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Ascites in poultry

by 5m Editor
21 July 2008, at 12:00am

The ascites syndrome in broiler flocks has been increasing at an alarming rate, and this condition has become one of the leading causes of mortality and whole carcass condemnations throughout the world.

Ascites represents a spectrum of physiological and metabolic changes leading to the excess accumulation of fluid in abdominal cavity. These changes occur in response to a number of dietary, environmental and genetic factors. Improvements in growth performance and decreases in mortality rates, as well as benefits in alleviating ascites have been observed in recent trials with BIOMIN’s acidifier product Biotronic® SE .

Definition: The term ”ascites” actually refers to the fluid accumulation in abdominal cavity (or so called “waterbelly”). The disease is more scientifically known as pulmonary hypertension syndrome. Ascites is most commonly diagnosed at 4 - 5 weeks of age. Total mortality due to ascites is higher in the male parent lines, which have the capability of faster growth and higher muscle deposition compared to the female lines (Dewil et al., 1996).

Pathology:
The pathology is associated with abnormally high blood pressure between the heart and lungs (pulmonary hypertension) leading to heart failure, increased blood pressure in the veins, and excessive build-up of fluid in the liver which leaks into body cavity (Maxwell, 1990).

Characteristic symptoms:
  • Poor bird development
  • Dilated abdomen (”waterbelly”)
  • Dyspnoea (panting, accompanied with gurgling sounds, even in the absence of apparent heat stress)
  • Possible cyanosis (a blue discolouration of the skin, especially around the comb and wattles and muscle tissue (Figure 1)).

Figure 1. The ascitic (upper) and normal (lower) breast muscle of broiler

Aetiology:
The aetiology of ascites is very conflicting. Usually genetics have been blamed for the ascites. However, the breeding companies have improved genetic resistance of the stock to the ascites. The combination of environmental (ambient temperatures, high altitudes, stock density, air quality), nutritional (diet density, feeding type), hygienic (feed, environmental hygiene) and genetic events lead to this metabolic disease.

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