An astute chicken owner is going to keep a close eye on their pets and when they see their chickens change their behavior, it’s natural to get worried.
Chickens are not natural mouth breathers and most of the time, they wander around with their mouths closed. So, should you be concerned if your chicken is wandering around with its mouth open? Here’s what you need to know.
There are 6 possible reasons a chicken will open her mouth: your chicken is too hot, they’ve got something unpleasant in their mouths, they’ve got a blockage in their throat, they are suffering from gapeworm, they have either infectious bronchitis or laryngotracheitis both of which are respiratory infections.
So, let’s take a look at each cause and what to do about it.
Is My Chicken Opening Her Mouth Because She Is Too Hot?
There’s a bit warm in summer and then there’s too hot and when chickens get too hot they find themselves running around stressed out and often with their mouths open as they pant to try and relieve the heat they feel inside, this means that the most likely reason a chicken has its mouth open is that it’s too hot.
Other signs of heat stress include: regularly spreading the wings, a lack of energy, a visible paling of the wattles and cones, regularly closing their eyes in the day, chickens laying on the ground, a reduction in egg production and in the quality of eggs produced, drinking more water, eating less food, a drop in weight and possibly, in extreme circumstances, they may resort to cannibalism!
The good news is that you can help your chickens come to terms with being very hot and that means:
- Providing plenty of cold, fresh water – try to ensure that there are more than one source available and as sometimes chickens low on the pecking order may not be welcome at a communal drinking platform. You also want to add ice to this water to help them cool down. You can find a range of waterers here on Amazon.
- Add some electrolytes to the water – this is easy get some cubes of fruit or watermelon and freeze them, then add these chunks to the water, this gives the chicken a sugary boost and they’re a bit of fun for them too. You may also want to add some Gatorade to the water when it’s very hot.
- Invest in a water mister – you can get yourself a misting system for about $20 on Amazon and that will allow you to spray your birds with a very fine cooling mist on demand, you can find the latest price here.
- Consider a fan – this isn’t the easiest thing to do because fans do present some risk to chickens and if you want to use one, you’ll need to ensure cables are well protected and that curious chickens can’t get in touch with the blades of the fan under any circumstances
- Switch to a lighter feed – there are summer chicken feeds which are easier for the birds to consume when they’re hot and will help them retain their body weight.
The good news is that, of course, eventually the heat will pass, and your chickens will be fine again. You just have to help them get through the hot weather. For more tips on how to keep your chickens cool in the summer why not read our full article about how to keep chickens cool in the hot summer months.
Possible Contamination And What To Do About It
Another potential reason for your chicken wandering around with an open mouth is that they’ve picked up some contaminated material when foraging in the garden (this could be anything from bacterial, fungal contaminants, to poisonous or corrosive chemicals).
Unfortunately, this isn’t an issue that you should tackle by yourself. If you suspect your chicken is holding its mouth open in distress at something it has put in its mouth – you need to talk to your vet. They will be able to conduct tests and investigations that help them to work out what the chicken has consumed and thus, what they should do about.
How To Deal With A Chicken With A Blocked Throat
Just like people, occasionally chickens can choke on something that they swallow. Unfortunately, because of the more complex layout of a chicken’s throat than ours – it can often be hard for the chicken to expel an object that becomes lodged in there.
You, as a pet owner, can’t readily reach into the throat and fetch out any obstructive material either – chicken’s mouths and throats won’t accommodate your fingers. The reason your chicken is holding its mouth open when this happens is that it is struggling to breathe.
This means a trip to the vet, where they will x-ray your chicken and decide what, if any, action needs to be taken to relieve the chicken’s stress.
What To Do When A Chicken Has Gapeworm
Gapeworm is a particularly unpleasant parasitic infection that is very common in chickens. The parasite actually infests the throat of the birds and it can cause them to gape (that is keep their mouths open all the time) as well as start to wheeze and gasp.
Initially a gapeworm infection has no symptoms but a male and female will join together in the throat and then lay eggs there that can be coughed out and passed on to other members of the flock This means that you want to treat it as soon as you recognize it to prevent it spreading.
Unfortunately, it’s very easy to mistake gapeworm for a respiratory infection and to give the chickens some sort of antibiotic treatment. This won’t work because gapeworm doesn’t respond to antibiotics.
However, if you don’t treat it – eventually the gapeworms get so big that they end up blocking the throat completely and that will kill your chickens.
To treat it, you need to buy either a powdered worming medicine (you can get this online) or get a liquid product from your vet. This will shift the infection quickly but unfortunately; gapeworm don’t leave the environment of the birds easily and they will recur for up to 4 years after the initial infection.
Handling Infectious Bronchitis In Chickens
Infectious bronchitis is rare in adult chickens – it’s much more common in chicks and if you’ve recently moved some chicks into the flock, this is a likely cause of the problem. The chicks will be breathing through their mouths and sadly, there are no other easy to diagnose indications of this disease.
That means a trip to the vet and an urgent one at that. Infectious bronchitis, as the name suggests, is a highly infectious disease. If you can catch it early, you may only need to treat the affected bird, leave it a week and you will definitely need to treat the whole flock.
Unfortunately, it is a viral condition. This means that there is no known treatment though the vet can recommend antibiotics to handle any resulting infections caused by infectious bronchitis. The best way to deal with it, is to vaccinate the rest of the flock before they start showing any further symptoms.
Handling LaryngotracheitisIn Chickens
This is a relatively uncommon viral condition of the chicken’s respiratory tract. It is very much characterized by chickens breathing through gaping mouths. They may also be stretching their necks and panting for more air.
Pay attention to other symptoms which can include blood in their mucus, some sort of discharge from the mouth and/or nose and coughing.
Again, as a virus this can’t be treated directly, but antibiotics can help with secondary infections and the flock can be vaccinated to prevent transmission if you catch it early enough.
“My chicken keeps opening her mouth?” What do I do? Well, it depends on the cause of the problem. The most likely explanation is that the chicken is over heated and this is very easy to treat at home, there are other more complex problems that the chicken may be facing, however, and if that’s the case – you need to consider how to approach things more carefully.
The good news is that by taking prompt action, you can help your chickens get through their problems and return to a happy, healthy life. Just keep a careful eye on them and ensure you recognize a problem when it arises.