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Chicken wheezing and other respiratory problems

Chicken health

A sneezing, coughing, or wheezing chicken treatment is different for each and every case. For some respiratory issues, there is no known treatment. For others, you can choose to give your birds an antibiotic, a de-wormer (like in the case of gapeworm), or another chemical or herbal remedy. A sneezing chicken may indicate a serious health problem with your bird. Cold-like symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, sneezing, and also trouble breathing should not be taken lightly.

Firstly, if you have a bird that is having trouble breathing, separate it from your other birds, keep it somewhere warm (but with good airflow) and offer it electrolytes and/or a vitamin supplement. Watch the rest of your flock carefully for similar symptoms.

There are a number of different ways chickens can contract respiratory issues. Sometimes, a chicken’s environment may affect your chickens in a way that looks like they have respiratory issues – when really it’s just a small sensitivity to dust. We all tend to sneeze when there’s a bit of dust in our house – chickens are no different!  However, unlike humans, chickens do not suffer from colds or flu.

Common ways chickens can become sick with respiratory problems:

  • Dust in the coop

Sometimes particles of dust and debris can float around the coop, and cause a few mild symptoms in your chickens. Generally, this happens when their coop needs a spring clean, or when new bedding may stir up some debris in the air. The chickens can cough, splutter and get watery eyes if they breathe dust in.

  • Excess stress

Sometimes, stress can exacerbate mild symptoms chickens already have – sometimes they can even reveal underlying respiratory illnesses. Stress is just bad for chickens in general. The most common ways chickens become stressed is by having too many flock members for a coop or being overly bored.

  • Extreme temperatures

Chickens are hardy creatures, but there comes a point where the temperature takes its toll on your flock. Sickness can be brought on by extreme temperatures if your chickens aren’t protected, or find themselves out in the elements.

  • Introducing new chickens to an existing flock

Respiratory illnesses can be contagious – so if you’ve just introduced a new bird to the flock and suddenly noticed the whole coop is coughing, then it’s probably from the new chicken.

Signs that your chickens might be suffering from a respiratory Illness:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing or laboured breathing
  • Discharge from the nostrils and/or eyes
  • Swelling around the eyes and/or beak
  • Poor comb or wattle colour
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of condition
  • Reduced egg production

If your chicken doesn’t have any other symptoms of a respiratory problem (as above), then this may indicate gapeworm. Gapeworm is a parasite that lives in the flesh of the bird’s throat and causes intermittent wheezing and gasping. You can read about Gapeworm here.

What to do if your chickens are showing symptoms of respiratoy illness:

There are some changes to your flock’s environment you can make, that will ensure they breathe easy and stay healthy and happy.

  • Spring clean the coop – Giving the coop a good scrub will get rid of any dust and debris.
  • Change the bedding – Sometimes the bedding used for the nesting boxes can irritate sensitive chicken’s respiratory systems. Clean the coop out and lay down a less dusty bedding, especially in the summer months. Hemp is ideal. Many times, respiratory issues arise because of dust, too much ammonia in the coop, or pollen.
  • Isolate the Disease – Chickens are social animals, as such infectious diseases can spread at a rapid rate throughout your flock. It is vital to isolate sick birds at the first sign of illness to protect the rest of the flock.
  • Care for sick birds – The key elements that will contribute to a chickens recovery are hydration, nutrition and also warmth. Pay particular attention to hydration. If the Respiratory Disease is severe, it may be necessary to use a spoon or dropper to give the sick bird water. This care may be necessary until the bird fully recovers enough to drink on their own. It is advisable to use an electrolyte solution such as Avilyte. Or, make your own electrolytes using our recipe here.
  • Treat the Infection – The most widespread respiratory illness in chickens is Chronic Respiratoy Disease (CRD), caused by the bacteria Micro plasma gallisepticum. This is a bacteria that can cause respiratory issues in your flock. Symptoms include sneezing, gasping for air, puffy face, swollen eyes, sneezing, sinus drainage, swollen joints, lethargy. This unfortunately is like glandular fever in humans – once the chickens are affected by this, it’ll be in their system for life.  And, like glandular fever, the symptoms will fade with time, and can re-surface if the chicken is excessively stressed. Treatment is usually in the form of antibiotics – definitely one to consult your vet on. However, laryngitis, bronchitis, tracheitis and even pneumonia, are also common and require similar treatment. Bronchitis causes respiratory symptoms such as sneezing and watering eyes. It usually occurs in pullets and younger birds. If left untreated, the symptoms can be severe especially in hens, affecting their egg laying capabilities. We recommend treatment with a broad-spectrum antibiotic (also great to have in your chicken first aid kit) suitable for chickens – these are antibiotics available over-the-counter for birds or you may wish to consult a veterinarian.

A natural booster such as superfood blend is a must have if you suspect CRD or Bronchitis. Use natural products such as Oregano (antibiotic) in their feed and water at all times during treatment until symptoms have completely passed for ALL chickens. Add turmeric (immune support and anti-inflammatory) and garlic (antibacterial) to their feed as well.

So, if you’ve noticed a bit of ill health in your flock, usually all it takes is a quick clean and quarantine to sort out the issues and return them to happy chickens. If the symptoms persist or worsen, definitely give your local vet a call.

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