Of Mites And Men


One of the reasons why bird owners like their pets is because of their stunning plumage. It’s hardly surprising that many bird owners are concerned when their birds suffer feather issues. When the first symptoms of feather irregularities appear, the bird owner may seek treatment or a solution from a pet shop. There are several reasons of damaged or missing feathers, and many bird owners immediately think of mites or lice. Unfortunately, in most situations, an infestation of these little insects is not the issue.

Feather problems can be caused by a bird over-preening its feathers, by a bird chewing, mutilating, or pulling out feathers (on itself or a cage-mate), by improper perch placement in the cage (resulting in broken tail or wing feathers), by viral diseases (such as Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, PBFD, or polyomavirus), by bacterial skin infection, fungal skin infection (rarely), nutritional problems As you can see, feather difficulties may be caused by a variety of circumstances and can be rather difficult to address at times.

Owners of pet birds seem to have an unjustified dread of external parasites on their feathery buddies! When an owner comes in for help with feather issues, it is critical to ease their concerns about mites and lice. To begin with, mites and lice are rare in pet birds (with the exception of a type of mite that may be found in budgies). If a bird does have mites or lice, the insects usually only reside on the bird and do not bite people or other pets, and they are readily removed. (There are exceptions to this, but we’ll explore them later).

When you are requested to advise a bird owner on the risk of their pet having a parasite infestation with mites or lice, you must carefully check the bird’s skin and feathers. In addition to the bird’s checkup, the cage and habitat must be reviewed. Is the owner a smoker? Handling a bird after smoking may transmit tars and nicotine to the bird’s skin and feathers, causing issues. It is quite beneficial to have a source of magnification and light to assist you study the bird’s feathers and skin. Unless you see mites, lice, or nits on a bird’s skin or feathers, or the distinctive powdery lesions on the skin of infected budgies, it is preferable to advise the owner to send the bird to an avian veterinarian for assessment. Because many feather issues are caused by disease processes other than mites, you will be doing the bird owner a huge service by recommending a visit to their veterinarian.

If a bird does not have mites or lice, there is no need to take any additional precautions or offer any form of preventative product. Some mite repellents include mothball-like substances that are poisonous to birds and may cause liver cancer. However, if an external parasite issue is discovered, you should have a rudimentary grasp of these insects in order to appropriately assist your consumers.

Knemidokoptes pilae, the budgerigar scaly face mange mite, is the most often observed mite. It may be found on the cere (the fleshy area of skin above the beak where the nostrils are located), the skin surrounding the beak, the vent, and the legs. This mite burrows in the skin, creating a powdery appearance, and if you look carefully, you will see a honey-comb pattern of holes in the skin, depicting mite burrows and tunnels. These sores are seldom itchy. These mites have been identified on other psittacine bird species on rare occasions. Knemidokoptes mites may also produce lesions on the bottom surface of the foot of infected canaries and goldfinches, as well as on the leg scales. This is known as “tasselfoot” in these species.

Skin scrapings at a veterinarian clinic are frequently used to confirm the diagnosis, which is then inspected under a microscope. To suffocate the mites residing under the skin, older therapies included adding mineral oil or ointment to the sores. Ivermectin, either by injection, orally, or topically, is the preferred treatment. An avian veterinarian should provide this depending on the specific weight (in grams) of an afflicted bird, dosed carefully after calculating the exact quantity of treatment required. Treatment should be done every 7-10 days for at least 3-4 times. If the mites have distorted the beak, a vet may need to clip it as well. Although these mites are not commonly transmitted, it is preferable to treat all birds in a cage with an affected bird. The mites cannot survive on the bird and cannot create issues in people or other animals.

There is one mite that is difficult to see. The air sac mite of canaries and finches (particularly Lady Gouldian finches) lives in these birds’ respiratory tracts. By placing a tiny, brightly focused light over the windpipe, the mites may be seen (trachea). Inside the trachea, the mites will look like pepper grains (perhaps moving). Mites may also be discovered in the lungs and air sacs. A small number of mites may not create noticeable symptoms, but a major infestation may cause a bird to open-mouth breathe, tail-bob, or have difficulties breathing. The mites are assumed to be transmitted by the bird coughing them up into the mouth, or by the mites crawling into the mouth and being wiped off the beak by a bird while eating or rubbing the beak along perches, where they may be passed to another bird. Through feeding, a parent bird may spread mites to its children. If a mite or egg is eaten, the specimen may be examined under a microscope in a fecal test. Air sac mites are often identified after necropsy. An avian veterinarian may try treatment with carefully dosed invermectin. However, if a huge number of mites die all at once, the afflicted bird may have a deadly response. An older therapy included creating a light mist of 5% carbaryl and enabling the bird to swallow it temporarily. All birds in the same cage as a bird with air sac mites should be treated every 10 days for at least three doses. Infested bird cages should be carefully cleaned. If your business offers canaries and finches, you should set up a regular checkup and treatment program with your avian physician to keep these elusive pests under control.

