What Does it Mean When a Chicken is Coughing? (Causes and Treatment)

Posted by: Samuel Ezenwankwo 2 years, 5 months ago/ (4 comments)

Whenever a chicken coughs or sneezes it means that the chicken is suffering from a chicken respiratory disease known as chronic respiratory disease (CRD), which is caused by  Mycoplasma gallisepticum (bacteria). However, some few diseases like Newcastle disease, infectious bronchitis, Fowl cholera, etc, show similar symptoms, but in most cases, chicken cough is caused by CRD- that is why broad-spectrum antibiotics are mostly recommended for treatment.

Besides, chicken keepers frequently complain about the widespread cough and catarrh among their flock and spend so much on treatment with no result. If there is any form of healing, within a short while the symptoms will resurface again, this is because treated chickens are carriers and CDR is highly contagious.

What Causes Chicken CRD?

CRD is caused by Mycoplasma galliepticum , although, other species affect other birds like turkey, duck, quail, etc. Also, stress factors like draft, lack of vitamins, extreme temperature, lack of space, poor welfare may trigger the manifestation of pathogenicity of M. gallisepticum in the chicken.

In other words, you must improve the welfare of your chickens by keeping your chicken coop clean. Avoid the build-up of ammonia by packing your caked or wet chicken manure- ammonia gas is one of the factors that trigger respiratory diseases in chickens. For me, whenever my eyes feel itched or I find it difficult to breathe in the coop or pen I know sanitation is long overdue.

Also read: Blog post: How to Stop watery whitish, greenish, brownish-yellow and bloodstain in your Chickens poops for full Recovery

Symptoms of CRD in Chickens

The following symptoms are common with broilers between 3 to 8 weeks: drop in feed consumption, slow growth. In growing or mature chickens, the following signs can be observed; 

  • Droopiness
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Rattling
  • Gurgling
  • Swollen Face
  • Nasal discharge, 
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Frothy eyes
  • Squawky crow
  • Drop in laying, 


sometimes darkened head, loss of appetite, weight loss, yellowish droppings.


Prevention of CRD in Poultry


 Minimize stress due to sudden weather changes, feed changes, drafts, chilling crowding, transporting, worming, vaccinating dust and ammonia fumes, vaccinate after an outbreak clean and disinfect housing and leave empty for a few weeks. 


Keep your chickens away from stress factors if you don’t want your chickens to frequently have cough and catarrh. Clean your pen regularly to avoid ammonia gas from its droppings, which is the main stress factor that causes respiratory disease.


I experimented on this with my last broiler production (200 broilers). I made it a point of duty to always clean my pen every 3 days and re-litter my pen. It was not an easy job but it paid off. I already bought drugs for CRD (Cough and catarrh) expecting to give them by week 3, but I never used it, probably still lying somewhere in my pen.


Remember, Chickens are mostly prone to respiratory disease, especially broilers. Minimizing the exposure of your chickens to stress will go a long way in preventing CRD in your flock.



How do I Treat Chicken Respiratory Infection?


To treat and manage respiratory infection, follow these steps:

1. Isolate the sick or Affected Chickens. 

Chickens like humans like socializing with one another, as such infectious diseases can spread at a rapid rate throughout your flock. It is paramount you isolate sick birds at the first sign of illness to protect the rest of the flock. This is what you can do; supply the infected birds with their feed and water.

2. Care for sick birds


The key factors that will contribute to a chicken's recovery are hydration, nutrition, and also warmth. You should pay particular attention to hydration. If the CRD is severe, it may be necessary to use a syringe or dropper to give the sick birds water. This process may be necessary until the bird fully recovers enough to drink on its own.


For severe cases, you should administer electrolyte solution to restore strength.



 3.Treat the Infection


As mentioned earlier, laryngitis, bronchitis, tracheitis, and even pneumonia, are also common and require similar treatment. 

In this case, I normally use broad-spectrum antibiotics – there are antibiotics available over-the-counter for poultry or you may wish to consult a veterinarian.



Vaccinate your chick against CRD

4.Reduce the risk of reinfection

Proper coop management is necessary to curb the spread of disease. After any illness, thoroughly clean the coop to reduce the risk of reinfection.


Ensuring that chickens are healthy will also curb reinfection. Use a good probiotic to help boost chicken immunity.





However, severe or complicated CRD is often difficult to treat, especially when it is in combination with cholera, infectious bronchitis, infectious coryza, Newcastle. The next question is:



Also, read : Poultry vaccination and schedule for Layers and Broilers

What is the best treatment for complicated CRD in poultry?


  1. Rob Marshall in his response to how best to treat and control CRD, stated that severe CRD is a serious eye infection that is difficult or impossible to cure. Other symptoms include open-mouth breathing and gurgling throat sounds.


He further classified the disease into three stages.




