Does My Bird Have Worms?

On my Washington farm, I have hens and around two dozen pet birds (Bourke’s, parrotlets, button quails, Gouldian and zebra finches, sun conures, and an Amazon). What can I do to keep worms out of my flock? Can ivermectin and piperazine be used on parrots and finches? My veterinarians say I shouldn’t be worried about worms, but I am.

You are correct in being concerned about the risk of internal parasites. Pet birds have a serious danger of harboring them.

Because the traditional test used to identify internal worms in other species — fecal flotation — is unreliable in finding worm eggs in birds, this is an underserved field of avian medicine. In this test, feces is put in a vial with a specific solution, causing the majority of eggs to rise to the top. The eggs float up and accumulate on the slide once a slide is put on top of the vial. This slide is next inspected under a microscope to see whether there are any eggs present.

Other tests include specific liquids and a centrifuge to spin eggs or parasites to the bottom of a test tube, which is then examined under a microscope. Eggs may accumulate in the fecal material of dogs and cats that have one or two bowel movements each day. Because birds pass droppings significantly more often, there are proportionately less eggs identified per dropping; a fecal flotation test is likely to be negative even if a bird retains worms. To maximize the likelihood of identifying parasite eggs, collect droppings for one to three days before doing the fecal parasite investigation.

According to older research, the only birds at danger for worms are those that have access to the ground. This is not the case. Roundworms were found in birds that had spent their whole lives in suspended flying cages. When I performed a necropsy (animal autopsy) on one Amazon, I discovered that her intestines were infested with roundworms. Furthermore, larval roundworms were seen traveling through her tissues.

The Truth About Cats & Dogs

Unlike typical roundworms seen in dogs and cats, roundworms in birds have a direct life cycle, which means the eggs may directly infest other birds. Mammalian roundworms need an intermediate host, which means the mammal must consume a rodent, lizard, frog, bug, or other creature that contains the worm’s larval stage. When the host consumes the intermediate host, the larvae are freed and end up in the host’s intestines.

Some psittacines raised outside in suspended flying cages are exposed to wild bird droppings, and bird roundworm eggs may infect other birds. Afflicted wild birds may deposit droppings in bird cages, on their food, or in their water bowl (yet another reason to change birds to water bottles), and breeding birds may get infested if they consume any eggs.

I recently evaluated an aviary in Chicago where the breeding birds were all acquired from other aviculturists and kept in basement suspended flying cages. Vets had examined all of the birds and done fecal flotation tests. Some veterinarians may disagree, but it is my policy to regularly deworm all birds seen for the first time using a safe dewormer, which I did on these birds; it kills the rounds, which are then conveyed in bird droppings. The following morning, when inspecting the newspapers under the cages, the owner spotted a mound of spaghetti-looking worms beneath one of them, confirming once again the usefulness of fecal flotations for birds in general.

My practice is in Florida, which is known for its bugs and parasites. Many owners have called me the day following the first visit to report that their bird has passed some nasty-looking pinkish worms. If a bird does pass worms, it should be dewormed on a regular basis for the remainder of its life owing to the potential of encysted larvae in the tissues and the capacity of worms to reinfest themselves through eggs passed in the droppings. During the annual assessment of breeding pairs, I also deworm aviary birds.

Worms may infest poultry and ducks as well. They feed on the ground, increasing their chances of coming into touch with worm eggs, resulting in parasite infection. Set up a deworming regimen with an avicultural vet who is knowledgeable on parasitology. If you are unable to find such a veterinarian, request a consultation with an avian expert via the diagnostic lab that your veterinarian utilizes. Most big veterinary diagnostic laboratories provide this as a free service to the veterinarians that use the lab.

Professional Help

I do not advocate that any bird owner deworm their birds without first consulting with an expert avian veterinarian.

Contact your avian veterinarian if you are worried about worms. Special stains and tests may be performed in parasitology laboratories to boost the likelihood of discovering internal parasites in pooled samples gathered over multiple days. Worms may create blockage, compete for nutrition, and cause tissue damage, weight loss, and diarrhea, thus they should not be overlooked.

While worms may be underdiagnosed, they are present in birds. Consult your veterinarian about your bird’s risk and potential diagnostic and treatment options. Testing is accessible, and treatment is quite safe when administered by a trained expert.

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