Another form of mite is seen in pet and aviary birds. This is known as the red mite (Dermanyssus). This venomous mite attacks and sucks the blood of birds. Red mites may be found on any bird species. Recently, I discovered red mites in a Queen of Bavaria conure breeding aviary. They eat at night, which causes the bird to become restless and itching. At night, the mites might be spotted crawling around on the skin or feathers. If a bird is checked during the day, no mites are likely to be present. The simplest technique to diagnose them is to cover the cage with a white sheet at night. If the bird has red mites, a morning examination of the sheet will reveal small brown or red specks approximately the size of a grain of pepper. After a blood meal from the bird, the mites will crawl away in the morning into crevices in the cage or perches, nest boxes, or even other places of the house. These mites have infested a whole New York City apartment! Unfortunately, red mites aren’t picky about who or what they feed on when it comes to blood! They may bite and feed on human blood as well as domestic pet blood. Mites may enter furniture, carpets, and woodwork throughout the day to deposit their eggs. Clean-up necessitates the elimination of mites from the environment as well as the birds. Birds may be treated with ivermectin at 7-10 day intervals, or they can be treated with pyrethrin spray or 5% carbaryl powder. Because the mites suck blood, an avian veterinarian should be called, as the bird may become anemic as a result of the blood loss! Although it is rare, the mites might also spread other illnesses to birds.

In addition to mites, lice have been seen on bird feathers on occasion. Lice are not as hazardous to birds as mites, and they are host species specific. There are two types of lice: biting lice and sucking lice. Biting lice are widely seen in pet birds and are detected on the feather shafts of afflicted birds. They feed on scales or feather fragments, resulting in poor feather quality with severe infestation, yet feathers may seem normal if just a few lice are present. Because they are species-specific, finding lice on cockatiels should not generate concern that the lice may spread to other kinds of birds in the shop or at home. Lice are often elongated in form, while mites are more spherical. Feather lice are most often seen on birds adhering to the underside of feathers, along the vanes. They are difficult to move about on the bird. The lice or their eggs on the underside of the wing and tail feathers are used to make the diagnosis. These lice may be effectively treated with 5% carbaryl dust, pyrethrin spray, or ivermectin. To remove lice as they spawn on the feathers, many dosages 7-10 days apart may be required. They finish their life cycle on the bird and are not a threat to other animals. Cleaning and disinfecting the cage containing infected birds is an excellent idea. Young birds may be contaminated in the nest by their parents, or the lice may spread from bird to bird via intimate contact.

The stick-tight flea is another parasite bug that may be found in pet birds. While they are not mites or louse, you may observe a bird, dog, or cat with them. They appear as little brown, raised, glossy spots on a bird’s naked skin or on the tops of afflicted dogs or cats’ ears. These fleas are most usually found on poultry, and a pet bird must come into touch with infected chickens or their coops to get contaminated. Treatment options include pyrethrin spray or ivermectin.

You may market a variety of items to people who have mite or lice issues. The most effective and safest products will include a proportion of pesticide (pyrethrins or carbaryl) that is safe for birds while killing the parasites. Sprays and dusts are the most secure. Ointments should not be used on birds in general because if applied over feathers, they will hinder the bird from properly thermoregulating its body temperature. Lidocaine should not be included in any items intended for use on birds (a topical anesthetic that is toxic to birds even in very low doses). To aid the owner with their issue, products that are safe to destroy parasites in cages and cage equipment may be supplied. If you find mites or lice on a pet bird brought into your business, you will never go wrong advising that the client take the bird to an avian doctor for diagnosis of the precise kind of bug present, since it is now clear to you that various insect parasites need different treatments.

Don’t be alarmed if an afflicted bird enters your business with a client. If you handled the bird, wash your hands and arms well with hot, soapy antibacterial soap. To be on the safe side, if you held the bird against your body, you should change your shirt and wash it in a hot washing machine. The danger to store birds is minor unless the bird has had direct contact with them.

As a pet shop, you should undertake a thorough exterior inspection on every bird that comes into your store for sale. If you do this, you should detect many issues straight away, enabling you to remedy them before things go horribly wrong. If you find mites or lice, follow the store procedure or the instructions provided to you by the avian vet you employ. That way, you’ll have one less thing to bug you.

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