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Q: All about Ascites disease

A:

If your bird has a large, reddish, swollen belly and but otherwise looks bluish, along with having respiratory issues like a cough, it's possible she has Ascites. Finding out the exact cause of the issue and the correct treatment will require the assistance of a qualified veterinarian. In many cases, providing a healthy environment for your flock can help protect them from ascites, so make sure you're doing that! Read on to find out more:

Ascites Also called
Pulmonary hypertension syndrome, waterbelly, fluid retained in abdomen

Prevalence
Uncommon, more common in meat-type breeds and varieties

Signs
General signs -
Lethargy, loss of appetite, coughing, labored breath, fatigue, death

Cardinal or diagnostic signs -
Abdominal distension due to fluids retained in the abdominal cavity, red skin on abdomen, cyanotic (underlying blue color of skin from lack of oxygen)

Cause/s
Caused by high blood pressure as a result of various conditions, including right ventricular failure, liver disease, liver damage, liver cancer, congestive heart failure, and insufficient pulmonary circulation. High altitudes, poor ventilation, and cold stress in early life can increase the likelihood of ascites.

Communicability
Not communicable (however some illnesses eventually leading to ascites in genetically predisposed chickens may be communicable)

Communicability to humans
Not communicable

Incubation period
No incubation period.

Latent
Not latent.

Endemic
This can happen in any environment, but is more common at high altitudes and in "meat" varieties like the Cornish Cross. Ascites is also more likely to develop in birds whose lungs are stressed with aspergillosis or other issues relating to poor ventilation, or whose livers have been compromised by illness.

Home treatment and/or prevention
Prevention: Provide a healthy environment for your flock to prevent conditions that may eventually lead to the development of ascites. Some breeds and varieties (particularly those used for meat) have a genetic predisposition to developing ascites, mostly sue to their fast growth and the inability of their internal organs to cope with their fast growth and huge size. Make sure to control sodium intake (sodium increases fluid retention). Aspergillosis can be an aggravation factor, so keep the coop clean and dry. (See related questions below for more information on aspergillosis.) Don't expose young chicks to cold stress in early life, particularly if your flock is at altitude. Make sure your coop is well ventilated.

Veterinary care
Some causes and/or symptoms may be treated, however some causes are typically not treatable. Please let us know if your vet prescribes something that works for your pet chicken/s, so we can update this section.

Recovery
Whether a bird can recover from ascites will depend on what has caused the issue, and whether that cause can be addressed.

Other conditions, illnesses and/or diseases with similar signs:
Most other illnesses have the same general symptoms (fatigue, lethargy, loss of appetite). A distended abdomen may occur with egg binding or digestive blockages.

Also consider browsing through this list of other chicken illnesses with respiratory symptoms.