• Deep throat, chicken style

    by Rebecca Bresnick Holmes

    The other day I was sitting in the chicken run, just hanging out with the girls, and noticed that Hester was doing this strange thing with her neck and mouth. She’d stretch her neck all the way up, then open her mouth to the sky and do like a quick yawn, then bring her neck back down to normal size and shake her head back and forth like a dog. It seemed like she was trying to swallow something that was stuck in her throat.

    I’d seen her do that before, but this time she was doing it repeatedly. She didn’t seem to be in any distress, but I started to worry nonetheless. Maybe it meant something?

    Clearly not having learned my lesson from my previous internet research on chicken oddities, I went to the computer for information.

    After reading some articles, blogs, forums, and making the mistake of watching some on-line videos, I suspected that she had “gapeworm” and was a goner for sure. Apparently, gapeworm is a condition that chickens can get from eating things with a certain kind of parasitic worm. The worm attaches to the trachea and grows there. It’s also permanently copulated with its mate and there they reside — in the chicken’s throat, conjoined and growing, making it increasingly difficult for the chicken to swallow and ultimately causing its demise.

    My mind started racing about what to do. Does one take a chicken to a vet? IS there a vet who would treat a chicken? How much money should I spend on a chicken? What if she died? I’d be very sad. Would I cry? Would that be silly? The connection and fondness I felt for Hester deepened. She was one of the first. I knew from her amber eyes looking at my brown ones that we understood each other. She hung out near me whenever we were in the yard together. What would I do with her if she died? Could I bury her in the yard? She’s no bigger than Ubu (the cat who died last October), and he’s buried there. We definitely couldn’t eat her (although we do each chicken — just not ours).

    After reading actual medical articles about gapeworm, I learned that along with this “gaping” of the mouth, neck stretching, and head shaking that Hester was doing, there were other symptoms that Hester didn’t have, such as inability to eat or drink, weight loss, droopiness, and general lethargy. Good news? But how to tell?

    Many people on the forums (and there are many backyard chicken forums, blogs, and websites out there!) wrote that you could look down the chicken’s throat and see the reddish worms. So I figured that’s the first step — see if we can actually see anything there. Of course I had no idea what to do or how I’d react (given my general squeamishness about such things) if I actually saw any disgusting worms in her throat.

    I had read that it’s not easy to hold a chicken still and keep its beak open to peer down its throat. There were a variety of suggestions on how to do this and one person shared that she did this by opening the beak and putting a pencil in the chicken’s mouth to keep it open so she could look. Yikes.

    I enlisted my husband’s help. I held the chicken on my lap, and after a few tries, I was able to grab the bottom half of her beak in one hand and her top part in another. I kept them apart (no pencils required). Those hens are actually really strong! Their beaks are small and their necks are very twisty, which makes the whole operation quite challenging. My husband held the flashlight and we looked down her throat — a first (and, I hope, last) time for me.

    It looked clean and clear. Such a relief (on so many levels)! No gapeworm. No need to answer all those questions. Hester is eating and behaving normally, other than the gaping and head shaking, so I’m calling it just another odd chicken behavior. Internet chicken research . . . never again!



    • You are too funny. I love hearing these stories as a non animal lover. I would never do any of what you do in showing your love for your animals. It’s a whole new twist for me. And a new vocabulary word-gapeworm.



    • Grapeworm, yep that’s a bad one. I had it one time when I was a kid. The doctor told me that it was the worst case of grapeworm he had ever seen. Oh, I meant tapeworm. Nevermind. I can just visualize you and your hubby shining a light down the chicken’s mouth. It’s a good thing the doctor didn’t tell you to check the other end of the chicken. Ha Ha
      Donald



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