Pica or Crop Impaction

annpat(5-Maine)March 10, 2008

I'm curious if anyone has any experience with Pica. My $2 Red Star is recovering from $200 worth of surgery as we speak.

Her crop swelled to the size of a canteloupe, turned bright red, was hot, hot, hot to the touch, was shiny and bald and was filled with what felt like gravel. The vet just called and said she was filled with sticks and rocks and grass. He said, "She has Pica, and she'll prbably be back here in 18 months."

"Oh no." I thought, "She won't."

I'm curious if anyone else has experienced this and was it recurring?

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jview(Z7a NY)

I know a little about Pica as it is found in humans (didn't know that animals could have it too). It is a disease in which people have a compulsion to swallow indigestable objects such as coins, stones et cetera. It is fairly rare and not well understood. I do not know of a chicken psychiatrist who could help. But I wish you good luck.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 3:29PM
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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

At first I laughed, but then I did some Googling, because you can always learn something new, and chickens can be darned inventive when it comes to finding new ways to hurt themselves.

Pica does indeed occur in birds, particularly in chickens! This was a surprise to me since chickens naturally ingest small stones to use as grit. But the American Association of Avian Pathologists has an article here:


Seems chickens will develop Pica when introduced to new surroundings. Now it could be that this was mostly in caged layers, who are doomed to boredom and do this as a way to alleviate stress, boredom and overcrowding. And this article notes that it was with feathers (the only thing the birds had to peck at), not natural matter as yours was.

Crop impaction could have been caused by extra long grass (check your yard) blocking her crop from emptying, and she just kept up her normal diet, but nothing was going anywhere.

I'd suggest soft food supplemented with plain yogurt with active cultures for a day or two to make sure her digestive tract is functioning properly again, then ease her back into her normal chicken feed ration. You also might offer her unflavored Pedialyte (get it at the grocery store in the baby aisle) to drink in place of water, it'll give her an electrolyte boost, which is great to help ill and stressed birds. Make sure and provide all of your birds ample room to roam, don't overcrowd them and give them things to eat besides each other/random junk. :) Raw corn on the corn, or a cabbage hung from a string take time to eat and are entertaining as well as giving little beaks something else to peck. If you hang a cabbage, make sure they can't hang themselves on the string.

Also make sure that any grass or other fresh greens you offer are chopped up so it cannot get wound up in their digestive tract. Most people I've talked to who dealt with a crop impaction, long grass was the culprit.

Good luck! :)

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 7:45PM
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Thanks Velvet.
I'm keeping 16 birds in an 8 X 8 building on deep litter, which I'm thinking you might think is too little space. I've read conflicting things about space per chicken. I let the birds out this week because it was the first time they would go out all winter.

Two days later, I've got a Red Star blown up like a dirigible, unwilling to eat, and looking miserable. I wanted the vet to photograph the crop contents, but decided that would make me look---you know---odd.

The bill was actually $216---$66 was for anesthesia. I took the vet a dozen eggs and said, "If I had a brain in my body, I'd be bringing you stew."

You have me very worried. I don't mow my yard (which I've been quite proud of) so tall grass is a problem. I am thinking of putting the chickens out in the woods next year---in a tractor I'm building. My vet hinted that Colleen might have to spend her life confined, not free to eat sticks.

Thank you for the yogurt suggestion. I was thinking baby food. The yogurt is better. I've got electrolyte on hand and I'm going up to warm her water and add electrolytes to it. Thanks! I'm supposed to clean her incision with hydrogen peroxide and I have once, but I've got to say, I didn't like it. I couldn't find the wound very well and the cleaning felt rough. She's much more unhappy now than she was before surgery.

She hasn't laid an egg or eaten in at least three days. I figure tomorrow I'll be back at the vet paying hundreds of dollars to fix some egg binding.

Velvet, how do I ensure that my hens won't hang themselves on the cabbage string? (Oh? Rope?) I think a ball of swinging cabbage would please them to no end.

jview, thank you. The first article I found on the web recommended counseling and I was quite astonished until I realized that they were talking children, not chickens.


    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 9:52PM
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Tall grass isn't a problem now, because there isn't a blade of grass alive in my entire state, but I'm worried about summer.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 9:57PM
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Glad I read this. 40 some years of all sorts of poultry and never heard of such a thing!

You can run a skewer thru the hea of cabbage, then a heavy cord thru the hole and tie on a stick or any object. keep it hung at just above head high, good eats and exercise.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 11:20PM
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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

fancifowl, you and me both! :o

fancifowl has the right idea for how to hang the cabbage. Like he says, use a heavy cord and not something like kitchen twine. You can hang ears of corn as well, so they swing back and forth with each peck. Chasing food comes naturally to a chicken and they love the chase!

I see nothing wrong with asking to see the crop contents, heck I'd want to take them home and inspect them to see what caused it!

You need to get your hen eating something to keep her strength up and heal. Soft foods such as scrambled eggs, live mealworms, diced grapes...but baby food is great as well, make it the non-chunky stuff so she can digest it easily.

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 9:04PM
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Thanks Velvet,

The chicken is living in my kitchen and the distended crop hasn't gone down much. The vet told me we may have to install a feeding tube???

The thing I'm kind of worried about now is that she hasn't laid an egg in a week---I'm sure because she's feeling out of place. Is that a health issue now?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2008 at 5:44PM
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OMG, this is just amazing to me. We have to reduce our flock of chickens who free-range. I love them to death and just hope somebody like all of you will adopt them.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2008 at 6:27PM
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I'm not that happy about it, carmen. And there is a limit, I hate to say. (I hope.)

    Bookmark   March 15, 2008 at 10:38PM
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