Fatty Liver Syndrome is a metabolic disorder resulting in the sudden death of birds fed high-energy diets with limited exercise. Mammals synthesize fatty acids in tissue, while in chickens, 90% occurs in the liver. A necropsy would reveal an enlarged liver with varying degrees of hemorrhage. The abdominal cavity often contains large amounts of oily, unsaturated fat. Metabolic and physical stress associated with egg-laying are believed to be factors that induce the final, fatal hemorrhage.
It is common in both commercial farms with production layers and backyard chickens alike. It’s no surprise in a world of overweight people eating unbalanced diets we also have overweight chickens eating things not on the traditional list of recommended foods.
Poly, Appenzeller Spitzhauben x Hen, 2 years old. Fatty Liver Syndrome
This is one of my birds in a roundabout way. Poly was hatched here in May 2018 and I gave her to my friend Tracy as a birthday present in February 2019.
Poly appeared normal until the day she died, shortly after she’d turned two. Tracy found her in the nest box and lifted her up to the roost bar. When she came back later to check on her Poly was dead on the coop floor. Tracy’s intention was to bury her, but I asked if I could attempt a DIY necropsy and take photos to figure out what happened.
Tracy told me that had Poly stopped laying over the winter, which isn’t unusual when the days get shorter, but when she resumed in the spring she was only laying once a week. Her drop in egg production made me think she had a reproductive tract issue and potential issues like salpingitis or ascites.
Here’s what my friend, Thomas and I found with our DIY necropsy (as beginners I apologize for the lack of finesse on removing and laying out her organs).
She was normal weight and didn’t have ascites or salpingitis. Her abdomen and gizzard were coated with fat; there were three eggs in production.
Her liver was mottled and friable. There was a lot of yellow liquid, which looks like a burst egg follicle.
The greenish-yellow stuff is close to the duodenum and pancreas (bottom of the photo). That’s close to the gall bladder – bile is green, so it appears it burst when we cut her open.
Thomas says he often sees this amount (and more) fat in free-fed birds, especially those that get lots of snacks. I free-feed my birds and they get lots of produce from the food recovery program and we’ve never seen any fat in my birds that we have necropsied. I was surprised to see that Poly had so many fat deposits. Tracy’s birds have a large pen and they are not fed lots of snacks.
I posted her photos to an Avian Vet and here is her opinion:
“She looks to have plenty of fat stores. This can negatively impact the laying cycle in some birds with fat body condition correlating with reduced egg production. If she died in a very short time and had previously seemed fine I’d suspect a heart attack, which is also influenced by body condition. Birds are one of the few animals (other than humans) prone to atherosclerosis and formation of fatty plaques in their blood vessels like humans and is why I caution against feeding too many scraps especially fatty or sugar laden leftovers.” – Dr Jose Doo, DVM
This is a reminder to ensure that our birds get lots of exercise and are fed well balanced diets, in moderation and without a lot of unhealthy snacks.