Just like people, chickens can sometimes get the sniffles too. Sneezing once in a while is normal for chickens on the farm. Some chicken owners might even tell you that a chicken’s soft, high-pitched sneeze is one of the cutest sounds they’ve ever heard.
But while the occasional sneeze is usually nothing to worry about, sneezing coupled with other symptoms like coughing and lethargy is a bad sign. It’s tricky because chickens can’t tell you if they’re feeling sick, so you have to keep an eye on them when they have sneezing fits.
Getting worried about your chicken’s symptoms and wondering, “Why is my chicken sneezing?” Don’t worry—it’s not always a case of a bad virus or infection. Today, we’ll list down the possible reasons why your chicken is sneezing and feeling down in the dumps. Read on to learn more.
7 Possible Reasons Why Your Chicken is Sneezing
If you hear your chickens sneezing a couple of times more than usual, don’t panic. Panicking won’t do you any good. The best thing you can do is try to assess the situation and see what could be causing the sneezing.
Luckily, sneezing in chickens doesn’t usually mean that they’re sick. It could also be related to cleanliness and ventilation in their chicken coops. But if your chickens look like they’re weak and have other symptoms, it might be time to assess their health condition.
Here are seven possible reasons that could explain why the chickens in your flock are sneezing:
1. There’s a lot of dust in the coop
Much like with humans, a chicken sneezes to clear out their airways if there’s something trapped inside that makes it feel congested. When a chicken is sick, this can be mucus or phlegm. But sometimes, it could just be a reaction to having an overly dusty coop.
Allergens like dust and pollen can make their way into your chickens’ respiratory system and cause sniffles now and then. Because these allergens irritate their lungs and tickle their noses, they’ll end up sneezing a few more times than normal.
One way to tell if your chicken is sneezing because of dust and dirt in the coops is if they only sneeze while they’re in that area. Try letting them free-range for a while and see if they stop sneezing. If they do, it means you’ve got some cleaning to do in the coops.
Small particles of foreign objects can also cause your backyard chickens to sneeze. If there’s an area in your farm that’s being reconstructed, check if any sawdust blows into your flock’s coop. This could be another irritant to their nose.
2. Poor ventilation in the coop
If you’ve become too busy with running things on the farm, you might be a little more negligent about how your chickens’ coops operate. You may not have noticed that there’s poor ventilation and not enough fresh air coming into the coops.
Bad ventilation can increase humidity and ammonia levels in the area. Not only does this turn the coop into a breeding ground for bacteria, but it also forces your chickens to inhale toxic chemicals. This can trigger frequent sneezing.
In some cases, ventilation issues in the coop pave the way for infectious diseases to spread.
One infection that is caused specifically by poor ventilation and overcrowding in chicken coops is ornithobacteriosis. Some symptoms of this illness include nasal discharge, sneezing, swollen sinuses, and lethargy—kind of like a common cold for people.
The scary thing about this disease is that it doesn’t just attach itself to a chicken’s respiratory system. After a while, it will spread to other parts of their body, including their brain. Severe cases of ornithobacteriosis can sometimes result in paralysis.
3. Chicken Respiratory Disease
A common poultry disease that causes sneezing in chickens is Chicken Respiratory Disease, also known as CRD. Chickens get this sickness when they’re exposed to a bacteria called mycoplasma gallisepticum when their immune systems are down. This bacteria spreads through eggs.
CRD can cause serious damage to a chicken’s respiratory system. Its most common symptoms are sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue, and loss of appetite. In hens, you will also notice a decline in the number of eggs they lay.
One way to check if your chicken has CRD is to bring its chest close to your ear. If you hear the phlegmy, congested sound of labored breathing, it’s usually a tell-tale sign that they have CRD.
CRD can be worsened by things like extremely hot and cold temperatures, poor hygienic conditions in the coop, and high-stress levels in the chickens. Luckily, it can be cured by antibiotic treatments.
Aside from CRD, there are many types of respiratory diseases in poultry. If you want to learn about the most common ones to help you diagnose your chickens’ sickness more accurately, watch this video:
4. Avian influenza
Avian flu, also commonly referred to as “bird flu,” is a zoonotic sickness that can be transmitted from one animal to another. And it’s not limited to birds and chickens. It’s a type of flu that can be passed on regardless of species.
Symptoms of avian flu include frequent sneezing, coughing, facial swelling, combs that turn purple, diarrhea, and reduced egg production. If you see any of these symptoms in conjunction with each other, isolate your birds right away not just from the rest of the chickens, but from any animal.
Currently, there is no cure for avian flu. That makes it one of the scariest poultry diseases. To prevent the spread of avian flu in your coops, make sure you keep wild birds and animals away from your flock, including predators.
And if you end up having to treat one of your chickens for avian flu, be careful too. In 2023, the third case of a human contracting avian flu was reported in China through the World Health Organization.
The likelihood of human transmission today is said to be low, but it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful when handling your sick birds.
