Chicken Colds – Mycoplasma

bubbles in chickens eye mycoplasma
Bubbles can clearly be seen in the corner of the eye, a symptom of mycoplasma respiratory infection in chickens. Note the slight facial swelling. Photo property of The Garden Smallholder Blog, photographer Karen Jackson.

Does my chicken have a cold? Sneezing accompanied by discharge from the nostrils are commonly referred to as a ‘chicken cold’. However, it’s very likely your chicken/flock are suffering from a respiratory infection such as mycoplasma, often severe in winter. A fairly common illness (according to my vet) and contagious, mycoplasma is transmitted by wild birds, footwear, clothing and feeding equipment. The first time chickens succumb to the infection seems to be the worst, subsequent outbreaks seem to be milder. Early symptoms to look out for are bubbles in the eyes (see photo above), sneezing and facial swelling, left untreated this will surely result in rattles in the chest and eventual respiratory distress. Treatment of antibiotics such as Tylan soluble or Denagard prescribed by your veterinary surgeon will help, usually there’s no egg withdrawal but do check with your vet. Individual cases should be quarantined and kept warm, if the whole flock is affected then treat together. As always good hygiene is important to prevent disease or illness with poultry, however new birds brought in can already be carriers, becoming ill soon after arrival due to the stress of being rehoused or integrated within a new flock.

Stress is a trigger.

Sadly some chickens will die. Most affected birds do recover with treatment but will remain carriers (becoming mildly ill again during stressful situations or during winter) some never get ill at all having a higher resistance than others. Avoid overcrowding and keep up strict hygiene, it is important to treat at the first sign of illness. Any chicken can get a respiratory infection such as mycoplasma, even your ‘posh’ ones. ex battery hens

Regular readers of The Garden Smallholder blog will know I give a home to ex-battery hens when space allows, I have done this for many years and it’s a great joy of mine to watch them experience a different quality of life, for however long that may be. There are many people like me but there are just as many who believe that ex-battery hens are sickly creatures that spread diseases. In fact, ex-battery hens are covered by a strict vaccination schedule, they have to be, they’re in the food chain after all. I doubt very much that all hobby breeders vaccinate so strictly. Most of our ex-battery hens have been lost to laying related issues and diseases such as egg yolk peritonitis (EYP), also internal tumours due to faulty genetics caused by thoughtless breeding to create the ultimate laying machines. That’s not to say mycoplasma has never troubled any of the ex battery hens that I’ve kept over the years, it has but always easily treatable.

ex battery hen

I hope this post has been helpful for spotting the early signs of a fairly common respiratory infection in chickens, mycoplasma is not simply a chicken cold and shouldn’t be ignored, it is treatable. I’m not a vet and I don’t claim to be, I’m just putting my little bit of experience out there to help other chicken keepers.

Always seek the advice of a vet (avian or exotics preferably) for signs of illness in poultry.

12 comments

  1. Thank you so much for the info! My little flock has never come down with Mycoplasma, but I’m eager to learn all I can in the event that illnesses occur. Your post is very helpful, and your commitment to rehoming battery hens is heartwarming.

  2. I agree with Ischeuer. I kept chickens for ten years from 1990 til 2000 and was lucky that they stayed healthy. The worst thing that they suffered was an outbreak of red spider mite, which I believe arrived in a new packet of sawdust that I bought for them. Within days the whole hen-house was crawling with red spider mite. I had to disinfect the hen-house and the hens and put in new bedding asap. They can become anaemic through this so it is something to watch for. Also I remember that some diseases of garden poultry, like Newcastle Disease should be reported to the Public Health Dept. Does that law still apply, I wonder? Chickens are healthier to keep than ducks so I’m told, but I’ve never kept ducks so I wouldn’t know.
    Love what you’re doing for the battery hens. Very noble indeed. :)

  3. Great post – what to look our for and the advice on how to avoid/treat against the issue. Our greatest threats are sadly the predators. Thought we’d secured our girls 99% until buzzards came calling ;-)

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