Sunday, April 28, 2013
Wry Neck or Crook Neck~ Understanding It & Treatment Options
Disclaimer~ First, I am not a vet. Let's just get that out of the way. I do not have a degree in veterinary medicine. I am a enthusiastic chicken breeder, keeper, exhibitioner, mama, and lover. I write about my own personal experiences, trials, and triumphs. I'll be honest and always share the very best knowledge I have. What I write is what has worked or not worked for us and what I believe to be the best for the birds. Then you take it for what you will. I don't take credit for all of this information either. I only share what I've experienced and things I've gleaned at some point from my mentors, other reputable breeders, friends and avian docs.
I started this post with all of that rambling because wry neck is not always simple, not always treatable, and IMHO not something you want in your breeding stock. I know a sweet woman who lost her beloved Silkie to it just last night as I happened to be completing this post.
Wry Neck, or Crook Neck as it's sometimes called, is an unfortunate SYMPTOM in chickens that causes their necks to become twisted. Often times they start with the appearance of a "crook" or a hook shape in their neck, hence the name. It can then advance to them tucking their heads to the point it is actually between their legs. At that point, they often back up and tumble over. In our most severe case, Eleanor seen above, she also spun in circles and walked backwards in the beginning. Now she's to the point that after tumbling over, she flails and flaps and becomes quite distressed until my daughter holds her head and talks gently to her.
The causes of wry neck vary. Remember, it's not a disease in itself but rather a symptom/condition that occurs due to an injury, deficiency, disease, or toxin. This can vary from case to case. Out of my own 4 cases, I believe there to be 3 different causes.
I've seen this as 2 of our 4 chickens came from the same line. You might say 2 doesn't "prove" a genetic flaw and I agree. However, when you think of it as 2 out of only 8 that hatched from a dozen, that changes the picture. Add to that a cross beak and a one eyed chick to those same 8 and I felt there was enough evidence for me to believe there were some genetic flaws in the line at work. Needless to say, of the chicks from that line, it was enough for me decide to chalk up the fertile egg expense to a loss and those chicks of that 8 that survived were to be kept strictly as egg (consumption) layers and pets either here or re homed at a friend's house for the same purposes. They were not and would not be used for breeding here.
Another cause is a vitamin deficiency. We've had one such case of this and in terms of treatment and recovery times, this has been our most successful. Some breeds are more prone to vitamin deficiencies than others. Silkies, for example, are known to have a more difficult time with the absorption of Vitamin E, thus resulting in deficiencies. Birds that are on poor diets or fed too much scratch and/or corn are more likely to develop the Vitamin E deficiency for the same reason any human would. If we were to stuff ourselves with chips and junk food and cut out our healthy foods then we too would, obviously, develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies and with that health problems of our own. No chicken should ever be fed a diet of corn or scratch grains alone!
Disease and toxin exposure are two other possible causes of wry neck. Chicks are especially sensitive to toxins.
Before going into treatment options, let's talk about expectations. While some cases are mild and you can be blessed with an almost miraculous recovery in as little as 48 hours with vitamin treatment, most are not. I've talked to breeders who have been treating this condition for almost a year before seeing any marked improvement. I had one very young chick die on me within 48 hours even with treatment. I had one recover easily in about a week only to lose her a few months later to a mild respiratory infection that caused barely a sneeze in the rest of the flock. I have one who's recovered and leads a happy, healthy life here although he will never be a breeder and we will never be able to show him because he maintains a crook like curve to the very top of his neck. Then, of course, we have sweet Eleanor who I'm two months into treating. As with just about anything else, the faster you catch it and start treatment the better you may fare.
The Moral Dilemma and Time Commitment
More than likely, if you're still reading this post it's because you have a chicken with wry neck and you searched for treatment options. You're probably waiting for me to "get to the jist." You need to understand its a time commitment with no guaranteed results. At our farm, we always choose life when possible. That doesn't make us right and someone else wrong. It also doesn't make it easy by any means. It's a personal decision with no right or wrong answers.
I know breeders that I respect and admire who believe it's best to cull any chickens with signs of wry neck. You need to know none of the treatments are guaranteed to work; you'll need to commit to medicating twice a day for at least two weeks; many will come out of wry neck only to have it reoccur; even if recovered many will be left weaker and more susceptible to other illnesses; you really SHOULD NOT USE THEM FOR BREEDING; be ready for extra bedding, feeding and care.
Still here? Let's get to treatments.
Separate- First & foremost, move the affected bird from their run/brooder and separate into their own brooder. Make them as comfortable and STRESS FREE as possible. You'll notice the head and neck twisting, backing up, and if they're at the point of flapping and having seizure-like symptoms, those will also present upon any stress. Allow them to rest comfortably in a dim, warm area. I put mine under heat lamps that are raised high. I don't want the brooder at the temperature it is for babies but I do want them nice and cozy. If you've not done this before, watch for signs of overheating if you put them under heat because you don't want them to dehydrate! The other benefit of isolation is that if it IS caused by a disease or an illness, you have quarantined this bird from the rest of your flock and hopefully stopped an outbreak.
