Taking my chicken to the vet, and other dizzying thoughts

My chicken Lucy
My chicken Lucy

The receptionist gave me the total for the office visit: $66.47. More than I’d expected but I was glad for the diagnosis of vestibular disturbance. For a while, it looked like death was imminent, so I was grateful that this was something we could treat with medication and rest.

Did I mention that I’m talking about my chicken?

I went out to the chicken run yesterday morning and noticed that one of my Polish hens, Lucy, was acting weirdly, bending her head down between her legs, and shaking it on the ground. I thought at first she had something stuck in her head plume; nope. Then I worried that the rest of the flock had somehow injured her, maybe pecked her eyes. She’s the most timid of the group and often the one chased away from food or sent out in the rain to sit under an umbrella while the rest of the flock, including her sister Ethel, snuggle up inside the hen house.

After I gave her a good once over and didn’t see any trauma, I separated her from the flock, using a dog kennel, and waited to see what happened. She stood up like nothing was wrong. I let her out. She teetered and dropped her head to the ground. Then she crawled herself to a corner, the same corner Mrs. Beasley had crawled to when she died last year.

I assumed this was the end for Lucy, too. She is six years old, after all. Chickens don’t live forever. They die of natural causes. If Mrs. Beasley was any indication, it would probably come quietly. I separated Lucy again so the others didn’t bully her, watched her through the morning, and then went out for the afternoon.

But when I came home hours later it was clear Lucy was worse. Much worse. She stood up, then fell over, then perked up, then fell over, not moving. Now I felt really guilty. She wasn’t dying, she was sick.

In fact, this looked a little like the time I had vertigo.

I called my vet, who referred me to his chicken vet, who couldn’t see Lucy until this morning. So I made an appointment, then made Lucy comfy for the night and hoped for the best.

She was alert and perky this morning, although still terribly off balance.

The vet gave her a very thorough exam and diagnosed vestibular disturbance. Basically, chicken vertigo. He prescribed antibiotics and discussed a treatment plan: keep her separate from the flock, let her rest, and see how she’s doing in a few weeks. The vestibular disturbance might clear up entirely, it might clear up 50 percent. She might be fine if it doesn’t go away completely, or her quality of life might be so compromised that we decide euthanization is the best thing. Only time will tell.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a chicken to the vet. My friends think I’m cuckoo, and make jokes about just eating the bird instead of spending all of that money on veterinary visits or medicine.

Except that my hens are pets, not food. Yes, we enjoy fresh eggs. But these are living creatures, with distinct personalities, just like my dogs and cat. Sure, they live outside in their own chicken run, but they’re still part of our family. (In fact, Lucy has a big crush on my dog Bandit. When he’s in the run, she’s glued to his side. It’s a one sided love affair; Bandit is just in it for the chicken poop.)

Just a chicken and her dog.
Just a chicken and her dog, spying on the neighbors.

I admit that I struggle, often, with the idea that I have chickens in my backyard and chickens in my fridge. There isn’t any difference, is there? One I’ve named, and one I’m going to eat, although I wouldn’t dream of eating the one I’ve named, or naming the one I’m going to eat. Over the years that I’ve had chickens I’ve found that I eat less meat in general, and am more thoughtful about it when I do. I don’t have any answers about this dilemma, eating animals or not eating animals, and I’m not sure I ever will, but it does challenge you to think about your food more, and the more you’re challenged, the more you think, and the more you think, the more you change.

Dizzying, isn’t it?

If the vertigo doesn’t clear up, and if Lucy is doomed to a life of teetering around, falling over, and generally spending every waking moment off balance and unable to stand up or function, I won’t hesitate to put her down. But for now? She’s out there in her own private kennel, resting. It was worth every penny.

UPDATE 5/25/2016: Here’s the update on Lucy!

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