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Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of hardened plaque on artery walls. Plaques typically contain cholesterol from low-density lipoproteins (LDL), smooth-muscle cells and fibrous tissue, and sometimes calcium. When arteries narrow, it can restrict blood flow and prevent oxygen-rich blood from reaching the bird's heart and other parts of their body. Atherosclerosis can affect any artery in the bird's body, including arteries in the heart, brain, legs, and kidneys. As a result, different diseases may develop based on which arteries are affected.

Nutrition plays a significant role in its onset and is most frequently seen in chickens who receive a diet low in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and high in saturated fatty acids, high-cholesterol diets, and high-fat diets enriched in linoleic acid.

Signs of Atherosclerosis in Chickens

Atherosclerosis usually doesn't cause signs and symptoms in birds until it severely narrows or totally blocks an artery. Many times, the first indication of the disease is apparent sudden death related to an unknown cause. When clinical signs do occur, they are usually associated with the complications caused by reduced blood flow through the arteries. This can cause chickens to demonstrate signs associated with cardiac failure, such as lethargy, exercise intolerance, difficulty breathing, ataxia, and behavioral changes.

Clinical Signs

Exercise intolerance
Difficulty breathing
Behavioral changes
Sudden death


  • History
  • Radiographs
  • CBC
  • Necropsy


Change in dietSwitch to a low fat diet with supplemental omega 3 fatty acids
NiacinUsed to help lower total cholesterol.
HMG-CoA reductase inhibitorsRosuvastatin (Crestor), Pravastatin (Pravachol), Fluvastatin (Lescol), etc.
IsoxuprineA peripheral vasodilator that was used successfully in managing clinical signs in a parrot with presumed atherosclerosis.



Feed a low fat, low cholesterol diet with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly long chain EPA and DHA sources.

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Unhealthy diet. Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium (salt), and sugar.
  • Infection with Marek's Disease virus (MDV) or Chlamydophila spp
  • Heavier breeds and/or obesity
  • Older age. As chickens get older, the risk for atherosclerosis increases.
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Stress