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What is Water Belly?

Updated: Dec 28, 2023


What is Water Belly?

I remember when our son, Jett, decided to raise a few broiler chickens. He did all the right things and took care of them diligently. Yet one day, a couple weeks in, there was a chicken who didn’t look so well. She moved slow, was lethargic (yes, I know we’re talking about broilers here!) and wasn’t as “active” as the others.


My First Experience with Water Belly

Broilers, as they get closer to their end date, usually aren’t overly active. However, this seemed extreme, and we could tell she wasn’t healthy. Jett ended up culling her because we were worried, she was sick and didn’t want her to get the others sick as well. Upon some investigation and research, we assumed she had what most backyard chicken owners call “water belly” or in more scientific terms, “Ascites”. I am not a veterinarian or scientist, but I will tell you about my experience with this miserable disease.


What is Water Belly?

According to Poultry Health Services, Water Belly or Ascites Syndrome Ascites is a term that describes abnormal fluid accumulation in the belly, hence the term ‘water belly’. This term is used to describe pulmonary hypertension syndrome in broiler chickens; a combination of clinical signs and changes within the bird has increased fluid in the abdomen. It’s a non-infectious condition which cannot spread from bird to bird. While this is a good characteristic of this condition there is, unfortunately, no treatment for birds that are affected.


The fact that water belly isn’t curable is the sad part. It can make the chickens miserable and as the owner, you won’t really know they have it until they get miserable.


My Second Experience with Water Belly

A bit into our backyard chicken raising, I ended up having a little Silkie get water belly. When I got Nugget as a chick, she had Wry Neck. We got her through that and then as she grew and was a couple years old, I noticed she was a bit off one day. At first thought she had gotten into something outside and ended up with sour crop and a full belly. I ended up separating her for a couple of days, cleaned her crop (ick!) gave her Flock Fixer and minimal food, and she came out of it! She did really well for a couple months and then ended up with the same issues again. Nugget was more lethargic and had a very bloated belly. So, I gave her Flock Fixer again and it helped bring her out of it for over a year!


Some people will take a syringe and take some of the fluid out of the belly. I wasn’t comfortable doing this, so I stuck with what I knew. However, one day I went out to the coop, and she had it for the third time. This time, she sadly didn’t recover. Again, there is no known cure for Ascites, but I truly believe Flock Fixer allowed her to live a bit longer and improve her quality of life.


What Causes Water Belly

Water Belly can be aggravated by many different things. Genetics, poor diet, hygiene issues with water, an infection, sour crop untreated, mold, elevation, rapid growth, excess sodium, and the list goes on. I take very good care of our flock, so I’m not exactly sure what caused it in my sweet Nugget.


How to Identify Water Belly

I do a flock health check on a regular basis. I check their eyes, beaks, combs, wattles, legs, feet, feathers and bellies. I’m looking for anything that may cause an issue or is one already. Unfortunately, with Water Belly, it’s fairly easy to identify. You will feel their very full, bloated bellies and they will be pretty slow.


They’ll start to distance themselves from the flock and hunker down. I felt so bad for Nugget. She was miserable until I gave her Flock Fixer. I was hopeful when she snapped out of it twice! However, I didn’t want her to suffer either. These decisions in raising backyard chickens are the hard ones.


Diseases like Ascites, Bumblefoot, lice, mites, sour crop, among other icky things are the not-so-glamorous parts of raising a backyard flock. However, it’s important to talk about these things too, so we all have a general knowledge and understanding of how to best help our flocks thrive.


Praying you are having a healthy flock and great start to your spring!


Until next time,


–The Wing Lady


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