Q: Heart Attack Overview
A: Heart attack
Sudden Death Syndrome, SDS, acute death syndrome, flip-over disease, acute heart failure
Uncommon in layers, relatively common in commercial “broilers”
General signs -
No symptoms previous to death.
Cardinal or diagnostic signs -
Birds are usually found on backs or sides. If observed during the attack, there may be a short convulsion before dying.
In broilers, this is usually associated with the rapid growth commercial “meat” crosses (rock cornish crosses) are designed to have, combined with a high-calorie feed. It is thought to be often a case of a metabolic problem or an electrolyte imbalance. Birds with cardiac arrhythmias are more prone to death from this illness. Recent studies have shown that broilers (meat birds) may have a 27% rate of arrhythmias, whereas smaller layers, such as leghorns, have a rate of arrhythmias of only 1%. Stress can lead to the acute attack.
Communicability to humans -
Incubation period -
None; this is not a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. It’s basically a heart condition.
Not exactly, although birds with cardiac arrhythmias are more prone to this problem. However, birds aren’t carriers, because this is not a communicable illness.
It can happen in any flock, but is more likely in commercial broiler flocks due to the stress level of factory farmed birds, along with the chicken variety commonly raised..
Home treatment and/or prevention -
Prevention: be sure your birds have an appropriate feed and plenty of room to exercise. If you raise meat birds, avoid Cornish Crosses and opt for slightly slower growing varieties, such as the Colored Ranger. (Please note that My Pet Chicken does not sell meat breeds.) Some classroom hatching experiments hatch broiler breeds, so be cautious when adopting. “Easter chicks” sold from pet stores (BAD idea) are often broiler chicks. They are sweet but sickly and don’t live long. This is not a good Easter gift for a child. Do your research and choose an appropriate pet breed.
Veterinary care - Typically none. The bird dies suddenly. Even if a vet were to witness an attack, it is unlikely much could be done.
Recovery - No.
Other conditions, illnesses and/or diseases with similar signs:
Keep in mind that chickens are experts at hiding their symptoms. Often signs of illness aren’t obvious at all. Even so, this is an instance where the bird is not hiding signs of illness; there simply are no signs prior to the attack. Sudden death can be caused by a number of things, not only heart attack, but also stroke or “yolk stroke,” among others. If the bird is found on its back or side, vets will often diagnose a heart attack. If you have experienced more than one of these deaths in your flock (especially if you keep pets rather than meat birds), you should have a necropsy done, as it is an uncommon problem in layers and show breeds. If that is the case, it’s possible your birds are exhibiting symptoms you are missing, and you’ll need to have a vet diagnose the problem so you will know what action to take.