As a vet who sees lots of birds and poultry as part of my veterinary home visit service and also in our vet hospital, there are some very common poultry diseases I treat – and one of the most common is respiratory disease in chickens.
Symptoms of an unwell chicken can include unusual quietness or inactivity, staying separated from the other chickens in the group, noisy breathing or open-beak breathing, and fluffed up feathers. Respiratory diseases commonly occur in stressed and anxious birds, such as if they’ve recently been transported or introduced into a group.
This highlights the importance of quarantining new poultry when you bring them home, this way you can monitor for any symptoms of disease and prevent the spread of infection before you introduce the new chickens to the flock. Alternatively, keep a ‘closed’ flock so as not to introduce any potentially infectious birds.
I always recommend that you buy any poultry from quality breeders, and it can be worthwhile checking the coop conditions where you are purchasing poultry from to ensure the conditions are clean and dry. Preventing respiratory diseases in backyard poultry also involves implementing a good nutrition program, keeping the coop clean and avoiding overcrowding.
Four of the most common respiratory diseases I see in backyard chickens include mycoplasma (bacteria), infectious coryza (bacterial), infectious bronchitis (viral), and infectious laryngotracheitis (viral). These diseases can also occur together, and can also be exacerbated by secondary bacterial infections. There are other less common respiratory diseases which can also occur, including the Avian Flu and Newcastle Disease.
Treatment of respiratory diseases in chickens will sometimes involve the use of antibiotics – but discourage your vet from using any form of enrofloxacin. After examining your poultry and discussing any investigation or diagnostic tests required, we will often start some medication to treat the relevant condition. If you are normally eating the eggs produced by your backyard chickens, it’s also important to be aware of any drug withholding periods if the birds are being treated with antibiotics – something I can advise you about further at the time.