Common Respiratory Diseases of Small Poultry Flocks

Learn about causes and symptoms of several common respiratory diseases of poultry, and the prognosis and possible treatments for each.
Common Respiratory Diseases of Small Poultry Flocks - Videos


Your birds are showing signs of respiratory distress. They are coughing and gasping, and their eyes are watery. What is wrong with them? This video describes the causes and symptoms of several common respiratory diseases of poultry, the prognosis for each, and what you can do if your birds have these symptoms.


Biosecurity and disease prevention in backyard and small commercial Flocks Poultry diseases and management interactions Avian toxicology Diseases of game birds,pigeons, exotic and pet birds Poultry Handling and Transportation Animal Welfare

More by Eva Wallner-Pendleton, DVM, MS, ACPV 

View Transcript

- Your birds look and act sick.

They are coughing and gasping and they have watery eyes.

They have swollen sinuses.

You see a drop in egg production.

What's wrong with them?

Is it serious?

What should you do?

Just lik in people, respiratory symptoms in poultry have many potential causes, some more serious than others.

Successful treatment of your birds depends on an accurate diagnosis of what is causing the symptoms.

In this video, we will talk about three common respiratory diseases of small flocks and one rare, but potentially devastating disease, avian influenza.

One of the most common causes of respiratory illness in poultry is a disease called mycoplasmosis caused by mycoplasma gallisepticum or MG for short.

This bacteria can infect chickens, turkeys and upland game birds such as pheasants and quail.

Turkeys are the most likely to develop severe infections while infected chickens may or may not show obvious symptoms.

However, even if infected birds do not show symptoms, they can still transmit the infection to other birds.

Clinical signs of MG include nasal discharge, watery eyes, swollen sinuses under the eyes, coughing and a drop in egg production> The disease is spread primarily by respiratory secretions from the birds.

Contaminated people or equipment can spread the disease from pen to pen, even if there's no direct bird to bird contact.

Breeding hens can also transmit this bacteria into their eggs resulting in chicks or poults that are already infected when they hatch.

While MG is seldom fatal, it is difficult if not impossible to eradicate once it enters your flock.

Certain antibiotics can reduce the effects of the disease, but birds are not likely to be cured.

Once infected, a bird remains infected for life even after antibiotic treatment.

If MG is diagnosed in your flock, you should contact a licensed veterinarian for management recommendations.

You should only administer antibiotics under the direction of a veterinarian.

Inappropriate use of antibiotics can lead to negative consequences.

For example, some antibiotics can end up in the eggs which can pose a hazard for people eating the eggs.

And unnecessary use of antibiotics may also lead to antibiotic resistant diseases in your flock.

Another common respiratory infection in poultry, specifically chickens, is infectious bronchitis caused by a virus known as IBV.

Symptoms of IBV include coughing, wrinkled egg shells and a drop in egg production.

This disease spreads very rapidly.

Adult birds generally recover on their own after several weeks, however, IBV infection may cause death loss in very young chickens.

Administering antibiotics to birds with this viral disease is ineffective because antibiotics do not treat viral illnesses.

If IBV is suspected in your flock, you should contact a licensed veterinarian for treatment recommendations as well.

Another common but far more severe viral respiratory infection is infectious laryngotracheitis or ILT for short.

Infected chickens develop severe respiratory problems and may even cough up bloody mucous.

High death loss may occur in all ages of birds.

If birds recover, they may remain infectious and continue to spread the illness even if they don't have symptoms.

Prompt action is key with ILT.

If the disease is diagnosed early, you can quickly vaccinate uninfected birds to stop death loses.

So far, we have talked about three common respiratory symptoms in poultry.

Mycoplasma gallisepticum, infectious bronchitis, and infectious laryngotracheitis.

Now we will turn to a rare but potentially devastating disease, avian influenza.

In 2014 and 2015, an outbreak of avian influenza affected poultry in multiple states in the western and central U.S.

resulting in the death or destruction of over 50 million birds and costing millions of dollars to control.

This outbreak was the single largest foreign animal disease event in U.S. history to date.

Avian influenza is caused by a type A influenza virus.

Most of these avian viruses do not cause illnesses in people.

There are two types of avian influenza, highly pathogenic avian influenza or high path AI and low pathogenic avian influenza or low path AI.

Low path AI can cause minimal illness in infected birds.

High path AI is usually lethal to poultry.

However, even occurrences of low path AI are cause for concern.

Some forms of low path avian influenza may be capable of mutating into the deadly form of the disease.

Clinical signs of avian influenza are highly variable, but range from watery eyes, nasal discharge and coughing and gasping to a swollen head, hemorrhages on the body and the comb and high death loses.

Mild forms of avian influenza are common in wild water foul and shore birds and may be transmitted to poultry through direct contact with these birds or through contact with contaminated feces or water.

To prevent avian influenza in your flock, keep your poultry and domestic ducks and geese away from wild water foul, shore birds and places where these birds congregate such as streams and wetlands.

While avian influenza is relatively uncommon in poultry flocks, the economic consequences of an outbreak can be severe.

Identifying the disease early is crucial for preventing its spread.

If you have a high death loss situation in your flock, you should report it to your state animal health department so that a high path AI outbreak can be ruled out as the cause of mortality as soon as possible.

There are many poultry illnesses that can cause respiratory symptoms such as coughing, nasal discharge and watery eyes.

In this video we discussed three of the more common illnesses, mycoplasma gallisepticum, infectious bronchitis and infectious laryngotracheitis and the less common, but potentially devastating avian influenza.

Each poultry disease has its own treatment, so before you decide what to do, you need to determine which disease is causing these symptoms.

How do you do this?

Typically, small poultry producers don't have the knowledge base and resources to accurately diagnosis and treat poultry diseases on their own at home.

You need to find a poultry veterinarian to help guide you through this process.

Often, animal diagnostic laboratories associated with the state, a state university or a veterinary school, employ poultry veterinary specialists who can help you.

For more in depth information on poultry respiratory diseases go to and search for respiratory diseases on small poultry flocks.


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