Common External Parasites in Pet Birds

Applicable For:
  • Birds

Pet birds are susceptible to external parasites. Mites, lice and ticks are the most common external parasites found on birds. Generally, external parasites are not fatal; however, they can cause a bird serious irritation, are highly contagious and can cause disfigurement of the bird.

To help prevent external parasites:
- Keep the bird's cage clean
- Quarantine any new birds to ensure they are clean and parasite free, especially wild birds.
- Purchase all new birds from a reputable breeder.
- Keep pet birds clean by allowing them to bath or giving them a warm mist shower several times a week.
- Take all pet birds to their veterinarian for a basic check up once or twice a year.

Birds suffering from external parasites often have unhealthy feathers; they experience feather loss, skin inflammation and itchiness, and may chew their feathers excessively. External parasite infestations can cause anaemia in birds. External parasites are often identifiable by the naked eye. Most veterinarians will give the bird a complete physical and may have to do a microscopic analysis to confirm diagnosis. Treatment varies depending on the infestation, but usually consists of a medicated powder or spray for the bird. To help eliminate external parasites, owners should thoroughly clean and disinfect the bird's cage, dishes, toys and anything else it has had contact with.

Mites are blood-sucking insects. They are not usually fatal, but if a bird is badly infested with them over a long period they can die of blood loss. There are several different types of mites that prey on pet birds. Mites can be very difficult to detect, some stay continuously on the bird, while over leave the bird during the day and return at night. Birds being attacked by mites are often itchy, have damaged skin and/or feathers and may be weak and lethargic from blood loss.

Knemidocoptes: knemidocoptes are also called cere mites. They are a type of mite that seriously damages the bird’s skin and beak. They are most commonly found on budgies. They can be eradicated with proper medication. Birds with a knemidocoptes infestation for an extended period often end up with a deformed bill because of them. Knemidocoptes can pass from bird to bird, but do not attack humans or other animals.

Red Mites: Red mites are a threat to all types of birds. They feed on the bird’s skin and suck its blood, and can cause anaemia and excessive itching in the bird. While feeding on the bird, they often leave behind parasites that invade the bird’s blood. They are usually most active at night. They are commonly found on birds that have been kept in unsanitary conditions; to help prevent red mites, owners should clean their bird’s cage daily. Red mites can be treated by a veterinarian.

Feather Mites: Feather mites can cause a bird's feathers to become damaged or broken, and can cause the bird to pick at and pull out its own feathers. They are treatable by a veterinarian.

Scaly Face Mites: Scaly Face mites are also known as Knemidocoptic mange. It is most commonly found on budgies and canaries. These mites cause the bird to have crusty or scaly appearance on their legs and feet, and around their beak and eyelids. It can cause severe itching in the bird. Most veterinarians can easily diagnose the infestation by the appearance of the bird. The veterinarian will be able to prescribe an appropriate medication for the bird to treat the infestation; it usually takes 2-3 weeks to completely cure.

Lice are a common problem in wild birds, but are a rarity in domestic pet birds. Lice feed on the bird’s feather debris and skin scales. Birds that are heavily infested with lice may suffer from extreme itchiness and unhealthy looking feathers. Both lice and their eggs are visible to the naked egg and easy to diagnose. Lice are easily treated by a variety of products available in most pet stores. However, it is recommended that owners seek their veterinarian's advice on which product to use, as some products are not as safe as they are said to be. Most lice that affect birds are not a threat to humans; it is usually a different type of lice than what humans get.

Ticks are more often seen on wild birds than on pet birds. However, they can still be a problem so owners should always be on watch for them. Ticks are easily visible to the naked eye and should be removed the moment they are detected. Ticks are most often found around the bird's head. The majority of ticks do not pose a serious threat to birds; however, some do, there are some that can cause paralysis and some that can cause death. There are tick sprays and washes available to help with the removal of ticks.

Fleas are far more common in wild birds, than in domestic pet birds. Pet birds generally are only in risk of catching fleas if the come in contact with a wild bird. The fleas that are commonly found on dogs and cats are a different type than what affect birds; it is possible for dog and cat fleas to transfer to a bird, but this is extremely rare. Birds infested with fleas can suffer from severe itching and anaemia. There are some commercial sprays available to treat flea infestations on birds.