Causes for chicken with rattly breathing (not just ‘gapeworm’)

Chicken respiratory diseases can be highly contagious. When you notice your chickens have rattly breathing or having any respiratory issue, attend to it quickly.

It is essential for an early recovery without further spread to the rest of the flock. Without intervention, the diagnosis and treatment cannot be made in the initial stages. For the same reasons, you need to know what its symptoms are and its causes. Knowing what causes your chickens rattling breathing will help you prevent the infection and also its spread.


How to know your chicken is suffering from a respiratory illness?

When your chicken exhibits cold-like symptoms, it can indicate more than just cold. It becomes essential to diagnose what it is to be more precise. Some indications such as sneezing, rattly breathing, coughing, mucous discharge, wet nasals, wheezing, or unusual breathing need a call to action.

Chickens often suffer from flu or colds. Wheezing, rattly breathing, sneezing can be due to a bacterial infection, referred to as CRD (Chicken Respiratory Disorder). A healthy chicken is generally immune to this bacteria called Mycoplasma gallisepticum. However, some environmental stimuli can trigger to minimize the chicken’s immunity. This eventually results in containing this disease.

The triggers are:

  • Stress
  • Overcrowded space
  • Temperature extremity
  • Poor living environment


Symptoms of CRD (Chicken Respiratory Disorder)

Chicken respiratory disease grows gradually, and the sooner you detect and get it diagnosed, the better the treatment and recovery of the chicken.

Some symptoms to look for are:

  • Coughing
  • Rattly breathing/wheezing
  • Unusual/laboured breathing
  • Eye/Nose discharge
  • Breathing with an open mouth
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Shaking of head
  • Inflammation around the beak/eyes
  • Weak wattle/comb color
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lowered egg production
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of condition


Listening to your chicken’s chest will help you assess whether or not your chicken has CRD. Any congested or rattly breathing sound indicates CRD. If you closely observe, you will find your chicken having trouble stretching its neck and panting heavily.

Certain respiratory diseases result in chicken rattling breathing. Let’s take a look at their causes and other associated signs.


Cause Age Signs

Also known as farmer’s lung, this is an infection that arises due to a fungal transmission. It is transferred through moldy hay or egg within its nest.

0-3 weeks and 18-25 weeks and over
  • Inflamed eyes
  • Panting
Infectious bronchitis

A widespread virus called IB causes this respiratory disorder.


2 weeks and over
  • Wet nasals
  • Discharge in eyes
  • No shells on laid eggs
  • Wrinkled eggs
  • Watery droppings
Mycoplasma gallisepticum

Bacteria-like organism cause a respiratory disorder

4 weeks and over
  • Nasal discharge

It is caused by bacteria that results in swelling of air sacs

5-12 weeks
  • Troubled breathing
Fowl cholera

It is caused by bacteria that are common in common fowls

6 weeks and over
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
ILT: Infectious laryngotracheitis

Caused by bacteria

6 weeks and over Discharge of mucous from nose and mouth, coughing

It is caused by a parasitic worm called Syngamus trachea that rests in its throat.

6 weeks and over
  • Shaking its head
  • Coughing
  • Gasping

Some other respiratory conditions are

Infectious coryza symptoms

  • Inflamed wattles/face
  • Foul odour
  • Gunky eyes


Avian influenza symptoms

  • Droopy birds
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sudden death


Treatment of CRD

Every respiratory disorder mentioned above needs medical treatment. The sooner the identification and diagnosis, the better recovery and prevention of its spread as well. When left untreated, the chicken can die.

The below steps are part of its treatment plan:



Chicken is a social animal, and therefore, any infection can rapidly spread to other chickens or birds. When infected, it becomes essential to separate sick birds from others and isolate them. The very first sign of disease needs protection and isolation from the remaining flock. This isolation will reduce the spread, and the infected chicken will get its feed and water supply.



The elements that are crucial and contribute to their recovery are appropriate nutrition, hydration, and warmth. Hydration is of utmost importance. If the condition is severe, you can make use of a dropper or a spoon to provide water to your sick chicken. This has to be done until its recovery, and it can drink on its own.

Depending on the severity of the condition, an electrolyte solution can be provided to hydrate.


Treating infection

Microplasma gallisepticum is the most common respiratory disorder in chickens. Tracheitis, laryngitis, pneumonia, and bronchitis are other conditions that need the same kind of treatment. Treating for respiratory diseases with a common symptom of rattly breathing is primarily done with an antibiotic.

