Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the arterial wall, which occurs frequently in birds. So frequently in fact, that birds have been used as animal models for medical research in humans for years. It is the leading cause of coronary heart disease and stroke in humans, and leads to 25% of all human deaths in the United States.
It is a vascular disease which is caused by the accumulation of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and other substances (referred to as plaque) inside of an artery. This buildup may eventually obstruct blood flow, or travel to other parts of the body.
In chickens, the two predominate factors involved in the onset of this disease is diet and infection with the Marek's disease virus
Chickens receiving 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 are more at risk.
Marek's disease virus can cause atherosclerotic-like lesions in multiple arteries of chickens and the infection of smooth muscle cells caused by this virus can cause accumulation of cholesterol.
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.