Just like humans, chickens can sneeze.
This can be a one off thing or a sneezing fit and there are several things that cause this.
Fortunately most chickens that sneeze do not have an underlying health problem. However for some sneezing is a sign of an underlying respiratory disease.
So today’s topic is sneezing.
What causes it, when should you be worried and how to treat it…
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Chicken Sneezing And Should You Be Concerned?
Chickens sneezing is not uncommon and this is especially true if they live in a dusty area such as an old barn.
Dust and pollen can get into delicate parts of their respiratory system and this can make them sneeze.
Sneezing can often help to clear things out.
They may only sneeze at certain times. For example feeding (when a lot of dust and dander can be kicked up), coop cleaning (for the same reason) or dust bathing. It can also occur in extreme temperatures and can be caused by mold from their bedding.
The occasional sneeze is nothing to worry about. However if it becomes commonplace to hear sneezing and other hens also have symptoms then this is something to be investigated.
Just in case you are not sure what a chicken sneezing sounds like we have the following short video:
The upper respiratory system of a chicken is similar to a humans.
It consists of two nostrils, mouth, trachea, the bronchi and the lungs. After that the system is very different.
Sneezing is usually irritation of the upper airway tract but in the case of a disease it involves the whole system.
If you are able to get close to the sneezing hen then watch her for a few moments. If she returns to whatever she was doing, likely there is no problem, but if she is mouth breathing and perhaps you can hear a little wheezing or clicking then she has a problem.
Why Are My Chickens Sneezing?
There are two main types of sneezing: problematic and non-problematic.
You can figure out which type of sneezing your chicken is doing by observing them and asking yourself some simple questions.
- Is the sneezing occasional or often?
- Does it happen at specific times?
- Is it more than one hen?
- Are there any other symptoms or signs of a problem?
Your first task is to answer these questions – this will help you to determine what the problem might be.
Activities such as dust bathing, gathering around the feeder and scratching for treats can all raise dust and dander which will cause sneezing. This is normal and not something to worry about.
However if they are sneezing in the coop get down on your hands and knees and put your nose about four inches away from the bedding and inhale.
Do you smell any ammonia fumes?
If you can smell ammonia then it is house-keeping time.
Ammonia is highly irritating to the respiratory system of any animal.
You need to make sure their bedding is not moldy as this can cause severe respiratory problems and it all starts with a sneeze.
Your task is to watch them and try to figure out and eliminate potential causes. If you have gone through these easy fixes and come up empty then it is time to delve a little deeper. The following is a list of symptoms associated with respiratory problems in chickens:
- Eye or beak discharge.
- Facial swelling.
- Open mouth breathing.
- Head shaking.
- Tires easily.
The following diseases are more serious and should be treated with help from a veterinarian.
Mycoplasma gallisepticum is also known bulgy eye or mycoplasmosis, and is a bacterium that causes chronic respiratory disease in chickens.
It is common among backyard flocks and can be spread from chicken to chicken.
Symptoms include sneezing, watery and foamy eye discharge, coughing, nasal discharge, facial swelling and head shaking.
Infected chickens should be isolated from the flock and treated with appropriate antibiotics immediately.
2. Infectious bronchitis virus
This particular virus is caused by a coronavirus and is highly contagious.
It will quickly spread through your flock and younger chickens tend to have worse symptoms than older birds.
Common symptoms include sneezing, gasping, tracheal rales (clicking and rattling noises), nasal discharge and occasionally swollen sinuses.
Unfortunately treatment is only supportive. Chickens can survive but it will take a few months before they are relatively healthy again. Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat or prevent secondary infections, however they do not treat viruses.
3. Infectious laryngotracheitis
This is also known as Avian diphtheria and is more common in the winter months.
It is caused by the Gallid herpesvirus and in mild cases can produce watery eye discharge, nasal discharge, rales and swollen sinuses.
In severe cases there will also be sneezing, coughing, open mouthed labored breathing and head shaking.
Any infected chickens should be isolated as this disease spreads quickly. Treatment is only supportive as antibiotics do not help. Warm compresses to the face and eyes and removing crusted areas will provide some comfort.
Make sure their water is clean and contains vitamins and electrolytes.
Chickens can recover from this but it takes time. Anytime that they get stressed they will excrete the herpesvirus in their poop so they are never virus free.
4. Infectious coryza
Infectious coryza is an accumulation of mucus in the nasal passages which leads to facial swelling, conjunctivitis and nasal discharge.
This is a fast onset illness caused by Avibacterium paragallinarum. The onset is usually within one to three days and the course of the infection lasts around two to three weeks on average.
It can also produce sneezing, coughing, rales and labored breathing. Chickens may go off their feed.
This is usually caused by exposure to infected chickens or bringing new chickens into the flock.
Fortunately this can be treated with the appropriate antibiotics.
However as a general rule all new chickens should be quarantined for a month before they are introduced to your flock.
This is a contagious infection caused by Ornithobacterium rhinotracheale. The causes of infection are usually overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of ventilation, or exposure to infected wild birds.
Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, nasal and ocular discharges, swollen sinuses, lethargy and loss of appetite.
