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What Is Water Belly (Ascites) In Chickens?

What Is Water Belly (Ascites) In Chickens?

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You go out to your coop to let the hens out, and you notice something a little odd. One of your hens is a bit slow and has a bloated belly. There are a few things this can be a sign of, and you hope it’s not water belly. But what is water belly (ascites) in chickens? Let’s look at how to diagnose, treat, and prevent this terrible disease. 

What Is Water Belly (Ascites) In Chickens?

What Is Water Belly (Ascites) In Chickens? 

Ascites is the proper term for what we know as water belly in chickens. Its primary cause is heart failure and hypertension. When these diseases go on too long, it eventually causes liver damage that, in turn, leaks fluids. Once the liver starts to leak, the liquid has to go somewhere. And it usually ends up in the abdominal cavity, aka water belly. 

Ascites In Chickens Symptoms

If you suspect water belly in chickens, you might be wondering what signs to look for. Here are a few of the most common symptoms:

  • Chicken bloated and lethargic
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chicken hard swollen abdomen
  • Not laying eggs
  • Reduced growth rate in young chickens
  • Panting and exhaustion (from lack of oxygen)
  • Blue wattles and combs
  • Red skin
  • Feather loss (especially in the stomach area)

All of these are signs that your chicken might have water belly. To get a full diagnosis, you will need to talk with a knowledgeable vet. 

What Causes Water Belly?

Water belly is a disease that is caused by other illnesses. Mainly the issues that cause it affects the heart. So when asking what causes ascites in chickens, you should really be asking, what causes heart defects?

Accelerated Growth

The number one cause of heart disease in chickens is how fast they grow. Their hearts can have a hard time keeping up with the blood requirements of their bodies. In turn, most fast-growing hens, like the cornish hen, develop heart failure and hypertension. 

Chronic Upper Respiratory Infections

If your flock has had multiple respiratory infections, they are at risk of heart disease. The reason this happens is that chronic respiratory infections lead to lower oxygen levels. And in turn, the heart has to work harder to keep up. In some cases, severe conditions can cause permanent damage to the heart. 


Another significant factor in heart health is your chicken’s diet. If your chickens eat too many fatty foods, it puts them at risk of obesity. And just like with humans, obesity can cause heart problems. 


And, of course, some chickens are more prone to water belly due to genetics. Some breeds are known for their heart disease, and that in turn creates more problems with ascites. 


If the chicken in question is older than five years, it might be the cause of age alone. The older your chicken gets, the higher risk they are of developing heart disease. 


Finally, the last cause of water belly could be high altitudes. It’s a known fact that the higher your elevation, the harder it is to get oxygen. If your chickens have a constant lack of oxygen, it can put a real strain on the heart. 

Vet Diagnosis 

If you ever suspect ascites in your chicken, you should call a vet immediately. Your chicken may learn to cope with the disease and still live a long and fruitful life with their help. But what can you expect from a vet visit? 

  1. Your vet will first do an abdominal exam. In extreme cases, this might be the only test the vet needs to perform for the diagnosis. 
  2. Some vets would also like to run a few blood tests. These tests count the oxygen levels, white blood cell count, and proteins. And once they get their readings, they can better choose a treatment plan. 
  3. And, of course, your vet will check your chicken’s heart with a stethoscope. They will look for labored breathing, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure. 

Treatment Options

Now that we know what is water belly (ascites) in chickens, we can talk about treatments. While there is no cure for water belly in chickens, there are a few treatments that will help manage the symptoms. But nothing will get rid of the issue altogether. For that reason, many owners choose to euthanize their beloved pets humanly. But if your hen is young, there are a few options to treat water belly symptoms. 


No matter what route you take with treating water belly, draining is something you will have to learn. If you have a vet close by, they can usually do this for you. But it is something that you will want to know how to do at home to save money and time. To do this, you will need a few supplies:

  • 60 cc syringe with an 18 gauge needle. 
  • Antibiotic spray
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Gloves for you to wear during the procedure
  • Bowl

Step one: Securing your chicken is the first step. If you have help, your helper should position the chicken with the rear facing you. If you do this on your own, hold your chicken in a football hold with the vent facing outward. 

Step Two: Now, locate the area where you are going to insert the needle to drain. This should be about an inch or two away from the vent. And it should be on the right side of your chicken’s body. It is crucial to do this on the right side because the left side has all the essential organs. Once you have found the ideal area, clean it with rubbing alcohol. 

Step Three: With the area all prepped, you can begin the draining process. Insert the needle gently and extract the fluid. The fluid should be a pale yellow color. If it is clear, this is a sign that the kidneys have stopped functioning. And green or black liquid is a sign of infection. If you see fluid of these colors, you should talk with your vet immediately. 

Step Four: You will want to be slow and gentle during this process. And you don’t want to drain too much liquid at once. A cup and a half of fluid at a time is enough because the wound will drain slowly over the next few days. If you fill your syringe quickly, don’t take the needle out of your chicken. You don’t want to have to reinsert the needle again. Instead, disconnect the needle from the syringe to drain it and reconnect it again. 

Step Five: Now that you’re finished draining, all that’s left is to put a little antibiotic ointment on it. If your chicken has been sick, you might want to keep her isolated for a few days until the wound has healed. But hopefully, you won’t have to do this again for another three months. 

Reduced Feeding

Draining is an unavoidable part of treating water belly in chickens. But some owners have had great success in reducing fluid build-up by restricting feeding. Instead of feeding your chickens once a day, give them 2-3 smaller meals throughout the day. 

These reduced feedings prevent them from overeating and becoming obese. It can also help with chickens that are getting too much protein and growing too fast. 


Vitamin C and oregano oil are popular supplements that owners give their chickens to reduce water belly symptoms. They won’t get rid of the issues, but they can help with oxygen levels and immunities. Vitamin C is an excellent immunity booster. And oregano oil is the best natural antibiotic you can give your hens. 

How To Prevent Water Belly

There isn’t a way to prevent ascites in chickens, but you can take a few precautions. A clean environment is always a good starting point for preventing illnesses. If your coop is clean with proper ventilation, it can reduce the likelihood of respiratory infections. And as we discussed earlier, chronic respiratory distress could cause water belly. 

Feeding your chickens a proper diet is another good starting point. Balanced feeds for your flock’s life stage helps keep them healthy and strong. It also helps your chicken’s weight in check. All of which can help prevent ascites. 

How Long Can A Chicken Live With Ascites? 

If you catch water belly in the early stages, your chicken can live a full and happy life. But for chickens with shorter lifespans, it could be detrimental. Most owners decide to end their chicken’s suffering if they get sick too often. 

Severe cases usually don’t have high recovery rates. And in these cases, you might try everything to bring your chicken’s health back up. But most treatments are unsuccessful if the infection has set in and the organs have shut down. 

Can You Eat A Chicken With Water Belly? 

Most of us raise our hens for meat and eggs. You might be wondering can you eat chickens with ascites? In truth, these hens are perfectly safe to eat. As long as they haven’t been on certain antibiotics, you can eat a chicken that you have culled from this disease. 


What is water belly (ascites) in chickens? Water belly is not fun, that’s for sure. We want our chickens to live long and happy lives without any pain. But, your chicken can still have that with constant supervision and regular draining. 

Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Backyard Chicken Board!!

What Is Water Belly (Ascites) In Chickens?

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