Chicken sneezes used to be one of my all-time favorite sounds on the homestead.
It was right up there with the babbling artisanal spring, gentle breezes rustling through our giant western cedars, and the sound of my content mare munching on her alfalfa.
Chicken sneezes aren’t particularly pleasant or rustically romantic to hear. Still, they’re so small, squeaky, and unexpected that they would always elicit a giggle and a “bless you” from me.
When I learned what comes after the chicken sneeze, though, that sound immediately lost its quirky charm.
Why Chickens Sneeze
When you hear a chicken sneezing, it’s either due to a bit of dust up the nose or a serious offense.
The only way to tell the difference between harmless and potentially deadly is to look for other accompanying symptoms.
Before you panic, though, it really could be nothing.
Let’s talk about that possibility first before moving on. to the scarier stuff.
Harmless Reasons Why Chickens Sneeze
If the chicken was just in a trough of old dusty hay or finely ground feed, it’s probably irritating particles that they needed to get out of their air pathways.
Interestingly enough, pollen can irritate chickens just as it does us.
Yes, chickens can have seasonal allergies too.
For both of these situations, the sneeze is nothing to stress about.
Do your best to remove or at least reduce the irritants, and then keep an eye (and an ear) out for any subsequential chicken sneezes.
Dangerous Ailments That Can Cause Chicken Sneezing
- Chicken Respiratory Disease (CRD)
- Bird Flu
- Infectious Coryza
- Newcastle Disease
Chicken Respiratory Disease
Chicken Respiratory Disease (CRD) is usually accompanied by coughing, sneezing, wheezing, trouble breathing, and erratic breathing patterns.
This disease is introduced to the chicken when the bird is exposed to Mycoplasma Gallispeticum bacteria. Most healthy chickens can fight this bacterial infection off easily.
However, if the chicken is struggling with an unhealthy environment, like extremely hot or cold temperatures, stress, dirty living conditions, not enough space, overcrowding, or bullying from flockmates, it is much more difficult for her to fight Mycoplasma Gallispeticum.
A lowered immune system means this bacteria will become established in the body and turn into Chicken Respiratory Disease.
The best way to stave off CRD is to provide chickens with plenty of food, clean and fresh water, ample space, and a clean run and coop to roost in.
Bird Flu is extremely dangerous for people and chickens alike. It’s rare but always a possibility you should consider.
You can tell that a chicken is afflicted with the Bird Flu if they act lethargic, slow down or stop laying eggs, have consistent diarrhea, runny noses, swollen faces, swollen wattles or combs, or seem confused or tired.
If you suspect they have bird flu, get them tested immediately, for your sake and theirs.
This disease is also caused by the introduction of harmful bacteria. Coryza is not deadly, but it’s uncomfortable for the birds and should be avoided if possible. Sneezing and coughing are the most obvious signs. A decreased appetite or reduced water intake are secondary signs to notice.
This disease spreads fast, so make sure you separate and quarantine the affected birds as quickly as possible.
Colibacillosis is an E. Coli infection that causes sneezing and coughing in chickens. It can also cause the chickens to look dazed or stunned, and reduce or eliminate their hunger and thirst cues, so they stop eating and drinking.
This E. Coli infection causes diarrhea, digestion issues, general discomfort, and rapid weight loss.
It’s scary how contagious bronchitis is and how fast it spreads within a flock of chickens. It usually begins with sneezing and coughing, then rolls into wheezing, nasal discharge, labored breathing, watery eyes, and discoloration to the comb, wattles, and earlobes. Eventually, it will cause the chickens to stop eating and drinking altogether.
Newcastle Disease is an ugly disease with catastrophic effects. If it isn’t treated right away, it will kill your chicken and the rest of the flock in a short amount of time. Untreated, it causes paralysis and then death.
You can usually identify Newcastle Disease by sneezing, coughing, wet runny nasal area on the beak, diarrhea, lethargy, and constant sitting or lying down.
Gapeworm is a terrible parasitic worm that makes itself at home within the tracheas of chickens. From there, it steals resources from the chicken, blocks the airway, and will eventually suffocate them if not treated or removed.
Chickens sneeze and cough with gapeworm because they desperately try to remove the worm so they can breathe again.
The herpes virus initially sparks this extra-contagious respiratory illness. Chickens can transmit herpes amongst one another, which results in Larynotracheitis. Symptoms include conjunctivitis, watering eyes, dripping beaks from nasal discharge, labored or raspy breathing, and, of course, sneezing.
It is deadly if not treated, but thankfully it is relatively easy to treat for chickens. Recovery is slow but completely possible.
How to Prevent Infection, Disease, and Chicken Sneezes
The best way to prevent illnesses is to follow healthy coop maintenance processes.
Give Your Chickens Ample Room
Chickens need at least three to five square feet of space per bird in the coop if they have access to a run or free-range time.
Chickens without these freedoms will need even more coop space. The chicken run should give each bird at least fifteen square feet of space. If you have ten chickens, you should have at least thirty to fifty square feet of indoor space and one hundred and fifty square feet of space in the run.
These coops also need air circulation and consistent ventilation. Chickens create substantial amounts of nitrogen and ammonia, which means that your coop needs a lot of ventilation to stay healthy. Several diseases are caused by being near fecal matter, and others are caused by ammonia.
Vaccinate The Chickens
Many bird infections are easily prevented by simple and affordable vaccinations. Always vaccinate the entire flock, and then keep the community closed by not allowing birds in or out without careful inspections and quarantine.
Let Your Chickens Spend Time Outside
Not only is it good for their moods, but sunshine can also give them Vitamin D, fresh air, and the ultraviolet light rays needed to disinfect harmful bacteria. This can significantly reduce potential infectious diseases for your birds.
Provide Plenty of Quality Food and Fresh Unlimited Water
If your chicken is getting enough food that contains protein, fat, carbohydrates, calcium, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals, they have a much better chance of successfully fighting off infections and diseases. This boosts the immune system and gives them the power to overcome even the worst biological obstacles.
Sneezing Chickens: Final Thoughts
While a lone high-pitched chicken sneeze does not necessarily signal danger on the horizon, it is a good reason to keep a close eye on your flock.
There are several diseases and infections that affect birds with devastating effects, so it’s important that you take them seriously and naturally take good care of your chickens from the start.
Prevention can go a long way, especially concerning mostly-preventable infections and diseases.