This bacterium does not limit itself to the respiratory system and can infect numerous bodily systems including the brain. If the brain is infected then you might see tremors, weakness and paralysis. Unfortunately this disease is tricky to treat and not all antibiotics work well for it. Isolate any infected chickens, improve sanitation and relieve overcrowding. Also keep wild birds away if possible.
This is a protozoal infection usually found in conjunction with poor housekeeping practices, contaminated feeders or infected wild birds.
There are several different forms of crypto and some do not produce respiratory symptoms. For those that do cause respiratory issues the symptoms include sneezing, coughing, labored breathing, swollen sinuses, loss of appetite and weight loss.
Your veterinarian can prescribe the appropriate antibiotics for infected chickens.
In addition to this treatment must include improving housekeeping practices, keeping feed and water sources clean and keeping wild birds away from your flock.
7. Avian influenza
This is one of the most feared poultry diseases.
Avian influenza is a zoonotic disease meaning it can leap from one another species to another (such as humans).
Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, lethargy, facial swelling, purple combs, tremors, ataxia, drooping wings, diarrhea, loss of appetite and reduced egg laying.
Prevention is the key element.
Good biosecurity should be stringently practiced to reduce the chance of your flock catching Avian influenza.
This includes keeping wild birds away from your flock.
Unfortunately there is no treatment available.
If you suspect your chickens have AI you must inform the local agricultural office
8. Newcastle disease
Unfortunately Newcastle disease was in the news last year and the early part of this year.
This is another poultry disease that is highly contagious and fatal.
It is an avian paramyxovirus and can attack any part of the chicken’s bodily systems.
Symptoms of the respiratory disease can include sneezing, coughing, gasping for breath, lethargy, loss of appetite and ataxia.
Whilst some chickens can survive the disease, they must be culled because the disease is seen as a significant biosecurity threat. It is also worth noting that this is a reportable disease. This means that if you suspect any of your chickens have it you must report it to the local agricultural services.
How To Treat Sneezing
The exact treatment you use will depend upon the problem.
If your chickens are sneezing because of something simple like ammonia fumes, then cleaning the coop and changing bedding more frequently will fix this problem.
However many of the respiratory diseases of the chicken can require a lot more time and effort to cure.
If there is a severe problem involving more than one bird you should contact a veterinarian. While many herbal supplements can help a lot, if antibiotics are needed the vet will know which one is mostly likely to help.
Whilst here in the US it is easy to walk into the farm store and pick up an antibiotic, there is no guaranteeing is it the right one.
Using the wrong one can delay treatment and cause antibiotic resistance in the long run so where possible seek help from a veterinarian.
Remember as soon as you notice something is wrong you should isolate any sick chickens.
Respiratory illnesses are usually airborne so coughing and sneezing will spread the disease to healthy chickens. The sick chickens need to be isolated until they are free from infection. If you have been giving antibiotics she should be left another fourteen days so that you know which eggs to discard.
In addition always provide clean fresh water and feed daily.
You can supplement the water with a probiotic or vitamin powder to give the bird a bit of a boost. Some herbal supplements such as calendula extract and colloidal silver can also be helpful.
Any discharge or crusting should be gently cleaned away – this material is infected so dispose of it carefully.
If the worst happens and your chicken succumbs to the disease then the proper disposal of the body is important. If you are unsure what disease your chicken had you can contact the local agricultural extension and find the State labs that will do a necropsy for you. Some will do it for free and others will charge a small fee.
Finally remember that the virus can linger on surfaces and on the ground. So the area needs to be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected before putting any other chickens in the area.
How To Prevent Sneezing
As the old saying goes:
Prevent is better than the cure.
There are several things you can do.
Good sanitation, biosecurity and house-keeping can go a long way towards prevention.
In addition their coop should be well ventilated and spacious – overcrowding is one of the biggest culprits in the spread of disease and parasites especially during the winter months when chickens may be reluctant to go out in bad weather.
You must practice good biosecurity. This means do not invite people over to see your coop unless they are prepared to wear booties or have their boots disinfected.
The same applies to you!
You need to have a special set of clothing that you wear to work with the birds – do not wear this clothing outside of your home area.
Do not borrow equipment from others unless you clean and disinfect it thoroughly using something like Virkon.
When you bring new chickens into your flock do not put them into the coop. They need to be quarantined for at least thirty days in a coop far away from your flock. During this time they should have a fecal sample taken to the vets to check for parasites. They should not exhibit any signs of illness or lethargy.
Any chicken that sits in the corner should be continuously evaluated as to its health status.
Remember to wash your hands at all times and especially when dealing with new chickens.
Always tend to your flock first!
Only then you can take care of any sick quarantined birds. This reduces the chance of cross contamination to your well flock.
Also make sure not to use the same equipment for well and sick chickens unless you have disinfected them completely – even then it is better to have completely separate stuff.
Whilst this sounds fussy, if you want to keep your chickens healthy you need to get into the routine of doing this.
Unfortunately chickens are prone to respiratory problems.
Their system is much different to mammals and is more complex to treat, so prevention is the preferable option.
If you find yourself with a respiratory issue in your flock – do not panic.
Follow the guidance here and remember the vets and some antibiotics are just a short trip away.
Hopefully you will never have to go through a respiratory issue with your flock, but if you do this article should help you to manage it in a practical way.
And to think, it all started with a sneeze…