Stephen J. Birchard DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVS

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Story of Crystal, The Chicken That Ate Metal

(This really is Crystal, not some random picture from the internet.)
I guess you could say she was into “heavy metal”, but not the musical kind. She was a pet Rhode Island Red chicken (above). The fact that she had a name was a clue that she was not just your run of the mill member of a flock. She presented to the Veterinary Hospital at Ohio State many years ago for treatment of suspected gastrointestinal foreign bodies. Our avian veterinarian, Dr. Barb Oglesbee, admitted Crystal and did a diagnostic evaluation. After determining that foreign material was present in her GI tract, she performed endoscopy under general anesthesia and removed multiple metallic foreign bodies from the crop and proventriculus.
Metallic foreign bodies removed from Crystal's crop and proventriculus
by endoscopy. The nickel is shown for sizing purposes only.
However, one piece of metal remained that could not be removed by endoscopy. Dr. Oglesbee came to me for a surgical consult. My first reaction was: “Really? You want me to do an abdominal exploratory on a chicken?” I had done surgery on birds before but never on a chicken. All veterinarians know that sometimes you have to go outside of your comfort zone and do what needs to be done.

Crystal was still under anesthesia from the endoscopy so she was transported to the surgical area and her abdomen plucked and prepped for surgery. I ran to my office to do a quick avian abdominal anatomy review, developed an impromptu plan and returned to the surgical prep area to get the surgical team ready.
Basic anatomy of the chicken.
We positioned Crystal in dorsal recumbency and did a ventral abdominal midline approach. A nail was immediately found protruding from the gizzard, and black caseous debris was present around the gizzard in the peritoneal cavity. 
Nail protruding through the gizzard (arrows). Black caseous
debris is due to leakage from the gizzard.
We performed a “gizzard-otomy” to remove the nail and closed the gizzard with simple interrupted absorbable sutures. Inverting suture patterns would have been impossible on this very muscular organ.  We then flushed the peritoneal cavity and did a routine closure of the abdomen. I did not place a drain in the abdomen since bandaging the abdomen would have been difficult and removal of the drain by the patient seemed like a good possibility.
The nail and other metallic debris removed from Crystal's gizzard.
The dime is for sizing purposes only.
(Crystal did not eat money.)
(Well considering the bill for surgery maybe she did!)
One of the interesting things that occurred during the surgery on Crystal was related to the hemostasis. As is done routinely in surgery we used electrocautery to control bleeding. When we used it on Crystal, particularly in the muscle, we became aware of something. The smell of cautery on the muscle was like fried chicken! I guess that's because it was . . . fried chicken! I can honestly say it was the first time that operating on a patient stimulated my appetitie!

Amazingly, Crystal made a full recovery with no complications. This was incredible considering she had a perforated gizzard and septic peritonitis. She returned home and probably started searching for more metal. 

For so many reasons, I will never forget this patient.

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