop myself. A lot of stuff in me that hadn’t been digested yet.  I was hoping to get a simple 1, 2, 3, Sour Crop is cured answer.

But that didn’t happen because that never happens with chickens because chickens are part bird, part dinosaur, part murder mystery novel.

And our job as backyard chicken owners is  try to figure out who the killer is before the end.

** I just found this GREAT telescoping magnetic pickup tool on Amazon for $20.  It’s apparently really powerful and would be great for sweeping a chicken coop for metal.

40 Comments

  1. Linda in Illinois says:

    I can’t even imagine the horror! So sad.

  2. Jani says:

    After all of that info I had a night cap of cider vinegar….just in case!!

  3. Sue says:

    I don’t believe I read the whole thing! I don’t even have chickens, don’t plan to have chickens, and I still found it a fascinating read!

  4. Danni McLaughlin says:

    Uh Karen? What’s a crop?

  5. Paula says:

    Karen, this is a very informative post, thanks. I think if I was in the same position that you were in when Sweetie was close to death, I also would have tried to remove the impaction myself even after reading this post. At least it gave her a chance after you had already tried everything else.

    Remember I contacted you in a panic a couple of weeks ago when my chicken close to death? After a week of bathing, antibiotics, nurturing, loving and deworming, she pulled through and is on the mend. She doesn’t lay anymore but that’s okay. I am just so happy that she didn’t die. I feel very fortunate to have had chickens for over 2 years without one death and that was the first illness that has occurred.

  6. TucsonPatty says:

    I, also read the whole thing, and always do, because you make it such an interesting read. So, my next question is, will you keep all the chickens on vinegar water from this day forward? I think I should have some, too!

  7. Tina says:

    Karen, I have a question that’s unrelated except by the fact that you mentioned your screw picker-upper thingy. I remember at some point you mentioned your grabber thingy. I need to get one, I’ve developed vertigo issues. So I went on to Amazon to order one but so many reviews (yes, I always read reviews) said this or that one broke within a short time or wasn’t strong enough to pick anything up or the little arms didn’t close enough to pick up small items. Do you have one that you really like and want to recommend? Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      I’m sorry, but I think that might have been someone else Tina. I don’t remember having any sort of picker uppey thing. If I did, I didn’t have it for long, lol. I think maybe my mom had one. I wonder if I borrowed it and mentioned it in a post. So I’m afraid I can’t recommend one for you. :/ ~ karen!

  8. Claudia says:

    One thing I realized reading this EXCELLENT post is that who knows if we aren’t eating chickens riddled with yeast…

  9. Mary W says:

    Great post today. I don’t have chickens anymore but they were free range and I wouldn’t have been able to do all that – we had 10 acres. They never did get ill or die except by a neighbor dog that got a couple of our turkeys. I just really like to learn new things and you present material in such an interesting way that even if I don’t need to know, I still like learning it. Thanks for a nice lesson and hopefully you will have prevented another loss for yourself or another person with chickens. Chicken vets are hard to come by. Yours is a real winner.

  10. danni says:

    I admire you greatly and have taken many of your ideas/projects and converted (stole) them for my own use. As much as “I want to grow up to be just like Karen!” I actually become more convinced my choice NOT to have chickens is the right one for me.
    Not that I didn’t consider it at a certain point…. but I’m not zoned. (Whew!!)

    • Karen says:

      I knew a bit about the horrors of having chickens but not all this, lol! If I knew all this I probably wouldn’t have got them either, but actually … they were a gift so I probably would have now that I think of it. Anyhow, I’m glad I went in a tiny bit blind and got them. It’s amazing what you can do when forced into it. (maggots, wound treatment, dealing with death) ~ karen!

  11. Ann says:

    I have to add what I did to solve an impacted crop in one of my birds. I mixed regular yogurt with pureed papaya and I made sure it was liquid enough to go into and out of a syringe. Then I would syringe some of the mixture into my hen every few hours. Just what she seemed to be willing to take and enough to keep her from starving. Then I would very gently massage the crop area. Very gently but enough to help break up the mass of food that was stuck there. It probably also helped get the yogurt and papaya mixed into the bolus that was blocking the crop. It took about 4 days if I remember right before the blockage disappeared. The probiotics in the yogurt and the digestive enzymes in the papaya went a long way towards helping break down the mass that was the problem.

    My hen was not interested in eating on her own during the time, but some may eat the mixture without using a syringe. She actually loved the stuff since I decided to continue giving it to her til what I had bought was gone, a few days after the bolus broke up and moved on.

    This hen is still with me and that was 3 years ago. So having a sour or blocked crop is not always a death sentence. I found it interesting that Merck’s is something that can cause it to happen and I will keep that in my brain for next time, hopefully that will be a very very long time.

