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White Muscle Disease

Other Names: Nutritional Muscular Dystrophy

White muscle disease (WMD), also known as nutritional muscular dystrophy, is the degeneration of the skeletal and cardiac muscles in chickens. It is related to deficiencies in vitamin E or selenium. Selenium deficiency can interfere with the transport of vitamin E. The disease causes damage to the chicken's muscle tissue (myopathy), resulting in progressive weakness and degeneration of the muscles that control movement.

Clinical Signs of WMD

When the disease affects the chicken's skeletal muscles, it causes symptoms of progressive paralysis; birds often have difficulty walking and may be unable to rise. Muscles of the heart, diaphragm, tongue, and esophagus are also commonly affected. When the heart is affected, some birds may die suddenly from heart failure without prior clinical signs. This occurrence is usually associated with a sudden scare or stressor event. More often, a slow progressive cardiac failure results.


White muscle disease can be diagnosed by your veterinarian performing a simple blood test---which involves measuring the content of selenium in the blood.


White muscle disease can be effectively prevented and treated with injections of selenium and vitamin E. Treatment should only be administered at the recommendation of your veterinarian. The reason this is important is because high amounts of selenium is toxic and possibly fatal.

Clinical Signs

Progressive paralysis
Difficulty walking
Inability to rise
Sudden death after scare


  • History
  • Blood test


Vitamin E/Selenium Injections and/or supplements
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.



  • Ensure chickens receive a balanced diet with adequate levels of vitamin E and selenium.
  • Supplement diet good sources of vitamin E and selenium, especially if living in regions where it is deficient in soils.

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Feeds high in the concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids, copper, or vitamin A - These nutrients are vitamin E antagonists and can either destroy vitamin E or make it less bioavailable, which in turn affects selenium absorption as well.
  • Grains from soils deficient in selenium, or selenium antagonists in mixed feeds - Can cause low selenium content in feeds.