Venus – sad news
October 26, 2010 § 1 Comment
We were overdue to weigh the girls, so yesterday being a public holiday, we made a point of getting on to it. I’d been a little concerned about Venus a couple of weeks ago – she’d seemed almost reluctant to come out of the house when I opened the pop-hole in the morning a couple of times. I’d wondered if she might have hurt those huge legs, doing her usual uncoordinated flap-and-fall perch-dismount. (That chicken could trip over a sunbeam!) But when I had a look and a bit of a feel, everything seemed perfectly alright. And heaven knows she was fast enough after anything she liked the look of during the day! So I put it down to her just not being a morning chicken, and the usual slight out-of-sorts-ness that she goes into when she comes off the lay (the only hen not to have laid since the move).
Normally I pick the girls up by sliding one hand under the breast bone, and using the other to control legs or wings. But Ella and Venus are big enough so that this can be quite difficult, and I’d picked Venus up by the side-clamp-across-wings method. (Technical term.) We’d weighed her, and lifted her out of the bag to see if her toenails needed trimming, and noticed a deeply unpleasant smell – rotten flesh.
Our first horrified thought was that she must be flyblown under all the daggy fluff. But what we found was a huge – avocado sized – putrid swelling, covering the entire area from cloaca to the base of her tail. There was necrotic tissue, feathers coming out, poo everywhere.
Until you lifted her tail up, her fluff completely concealed it. Which, I guess, explains why we didn’t notice anything amiss until now. I can be certain that it wasn’t there (or at least not big enough to be visible, smellable, or easily feel-able) a fortnight ago. We had a bit of a go at cleaning it up with water and some rags from the clothesline, but it was getting late and we didn’t want to put her to bed with wet fluff. So we toweled her off as best we could, and left her with her flock. She was, in every other way, completely normal. Scritching, dustbathing, eating well. Other than the area below her tail, a completely healthy chicken. But something this big, and this putrid, wasn’t going to be good.
The following morning we got an appointment to take her in to Pauline. I spent a bit over an hour in the morning giving her backside a bath – a tub of 4 inch deep warm water, some shampoo-soap, lots of towels and a pair of rubber gloves. I stood her in the tub (on a towel on the floor of the laundry), and gently soaped and rinsed her fluff until the water was filthy, then I emptied it out and did it again. Took three changes of water before she was “clean”, and smelled better. The mass didn’t look any better though – I gently removed the decaying feathers that were ready to come out, and very gently cleaned the area. But it was huge. And not soft either – quite a firm mass. Almost muscle texture.
I dried her off with a hair-drier on low heat. It took quite a while, but eventually she had a clean, blow-dried bottom, with her fluff looking fluffy again. She actually seemed to quite enjoy it – watched what I was doing, but then stood with her eyes partly closed, doing the beak-rubbing movement that they do when they’re feeling contented. Then I took her back to her sisters, to spend the morning with them. They were all in a big, happy, snoozing feather-pile when I left her.
Pauline took one look at the swelling and got out the scalpel. She opened it up a bit, and cut away the necrotic tissue. And then confirmed our worst fears – that the infection was a minor part of it, and that there was what was almost certainly a large tumor causing the swelling (and the infection). And that there was nothing that could be done.
So she was put to sleep then and there, with us standing by, stroking her feathers and talking to her. I think we’d both known that this was going to be the outcome as soon as we saw the size of the swelling. But you always hope, and you always fear giving up too soon. Or too late. And I know how hard it is for a vet to tell grieving owners that trying to do anything more would be to cause the animal unnecessary suffering with no real hope of a positive outcome. Or the other way, trying to convince an owner to put the time (and money) into trying to rehabilitate an animal that has a really good chance of living a happy life, if only they are willing and/or able to … It’s never easy, for anyone. But it’s good knowing that our vets understand that (leaking eyes notwithstanding) we are able to make those hard decisions, and will out the animal’s welfare first whenever possible. And on this occasion the course of action was absolutely clear. She wasn’t suffering yet, but she would be soon. And of all the ways for a chook to die, I think in the prime of her life (she was 4), being put to sleep just before a terminal illness starts to cause you distress is a good way to go. She had a good life, and a quick, low-stress death. It was the only thing we could give her.
We’ve buried her in the orchard, near the chook run. This weekend we’ll go and buy an apple tree to plant over her.
We’ll miss you, Venus.