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Diagnosing the cause of Chicken Breathing Problems

How to tell if chickens have gapeworm or a respiratory infection


Chickens have a complex respiratory system that is prone to disease and infection. It is for this reason that breathing problems are one of the first consequences of environmental stress.

While it is hard to miss a chicken that is coughing or having trouble breathing, it is much more difficult to discern whether the problem is caused by a parasite or an infection. Gapeworm and Chicken Respiratory Disease (CRD) have very similar symptoms, but require completely different treatment.

 

Symptoms of gapeworm

Gapeworm (Syngamus trachea) is a parasitic infection of thin, red worms which live in the trachea, and sometimes the bronchi or lungs, of birds. They can affect chickens but are more common in turkeys, waterfowl (ducks and geese) and game birds (pheasants, grouse etc.). Because they affect the upper respiratory tract, gapeworm infestations are indicated by similar symptoms to CRD and the two are frequently confused.

Indications of gapeworm in chickens include:

  • Gaping (stretching the neck and shaking the head, in an attempt to dislodge the worms)

  • Coughing

  • Open-mouthed breathing or panting

  • Gasping for breath

  • Wheezing or hissing

In comparison with CRD, gapeworm is far less likely to be accompanied by sneezing and nasal discharge. Additionally, CRD is generally characterised by a congested, phlegmy sound in the chest, whereas any rattling or gurgling that is produced by gapeworms will stem from the trachea or throat.

For more information on the signs and symptoms of CRD, click here, or to learn how to treat chickens suffering from Chicken Respiratory Disease, click here .

 

How to treat gapeworm

Healthy adult chickens can cope with a certain level of internal parasites before their health is affected. However, if birds are showing clear symptoms of gapeworm it is important to treat them with a dewormer in order to prevent permanent damage to their respiratory system and eventual death.

To treat gapeworm, follow these steps:

 1. Treat the flock

If one bird is showing signs of a gapeworm infestation, your whole flock will be carrying the parasite and should be treated.

Not all avian dewormers available in Australia will treat birds for gapeworm. Therefore choose your wormer carefully, and always follow the instructions for use.

We recommend Avitrol Plus Bird Wormer Syrup, which provides effective treatment of gapeworm and a broad range of other common internal parasites.

 2. Treat the flock again

Gapeworms spread through the ingestion of eggs that are coughed up by infected birds or present in their faeces. Therefore, it is necessary to treat birds for gapeworm twice. The initial treatment will kill adult worms infecting the birds, while the second treatment will eradicate any worms which have hatched from eggs or been ingested since the first treatment.

The length of time between the first and second treatment will vary depending on the dewormer chosen, but is normally from 7 to 14 days.

 3. Reduce the risk of reinfection

After the second deworming, it is important to reduce the risk of reinfection by cleaning and, where possible, disinfecting the cage and/or run within 24 hours of treatment. This will destroy any remaining eggs and reduce the risk of reinfection.

Tips on disinfecting your chicken coop can be found here.

 4. Implement a regular deworming program

As with many illnesses, prevention is better than a cure. It is generally recommended that chickens are dewormed twice a year in order to prevent parasitic loads that may adversely affect bird health. Regular deworming will also reduce the risk of confusing CRD with gapeworm, ensuring that when your chickens fall ill, they will receive the correct treatment.

For more about deworming programs, click here.

 

For more information:

Additional information and advice on recognising and treating common chicken ailments, visit our Learning Centre, which is dedicated to reducing the work and stress of keeping backyard chickens. You will be able to find information on preventing worm infestations in chickens, and on how to implement a regular deworming program.