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Open Mouth Breathing


By Dr Rob Marshall


Open mouth breathing in backyard chickens is a common symptom with many possible causes. Veterinary help should be sought immediately signs are noticed because most chickens can be cured when a diagnosis and treatment is initiated before secondary complications occur. Treatment may not be successful when the cause of open mouth breathing is a viral infection or when treatment has been delayed.

Possible causes of open mouth breathing include:


  • Backyard contamination with mould, bacteria or poisonous items.


  • Crop & gizzard impactions.

  • Virus infections such as Laryngotracheitis (ILT), Infectious Bronchitis (IB).

  • Other causes.



Backyard Contamination


The most common cause of open mouth breathing relates to the ingestion or inhalation of contaminated items whilst chickens are going about their normal foraging activities.

The natural foraging behaviour of chickens includes the use of the feet to scratch and disperse soil and vegetative matter in search of food items. In the process of this normal every day activity they may eat or inhale contaminated material. The contamination may be infectious (e.g. bacteria or mould infection), poisonous (e.g. fungal or bacterial toxins, heavy metal toxins found in screws, nails, wire fragments or chemical poisons) or corrosive (chemicals, moulds etc.).

Any type of vegetative material and garden soil is potentially dangerous but composting hays, garden compost heaps, barks or leaf litter, potting mix and garden fertilizers are most hazardous to chickens. The hazards from these contaminated materials appear seasonally. Wet warm weather increases the likelihood of contamination.

Problems with hazardous backyard material are common during summer and autumn when warm wet weather creates ideal conditions for bacterial and mould growth to occur in vegetative matter.

Cold spells in winter may produce mineral cravings in egg-laying hens as a result of nutritional deficiencies. These hens seek out dirt in search of minerals and often ingest contaminated material in the process. Egg laying problems (vent gleet, egg peritonitis, egg binding etc) and egg shell abnormalities (soft shelled, roughened or discoloured egg shells) are often associated with these birds eating food stuff contaminated with mould infections and fungal toxins. Open mouth breathing is often seen with egg peritonitis and egg bonding problems.

Staphylococcus infections are a common cause of moist cough and open mouth breathing. Contaminated composting hays, sand and saw dust being used as bedding materials are the most common cause of this type of infection. This condition is readily diagnosed by special staining techniques and cultures of throat swabs.

Other soil type bacterial and yeast infections (Bacillus, Candida, E. coli etc) may infect the throat and cause open mouth breathing.

Chronic Respiratory Disease (see the
"CRD" article in this section of web page) and Infectious Coryza are common causes of open mouth breathing.

Aspergillosis infections also cause open mouth and laboured breathing. These infections occur when contaminated straw or composting hays are used as bedding material. Mouldy food scraps may also cause Aspergillosis and Aflatoxicosis. Some moulds produce mouth and throat ulceration that often cause open mouth breathing and gaping symptoms.

Crop impaction, blocked gizzard and heavy metal poisoning may cause open mouth breathing. These conditions are quickly diagnosed using X-rays.


Laryngeotracheitis (ILT)


This is a serious viral respiratory disease characterized by open mouth breathing, neck stretching and gasping for air. ILT should be suspected when there is a sudden onset of moist coughing, gasping for breath and laboured breathing. Additional signs include a bloody mucous from nostrils or along lower beak.


Infectious Bronchitis (IB)


Open mouth breathing associated with IB is usually found in baby chicks. Symptoms include gasping, coughing, sneezing, rattles from throat and nasal discharge. Older birds show egg laying problems and increased thirst.

Chinese Silkies are our first choice backyard chicken. They are robust, loveable, quiet, lay good quality eggs and make ideal pets.

Our programmes are a simple and effective way to provide your chicken companions with the best possible care.

Click for information regarding our holistic methods for managing chicken diseases.

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