    Next I expect you to do a tutorial on curing bumblefoot!! That might lose you a few readers, LOL

    • Karen says:

      Barf. That’s one thing I haven’t had to deal with yet. But from what I have read the best thing is literally slicing open the foot and pulling it out. Barf, barf, barf!! ~ karen!

      • Erin says:

        Completely barfy. I barely got through it. Thankfully, the chicken did.

        • Susan says:

          I got through the first bout too (last year – 3 rounds), though only by steeling myself with the thought that it was cut open her foot or let her eventually die of a massive systemic infection. However, the same hen now has it again, in the other foot… Every time I do this, I’m faced with the same dilemma: what is normal foot tissue and what is infection? I can’t find any pics or videos online that are closeup enough to show this. If you or any of your readers can shed any light on this, or point me to any resources, it would be greatly appreciated!! I pulled out a big plug of infection last week, but her foot was still very swollen the next day, and remains so, so I obviously didn’t get it all. I’d reeeeeeeeallllly like to learn to get it all at once, so as not to subject either of us to further torture!

          I’m so glad you haven’t had to deal with bumblefoot! You’ve had enough other issues!!

          • Karen says:

            Thanks Susan. Yeah, I’ve had a surprising number of bizarre issues, lol. Maybe that’s a good next question for Ask Dr. Mark. Dealing with Bumblefoot. ~ karen!

            • Susan says:

              I would be one very happy camper if you deem bumblefoot important enough to ask Dr. Mark about. I have found his responses to be quite helpful!
              Thanks, and I hope you kick your migraine soon!!!! Finding my triggers was a long process, but it’s helped so much to have some concrete things I can work on controlling, in order not to initiate as many episodes!
              Susan

  12. Charlene says:

    In my situation, with no vet available, I do think helping my chicken vomit to expel all that fluid and gunk, helped her. She was so full and heaving trying to move it. Pick her up and she would drool stinky brown fluid.

    There are two methods of turning a chicken “upside down.” One being more literal and flipping them on their back and some just hold by their feet. That looks like torture. I hold my hen in the crook of my right arm with wings tucked, like a football. I gently massage her crop which is sitting in my right hand. I can see her face and coo to her to calm her. When she starts to gurgle or I feel movement, I gently lean forward which then puts her in a downward facing position and if will pour out. We return upright after a few seconds. I can use my left hand to straighten her neck and give her additional security. She will sometimes open her beak anticipating the fluid and we then tilt. I carefully watch her for signs of when to tilt foward and when to return upright.

    I was very afraid of asperation after first reading ways of helping my sick hen but death was surely going to happen if I did nothing. Trying this was something I could attempt. Surgery is not. The combination of releasing some of the build up (fluid) and treating with ACV water along with Monistat helped fight the yeast infection. Monistat has the same active ingredient the doctor would prescribe a child with Thrush.

    My hen, unfortunately, developed a pendulous crop as a result of her first impaction so she is vunerable to sour crop recurring. We will continue to fight! We are not giving up!

    Thanks Karen for your research and sharing your experiences. Most of us BYC owners are on are own.
    Peace and good eggs,
    Charlene

  13. MaryJo says:

    My mother had chickens for several years, but I don’t remember ever hearing about sour crop. But then my thirteen-year-old self didn’t spend much time thinking about chickens and their health. =0)
    I have one daughter with urban chickens and another daughter who just bought a 10 acre farm and has chicks on order to pick up next month. Both of them are great at DIY and researching information, but I’m going to forward this post to them, just in case they aren’t aware of this problem.

  14. Eileen says:

    And I thought all my cats’ health issues were hard….
    Of course I don’t have a Dr. Mark cat vet either.
    : )

  15. Kari says:

    I think my sweet, sweet Chickie Kate may have had an impacted crop. I give my girls free choice of clean water or ACV water each day. But, I just realized I didn’t trim their ground cover grass treats short. Maybe that is why she was so voraciously eating the eggshell grit I provided? Trying to treat herself. Thank you for this informative article Karen. I will make adjustments to what I do for my remaining chickens and the new one I will be getting soon. You are so lucky to have Dr. Mark!

  16. Ashly says:

    Completely off-topic, but Dr. Mark was the poultry judge that judged my chickens at a show in Fort Worth, Texas earlier this year. I was completely shocked to see his picture just now! The poultry world is so tiny!

  17. KateInMSN says:

    I love this series of articles you’ve done about the chickens – they’re informative without being too advanced for a layperson to understand. I’m sorry you lost Sweetie but she didn’t die in vain for all you learned AND taught us as a result!

    Also, since we’re all thinking it and no one wants to say it, Dr. Mark is quite dapper, no?

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