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Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a progressive disease of the heart muscle that results in a decreased ability of the heart to generate pressure to pump blood through the vascular system. DCM can lead to congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, syncope, and sudden death.

DCM diminishes the heart's ability to serve as a pump. Clinical signs of DCM occur secondary to either decreased delivery of oxygenated blood (lethargy, weakness, collapse) to the chicken's body, or to congestion of blood in the lungs (coughing, increased respiratory rate and/or effort, abdominal distention), or both. Chickens with DCM are also predisposed to developing cardiac arrhythmias arising in either the atria (atrial fibrillation, supraventricular tachycardia) or in the ventricles (ventricular premature complexes, ventricular tachycardia).

Treatment For Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Chickens

Treatment involves controlling any associated arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and preventing the recurrence of heart failure with cardiac medications such as diuretics and ace inhibitors. Systolic function may also be increased with the use of pimobendan.

Clinical Signs

Exercise intolerance
Increased respiratory rate
Abdominal distension
Ruffled feathers
Sudden death


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical Exam
  • Thoracic radiography
  • Echocardiogram (EKG)

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Dilated cardiomyopathy in a Chicken Congestive heart failure (dilated cardiomyopathy) was diagnosed in a 1-year-old Faverolle hen who died after a brief period of respiratory distress and diarrhea. Necropsy revealed severe ascites, dilation of the right heart, pulmonary congestion and edema, and fibrotic liver. Ref

  • Case 2: Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Atherosclerosis in a Indian Ringneck parakeet Dilated Cardiomyopathy was the cause of death in a 10-year-old female Indian Ringneck parakeet who died suddenly. The bird had severe ascites, and liver and lung fibrosis; the three lesions were considered to be secondary to heart failure. In addition, the bird also had atherosclerosis of major vessels and urate deposits in the kidneys, both of which were considered incidental findings. Ref


Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
CoelomocentesisTo remove build up of coelomic fluid if present.H Beaufrere
Furosemide0.5-1 mg/kg PO or 0.015% in food; loop diuretic.H Beaufrere
Enalapril1-5 mg/kg; angiotensin conversion enzyme ingibitor.H Beaufrere
Pimobendan0.25-0.5 mg/kg; Phosphodiesterase inhibitor, inotrope.H Beaufrere
Digoxin0.004-0.02 mg/kg; digitalic, inotrope.H Beaufrere
SpironolactoneExtrapolated dog dose; diuretic, aldosterone receptor antagonist.H Beaufrere
Vitamin D (25-hydroxycholecalciferol (25-OH-D3)Additional supplementation of 69 mg/kg feed of Vitamin D3 helps ameliorate cardiac pathogenesis, prevent sudden death, and an effective anti-inflammatory in broiler breeder hens.H Lin et al., 2019; P Chou et al., 2020



  • Don't feed chickens 'grower' feed.
  • Restrict feed intake.

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Genetics - Heavy 'meat-type' chicken breeds (including 'broilers') are at higher risk than other breeds as a result of selective breeding for meat production by the poultry industry.
  • Feeding chickens 'grower' feed.

Case Stories

Also Consider