Disease Stages

 There are three stages of the disease:


Stage One


The sudden appearance of wetness around the eye is sometimes referred to as one-eye colds, maybe due to Mycoplasma gallisepticum infection. One eye colds appear as wetness around the eye with minimal swelling of the eyelids. This type of eye condition may also be the result of stress factors such as drafts or vitamin A deficiency.

When detected at this stage, the best treatment method is to apply an appropriate eye cream prescribed by a veterinarian. In most cases, this treatment will clear the eye within 2 days. When no response is seen, the disease is likely to progress to stage two or underlying diseases may be complicating the infection.


Blocked and swollen sinus

Stage Two


As the infection progresses, further symptoms may include swelling of the orbital sinus ("donut" shaped swelling around the eye), pussy eye discharge, sticky eyelids, and open mouth breathing. Afflicted birds and the entire flock should be treated when this stage of the disease is seen.

Treatment involves the administration of a combination of antibiotics (e.g. doxycycline hydrochloride and tyrosine tartrate) into the drinking water for 7 days. Appropriate eye cream is applied to those birds with eye symptoms for 2 days. To accelerate recovery and help reduce the effects of any stressful factors, Turbobooster and E-powder should be mixed into a seed treat each day for 7 days.

For stage two of this disease, this treatment should give a good response. A poor response indicates that underlying stress factors remain and if not seen to, the disease will progress to stage three.


Also read: 8 Things I wish I’d known About Poultry farming. Don't neglect No 7

Stage Three


More advanced symptoms of Mycoplasma gallisepticum infections include a swollen cere, red eyes, cheesy eye discharge, pasted eyelids, and an open (gaping) mouth.

These more serious symptoms are a good indication that complicated CRD is present and these birds will not respond well to treatment. Those birds with longstanding and complicated Chronic Respiratory Disease should be culled as it is too late for a full recovery and they will spread the disease to other birds in the flock.


The remainder of the flock should receive a 5-day treatment course as described for stage two of this disease.


Birds that have recovered from clinical signs of the disease have some degree of immunity. Such flocks, however, carry the organism and can transmit the disease to susceptible stock by direct contact or by egg transmission to their progeny.


The complicated form of CRD occurs when other underlying diseases are involved. A virus infection called Infectious bronchitis (IBV) is a highly contagious disease causing acute illness, coughing, sneezing, and impaired kidney function. IBV may precipitate outbreaks of Mycoplasma gallisepticum, although when present together, mortality in adult flocks is negligible. There is, however, a marked reduction in egg-laying, and mortality in broilers can be high especially during colder months.


E.coli infections have also been found to be frequently complicating organisms while other diseases that may complicate CRD include Mareks disease (Herpes), ILT (infectious laryngotracheitis), and Pox virus.








See the thoughts of other experts on how to treat Severe or complicated CDR

Here is Sandy’s thought on how to treat severe CDR


 Antibiotics – Terramycin or Tylosin (Tylan) or erythromycin (Gallimycin) will help to treat the C.R.D


 It has been found that an injection of Tylan 200 - 0.5 ml in the breast muscle and a follow-up injection 48 hrs later gives excellent results


 Some people give the dosages below, it will be up to you to make the call as to how much you give your bird, as to how severe the problem is

 For a bantam hen give between 0.1-0.2.ml.

 For a larger fowl give between 0.2-0.3 just depends on its weight


 The dose for a turkey is the same as a chicken (for Tylan).

 Between 30-35 mg/kg, two to three times per day depending on severity.

 The Tylan injectable can be given orally but it isn’t as effective as when you give it by injection.

 If you can't get Tylan, see if you can get lincospectin (30-60 mg/kg, once a day, subcutaneously). Baytril will also work (available through your vet) at a dose of 10-15 mg/kg.

 Any of the tetracycline drugs will help but they are not as effective as the others (and Baytril does tend to cause crop problems).


 And if this disease has held the water-soluble medications are useless

Sandy is a senior member at forum Poultrysite.com

Here are some natural remedies for  chicken cough and catarrh at the early stage

How to treat chicken cough naturally

Natural Remedies by Fresheggsdaily. blog

If you notice a hen coughing, sneezing, or breathing heavy, first try gently massaging her throat and giving her a drink of water mixed with some olive oil.  


  •  A squirt of saline solution (or mix salt and water with a little baking powder) in each eye several times a day can help ease the symptoms simply by clearing out the sinuses or rinsing out debris.

  • Basil, bee balm, clover, dill, echinacea, mint nasturtium, oregano, rose petals, rosemary, and thyme all have positive effects on the respiratory system. 

  • Try chopping up the fresh herbs and feeding them free-choice (or using dried herbs mixed into their feed if fresh is not available).


  • Sprinkle a bit of ground cinnamon on top or mixed into their feed.

  • Add a fresh garlic clove to the water (squash it between your fingers first to break it up a bit)

          Some apple cider vinegar in their water is also beneficial.


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