One of the funny things that humanity shares with most animals, at least most animals that live on land, is that they sneeze.
Sometimes this is downright hilarious, when your dog or cat gets a sneezing fit, other times it can be frightening if they’re sick or struggling to get something out of their nose.
But how about animals like chickens? Do chickens sneeze?
Yes, chickens can and do sneeze and they sneeze for the same reasons that most animals do: to get rid of irritants like dust, dirt, and other debris out of their nasal passages. They might also sneeze if they’re sick or infested with certain parasites.
Most of the time when your chickens are sneezing there is nothing to worry about, and it’s probably transient.
You’ll notice them sneezing more often on hot days when the soil is dry and dusty, or right after they take a dust bath.
But if you notice your chickens sneezing regularly, and particularly if multiple chickens are sneezing often it’s time to investigate.
I’ll tell you more about why your chickens might be sneezing below…
Is a Chicken’s Sneeze Really a Sneeze?
Yes. A chicken’s sneeze is really, functionally, a sneeze, defined as a sudden, explosive exhalation of air through the mouth or nostrils.
Why Do Chickens Sneeze?
Chickens sneeze for the same reason that any animal does: to get something out of their nostrils or out of their airway that shouldn’t be there and is causing irritation.
Also, just like other animals and like people, chickens may be prompted to sneeze if they’re sick or if they have an infestation of parasites, particularly those that affect the throat, lungs or airway.
Do Chickens Sneeze Regularly?
Chickens sneeze all the time. It has been speculated that your average chicken will sneeze once every 10 to 20 minutes for one reason or another.
This is due to something incidental like dust or something else tickling their nostrils, or because they got into something that’s causing irritation of the airway.
But, and this is important, chickens definitely shouldn’t be sneezing more often than that, or sneezing repeatedly. If they are, this might indicate illness, infestation or a more serious and persistent environmental hazard.
How Can You Recognize a Chicken’s Sneeze?
It sounds a little funny, but to be perfectly clear a chicken’s sneeze doesn’t sound like a sneeze that you or I would make, even though it is functionally identical.
A chicken’s sneeze sounds more like a high-pitched whistle, squeak or yelp than it does that booming cough-like sound that a person or even a dog might make.
In fact, many new chicken owners routinely confuse a chicken’s sneeze with a cry of pain or distress, so keep that in mind.
But, once you hear it and once you know what it really is, there’s no mistaking it.
If a Chicken is Sneezing, Does that Mean it’s Sick?
Let’s say you hear one or more chickens sneezing now and then during the day, assuming you’re spending that much time outside near them.
Does this mean they are sick? No, probably not. As mentioned above it is thought that many chickens will sneeze once every 10 to 20 minutes, though these should be isolated incidents.
However, it’s time to start paying more attention if you notice a definite uptake and sneezing, particularly if there are other factors that have changed in their environment or if you’re suspecting illness.
If your chickens are sneezing regularly, and it seems particularly rough or even violent, they might be sick and it’s definitely time to look closer.
Most commonly, this will be some sort of respiratory system infection, though it could be viral or bacterial in nature.
One of the most common causes of sneezing is some sort of inhalation hazard in their environment.
During very dry conditions, this can just be the dust coming off of the ground cover or the soil itself. If someone is mowing their lawn or acreage nearby, that is also going to put a ton of dust in the air if it’s blowing your way.
Similarly, the approach of spring and summer usually heralds all sorts of blooming plants that release pollen into the air. Believe It or not, that might be enough to give your chickens some serious sneezing fits.
One of the most common causes of sneezing is a dirty coop. If you allow your chickens’ droppings to accumulate inside the coop, the ammonia that they release will start to taint the air… and that ammonia is a powerful irritant!
When your chickens are forced to breathe in that nasty air, they are more likely to start sneezing.
If you notice your birds sneezing more when they’re confined in their coop or after they first come out of it, and less when they are allowed access to fresh air, it’s probably time to get to work.
Lastly, don’t discount the possibility that there might be a larger foreign object stuck in a chicken’s nostril or potentially in the throat.
This could be anything from a tiny piece of food to a small sliver of straw or something else.
Repeated, forceful sneezing from a chicken that is also wiping its beak is a likely indicator that this is the case. Investigate, and if it’s possible to do it safely, remove the foreign object.
Mold, Mildew and Fungus are also Probable Causes
One of the most insidious causes of sneezing and chickens is also potentially one of the most hazardous.
There are all sorts of molds, mildews and fungi that can spring up on a variety of surfaces, but most usually on wood and other organic matter.
Particles from these slowly expanding microorganisms and the reproductive spores they release can be very dangerous for a chicken’s health, and will certainly result in sneezing.
Something to keep in mind before you set out to remediate this issue is that mildew, fungus and in particular mold can be very dangerous for you, so make sure you wear a respirator and other appropriate safety gear before you set out to tackle it.
Parasite Infestation May Cause Severe Sneezing
The last and certainly the most distressing cause of severe sneezing in chickens is from a parasites infestation.
Internal parasites like lungworms that take up residence in the lungs, throat and nostrils can chronically impair a chicken’s breathing, and will usually result in bouts of ferocious sneezing.
Other parasites like mites can accumulate around and inside a chicken’s beak and nostrils, particularly among breeds that are heavily feathered, and can irritate these areas causing sneezing.
Either outcome is very stressful for your chickens, and also for chicken keepers, but internal parasites like lungworms are among the worst and can be fatal if unchecked.
If you suspect external parasites, start treatment immediately to get them under control. If you think you’re dealing with internal parasites, you’re probably best off consulting a vet.
Start Investigating if Chickens are Sneezing Chronically
If you notice that there seems to be an uptick and sneezing with no immediately identifiable calls for it, it’s time to start looking closer.
Assuming you have ruled out all the obvious answers, I always recommend a thorough deep clean of the coop, run and surrounding area.
Clean out all ground cover and bedding, thoroughly wash out and disinfect nesting boxes, roosting bars, floors, walls and even ceilings.
Perform a thorough treatment for insect pests using diatomaceous earth or other control agents.
Remember to pay close attention to cracks and crevices between boards, where walls and floors meet, and other hidey holes where bugs breed, poop, and generally go about their business.
Check crawl spaces or under-coop areas if applicable for blooms of mold or fungus which might be releasing spores that can waft upward on air currents.
Make sure your chickens have clean, fresh dust bath media and that any bedding or ground cover you choose is as hypoallergenic as possible.
If that still does not produce results, you cannot rule out illness or parasites. If a casual inspection does not show any obvious indicators, it’s definitely time to bring in the services of a vet.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.