My Chicken is Gasping for Air... Is it Gapeworm?

My Chicken is Gasping for Air... Is it Gapeworm?

When it comes to caring for chickens in a typical backgarden flock, understanding their behaviour is key. Chickens naturally try to hide any signs of illness to avoid appearing weak in the flock, which can lead to them being picked on. This means that by the time you notice symptoms like huddling, gasping, or sneezing, they're likely already quite unwell and need immediate action. Recognising these early signs can make a significant difference in their recovery.

Common Respiratory Illnesses in Chickens

Before we delve into the specifics, it's important to be aware of the most common reasons your chicken might be unwell:

Mycoplasmosis: This bacterial infection often leads to chronic respiratory issues like sneezing and nasal discharge. You may also see small clear bubbles at the corners of your birds' eyes, a clear sign of Mycoplasma. Antibiotics like tetracycline, tylosin, or tylan can help, but in the UK, these are only available by prescription from a vet.

Aspergillosis: A fungal infection from Aspergillus spores, often found in mouldy bedding or feed. Symptoms include severe respiratory distress and lethargy. Antifungal medications like itraconazole or voriconazole may be prescribed.

Laryngotracheitis: A viral infection causing severe respiratory distress and sometimes bloody mucus. There are no specific antiviral treatments, so supportive care is crucial.

Recognising the Signs of Illness

Early detection is essential. Look out for changes in behaviour, eating habits, and vocalisations. Gasping for air is a clear indicator of respiratory distress. Before this stage, you may see your chicken hunched up, with its tail down and eyes shut, looking under the weather.

Gapeworm in Chickens: A Specific Concern

While Gapeworm is fairly uncommon in chickens, it's a possibility when they exhibit gasping behaviour. It's important to consider various factors to determine if gapeworms are the issue:

  • Identifying Gapeworms: Parasitic worms in the trachea of birds, causing gasping for air, gurgling, or coughing sounds, and difficulty breathing.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: A vet's examination is required for a definitive diagnosis. Treatments typically involve anthelmintics like flubendazole or ivermectin.

Immediate Care for a Sick Chicken

The first step is to remove the sick chicken from the flock. We recommend bringing them indoors, placing them in a dog crate in a quiet area, with a blanket over some of the crate to stop draughts. Ensure they have some light, as this helps them focus on recovery.

Feeding and Professional Help

Offer nutritious, easy-to-digest food like scrambled egg and mashed-up cat or dog food. In the UK, it's illegal to feed chickens food that has been through a kitchen, but this may be a decision you make in an emergency. If you need help, email us at

Vet or Professional Help

If your budget allows, getting your chicken to a vet is crucial. In the case of serious illness, professional intervention can be life-saving.

Natural Preventative Remedies

While these won't cure a sick chicken, they can help prevent future issues:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar: A little in their water can boost their immune system.
  • Garlic: Has natural antibiotic properties. Add crushed garlic to their feed.
  • Herbs: Oregano, thyme, and sage have antimicrobial properties and can be added to feed.


We hope this guide helps you in caring for your sick chicken. Remember, early recognition and prompt action are vital for the health and well-being of your flock.

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