Why Would a Turkey Suddenly Die? A Deep Dive into Sudden Death Syndrome in Turkeys

Over the course of two days, the daily mortality rate of a flock of 5600 31-week-old hens raised by a turkey breeder suddenly increased. This higher mortality rate corresponded with the handling and moving of the hens 1 to 2 days before. No clinical illness was seen in the hens before carcasses were discovered. The four hens that were necropsied had small spleens, congested lungs, and enlarged livers. The most frequent histologic lesions were vein and capillary congestion in various visceral organs, as well as pulmonary hemorrhage and edema. One hen had subserosal hemorrhage of the oviduct and perirenal hemorrhage. Sudden Death Syndrome can be diagnosed based on the increased mortality pattern, histopathologic changes, and absence of clinical signs. The stress of handling and moving the hens led to their sudden death due to concurrent inflammatory lesions in their lungs.

Have you ever witnessed a seemingly healthy turkey suddenly drop dead? This perplexing phenomenon, known as Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) can be a devastating blow to poultry farmers and a source of great concern for animal welfare. While the exact cause of SDS remains elusive, recent research has shed light on the potential culprits behind this tragic event.

Unraveling the Mystery of Sudden Death in Turkeys

To delve deeper into the enigma of SDS, we’ll analyze two pivotal research papers that offer valuable insights into the possible causes of this syndrome. These papers, published in the esteemed journal Avian Diseases, provide a comprehensive examination of the pathological observations and potential pathogenesis of SDS in turkeys.

Paper 1: Sudden Death in Turkeys with Perirenal Hemorrhage

This study, conducted by Larochelle et al. (1992), investigated the pathological features of SDS in 32 turkeys that succumbed to this syndrome. The researchers meticulously examined the birds’ tissues and organs, uncovering several key findings:

  • Perirenal Hemorrhage: A hallmark of SDS, this condition involves severe bleeding around the kidneys, likely stemming from acute congestive heart failure.
  • Splenomegaly: Enlargement of the spleen, indicating a possible immune response to an underlying trigger.
  • Pulmonary Congestion: Accumulation of blood in the lungs, suggestive of circulatory issues.
  • Hypertrophic Cardiopathy: Thickening of the heart muscle, potentially hindering its ability to pump blood effectively.
  • Moderate-to-Marked Acute Passive Congestion: Widespread congestion in various tissues, hinting at circulatory dysfunction.
  • Splenic Lymphoid Depletion: Reduction of immune cells in the spleen, possibly due to stress or infection.
  • Thyroid Follicular Epithelium Changes: Alterations in the thyroid gland, suggesting hormonal imbalances.

Intriguingly, the researchers detected adenoviral infection in only four of the 32 birds, suggesting that viral infection might not be the primary driver of SDS. Bacteriological cultures also yielded no significant pathogens.

Based on these observations, the researchers proposed that SDS in turkeys with perirenal hemorrhage likely results from acute congestive heart failure triggered by hypertrophic cardiopathy. The perirenal hemorrhage, they concluded, is a consequence of severe passive congestion in the kidneys.

Paper 2: Sudden Death Syndrome in Turkey Hens

Swayne and Saif (1990) investigated an outbreak of SDS in a flock of 5600 turkey hens, focusing on the clinical presentation and pathological findings. The researchers noted an abrupt surge in mortality following the handling and movement of the hens, suggesting a possible link between stress and the onset of SDS.

The researchers observed the following key findings:

  • Small Spleens: Indicative of immune system suppression, possibly due to stress or infection.
  • Congested Lungs: Accumulation of blood in the lungs, suggesting circulatory issues.
  • Enlarged Livers: Potential sign of metabolic dysfunction or stress response.
  • Pulmonary Hemorrhage and Edema: Leakage of blood and fluid into the lungs, likely due to circulatory overload.
  • Congestion of Veins and Capillaries: Widespread congestion in various organs, suggesting circulatory dysfunction.
  • Subserosal Hemorrhage of the Oviduct and Perirenal Hemorrhage: Bleeding in the reproductive tract and around the kidneys, potentially linked to circulatory issues.

