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How To Treat A Chicken With A Cold

How To Treat A Chicken With A Cold

Chickens caught a cold? Here’s what might be the cause.

It’s not just the cold weather when you might see your hens showing signs of sniffles and runny noses. Fortunately, chickens don’t get “colds” like us humans but are quite susceptible to viral respiratory diseases with two being the most prevalent.

Symptoms that you might see in your hens may include:

  • A clear discharge from their nostrils
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • A raspiness or rattling sound to their breathing
  • Stretching-out their necks
  • Gasping for breath
  • Reduction in egg laying
  • Drop in eggs size, irregularly shaped eggs or soft egg shells

The most common causes of these symptoms:

  1. Avian infectious bronchitis (IBV)
  2. Infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT)

Avian infectious bronchitis doesn’t normally harm older hens but mortality can be relatively high for young hens under about 5-weeks of age. Most layer hens, such as our Hy-Line Browns, have been vaccinated for local forms of IBV but there are many different strains of the virus so it does not guarantee immunity from less common strains.

Hens will normally recover from the virus within 3 to 4 weeks but if one of your hens catches it, they will normally all get it. There are no treatments available for infected hens but they will benefit from good nutrition and added vitamins and minerals in their diet. Vitality Booster and Mother Hen‘s Remedy are two relevant nutritional boosters that will support fighting-off and recovery from viruses. Keep an eye out for any secondary, bacterial infections that are common in hens affected by IBV as these infections may require an antibiotic to treat.

Infectious laryngotracheitis shares many similarities with the IBV virus but tends to have a higher mortality rate. Our Hy-Line Browns are also vaccinated for the common strains of ILT but again, due to the range of different strains in circulation, problems can still be caused if hens become infected by any of them.

Hens that recover from ILT will be carriers for life so be aware of this when thinking of introducing new hens into your flock. Similarly to IBV, the virus is quite fragile and can be killed by disinfectants, heat, and direct sunlight when present in your hen‘s environment. However, ILT can survive for up to 2 months in bedding and nesting materials so a good clean-out of bedding and litter is essential.

20 thoughts on “How To Treat A Chicken With A Cold

    1. Hi Damian,

      If your other hens are vaccinated for IBV and ILT they’ll be fine. If not, they will likely pick it up but if they are healthy, they won’t necessarily die from getting infected.

      Hens are flock animals so don’t do wonderfully by themselves but you would need to provide a large distance between the flocks to ensure that IBV and ILT don’t travel to the non-infected flock. ILT can become airborne and travel over a kilometre!

  1. Thank you for the helpful information. Is there any way to treat the disease besides using the remedies, and are the diseases contagious?

    1. Once they have ILT or IBV they are carriers for life, unfortunately. The clinical signs tend to start showing and causing distress to infected chickens when they are stressed, receiving poor nutrition or in relatively poor condition.

      The best thing is to give them the best nutrition and provide extra supplements whenever signs start showing.

  2. If my chicken is sneezing and I have lot’s of other chickens do I split them
    Up because she doesn’t like being separated from her sister and mother

    1. Hi Ellira,

      I would want to diagnose exactly what is the cause of the sneezing. If it is ILT, IB or some other virus of poultry, it is likely that she would have passed it on to the other birds in the flock so separation won’t help.

      If the flock is in good condition and received good nutrition, if it is a virus, the strong will survive but the weak may not, unfortunately. Hopefully, it is just some dust in her nostrils if you have only noticed the sneezing for a short time.


  3. Hi! All my hen has is a rattling breath, could that still mean she has one of these diseases? She doesn’t have any of the other symptoms. Thank you!

    1. Hi Scarlett,

      Yes, these diseases are common in poultry so your hens could potentially have ILT or IB. If your flock hasn’t been vaccinated, there’s more of a chance that the clinical signs will start appearing.

      Give them the best nutrition available and avoid any scraps in the short-term until the signs (rattling), stop. You could also ask your local Vet, if they are experienced with poultry, who might have some ideas on local disease issues.

  4. My chicken (only have one rescue and have had her two years) started making a different noise, like honking. I keep her in a dog crate at night because the bears got the other 29 chickens and two of the three goats. Now it’s been bitter cold so I kept her inside a few days. I’ve noticed a little labor and raspiness in her breathing. I have given her olive oil with ground garlic, which she loves. No nasal discharge just the change in her talk and breathing. Any suggestions. She has a good diet and loves plain Greek yogurt!

    1. Hi Denyse,

      Thank you for your comments. Chicken’s are quite susceptible to respiratory issues so I would look at the signs she is presenting and compare them to images and video following a Google search. I would search around ‘ILT in chickens’ and ‘IB in chickens’ to start with as they are fairly common and found worldwide.

      ILT is Infectious Laryngotracheitis and IB is Infectious Bronchitis which are both viruses. I would support her nutrition as much as possible by keeping her on a high-grade laying feed. I would hold off on the scraps as well just to keep the nutrition clean and hopefully, she will make a recovery after two weeks or so.

  5. My chickens, about 4/5 weeks old cluster up in a corner, seldom eating and just there with little activity taking place by them. What could be wrong with them and what’s the solution please? One has died already. Thanks

    1. Hi there,

      What heat source do you have for them as they need around 30 degrees until at least 6-weeks of age?


  6. I have two chicks just over 4 weeks old. Both do a gasping motion once in a while and I’ve noticed one sneezing often. There used to be 3 of them but the third died about a week ago. Same symptoms. For the two left I’ve been adding chick immune support to their feed and I’ve been adding oregano to their water after reading that it can act as a natural antibiotic. Do you recommend anything else or for me to do anything different?

    1. Hi Jenn,

      Thank you for your comment. That doesn’t sound good and it could be a common poultry virus called infectious laryngotracheitis which causes lesions in the throat of chickens. The lesions restrict their ability to breathe and causes gasping. Being viral rather than bacterial, antibiotics won’t have any effect.

      Vaccinating them now won’t help too much and would be expensive to do. I would just keep them on a good chick starter feed and keep them inside your home in the brooder with their heat source (where they should be now).

  7. Hii my chicks are 2 months old they are getting runny nose(it’s smells up )what is the cause of it and what is the solution for it

    1. Thank you for your comment Ram.

      It could be a number of different issues if the chicks haven’t been vaccinated. My guess is that it could be IB or infectious Bronchitis which can cause runny noses.

      I would check with an avian Vet ideally.


  8. We have just got our first 2 chickens, they were vaccinated against ILT but have had a bad reaction to it. They’ve been ill for several days, one is getting better although her eye opens only intermittently the 2nd one has what sounds like a cold, what’s the best way to treat them please

    1. Hi Teresa,

      Thank you for your comments. I have never heard of a chicken having a bad reaction to an ILT vaccination before. How did you determine that the illness was due to a reaction? An avian Vet would probably be needed to accurately diagnose the issue.

      There are many different types of ILT so they may be suffering from a different strain that the vaccine that they have been administered won’t target. They may not have been vaccinated correctly as well which means that the treatment that they received was ineffective.



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