A vent prolapse with a hen is a serious, life-threatening problem that can be treated but you should be aware that treatment may well not succeed. If the hen is obviously in pain or distressed with a serious prolapse and not responding to treatment then consider culling.
When a hen lays an egg, the muscles push the egg out and basically a ring of muscle that is normally inside the hen comes out. After laying the ring of muscle goes back inside the hen. In a vent prolapse, aka as a cloacal prolapse, the muscle fails to retract.
A cruder but perhaps clearer way to explain is that her insides appear to be hanging out of her bottom.
This leaves the hen vulnerable to injury, infection and pecking from other hens. In commercial flocks the hen would be culled but home keepers may be able to successfully treat the affected hen.
Causes of Vent Prolapse
There are a number of causes of prolapse:
Age: Older hens, especially those who have been prolific layers, can lose muscle tone and consequently prolapse. It can also happen to young hens just into lay when they produce a large egg.
Large Eggs: The larger the egg the more strain placed on the system so a hen laying a large egg is more likely to prolapse.
Weight & Condition: Hens who are overweight and those underweight or in poor condition are more likely to suffer a prolapse.
Disease: A prolapse may be due to an infection. It’s certainly more common in hens already suffering an illness.
Diet: There is some evidence that prolapse is associated with a lack of calcium and magnesium.
Treatment of Vent Prolapse
Reduce or Stop Egg Laying
If the hen is stopped from laying this gives the prolapse chance to heal without constantly being strained. Unfortunately this is easier said than done. Reducing food intake and daylight will reduce egg laying but it can take time to take effect.
There’s a problem with modern hybrid layers that they are so bred that they will continue laying even when on reduced rations. They’ll use up their fat reserves and even suck the calcium out of their own bones to continue producing eggs. It may well work with pure breeds though as they lay less and are not so bred to produce eggs above all.
Reducing daylight will involve isolating the hen and moving her indoors or into a shed. Now this is just my feeling but I think isolating a social animal like a chicken from the companionship of the flock often seems to make them go downhill. Possibly they were about to go down anyway.
Provide Calcium and Vitamins
Providing additional calcium and vitamins in the water may aid healing and maintain her condition.
Bathe & Clean
You’ll probably find the following best undertaken by two people unless your hen is particularly calm natured.
The first part of the treatment is to bathe the rear end in warm water with a little anti-bacterial soap in. If you can, keep her in the warm water for 15 minutes or longer, gently removing any much adhering around the vent or sticking to the feathers. This will soothe the hen and help prevent infection.
Replace the Prolapse
The prolapse needs to be gently pressed back into place. This will need lubrication to ease the process. You can use Vaseline but a lot of keepers suggest using haemorrhoid cream such as Anusol or Preparation H. They contain ingredients that soothe and protect raw areas, help reduce swelling, prevent bacterial growth and can promote healing.
I’m not sure if this is legal in the UK. Certainly veterinarians are constrained to only prescribe medicines specifically approved for use on chickens which are livestock.
Spray with Purple Spray
The rear may well look quite red and raw, spraying generously with antiseptic spray like Purple Spray will both prevent infection and deter other hens from pecking at the prolapse.
Repeat the Process
It’s unlikely that the problem will be cured in one treatment. Repeat daily until the prolapse remains inside and the rear isn’t getting dirty.
If the problem shows no sign of being resolved in a week or if the hen appears distressed then you will need to consider what is the best course of action for the hen.