Attention! This is a potentially life-threatening condition for your bird and/or flock. Time is of the essence, contact your veterinarian immediately.Find me a Vet

Egg Yolk Peritonitis

Overview


Egg yolk peritonitis is a serious, potentially life-threatening reproductive condition in hens. It is defined as inflammation of the hen's inner abdominal wall (peritoneal cavity), caused by the presence of rotting egg yolk material. The contents removed from affected hens' peritoneal cavity have been previously described as 'turbid yolky fluid or "cheesy", yellowish masses of yolk material'. The accumulation of egg material is most often related to an underlying reproductive tract disease. This egg material is of a substance that provides a perfect growth medium for bacteria, especially E. coli and which leads to a secondary bacterial infection.

Clinical Signs of Egg yolk peritonitis


The clinical signs may vary widely, depending on the severity of the infection and overall health status of the hen. Affected hens are often described as 'exerting persistent nestbox sitting or broody behavior, without laying any eggs'. Ascites (fluid present in the hen's abdominal lining), depression, loss of appetite, respiratory distress, weakness, and sudden death are often observed. Although not all hens with egg yolk peritonitis develop ascites, in the ones that do, cytologic evaluation of the abdominal fluid removed is often useful aids towards a diagnosis. The color alone is often slightly yellow to yellow in appearance.

Clinical Signs

Isolating themselves from the flock
Pale comb/wattle
Dull, partially closed eyes
Reluctant to move
Not laying eggs
Walks or stands with her back end lowered
Appears to be in discomfort
Enlarged abdomen
Swollen, sometimes pasted vent
Difficulty breathing
Loss of appetite
Depression
Yolk colored droppings
Early morning death

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Radiography
  • Ultrasound
  • Exploratory surgery
  • Necropsy

Treatment

NameSummary
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
SurgeryMost hens require surgery to remove the accumulated egg material from their body and infected or atrophied parts of the hen's reproductive system. Essentially she will need to be 'spayed', followed by a course of antibiotics.
Homeopathy1 tablet Hepar Sulph and 1 tablet Bryonia crushed. Add to an egg cup of water, and use 2-3 drops 3 times dailyBritish Hen Welfare Trust

Prevention

  • Hormonal implants: These are implanted by your veterinarian every 4 to 6 months or so (this interval varies, for each bird is different), which will stop the hen from laying eggs. Not all veterinarians will do them however, so you may need to contact a few different practices in your area to find out.
  • Surgery
  • Antibiotics
  • Supportive care

Prognosis

Poor unless the hen is promptly taken to a veterinarian.

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Age Range

It often occurs in adult egg laying hens

Risk Factors

  • Chronic egg laying
  • Chicken breeds which excessive egg production rates, such as the Leghorn, Red Star, and many other commonly known breeds that are used by the poultry industry for producing lots of eggs.