A healthy chicken will breathe through its nose rather than its mouth.
So, if you see your chicken is taking in breaths through an open beak, you might worry about what’s causing this abnormal behavior.
Breathing through the mouth is often a sign of distress in chickens.
Keep reading, and we’ll go over eight possible reasons your chickens might take to breathing through their mouths and what to do to help them.
Fear or Stress
Many animals breathe heavier when they’re nervous.
Just like how a person might increase their breathing or gasp when they’re frightened, you might notice a change in your chicken’s breathing when exposed to fear or stress.
The first thing to note is the exact behavior your chicken is exhibiting.
If they’re continually breathing through their mouth, it’s often a sign of something wrong in their respiratory system.
Respiratory infections are also often accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the condition.
We’ll take a closer look at some diseases and conditions which can cause your chickens to breathe through their mouths and how to identify the signs.
On the other hand, if you notice your chicken is opening and closing its mouth after a period of high stress, it may be a temporary reaction to the initial, frightening stimulus.
It’s important to note that while chickens can become stressed at things like the sight of predators, illness can cause them stress.
A common cause of chickens breathing through their mouth is overheating.
Like many other animals, chickens will start to pant through their mouth when they feel hot.
It’s important to pay attention to the signs of overheating in your chickens because they don’t sweat.
Rather, they rely on evaporate cooling, inhaling cold air to balance out the heat and bring their body temperature back down.
To facilitate this movement of air, they start to pant.
To avoid this, take measures to keep your chickens cool and offer them plenty of shade.
As a general rule, keep your chicken coop within 70 to 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).
If the temperature reaches higher than 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C), your chickens will start to struggle to maintain a safe body temperature and cool themselves down.
It will also help make sure your chickens have access to plenty of cool, clean water to stay hydrated.
Tools like carefully placed fans your chickens can’t interfere with or even using a summer chicken feed will also help you through warmer temperatures.
If you live in a scorching climate, consider getting one of the hot-weather chicken breeds from our list to avoid this problem.
An Obstruction to Breathing
Chickens may also start mouth breathing if they’re having trouble breathing.
When they eat, they can get food caught in their throat, making it hard to breathe.
The downside is the design of a chicken’s throat.
You won’t be able to simply reach in and free your bird of the obstruction.
After all, they have narrow throats, and their design makes dislodging something caught in their throat sometimes difficult.
If you think your chicken is struggling to breathe, it’s always best to turn to the vet.
If something is stuck in their throat, the vet can see it with an x-ray and move forward with the proper tools and skills to help your chicken efficiently.
Parasitic Disease: Gapeworm Infection
When it comes to chickens breathing through their mouths, gapeworm is usually the culprit if the cause is parasitic.
Gapeworm isn’t anything to ignore if you notice the signs either.
Gapeworms aren’t uncommon, and some chickens and baby chicks are more likely to be affected just by where they are.
As such, it’s a good idea to know the signs of gapeworm infection in a coop.
Gapeworms themselves are small, red parasites and worms which can make their way into your chicken’s throat.
Once your chickens have contracted them, the parasite can spread to other chickens they contact.
If left untreated, they can pose a serious threat to your chickens’ health.
The first signs of your chickens having gapeworm include mouth breathing, a wheeze from your chickens, or further difficulty breathing.
They may also extend their neck further than normal, stretching it to relieve the unpleasant sensation in their throat.
If you see signs of gapeworm in your chickens, it’s best to take them to a vet.
They’ll typically offer a medication for you to add to your chicken’s regular, clean water to kill the parasite.
Viral Infection: Infectious Bronchitis
Like a person might, a chicken might suffer from infectious bronchitis, or IB, for short.
While the human and chicken respiratory diseases are slightly different, bronchitis can make it hard for your chicken to breathe.
Signs of infectious bronchitis include the following:
- Breathing through the mouth
- Rattling sound in the throat
- Runny nose
- Increased thirst in older chickens
- Reduced egg production in adult chickens
If your chicken is losing weight and lethargic, there are some other causes to be aware in our article here.
Viral Infection: Laryngotrachetitis
Laryngotrachetitis, sometimes shortened simply to ILT, is another one of the viral infections which can lead to mouth breathing in your chickens.
Other signs of ILT include:
- Moist cough
- Struggle for breath or gasping
- Stretching the neck
- Bloody mucus (this is often noticed along the beak or nostrils)
If you notice signs of respiratory infection in your chickens, it’s best to refer them to a vet.
They’ll likely prescribe antibiotics appropriate for the diagnosis they come to based on your chicken’s symptoms.
Related: Denagard for chickens and respiratory illness
Fungal Infections: Thrush
One fungal infection to watch out for in chickens is candidiasis or thrush.
This type of yeast infection can affect your chicken’s mouth, throat, intestinal tract, and crop.
These are some signs of thrush in chickens:
- Trouble breathing (including breathing through the mouth)
- Large, white spots inside the crop and mouth
- Crust around the eyes
- Decreased rate of growth
- Drooping wings
- Reduced appetite
If you notice thrush signs in your chickens, it’s a good idea to consult your vet once again.
They can help you fully assess your chicken’s condition and make the best decisions moving forward to help handle your chicken’s thrush.
There are a few other general steps to take too.
To start, work to reduce any potential stressful triggers for your chickens, like overcrowding, poor ventilation, or inappropriate temperatures.
It’s also a good idea to take a moment to double-check the water and feed.
If either is contaminated, it will stress the chicken and make them sick.
It’s no secret: your chicken has a lot of biological differences from you.
For example, humans rely on their diaphragm to help them draw in a breath.
Chickens don’t have this same internal structure.
Rather than a diaphragm, this job is completed thanks to a series of hollow bones to help their respiratory systems operate.
This also means if these bones get damaged in a fracture or break, it can cause the chicken to have trouble breathing.
As a result, they might take to breathing through their mouth to increase their air intake.
Food contamination can lead to various problems, including some of the respiratory illnesses we listed above.
It makes sense for you to carefully watch what your chicken eats.
However, it’s not uncommon for chickens to graze and pick up different items as they come along.
Of course, this comes with its risks.
As discussed earlier, this increases the risk of creating a block in the throat.
Further, it’s an easy way to pick up bacteria and other things you don’t want your chicken to ingest.
This can lead to several other conditions which can cause open mouth breathing, such as a staphylococcus infection.
There are a few things around your yard that could cause a problem if your chicken ingests them, including:
- Fertilizers or potting mix
- Sharp objects and debris
- Electrical wires
It’s also worth not spilling extra feed when you serve your chickens their dinner.
If the feed is left out on the ground and birds eat it later, mold spores are a risk.
Spilled feed is a surefire way to attract pests that can bother and stress your chickens on top of other factors.