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Sudden deaths in chickens: What are the causes?

Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) is also known as Acute Death Syndrome or Cardiac Death. It is associated with fast-growing broilers, which die suddenly with a short seizure. Many of the affected birds show no clinical signs or unusual behavior until less than a minute before death. Then a sudden cackle, loss of balance, convulsions, and frenzied flapping can be heard. Birds tend to die on their backs. Sudden death syndrome in the broiler production industry has caused great economic losses in recent years. This condition can occur in broilers of all ages, cases in which this syndrome affects other breeds of poultry are rare. Death occurs in a matter of minutes.

Causes of sudden chicken death

The cause of Sudden Death Syndrome in chickens is still unknown, but it is believed to be a metabolic disease related to high carbohydrate intake. However, despite my basic knowledge of raising chickens, I had no idea what would cause a seemingly healthy bird to end up dead out of nowhere. This led me to carry out a mini-research project, in which I found the most common causes of “sudden chicken death syndrome”.

1. Heart attack

This is the most common cause in fast-growing breeds. This is usually due to excessive stress on their fragile systems, and it can happen if these birds grow to a large extent, too quickly. Certain breeds of chickens are more predisposed to heart attacks based on their bone structure and the origin of microscopic genetic lesions in the heart muscles.

Overweight birds are just as unhealthy as overweight humans and will suffer from a host of health problems as a result. You should also provide your chickens with plenty of room to roam. This will help ensure that they get enough exercise to stay healthy.

2. Accidental poisoning

Chickens can easily be poisoned by common foods that they gather while roaming freely. From tiny pieces of plants to tiny pieces of glass, there are so many materials that they can be toxic to chickens. This toxicity occurs quickly, and the chicken often shows no signs of digestive upset or distress before dying.

3. Impacted egg

Laying hens can die if a fully formed egg gets stuck somewhere between their shell gland and the vent hole. Possible causes: the egg is too large, there is a lesion in the reproductive tract that blocks the egg, or the chicken has hypocalcemia (calcium deficiency). Overweight chickens are prone to laying eggs at a young age. Death from an impacted egg is not sudden. However, the blockage is often not discovered until after the death of the hen and the owners may be surprised.

4. Heatstroke

Heatstroke is one of the most common reasons why chicken suddenly dies especially in populated bigger industrial farms. The body of the broiler chickens are hot due to their feeds and if they can resist heat, it could lead them to heatstroke and heart attack.

Control and Prevention of Sudden Death Syndrome

Experts suggest reducing carbohydrate energy intake by changing feed texture or density, commercial poultry are fed high-glucose granulated products for rapid weight gain. One study found that the prevalence of arrhythmias is much higher in broilers than in traditional breeds, but it is unclear whether this predisposition is dietary or genetic.

While there is no adequate treatment and preventive measures for the control of SDS, poultry experts describe the following prevention strategies:

  • Introduce management techniques that minimize the potential for early growth.
  • Use diets with a 5-7% reduction in nutrient density
  • Food supplement with potassium salts
  • Wheat and Soy Diet Supplement with Sunflower Oil
  • Fat restriction in the diet from 0 to 7 days

The incidence of sudden death syndrome can be minimized by slowing the growth rate of broilers, particularly during the first 3 weeks of life. The growth rate can be moderated by controlling nutrient intake. This can be achieved by reducing the number of daylight hours per day, reducing the level of energy and protein in the diet, or limiting the amount of food supplied.

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