Ascites in Chickens (Water Belly)

Ascites, a buildup of yellow or bloody fluid in the abdominal cavity brought on by heart failure, typically affects broilers that grow quickly.

Ascites is also called broiler ascites, dropsy, and waterbelly.

When the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands, heart failure occurs.


Signs of ascites in broilers include:

  • Abdominal bloat
  • Panting (even in cool temperatures)
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Slow growth
  • Lethargy
  • Bluish skin (comb, wattles)
  • Unkept feathers
  • Unwillingness to move
  • Dying abruptly

Ascites in Broiler Chickens

Ascites develop as a result of insufficient oxygen and blood flow due to fast muscle growth. This is why chickens raised for maximal growth, such as commercial-strain broilers, are particularly prone to heart failure.

A broiler’s underdeveloped heart and lungs can hardly keep up with its body’s need for oxygen due to its exceptionally high metabolism.

If the heart and lungs can no longer supply the necessary amount of oxygen, the heart tries to give the body extra oxygen by pumping more blood into the lungs than usual. Blood pressure between the heart and lungs rises as a result.

Technically speaking, this disorder is referred to as pulmonary hypertension syndrome since it has to do with the lungs (pulmonary) and involves unusually high blood pressure (hypertension).

The right heart valve eventually becomes unable to seal as a result of all that exertion, causing blood to back up into the liver.

The liver begins to leak clear or yellowish fluid (ascitic fluid) to the bodily cavity as a result of the increased strain on the organ.

The bird eventually has complete heart failure and passes away (sometimes abruptly and without warning).

Ascites in Laying Hens

Broilers’ quick growth is known to cause ascites, but the reasons for ascites in laying hens’ have not been as fully studied.

Heart failure can have a variety of causes in older chickens. Sometimes, there isn’t just one huge reason for heart failure but rather a buildup of smaller factors over time.

The following factors can cause heart failure in layers:

  • Genetics
  • Extreme stress
  • Obesity
  • Insufficient ventilation in facilities, causing a lack of oxygen through:
    • Increased ammonia vapors
    • Increased dust in the air
  • Extreme Temperatures
  • Liver damage caused by:
    • Moldy feed
    • Toxins
    • Infections
  • High-energy foods that speed up metabolism
  • Too much sodium in drinking water or chicken feed
  • Aspergillosis (a respiratory disease)


Ascites may be prevented by avoiding stress brought on by:

  • Cramming too many chickens into a space
  • Not having enough drinkers and feeders
  • Temperatures that are excessively hot or cold
  • Smells of ammonia coming from moist bedding
  • Bad ventilation

Slowing the growth rate of broilers can also help prevent ascites. You can slow the growth rate by:

  1. Lowering the calorie and protein levels of the chicken feed.
  2. Limiting the overall amount of chicken feed consumed daily.