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Why Do Chickens Breathe with Mouths Open? (Answered)

Poultry is an inseparable part of human life, as well as the food cycle of many important organisms. Chickens are popularly raised both as pets and as livestock. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain the proper health and behavior of chickens. 

Do chickens breathe through their mouths?

Birds are commonly seen to breathe through their nostrils instead of their mouth, and the same rule applies to chickens as well. 

A healthy chicken will breathe through their nostrils, but they can be occasionally seen breathing with their mouths to cool themselves on an exceptionally hot day.

However, if it is not a hot day, and you notice that your chicken is visibly exhausted while breathing or making noise while breathing, then it is not normal. 

The respiratory system of a chicken is not similar to other animals, their lungs have tiny air sacs that allow them to inhale and exhale. Commonly fungal infection in the air sacs takes place which hinders breathing.

Similarly, other viral infections or parasitic diseases in the respiratory tract can occur which makes breathing difficult. Besides that, any injury or infection in the chicken’s body could also induce it to breathe heavily through its mouth.

Why do chickens breathe with their mouths open?

Chickens usually do not breathe with their mouths open, and they tend to use their nostrils to inhale and exhale similar to other birds. However, on hot summer days, they tend to breathe with their mouths to cool themselves. But if that is not the case, then the chicken has respiratory diseases.

Since chickens are known to use their nostrils for breathing, it might seem unusual to open their mouths to breathe. If you notice your chicken opening their mouth for breathing, then it is mostly due to one or several of the following causes:

Hot Weather and Poor Ventilation:

Ventilation and good airflow are essential for chickens to grow and live properly. If the chickens are let to stay in a very cramped area with a lot of other chickens in proximity, you will notice an unusual behavior among them. 

The chickens will start breathing with their mouths open, especially in hot and humid temperatures.

To correctly identify if your chickens need a larger area, you will notice that several chickens are spreading their wings wide apart and away from their body. They do this to allow fresh air and maintain good airflow.

Fungal Infections:

The respiratory systems of birds are very different from that of mammals and can house various microbes and fungi in their respiratory tracts that are distinct. 

The respiratory systems of birds such as chickens have tiny air sacs that allow the chickens to inhale and exhale air – in and out of their lungs.

Sometimes the air carries fungal spores and other microbes that might get inhaled by the chickens, and these fungal molds build up in the respiratory tract. 

As the molds get larger, the chicken faces difficulty in breathing as it is not getting sufficient air and ends up using its mouths to breathe.

Broken Bones:

Chickens do not have respiratory systems with similar internal structures as mammals, and one of the key differences in the internal structure is their lack of diaphragm. Therefore, the chickens compromise for their lack of diaphragm by using their bones to air the airflow.

That is why chickens have several hollow bones that are connected to their respiratory system.

The bones responsible for this airflow to take place are the keel bone and if somehow from any form of injury, these bones get broken or fractured. The chickens will have difficulty getting air into and out of their lungs.

Injuries, stress, diseases, or inflammation:

Sometimes a chicken’s breathing pattern may not be closely connected to its respiratory system at all, rather it can be due to the stress from other external or internal factors. 

A chicken’s breathing may get haphazard and might open their mouths to breathe if they see a predator or anything that frightens them.

Similarly, if the chicken has been injured or has been infected by disease or having inflammation, then it can cause their stress level to spike as well. A combination of such incidents can result in a chicken panicking and opening its mouths to rapidly breathe.

What does it mean when a chicken keeps its mouth open?

Chickens usually do not keep their mouths open, but when they do, it’s usually due to some problems in their throat. One of the common difficulties faced by chickens that roam around freely is that sometimes a stone or similar objects can get stuck in their throats. 

And they keep their mouths open to help them breathe.

Another common cause is due to infections with a parasitic insect called Gapeworms. These parasitic worms infect the trachea of the chickens and result in symptoms such as gasping. 

Similar to gapeworm infection, another form of infection can take place due to bacteria or other ingested toxic matter.

Chickens that roam around freely might end up eating things they should not eat, and those items could be toxic or contaminated with bacteria or viral microbes. Once these items reach their throat, it could cause a negative reaction that hurts their throats.

Why do chickens look like they are gasping for air?

Chickens should not need to gasp to get sufficient air into their lungs, as their nostrils are quite capable of proper ventilation. 

However, if you notice that your chicken is gasping and wheezing constantly, then there could be some problems it might be facing which have been discussed below:

Gapeworm Infection:

The most common reason for a chicken to gasp for air is most likely due to a gapeworm infection in their throat. Gapeworms are red parasitic worms that live in the flesh of the chicken’s throat and cause intermittent gasping and wheezing.

Gapeworms are deadly to chickens if left untreated because those worms can quickly grow in numbers so fast that they will clog the throat of the chicken completely. When this happens, the chicken may not only suffocate but also cannot eat or drink water.

Infected with Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT) disease:

Ingesting food or water that is contaminated with microbes such as viruses or bacteria could also lead to severe, complicated diseases in a chicken’s throat. One such disease is Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT) which is caused due to viral infection in the respiratory system.

The symptoms observed by the chicken with ILT is gasping for air, keeping its mouth open as well as stretching their necks often. Further infections cause them to cough bloody mucus and nasal discharge.

Infected with Infectious Bronchitis (IB) disease:

This disease is similar to ILT since it is a viral infection as well and passes into chickens through contaminated food or water consumption. But unlike the ILT, this likelihood of being infected with this disease depends on the age of the chicken. 

Adult chickens tend to be less affected by this compared to baby chicks.

Chickens with Infectious Bronchitis disease can be seen to gasp for breath and also keep their mouths open to aid them in breathing.

How do you help a chicken with respiratory problems?

If a chicken is facing issues in breathing, then in most cases it could end up being fatal if left untreated. It is crucial to tend to a chicken’s respiratory problems as soon as possible using the following methods:

Give your chickens enough room to breathe:

If the chickens are living in a cramped area, they might spread their wings wide and continuously pant – this indicates that their living space is not sufficient.

In that case, you should consider relocating your chickens to a newer and bigger area where the chickens are not too cramped up and close to each other. Also, make sure that the new area has sufficient air vents to allow proper ventilation of air.

Treating for gapeworm infections:

Gapeworm infections are easily treatable by the use of two medicines that are recommended usually by vets. Flubenol and Aviverm are two medicines that should be added to their feeding water, which will remove the worms from their throat.

Treating for viral infectious diseases:

Viral infections are quite deadly if your chickens are not well-prepared for them beforehand. You should vaccinate your chickens early on since these viral infections do not have any effective medicinal cure. 

Antibiotics are known to only slow down the infection but do not cure the chickens of ILT or IB. Therefore, the only way to prevent these viral diseases is to vaccinate.

Final Thoughts

Chickens do not generally breathe with their mouths open; instead, they inhale and exhale through their nostrils, as do other birds. On hot summer days, though, they tend to breathe through their mouths to stay cool. If this is not the case, the chicken has respiratory illnesses.