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What Is Sudden Chicken Death Syndrome, and Can I Prevent It?

A large flock of chickens socializing

One afternoon, you are out with your chickens enjoying the sunlight together when you notice one of your chickens appears to be napping in the coop. This behavior is unusual, as this particular chicken is usually very lively with the rest of the flock. When you check on her, you notice she isn’t breathing.

There are no outward signs of injury, and she seemed fine the day before. Unfortunately, it appears that you have lost a bird to sudden chicken death syndrome.

At Freedom Ranger Hatchery and our family of hatcheries, we have lots of experience helping fellow chicken enthusiasts through their chicken illnesses of all kinds. If you have issues with your chickens or are seeing an increase in disease in your flock, feel free to contact us for more information!

What Causes Sudden Chicken Death Syndrome?

If a chicken died suddenly under your care, you are probably curious about the cause. Sudden chicken death syndrome is most common in fast-growing broiler breeds. It happens more frequently in male chicken populations, but it can also happen to female birds.

Evidence suggests that the disease has metabolic origins, but the environment, genetics, and nutrition can also play a role in a chicken’s fate. Some things that may cause this syndrome in birds include:

  • Diet—Birds raised for commercial purposes often consume diets high in glucose, so they put on weight faster and grow more quickly. Poor diet and rapid weight gain can strain the birds’ bodies, causing them to drop dead suddenly. Give your chickens a diet that will support their overall well-being.
  • Lighting—The light a chicken is exposed to can help influence how productive they are. Commercial broiler chickens are often exposed to more natural and artificial light than they would normally receive in nature. Commercial chicken operations add light to encourage growth or egg production. However, this stimulation can overexert their bodies, which may cause this syndrome.
  • Lack of Exercise—Chickens need movement to encourage good heart health. Because sudden chicken death syndrome sometimes comes from heart issues, your chickens must exercise to keep their hearts pumping and healthy.

This list is not comprehensive, as some chickens are eating correctly, getting the appropriate amount of light, and having an average, healthy amount of exercise. So, there’s also the consideration of natural chicken health issues that may cause sudden death.

Egg Bound

In female chickens, being egg-bound means she cannot pass an egg. She may have a decreased appetite, look sickly, or walk like a penguin, signaling to you that her body is in distress. This painful condition is also life-threatening for the affected chicken because she may die if she cannot pass the egg. In egg binding, you can help your chicken by giving her massages or giving her a dose of calcium to help induce contractions to push the egg out.


For some chickens, sudden death comes after an injury. Typically, you will see a much larger bird has trampled the smaller flock members for power or out of having no room due to overcrowding. When a smaller bird has suffered from sudden chicken death syndrome, trampling might have been the cause.

Heart Issues

In male chickens especially, heart issues can cause sudden, unexplained deaths. As mentioned previously, keeping their diet and exercise in check can help prevent heart issues in your chickens.

What Are the Signs of Sudden Chicken Death Syndrome?

Unfortunately, sudden chicken death syndrome signs happen just seconds before the chicken dies. You may notice the bird flaps its wings intensely, have convulsions, or randomly let out a loud squawk. After the symptoms appear, the bird will suddenly pass away within the next 60 seconds to two minutes.

They will often die lying on their backs with their wings outstretched. You may find this happens in about 2% of your broiler chickens, as that is the typical incidence rate. If your bird exhibits any of the symptoms of sudden chicken death syndrome, it is unlikely that you will be able to do anything for them.

How Old Are Chickens Who Experience Sudden Chicken Death Syndrome?

Typically, you will find that most chickens who experience this syndrome have only made it to about three or four weeks of life, but it can occur at any age. Some birds as young as two days old and others old enough to be marketable have suffered this fate.

If you have a sudden chicken death in your flock, keep a close eye on your birds for the next few days to ensure there isn’t something else wrong. Avian influenza or other chicken diseases can spread through flocks quickly because they live in close quarters. Even if your one bird didn’t exhibit symptoms of an illness that may be circulating, you might find other members of the flock do! If you notice any signs of disease, be sure to give those chickens the proper care.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Sudden Chicken Death Syndrome?

Research suggests very little can prevent sudden chicken death syndrome. Even if your chickens eat a well-rounded diet, get enough exercise, and have the right amount of light, they may suffer from sudden chicken death. Some evidence points to decreasing the chickens’ growth rate in the first few weeks of life as a prevention method.

How Do You Cope with Sudden Chicken Death Syndrome?

At Freedom Ranger Hatchery, we understand how difficult dealing with the loss of a chicken can be for you and your family. Chickens become part of our lives and hearts like any other animal, and we come to learn about their personalities and unique characteristics as we spend more time with them each day. If you experience sudden chicken death syndrome within your flock, give yourself time to grieve if you need it.

Ready to Grow Your Flock After a Loss?

It can be challenging to think about adding more chickens to your chicken coop while you grieve the loss of a beloved chicken but remember that your chickens are very social animals who need friends. Introducing new chickens to your flock after a loss can help your chickens deal with their own loss.

If you have just a few chickens, losing one bird can be traumatic for the remaining chickens, as they all have established relationships and time spent together. When you are ready for more chickens, consider Freedom Ranger Hatchery and our families of hatcheries throughout Lancaster, PA. We ship baby chicks each week from all our NPIP-certified locations.