What about massaging? I realize many websites, forums, pages, blogs, etc. all say to massage the neck for wry neck to treat it. I heard first hand from two avian vets and several breeders this is NOT the way to go. I tried it (before talking to the vets) on two of ours myself with absolutely no success. Once it was put in proper perspective for me, I understand why. If you look at the causes of wry neck, injury, deficiencies, etc., there's nothing about a massage that would treat or cure those conditions. Not only does it not improve the bird's health, but as we discussed, stress exacerbates the symptoms and so the least handling you can do the better.
Nourish- That brings me to my next step. Make certain they are getting plenty of food and water. Many times they will struggle with eating and drinking. This is often the cause of death for birds with wry neck. They dehydrate making it even more difficult for them to drink and eat and they quickly wither away. If they are unable to eat or drink on their own, you may have to feed them. You don't want to hand feed them and risk aspiration unless you have to so at first just try to gently dip the END (not too far) of their beaks in water with electrolytes (Chick Saver) every hour or so. You need to keep them hydrated and fed! Scrambled eggs are a great way to keep up their protein levels and their energy.
Vitamins- One of the reasons I wanted to go into such detail about the causes of wry neck is so you could understand the benefits of the different treatment options. Vitamins can play a major role in treatment and recovery, especially if caught early and if the vitamin deficiency is the cause for your bird's symptoms.
You'll need to understand that Vitamin E is only absorbed in combination with Selenium. All of the posts online about just giving your chicken Vitamin E capsules without the addition of Selenium are wasting time and money and breaking hearts with the owner doesn't understand what went wrong. You MUST give Selenium in combination with the Vitamin E. You also must be careful because high doses of Selenium can be toxic. Just follow the directions carefully.
You can usually find Vitamin E with Selenium already added in the liquid capsules at many pharmacies, online vitamin shops, and health food stores. Here are a few links from Amazon. I keep these items on hand.
Any treatment you see online for wry neck will usually contain a mixture of multi-vitamins, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and Selenium. I personally follow the guidelines that were given to me by two chicken doctors that I trust. My regiment is as follows:
Vitamin E with Selenium- Squirt one capsule of Vitamin E with Selenium into your chickens mouth (under the tongue! so as not to aspirate your bird) for 3+ weeks.
Water Soluble Multi Vitamins- an easy to find one is Poly Vi Sol (yes what you give babies) without the Iron. Please be sure it does NOT have any Iron. Give this for 2-3 weeks.
Probiotics & Electrolytes- You can find these at any Tractor Supply Store. I prefer to buy all of my vitamins and health products from Doc Brown at 1st State Veterinary Supply. I always know he has what I need on hand. Or like with the others, I'm providing an Amazon link. Provide this for 2-3 weeks.
**Rather than using the Poly Vi Sol and separate Probiotic, Doc Brown suggests the Vita-Pro-B & Replamin for your daily Vitamin and Probiotic treatment. I'll leave that to you. I use Doc Brown's suggestion for my breeder flock on a daily basis. When we developed the wry neck, I had not been so it was easier for me to grab the Poly Vi Sol at a local store. If you're prepared ahead of time, like we are now, I'd go with the Doc. You'll still need to add your Vitamin E & Selenium, this is just the Multi Vitamin and Probiotics**
That's my first line of defense. The Vitamin E & Selenium will assist with any deficiencies, the electrolytes will give them energy to get drinking then eating again,
If the wry neck was caused by an injury. You may also want to try something to reduce any swelling or inflammation.
Bayer Brand Baby Aspirin- You can give your chicken 1 of these 3 times per day to help relieve any inflammation or swelling.
You can also try administering a general, broad spectrum antibiotic along with your treatment if you feel the cause is from an illness. My experience has not included this because none of ours seemed to be caused by any bacteria or infection.
If you've tried all of the above and find no improvement within two weeks you need to make a decision.
Prednisone- You can try Prednisone next or decide it's not a fitting life for your chicken. Prednisone is a little on the controversial side, you must be very careful with it. It does wipe out the bird's immune system leaving it susceptible to secondary infections and illnesses. You don't want to overdo it but more importantly, you can't just start it and then stop it abruptly- that's not healthy or safe for your bird.
While giving the Prednisone, you'll want to continue your vitamins (multi & Vitamin E & Selenium), probiotics, and electrolytes. Prednisone would be administered for ten days, tapering it off at the end. You'll have to call your local veterinarian for the Prednisone or you can try the First State Vet Supply.
Keep in mind, relieving your bird of wry neck can be a prolonged process. We find that their bedding needs to be changed frequently because they often spill feed and waterers in their attempts at getting food and water or from the flailing around. We've also spent a great deal of time drying their face and heads from it getting dipped in water in order for them to drink. My hopes are that should you have the unfortunate luck of experiencing wry neck that you can make the decision that is best for you and your flock and things turn out for the best!
I pray this information helps you along your way of taking care of your flock and keeping them healthy!