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Is your chicken wheezing? Learn to identify Chicken Respiratory Disease.

Do chickens get colds? Diagnose and treat chicken breathing problems

A sneezing chicken may sound funny, but it is not a laughing matter. Cold-like symptoms in birds, such as wheezing, coughing, sneezing and difficulty breathing, are indicative of a serious health problem.

Chickens do not suffer from colds or flus like humans do, so a chicken with “a cold” is unlikely to recover without medical intervention. In poultry, symptoms such as sneezing and wheezing are not caused by a virus but by a bacterial infection, like Chicken Respiratory Disease (CRD). Environmental triggers, such as poor living conditions, extreme temperatures or stress, usually bring on these infections.

Symptoms of chicken respiratory illness

Chicken respiratory illnesses, and CRD in particular, tend to develop fairly slowly. Catching the infection early can be key to a good recovery, so it important to be on the look out for ill-health in your flock.

Signs that your chickens might be suffering from a respiratory illness include:

  • 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 you think that your chicken may have a respiratory illness, listen to its chest. It is quite likely that you will hear a rattling, congested (phlegmy) sound when they breathe.

Note that if chickens are having difficulty breathing (stretching their neck and coughing, or panting) but do not display other symptoms of a respiratory illness, they may be suffering from gapeworm. For help diagnosing or treating gapeworm, click here 

How to treat chicken respiratory infections

Because respiratory illness in chickens is caused by an infection, rather than a virus, it requires medical treatment. If left untreated, CRD will eventually cause the death of otherwise healthy birds. In order to treat chicken respiratory infection, follow these steps:

1. Isolate the disease

As with all social animals, disease spreads quickly between chickens. It is therefore vital to isolate sick birds at the first sign of illness, in order to protect the rest of your flock.

2. Care for sick birds

Good hydration, nutrition and warmth will all contribute to a chicken’s recovery from illness. Hydration is particularly important, and if CRD is severe, it may be necessary to use a spoon or dropper to give the sick bird water until it has recovered enough to drink on its own. In serious cases, it is advisable to use an electrolyte solution such as AviLYTE.

 3. Treat the infection

The most widespread respiratory illness in chickens is CRD, caused by the bacteria Microplasma gallisepticum. However, laryngitis, bronchitis, tracheitis and even pneumonia, are also common and require similar treatment.

We recommend treatment with a broad-spectrum antibiotic recommended for chickens - there are antibiotics available over-the-counter for poultry or you may wish to consult a veterinarian. For best results, follow the antibiotics with a course of probiotics such as 2 Pak Avian Probiotic.

It may also be possible to treat CRD using natural methods, in particular where the infection is not very advanced. VetRx Poultry Remedy is often recommended for effective relief of respiratory illnesses in chickens.

4. Reduce the risk of reinfection

Good coop management is essential to prevent the spread of disease. After any illness, thoroughly clean the coop to reduce the risk of reinfection.

Ensuring that your chickens are healthy will also prevent reinfection. Using a good probiotic such as 2 Pak Liquid Probiotic or BVM Pink Powder may help to boost chicken immunity.

As well as helping to treat CRD and other infections, VetRx Poultry Remedy can be used as a preventative in order to reduce the risk of bacterial illnesses.

For information on preventing respiratory illness in poultry, click here.

Additional Information

For more information on diagnosing and treating chicken illness, you may wish to visit our Learning Centre, which includes hints and tips from our years of experience keeping poultry and helping backyard chicken keepers worldwide.

Another essential for chicken keepers is Chicken Health For Dummies, an encyclopaedic resource on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness and disease in the chicken coop.