Ascites (WaterBelly) in Broilers

Ascites well known as water belly among poultry farmers has been increasing at an alarming rate. This is not a disease but a condition which has become one of the leading causes of mortality in Lesotho as well as throughout the whole world. It is extremely common and more particularly during winter /cooler season.

Water belly actually refers to the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, fluid maybe contain yellow protein clots giving it a yellowish tinge. This accumulation usually develops over few weeks, although it can also happen in just few days.

This happens mostly in fast growing breeds, which in this case are the broiler chickens it happens also in other poultry like layers, turkeys, ducks etc. It is mostly diagnosed at 4-5 weeks of age. The mortality is higher in cocks since they have capacity of growing faster than hens.

Fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity
Red skin along abdomen, likely missing feathersDifficulty in breathing, panting with gurgling sound

Lack of appetite

Blue discoloration of skin around the comb wattles and breast muscles
Not contagious, dead bird usually found lying on their back
mortality ranges from 0.5 -2.0 % of the flock but can also be up to 30%
Peak incidence is between 6 and 7 weeks
Postmortem signs – Enlargement of the right side of the heart
– Lung congestion, blood clots in lungs and muscle congestion
liver scarred and enlarged


Since it’s a condition identifying the cause is very important for the farmer,
Stress – examples heat stress leads to increased blood pressure and increased heart rate damaging the blood vessels. Like humans’ chickens also suffers from high blood.
Oxygen Deficiency – due to poor ventilation, overpopulation, poor litter management
Nutrition- form of feed (pellets feeding has more impact than mash feed), excess salt in feed,
Cold Temperature increases metabolic oxygen requirements and blood pressure.


Practicing good management
Good litter management-changing the litter in time to decrease ammonia accumulation in poultry house

Adequate temperature control and air quality – in cold month add heat and keep air moving than conserving heat by closing the poultry house.

Nutrition –feed mash feed instead of pellets feed, using light program to restrict feed intake and feeding low energy diets
Controlling respiratory diseases in the flock
Optimum temperatures

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