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Heart Failure

Sudden Death Syndrome, "flip-over Disease"

Heart failure (HF) is very common in fast-growing, "meat-type" chicken breeds. This is due to their unnaturally fast growth rate coupled with their excessively large body mass, relative to the size of their organs---specifically their respiratory system and heart. HF occurs when the bird's heart can no longer cope with pumping the full amount of blood needed in each heart beat. It may only affect the right ventricle (known as right-sided heart failure) or the left ventricle (left-sided heart failure), or both.

What are the Presenting Clinical Signs?


When chickens have left heart failure, they usually develop signs relating to having a more difficult time breathing and show reduced exercise tolerance. Chickens with right heart failure are more likely to develop ascites and a build up of excess fluid in their abdomen, or cause an increase in size of the liver.

Clinical Signs

Difficulty breathing
Coughing
Weakness
Reduced exercise tolerance
Sudden death
Edema
Enlarged abdomen
Temporary loss in consciousness

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs
  • Echocardiography

Treatment

NameSummary
Diet modificationRestrict their diet, for they will eat any food put in front of them and don't know when to stop (they were breed to do this). Do not feed them anything meant for "meat-birds" or "grower" feed, for this is is designed to promote rapid weight gain. Feed them a layer pellet in restricted amounts, with fresh vegetables and fruits. Provide pasture grass to forage on which will also keep them active.
HousingDon't house them with other chicken breeds if they are given free access to any feed that smaller breeds may require.
DiureticsFurosemide, may be beneficial, used to clear excess body fluid that builds up.
Fish oil supplementsHas been shown to help reduce the risk of worsening heart failure and death in humans.

Prevention

  • Restrict their diet, for they will eat any food put in front of them and don't know when to stop (they were breed to do this)
  • Don't house them with other chicken breeds if they are given free access to any feed that smaller breeds may require.
  • Always provide unlimited access to fresh, clean water.
  • Do not feed them anything meant for "meat-birds" or "grower" feed, for this is is designed to promote rapid weight gain. Feed them a layer pellet in restricted amounts, with fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Provide pasture grass to forage on which will also keep them active

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Fast growing, "meat-type" chicken breeds, such as the Cornish ("broiler")
  • Feeding them "meat-bird" or "grower" feed
  • Allowing them unrestricted access to feed