Why Do Chickens Sneeze?

Animals can be more like people than you might think. They seem to have a whole range of emotions and idiosyncrasies that we can recognize. Or maybe we are just anthropomorphizing them.

flock of New Hampshire chickens
flock of New Hampshire chickens

But in some cases the biological realities of life are more closely aligned than that. Chickens, for example, sneeze just like we do. But why do chickens sneeze in the first place?

Chickens sneeze for the same reasons people do, including to expel dust, pollen, or other irritants from their nasal passages. Chickens have sensitive respiratory systems, and are susceptible to airborne particles and pathogens.

Just like us, chickens have nostrils that trap dust and other particles. When these particles irritate the lining of the nose, the chicken’s brain signals the lungs to explosively expel the foreign object. More alike than we realize, eh?

And just like people, the mechanism of sneezing might be a harmless process, or it might indicate some deeper trouble. If you own chickens you’ll need to know, so keep reading to learn more.

Do Chickens Really Sneeze?

Yes, they do, and for all the same reasons that people and other animals do. Sneezing is an evolutionary adaptation that helps animals clear their nasal passages of irritants, including dust, pollen, and other foreign particles.

What Does a Chicken Sneeze Sound Like?

A chicken sneeze does not sound quite like the explosive bark or “achoo!” of a person. Instead, it usually sounds like a higher-pitched squeak, squeal, or whine. If you aren’t familiar, it might sound like a cry of pain or fear.

But there is no need to worry: outside of serious conditions, sneezing is a perfectly normal and healthy bodily function for chickens that does not hurt them.

How Often Do Chickens Sneeze?

There is no set timing or tempo for a chicken’s sneezes.

All owners know their birds go through occasional bouts of sneezing, but just how often do our feathered friends sneeze? According to a recent study, chickens sneeze an average of once every 10 minutes.

However, there is considerable variation between individual birds, with some sneezing as often as once every two minutes and others going hours or even days without a single sneeze.

There is no definitive answer, but most experts believe that chickens sneeze frequently, perhaps several times per day even if it isn’t immediately apparent to us.

If you notice your chicken sneezing frequently, don’t be alarmed but do pay attention; consistent sneezing usually means trouble for the chicken or a problem with its environment.

Is Sneezing Indicative of Problems in Chickens?

Not necessarily, but maybe. Context is everything, and when you notice an uptick in sneezing for a single chicken or your whole flock it is time to look closer.

If your chicken is sneezing during feeding time, in dusty conditions, or for any other reason that would obviously irritate their noses, you probably don’t need to worry.

Sneezing is particularly common when chickens are taking dust baths or eating dry, dusty food. If the sneezing stops when the activity does, there is nothing to worry about.

However, chickens are susceptible to a number of health problems that cause sneezing as a symptom, many of which can be difficult to detect without a thorough checkup.

While a single sneeze may not be cause for concern at any time, frequent or violent sneezing can be a sign that something is definitely wrong.

Chickens might sneeze repeatedly or often when they have a respiratory infection, which can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungi. Certain dangerous lung or throat parasites can also cause sneezing.

Respiratory infections in particular are easily spread through the chicken coop, so it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of illness in all of your birds.

If you notice that one of your chickens is sneezing frequently, isolate the bird from the rest of the flock immediately to check it out. If you are not positive, consult a veterinarian.

Sneezing may also be caused by environmental allergies or irritation, so it’s important to check out the area where sneezing usually occurs. The coop is a frequent issue in this regard, and often when it is not maintained.

Ammonia from droppings, mold and other strong irritants can cause constant sneezing and lead to other health issues, so make sure the coop is well-ventilated and properly cleaned on a regular basis. Don’t forget to clean the walls and put down fresh bedding.

In rarer cases, sneezing may also be caused by a larger foreign body lodged in the chicken’s nostril. This is more common in young chicks than adults, but not out of the question.

Constant, harsh sneezing and attempts to swipe their beak are indicators that there may be a small particle or thin bit of grass or straw in there.

Good forceps and steady hands might let you fish it out without hurting the chicken. As always, if you have any doubts about the diagnosis or your ability, consult a vet.

Pay Attention to Other Symptoms to Spot Illness Early

If chickens start sneezing and you cannot pin it on something in their environment and aren’t sure it is happening from food or bathing, you need to keep your eyes peeled for other symptoms that might indicate infection or parasites.

In addition to sneezing, watch out for coughing, hacking, open beaks, and discharge around the eyes or nostrils.

Lungworms and other parasites cause these sorts of symptoms, as well as severe damage to lung tissues.

Gapeworms are parasites that live in and clog the airway itself, and can suffocate a chicken if left unchecked.

Chickens with parasites will also tend to have a decreased appetite and lose weight, so keep an eye on their food intake and general energy levels.

If you suspect your chicken has a respiratory infection, look for fast or difficult breathing, increased drinking, lethargy, and fever.

Birds with severe respiratory infections are often too weak to stand or move around, and may have pale combs and wattles or huddle together instead of moving about normally.

If you notice any of these other symptoms in addition to regular sneezing, it is time for a trip to the vet, stat. Early intervention may be the only thing that can save your chickens.

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