Chickens have become increasingly popular pets in recent years, and if you have a chicken coop in your backyard, you're not alone. But you should be aware that backyard chickens are susceptible to a variety of diseases and health problems, so they require just as much veterinary attention as more traditional pets. One of the health problems that your pet chickens can develop is fatty liver disease. Here are five things chicken owners need to know about fatty liver disease.
What is fatty liver disease?
Fatty liver disease means that there is too much fat deposited in the liver. This is a problem because when a liver has too much fat, it becomes soft and easily damaged. The liver may also bleed more easily. When affected chickens lay eggs, the blood vessels within the liver may rupture, leading to serious bleeding. This condition is also called fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome, due to the severe bleeding that can occur. Affected chickens may die as a result of blood loss.
What are the signs of fatty liver disease?
If your chickens develop fatty liver disease, you'll see that they have extreme fat deposits on their bodies. These obese chickens tend to have pale, dandruff-covered combs. If the chickens were previously egg producers, they will suddenly stop producing eggs or produce fewer eggs. Increased mortality in your coop is another clue that fatty liver disease is present. If you notice these signs, take your chickens to an exotics vet or agricultural vet as soon as possible.
How do backyard chickens get fatty liver disease?
Fatty liver disease occurs when chickens are given too much feed or fatty feed. This allows the chickens' bodies to store excess energy in the form of fat, especially in their livers. This is a bigger problem for laying hens than non-laying hens because the former are more prone to overeating and retain more fat in their livers.
A poor diet isn't the only contributing factor to fatty liver disease; decreased exercise also plays a role. Decreased exercise is a problem for chickens that aren't allowed out of their coop regularly or for chickens that are kept in very small backyards.
How is fatty liver disease treated?
If your vet diagnoses your chickens with fatty liver disease, your pets will need to go on a diet. Your vet will help you determine a safe weight-loss diet for your chickens. Ensure that you carefully follow your vet's recommendations. The addition of exercise can also be helpful for inactive birds, so either expand their pen or allow them to become free range.
How can you prevent fatty liver disease?
You can prevent fatty liver disease by feeding your chickens a healthy diet. Choose a complete feed that is designed for laying hens. Avoid supplementing the complete feed with snacks like corn, poultry treats or table snacks. A complete feed contains everything your pets need to be healthy.
You can supplement their diet with dietary supplements or lipotrophic agents. Lipotrophic agents contain nutrients that encourage the liver to export fat, which helps to keep it healthy. For example, add substances like wheat bran, torula yeast or fish meal to your feed to protect your chickens' livers.
It's also important to make sure your chickens get enough exercise. To stay healthy, each chicken needs about 10 square feet of space to run around. If you have a very small urban backyard, you may need to re-home some of your chickens to ensure that your pets get the space they need. If your backyard is large and fenced, consider letting your chickens roam free instead of being confined to a pen.
If your pet chickens are obese and not producing as many eggs as they used to, they may have fatty liver disease and should be seen by a vet, such as those at Bayshore Animal Hospital & Bird Practice.