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Heart Failure

Overview


Heart failure (HF) is suspected to become increasingly more common in older chickens, especially in breeds developed by the commercial poultry industry such as broilers. Broilers are most at risk of HF as a result of their unnaturally fast growth rate coupled with their excessively large body mass relative to the size of their organs, particularly related to 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. When HF occurs, it may only affect the right ventricle (known as right-sided heart failure) or the left ventricle (left-sided heart failure), or both. The associated clinical signs observed in affected chickens vary depending on the affected portions of the heart. 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
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
DiureticsUsed 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

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Heavy meat-type birds such as broilers and turkeys are more prone to HF