5. Newcastle disease
Newcastle disease is another dreaded sickness in the poultry world. It’s very contagious, so it’s a huge problem if even just one of your chickens is diagnosed with it. This disease is fatal and can have your chickens dropping dead one by one very fast.
This illness is caused by an avian paramyxovirus. It causes chickens to have a range of symptoms, such as sneezing, gasping for air, problems with coordination, and lethargy. It’s such a serious disease that many areas require chicks to be vaccinated to prevent its spread.
Newcastle disease is currently considered a big threat to biosecurity. So, if a chicken gets sick with it, its owner is required to report it to authorities right away.
6. Infectious bronchitis virus
Bronchitis is spread among chickens by a very contagious coronavirus. It spreads across a flock super quickly, but the symptoms are always worse with the oldest birds in the group. Those with bronchitis virus can sneeze, cough, have nasal discharge, and watery eyes.
Sadly, there is no treatment available that directly attacks the coronavirus. Treatment for this sickness is merely supportive. Chickens can survive. They just have to go through the motions of the symptoms for a few months before their health is restored.
7. Infectious coryza
Lastly, we have coryza—an acute infectious disease characterized by swollen, watery eyes in birds. This is due to the build-up of mucus in a chicken’s nasal passages. It also leads to symptoms like sneezing, facial swelling, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
This illness is usually caused by new chickens being introduced to the flock without a set quarantine time. That’s why it’s important to isolate new chickens for about a month before letting them join the rest of the birds in the coops.
The onset of coryza is extremely fast. From incubation of avibacterium paragallinarum—the bacteria that causes the disease—chickens will experience symptoms in as quick as 1-3 days. The course of the sickness will be done in just about three weeks.
What to Do If Your Chicken is Sick
If you notice that your chicken is sick, make sure to get a diagnosis of what it might be. If the sneezing is not caused by dust, debris, and poor ventilation, it’s time to treat them for respiratory infection. Here’s what to do next, step by step:
1. Isolate the sneezing chicken immediately
First, you’ll want to separate the sick chicken from the rest of the flock as soon as you can. Most respiratory illnesses can spread like wildfire in flocks. Keep your other chickens from getting sick by isolating the sick chickens in their own coop.
2. Care for your sick birds the best you can
Give your sick bird extra care and attention, just like you would with a loved one who is sick. The loss of appetite is a common symptom of respiratory infections. So, do everything you can to make sure they eat well, whether it’s their regular feed or a healthy treat or two to lift their spirits.
Sick chickens cannot be dehydrated, so make sure they always have clean water to drink. Sometimes, you may have to use a dropper to help them drink it.
Make sure the area is warm, too. A heat lamp will be a good addition to the sick chicken’s coop.
Overwhelmed by the idea of having to care for sick chickens? Here’s a step-by-step guide with a few innovative ideas on what to do if you have a sneezing chicken that needs extra care and attention:
3. Actively treat any infections
If there are antibiotics available to treat the infection your chicken has, put them on the treatment right away. Make sure to stay on top of their doses. Always have a trusted vet on speed dial in case you have any questions or see any adverse effects from the medicine.
4. Reduce the risk of them getting sick again
When your chicken gets better in a few days or weeks, reintroduce them into the flock. To prevent the spread of illness in the future, clean your coops thoroughly and make sure it’s hygienic and free of pathogens and bacteria.
How to Prevent Your Chickens from Getting Sick Again
1. Give chicks the necessary vaccinations
Vaccinations for day-old chicks aren’t always required. They’re only necessary if you live in an area where there are certain avian diseases on the watch list.
That said, some illnesses do require vaccination early on, like Marek’s disease and Newcastle disease.
Nervous or queasy about vaccinating your day-old chicks? Here’s a quick, easy-to-follow tutorial on vaccinating your chicks properly:
2. Ensure top-notch biosecurity
To make sure there is strong biosecurity in your coops, minimize your chickens’ exposure to other people and animals. It’s a good idea not to allow visitors to see your coops—you never know what disease and pathogens they could be carrying.
When you have new chicks or chickens you want to introduce to the flock, make sure they quarantine in another area for around 30 days. Use this time to check if they have symptoms of any disease to ensure they aren’t sick.
3. Practice proper hygiene in the coops
Last but certainly not least, always observe the utmost cleanliness in the chicken coops at all times, Here are just a few ways you can make sure proper hygiene is practiced in your chickens’ home:
- Wash your hands before you handle your chickens
- Clean the chickens’ beddings if they’re soiled with droppings and moisture
- Make sure there’s proper ventilation and airflow to let fresh air into the coops
Chickens are very vulnerable to respiratory illness and household problems that cause sneezing. They can easily catch small things like allergies from dust and big illnesses like avian flu or CRD. It’s a cold, hard reality of raising chickens on a farm.
The best you can do when you notice a chicken sneezing too much is to isolate them, figure out the reason why they’re sneezing, and actively treat the sickness or issue.
If you’re not sure what to do next, never hesitate to call up a trusted vet or poultry expert to guide you through the next steps. And don’t lose hope! Find solace in knowing that for most diseases, there’s always treatment available to save your chickens and make them feel better.