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White Muscle Disease
Nutritional Muscular Dystrophy
White muscle disease (WMD), also known as nutritional muscular dystrophy, is the degeneration of the skeletal and cardiac muscles in chickens. It is related to deficiencies in vitamin E or selenium. Selenium deficiency can interfere with the transport of vitamin E. The disease causes damage to the chicken's muscle tissue (myopathy), resulting in progressive weakness and degeneration of the muscles that control movement.
Clinical Signs of WMD
When the disease affects the chicken's skeletal muscles, it causes symptoms of progressive paralysis; birds often have difficulty walking and may be unable to rise. Muscles of the heart, diaphragm, tongue, and esophagus are also commonly affected. When the heart is affected, some birds may die suddenly from heart failure without prior clinical signs. This occurrence is usually associated with a sudden scare or stressor event. More often, a slow progressive cardiac failure results.
White muscle disease can be diagnosed by your veterinarian performing a simple blood test---which involves measuring the content of selenium in the blood.
White muscle disease can be effectively prevented and treated with injections of selenium and vitamin E. Treatment should only be administered at the recommendation of your veterinarian. The reason this is important is because high amounts of selenium is toxic and possibly fatal.
Feeds high in the concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids, copper, or vitamin A - These nutrients are vitamin E antagonists and can either destroy vitamin E or make it less bioavailable, which in turn affects selenium absorption as well.
Grains from soils deficient in selenium, or selenium antagonists in mixed feeds - Can cause low selenium content in feeds.