Chicken Gasping for Air and Stretching Neck

Chicken Gasping for Air and Stretching Neck? (Gapeworm Explained)

Have you noticed one or more chickens gasping for air and stretching their necks out as if it’s difficult for them to breathe in your flock? 

It’s distressing to see chickens dealing with any kind of health issue, especially a respiratory one.

While you should always seek the advice of a professional veterinarian, hopefully, I can help educate you as to what the potential issues are when chickens gasp for air in this article.

Common Causes of Respiratory Disease in Chickens

There are a number of potential causes of respiratory diseases or difficulties in chickens. The most common causes are:


This is something I’m going to go into more detail about in this article as gapeworm is often the reason a chicken will stretch their neck due to the discomfort.

Gapeworm isn’t that common, but it’s potentially life-threatening if not treated. It’s basically a type of roundworm that attaches itself to a chicken’s trachea.

Here it starts to suffocate the chicken. Gapeworm can also travel into the lungs causing further complications.

Ammonia (Poultry Dust)

If chickens are living in a dusty environment, or if the ammonia levels are high in the air they’re breathing, chickens can develop respiratory disease.

Poultry dust is the term used for a mixture of bedding material, droppings, feathers, dander, and any other microorganisms living in a chicken’s environment.

This causes a potentially toxic cocktail of airborne dust that is known to be hazardous to poultry workers and can also be harmful to chickens.

Keeping their coop and living area clean and using bedding that doesn’t give off much dust is the best precaution.

Related A closer look at the dangers of poultry dust and hazards when cleaning a coop.

Infectious Bronchitis

Infectious bronchitis is a virus that can cause havoc to a flock of chickens. It’s highly contagious and causes chickens to keep their beaks as they gasp to try and take in more air.

Other signs of this disease include misshapen or soft eggshells, lethargic behavior, and unfortunately, it has a high mortality rate.

How Do I Know If My Chicken Has Gapeworm?

The first sign is usually seeing a chicken struggling to breathe or having some obvious difficulty breathing normally.

Because the gapeworm is present in their throat, they will often stretch their necks due to the discomfort and gasp for air.

They may also be coughing, shaking their head, or making gurgling noises. Also, if you put your ear close to their open beak you might even hear a ‘rattling’ sound.

Some chickens also have a swollen, enlarged, and squishy crop.

How Do Chickens Get Gapeworm?

Chickens get gapeworms from hosts that are infected with the parasite. The most common way backyard chickens get gapeworm is by eating earthworms, slugs, and other infected hosts.

How Do You Treat Gapeworm in Chickens?

The most effective way to treat gapeworm, especially if caught early enough is to use a worming treatment designed to kill internal parasites.

One of the best for treating gapeworm in chickens is this Verm-x poultry and fowl internal parasite treatment available on Amazon:

Click here to see the latest price and availability of this Verm-x dewormer on Amazon!

I like this Verm-x solution as it’s made from 100% natural active ingredients. For me, it’s a much better option than a conventional pharmaceutical with chemicals that can potentially cause side effects.

This product includes garlic, peppermint, cinnamon, fennel, and some of the other herbs that are known to be effective at killing off parasites.

If you like natural solutions and want to help guard your flock against worm infestations, there are some steps you can take to further guard your flock. 

You can add some apple cider vinegar to their drinking water, be a little bit more liberal spreading Diatomaceous Earth around their coop and add a little garlic into their diet. 

Related How to use Diatomaceous Earth in your chickens dust bath.

Gapeworm in Chickens Contagious?

Whenever you have a sick chicken the first thing that comes to mind is, ‘how contagious is this illness and is it going to spread to the rest of my flock?’.

The good news is, gapeworm is not contagious like a viral disease. The parasite or larvae has to be transmitted from one chicken to another by some means.

It is very possible that gapeworm can make its way through a whole flock. But at the same time, it’s also possible that it can be confined to one chicken.

If you suspect one of your chickens has any form of respiratory disease, the first thing you should always do is separate it from the rest of the flock.

This makes it a lot easier to identify what the problem is, and of course, limits the disease from spreading to your other chickens.

In Summary

Hopefully, you’re now more aware of what it means if you see a chicken gasping for air and stretching its neck, and what gapeworm is and how it affects a chicken.

I also hope that you’re able to get your chickens the help they need. I know how upsetting it is seeing a chicken in physical distress, believe me.

My thoughts are with you if you’re going through some health issues with your flock.

Parasites are nasty and unwelcome surprises, but it’s an occupational hazard of having outdoor pets that forage around and come across various insects and droppings from other birds.

For peace of mind, I recommend looking into supplementing your flock’s feed with garlic or some other herb known to help guard from parasites.

As well as adding a little apple cider vinegar to their drinking water which has numerous positive health benefits for chickens.


Image credits – Photo by Alex Dugan on Unsplash

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