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Palliative care and CBD

Fleur is a little white leghorn rescued from a battery cage farm at the end of 2017. She joined our sanctuary in the following spring. She was in poor shape with her broken foot and toe, and all her missing and torn feathers. But nothing stops that soft little warrior. She integrated quickly in the flock, became a beautiful little hen, and happily hopped around in the yard. She loves grapes and her best friends are Spunky and Sugar. Fleur also has the softest voice.

A year ago, she started feeling unwell. Her comb was pale, her crop was full and didn’t empty properly. We tried papaya enzymes to break down the food in her crop, but it didn’t really help. Her crop felt very squishy like it was full of fluid. As she couldn’t eat, she became weaker and we brought her to our avian medical center. They kept her for 3 days, gave her injectable pain meds and subcutaneous fluids to keep her hydrated. They diagnosed that something was going on in her GI system but couldn’t really pinpoint what, maybe a cancer. Her crop eventually emptied, and she came back home where we continued her pain management and fluids. But her crop filled up again and she couldn’t eat. Since the vet didn’t know what to do anymore and they mentioned cancer, we decided it was time to let her go. But the doctor in charge of euthanasia wasn’t available right then, so we postponed it and started giving her CBD tincture (1 drop of 18:1 CBD:THC ratio) to manage her pain. The next day, to our astonishment, Fleur’s crop was empty, and she was clearly feeling better! We kept her on CBD for nearly a month. Her crop got stuck one more time, but then it was all back to normal. It seemed like the CBD not only helped her pain but also reduced the inflammation or whatever was going on in her GI system.

In the summer, her belly started to fill with fluid. This is a sign of something going really wrong, probably cancer. After all, these little hens are bred to lay an unnatural number of eggs and reproductive cancers are unfortunately way too common. We drained about 1 lb of fluid to make her comfortable, and we had to repeat it in fall. She is a tiny hen, so this is about a quarter of her weight! Note that when you are dealing with ascites, you may want to learn how to drain it. Below are some pictures of the procedure. Make sure you get your vet to teach you before attempting it on a bird. Don’t just try it based on a youtube video.

Last month, we noticed that she wasn't doing well, and her belly was full of fluid again. We tried to drain her, but this time the liquid was really thick and bright yellow like egg yolk. We brought back to the avian medical center where they did an ultrasound and saw several eggs inside her belly. As she was in good enough shape, they did a surgery to remove all the egg material and fluid from her abdomen which provided her with lots of relief. Below is a picture of what was removed from Fleur's abdomen: several full sized eggs without shells, one is deflated (probably when I tried to drain her belly), the yellow stuff is cooked yolk, and the black thing is rotten egg.

Unfortunately, they also saw that she has an ovarian cancer that had spread everywhere including her intestines. They told us that she only had a little time left. We took her home to provide palliative care, love and spoil her.

She spent the first week inside the house recovering with antibiotics and pain meds. And since she reacted positively to it last time, we also started giving her one drop CBD every day. She recovered nicely and once her incision was completely closed, she went back outside with the flock. After a little fight to reassert her position in the pecking order (everyone seemed to have forgotten who she was during the 2 weeks she was away!), she thoroughly enjoyed a dust bath - her scar must have been itching so much!

Two weeks after her surgery, her belly filled up and we drained 0.98 lb fluid. That provided her immediately relief, and she was back outside dust bathing. Less than a week later, she was not feeling well, and her belly was full again! We drained 0.88 lb fluid this time. It took her a bit longer to bounce back, and we really thought we were nearing the end. We gave her subcutaneous fluids to keep her hydrated and comfortable (see this video on how to do that). But for the last 2 weeks, her belly didn’t fill up and she is very actively foraging in the yard with her friends.

Is this the normal ups and downs of having cancer? Or is CBD having some effect? Could it be reducing the inflammation caused by the cancer? I don’t know, but this is the second time CBD seems to have a really positive effect on her and allows her to enjoy her final days more fully.

Anyway, palliative care is all about providing relief from the symptoms of the illness and improve the quality of life for the patient. Fleur will let us know when it’s time for her to go.

Note that this article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your avian veterinarian.

We talked to our vet about using CBD and they said there wasn’t enough research done with CBD and chickens for them to recommend or discourage its use.


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