Go to a vet for a prescribed antibiotic or take an over-the-counter antibiotic for chickens. You can treat CRD even by natural methods for the early stages of infection.


Minimize the infection risk

Appropriate coop management is essential to avoid any disease spread. Post a disease situation, cleaning the coop thoroughly is vital to minimize the danger of reinfection. Chickens have to be ensured of their complete health before mixing them with the rest of the flock.

Making use of a good probiotic will provide chicken immunity and help boost it substantially.


Some other beneficial tips

  • Keep stress free environment
  • Vaccinate wherever possible
  • Keep the new birds in quarantine before blending them with other flocks
  • Before bringing the new chicken and newborns, make sure that they are healthy before combining them with the rest


Some treatment options based on the respiratory disorder that involves rattly breathing


Mycoplasma enters into the chicken’s body when stressed, from another infected chicken or dust-filled environment.



Once the symptoms are noticed, to confirm the condition, you will need some lab tests to be carried out. Vets who treat poultry can help you with the lab tests. It shall be worth the price as this will save your other chickens and spread the infection and save you money for later treatment.

Not only this, some chickens recover and look healthy. However, they may still carry the disease and spread it to another flock. Regular check-ups and suitable medication will help avoid this spread by aiding the treatment of the cause. Antibiotics control some of the infections, but may not work for all kinds of CRDs.

A proper diagnosis will help you get a suitable drug to treat the infection. If there’s a chance of getting your chicken vaccinated, it is best to go for it as it is a much better option. A proper diagnosis can help you get your chicken vaccinated. Some conditions with vaccines are mycoplasmosis, infectious coryza, and infectious laryngotracheitis.



  • Your vet may give you soluble Tylosin that is added to the chicken’s drinking water
  • Keep the stress to a minimum
  • The environment should be dust free and clean
  • Keep other infected chickens in isolation
  • Vaccinate your chicken against mycoplasma


Infectious bronchitis

Caused by a coronavirus, this condition can be identified with a noticeable drop in the production of eggs. Younger birds have higher mortality rates. It is diagnosed with throat swabs and tested for the virus.



* Prevention is the best cure for this infection.
* Certain antibiotics can assist in secondary infection of this bacteria.
* Related vaccinations can also help to shield your chicken from the disease.


Ammonia or dust

When thriving in a dusty or high-ammonia environment, chicken can get this respiratory condition. The airway lining of the chicken is sensitive. In this condition, these airways get swollen due to the impact caused by ammonia or dust particles.



  • Make use of chicken bedding that is free of dust
  • Please keep them in suitable ventilation when indoors.
  • Keep them off the dust/ammonia-free environment.
  • Eliminate its droppings regularly to maintain low ammonia levels.



Syngamus trachea, as the name suggests, lodges in the chicken’s trachea and result in this condition. Chicken eats the snails or earthworms that are infested with this worm.

Thus, chickens get infected with this worm. The larvae of this worm cross the wall of its intestine. The larvae then get into the lungs by travelling in the bloodstream. This is where the worm larvae are set up within the trachea of the chicken. Head-shaking, gaping mouth, coughing are some symptoms. 8-week old young chicken is vulnerable to this worm.



A timely deworming regime is the best remedy for this condition. Any poultry wormer is beneficial.


Prevention of CRD

CRD can be prevented from flock invasion. This will offer a significant impact through flock management and good biosecurity. Biosecurity attentiveness to routine things to do to keep the infection at bay is a crucial part of prevention.

This will prevent CRD spread to other chickens.

A clean, dust-free, stress-free, comfortable, well-fed, and clean environment is the first step to prevent any chicken infection. If there’s an infection, the best remedy is to notice it at the earliest.

Isolate the infected chicken right away. Go to the vet for all the necessary treatment and precautions.



CRD or Chicken respiratory disease begins mild and can be left unnoticed. In severe conditions, the flock dies within a short span. In severity, the impacted chickens are observed with rattly breathing sounds, panting, mucous discharge from the mouth, and head shaking.

They may have inflamed wattles, a bluish colour comb, and inflamed cheeks or eyes. They are spread by direct or indirect contact. Prevention is the best cure by providing a dust-free and clean environment and other attentive measures.

Go to the vet for a suitable treatment for your chicken.