The researchers concluded that the increased mortality, lack of clinical signs, and histopathological changes were consistent with a diagnosis of SDS. They further proposed that concurrent inflammatory lesions in the lungs might have predisposed the hens to sudden death following the stress of handling and movement.

Putting the Pieces Together: Uncovering the Potential Causes of SDS

While the exact cause of SDS remains a subject of ongoing research, the findings from these two studies offer valuable clues about the potential culprits behind this syndrome:

  • Hypertrophic Cardiopathy: Thickening of the heart muscle, potentially compromising its pumping ability and leading to congestive heart failure.
  • Acute Congestive Heart Failure: Inability of the heart to pump blood effectively, resulting in widespread congestion and potentially triggering perirenal hemorrhage.
  • Stress: Handling, movement, or other stressors might trigger the onset of SDS in predisposed birds.
  • Inflammatory Lesions: Concurrent lung inflammation might increase susceptibility to SDS in stressed birds.
  • Circulatory Dysfunction: Widespread congestion in various organs, suggesting circulatory issues as a potential underlying factor.

Additional Factors to Consider

While these studies provide valuable insights into the potential causes of SDS, other factors might also play a role:

  • Genetics: Certain breeds of turkeys might be predisposed to developing SDS.
  • Nutrition: Dietary deficiencies or imbalances might contribute to the development of SDS.
  • Management Practices: Poor husbandry practices might increase stress levels and susceptibility to SDS.

Sudden Death Syndrome in turkeys remains a complex and multifaceted issue. While the exact cause remains elusive, research suggests that a combination of factors, including hypertrophic cardiopathy, acute congestive heart failure, stress, and circulatory dysfunction, might contribute to this syndrome. Further research is needed to fully elucidate the underlying mechanisms of SDS and develop effective prevention strategies.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for general knowledge and informational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. It is essential to consult with a qualified veterinarian for any health concerns or before making any decisions related to your animal’s health or treatment.

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Why turkeys can suddenly die


What is the cause of sudden death in turkey?

Hemorrhagic vasculopathy is a noninfectious cardiovascular disorder of rapidly growing male turkeys, although it occasionally affects other species. The predominant sign is sudden death. Diagnosis is based on the history and on finding typical lesions at necropsy.

What is the leading cause of death in turkey?

Leading causes of death include major vascular diseases (ischaemic heart disease, stroke) causing 35-38% of deaths, chronic obstructive lung disease and lung cancer in men, but also perinatal causes, lower respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases.

What are the symptoms of heart failure in turkeys?

Clinical Findings Most deaths from spontaneous cardiomyopathy occur during the first 4 weeks of life, with mortality peaking at 2–3 weeks. Affected poults die suddenly, but some may have ruffled feathers, drooping wings, and a generally unthrifty appearance and may show dyspnea before death.

What is sudden death syndrome in birds?

(Flip-over Disease, Acute Death Syndrome, Dead in Good Condition) Sudden death syndrome occurs in rapidly growing young broiler chickens. The etiology is uncertain, but it may be a metabolic disorder that predisposes birds to cardiac arrhythmia. Affected birds die suddenly and have no specific gross lesions.

Why are my turkeys dying?

So your turkeys are dying. Why is this happening, and what can be done to prevent it? Baby turkeys often die because they are not getting enough protein, they are too hot or cold (or there is a fluctuation in temperature), there is a lack of shade, they aren’t getting enough water, or because predators get to them.

What are the health benefits of ground turkey?

Ground turkey has multiple benefits. It is a good source of minerals, and B vitamins, rich in proteins, low in fat and it is lower in calories than common turkey.

What causes a baby Turkey to die?

There are many causes of death for young turkeys, including cold weather, predators, and disease. In addition, baby turkeys are very delicate and can easily succumb to injury. However, the survival rate for domestic turkeys has increased in recent years due to advances in husbandry practices.

Why do turkeys die compared to chickens?

Turkeys are quite sensitive as compared to chickens. They need proper care and feed to stay healthy. Turkeys in good condition may suddenly die even though there are no symptoms of any disease. Many turkeys die due to heart failure, but mostly cause of their death is related to hemorrhage in the area of the kidneys.

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