Frida – sad news

March 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Frida died suddenly last night. We have no idea what killed her, but it was very quick and seemed to not cause her much distress. She died at 10 pm, in my arms, with both of us there.

She’d been a bit off her food for the last week or so – not interested in her morning mash, but willing to spread it around the cage, looking for the bits she wanted to eat. Still enthusiastic about treats though, so we put it down to being a fussy eater, and her knowing that there was always a good chance of something more interesting being provided if she held out long enough.

Yesterday morning she was a bit quiet (though still within normal limits), but had a nice time out in the sun while I mucked the others out. She had a bit of a scritch, ate some dirt/pebbles and seeds and clover, and then had a nice sit down in the sun against a peastraw bale. As part of her physio, she has to walk across the lawn to me (about 15 metres), which she did yesterday with her usual grumbles, and the usual dive into my lap at the end of it. I had appointments in town, so I left her at about 10.45 am, flumphed in her usual corner of the cage, beaking at her mash.

We got back home around 6.30, and she was standing in one corner with her head down. She did that fairly often, so we didn’t worry, just went outside to let the others have some time out. She certainly didn’t seem distressed or anything like that. Stewart went off to get dinner, and I checked emails, talking to her as I did. Then I remembered I hadn’t cleaned her cage since the morning, so I went and opened it up. She climbed out and into my arms, and I still wasn’t really worried, although her eyes seemed a little furrowed. Then I realised she hadn’t pooed at all, all day, other than one tiny smear. And hadn’t eaten. Or drunk. I sat her down on a towel and went to get her some fresh water, which she dipped her beak in but didn’t drink. I moved away and called her, and she did stand and walk to me, but slowly. And when she got to me she didn’t hop up or even step up into my lap, just made some fairly feeble movements in that direction.

Stewart got home shortly after, and we decided to try and crop-tube some food and water into her (a scrambled egg, blended into a slurry with some water). I got about 50 mL into her, but she wasn’t really swallowing, and her beak was full of clear mucus. We had some antibiotics, so made a couple of small boluses and literally pushed them down her throat into her crop. Then I held her on my lap, stroking her. She tucked her head into the crook of my arm, and closed her eyes. A couple of times when I had to change position she made a spasmodic movement, as though she was trying to re-settle too. The final time she ended up stretched out, legs tucked under but head and neck extended down across my thigh. Her breathing seemed to get a little stronger, and we started to hope that she was sleeping and might be able to make it.

Around 10 pm we decided we needed to put her back in her cage and go to bed. As I stood up, I heard her breathing change into Cheyne-Stokes, and so we both sat there with her as she died. It really was that quick.

I’ve been going over everything I can think of to come up with an explanation of what happened. She’d been scritching in the orchard in the morning, but there’s nothing poisonous there any more (some calla lilies which are being pulled out as soon as they come up, but they’re in a different part of the orchard to where she was; and the only greens she was nibbling were clover) and the area she was in was where other chooks had been. The day before she’d been outside with me when I watered the plants on the patio, and she did spend some time sipping from the puddles and beak-scritching in the corner where the water pooled a bit. But there are no chemicals on the plants or patio; there were no seeds or berries where she was, and as soon as I saw her playing with the water I used the hose to give everything a thorough sloosh, to wash anything potentially unpleasant off the concrete and away from her. (Madame was a bit grumpy about her feathers getting wet, but forgave me pretty quickly.)

It’s possible that it was an infection of some sort; although she hadn’t been mouth-breathing or showing any signs of distress at all. So if it was something like that, it came on incredibly quickly. I don’t know what the mucus in her mouth meant. Lung infection? An abscess or something that burst suddenly? She was wheezing a little yesterday evening, but at that stage things were almost all over, so it’s hard to know what was part of the cause and what was just the effect. Urates had been white, and other than the no-poo that day had been completely within her range of ‘normal’. So I don’t know. I just don’t know. She’d been through so much, with breaking her leg twice and then the respiratory complications over Christmas. But I thought we were through that. I thought she’d be ok. But she wasn’t.

I think she waited for us to come home, for us to both be there, before she died.

It’s so hard being in the lounge room without her. Talking to her was part of our daily routine. Saying good morning; saying goodnight. She’s been here in this room for our entire tenure in this house. Whenever I needed something to make myself feel better I could go over to her and cuddle her, or just stroke her feathers. Or just talk to her. We’ve spent a lot of time together in the last few weeks. Since the earthquake, really. She’d sit on my lap and I’d stroke her eartufts, and she’d smile. I know it sounds daft, but she would partially close her lower eyelids whenever she was feeling happy and wanted to show it. She’d smile with her eyes. Or we’d be outside, and I might be trying to read or do some writing, and she’d potter about or demand to be cuddled.

Wednesday I was outside on a deck chair, with Frida plonked down on the lawn, investigating clover flowers. I was trying to work, but Frida decided that I wasn’t paying her enough attention, so she jumped up and landed right on top of my workbook. I took the hint, and we ended up just sitting there together in the sun for an hour or more, eyes closed. Happy. Me stroking her, her in her semi-reclining/sunning position on my lap. It felt a million miles away from the grief and carnage in the city, and the stress over Frida’s progress back to being a Real Chicken again and rejoining the flock. Right then, right there, that moment – both of us together in the sun, peaceful – the world seemed like a beautiful place, and life was good. I think I even said it aloud. And Beaky agreed.

We’re going to buy another apple tree and a big pot this weekend. We don’t really have a spot in the orchard ready to plant into, so we’ll keep her this way until we do. But the house is so incredibly empty without her.


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