Chickens can and do sneeze when certain conditions are met.
The nasal passage of a chicken does have sensitivity, meaning in the event of something foreign being introduced, such as moisture or dust, a sneeze will be triggered. This rapid exhale is meant to force the unwanted object from the nasal cavity and prevent it from reaching the lungs where it can cause damage.
On a personal note, a chicken sneezing is a somewhat humorous sound. One that may catch you off-guard the first time you hear it. But it is identifiable, if not somewhat relatable, after you know what you’re listening to.
What Does It Mean When A Chicken Sneezes?
While the occasional chicken sneeze is of no real consequence, repetitive sneezing can be a sign of something serious.
One might think that with a chicken spending so much time with their beak to the ground, they would be sneezing all of the time. After all, their nostrils (nares) are quite often less than an inch from the dirt.
But the reality is, chickens are quite adept at their task of scratching and pecking at the ground. So much so, that hearing a chicken sneeze is actually a rare thing – provided they are healthy.
If, however, you are hearing repetitive sneezing all throughout the day, especially from more than one member of the flock, then a thorough investigation is advised. Chickens are susceptible to respiratory infections.
How Do I Know If A Chicken Has A Respiratory Infection?
Signs that your chicken may have a respiratory infection include; sneezing, wheezing through an open mouth, discharge from the nares, watery eyes and head shaking.
Respiratory infections in domestic poultry generally come from the bacteria known as Mycoplasma gallisepticum. This nasty little bacterium causes a whole host of miserable symptoms for your backyard chicken and should be taken seriously as it often will spread through the entire flock.
The resulting respiratory distress will certainly cause a loss of egg production, and if not addressed, can often turn fatal.
How To Prevent Chronic Respiratory Disease In Chicken
While antibiotics are available in certain situations, purchasing viable stock from quality breeders, as well as, providing a healthy environment can go a long way in preventing Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD).
In industrial situations where space for the birds is limited, CRD can spread very quickly as the birds are confined in close proximity to each other.
However, with smaller backyard flocks, where optimal spacing is available, CRD is often caused by a lack of proper ventilation in their coop.
Ammonia buildup from their waste can be significant. And as the birds are generally confined over night, in order to protect them from predators, this means they are enduring a prolonged exposure to a very unhealthy (and uncomfortable) situation.
It should also be noted that this build up of ammonia can vary with the seasons – as moisture can exacerbate things, while the drier times of the year can be more accommodating.
For an in-depth look at this, read this article, ‘Mycoplasma Gallisepticum: Frequently Asked Questions’ by the University of Maine.