Note: This article is divided into two series of Chicken parasites. The first part will focus on external chicken parasites and the other part will discuss series of internal parasites.
This is a long post so you might need to bookmark so you don’t get lost. I’d try to make the sentences as short as possible for easiest digestion.
Last month, we talked about how to keep your chickens safe from predators like hawks and owls but at times the worst form of predators are ones who are already living in your coop!
Chickens are often hosts to a wide range of parasites that can cause lots of problems from little irritation such as a decline in number of egg production, all the way through to, death (in extreme cases).
Performing chicken parasite identification on na weekly basis will help you detect issues early-on before more serious problems emerge. A health check can be as easy as checking their feathers and inspecting the legs and vent area on a weekly basis.
Prevention really is better than cure. Your birds will come to love weekly checks, especially if they get a treat after.
Today, we are going to discuss the most common chicken external parasites and internal parasites, how you can identify them and how you can cure your chickens yourself!
Chicken Parasites 101
Parasites are little creatures that live in or on chickens. They do not provide any benefits to your chicken and can be very harmful to the overall health of your chicken.
The most common external parasites that bother a chicken are: fleas, ticks, mites, lice, bedbugs, and flies.
All of the parasites mentioned above can cause the following unhealthy symptoms: weight loss, itching, anemia, missing/broken feathers, excessive preening, reduced egg laying, and, in deadly cases, death.
Mites are cousins to spiders, they have 8 legs and are very small, making them at times hard to spot.
There are 3 main types of mites common to North America. They include:
- Northern Fowl Mite.
- Scaly Leg Mite.
- Chicken (red) Mite.
Having one or all three types of mites can make a chicken life a living hell or miserable.
Northern Fowl Mite
Perhap the most greedy of ll three, this mite stays on the bird day and night, so its easier to spot and treat. You will often see the clumps of their debris at the bottom of the chuicken’s feathers.
The lifecycle is less than 1 week. Unlike most external parasites, infestations are generally worse in winter.
Solution: To treat the Northern mite infestation on your chickens, you need to dust all your chickens and their coop.
Ensure you use an approved poultry dust. Sevin 5% or if you prefer a more natural solution- wood ash does the trick too.
Hurry up and make your chickens a ‘spa’ dust bath? This will help to treat your chickens.
A homemade chicken dusting bath is an excellent way to stop the parasites.
Chicken (Red) Mite
Can red mites kill chickens? Absolutely
The red mite lives in crevices and cracks in the coop and is very hard to get rid of. It comes to feed on your chickens at night. The red mite has a ten day life cycle and are most active during spring, summer and fall.
They can remain dormant for up to five months during winter.
The fastest way to eradicate the red mite is to re-home your chickens and treat the coop. It’s near impossible to remove red mites whilst your chickens still live in the infested coop.
For 6 weeks, your chickens will have to stay in a new coop so that the old coop can be treated many times to kill the mites.
A Trombidium (a form of red mite)
Solution: You will need to treat the coup with an approved poultry dust such as Sevin each week.
Note: In an Extreme infestation, the only practical thing to do is to burn and remove the old coop.
Scaly Leg Mite
Can scaly mites kill chickens? Yes!
This is one of the many chicken parasites….
This tiny devil will burrow under the leg scales of the chicken and begin comsuming the skin, leaving traces of debris behind it. The scales on the legs will begin to lift up and become uncomfortable and painful for the bird.
If left unattended to, the chicken might go lame and eventually die.
This tiny critter burrows under the leg scales of the chicken and eats the skin, leaving piles of debris behind it. The scales on the legs will start to lift up and become painful and uncomfortable for the bird. If left untreated, it can lead to lameness and eventually death.
Good news for you, this mite is perhaps the easiest to eradicate.
Solution: First, begin by soaking the chicken’s leg in warm water to soften the scales. Do not pull off scales, but gently remove any loose skin.
Next step is to dry off their legs and apply olive oil (vegetable oil or similar) gently rubbing it in with a toothbrush – ensure it gets up and under the scales.
Last step is to wipe off the excess oil and cover the legs with Vaseline. The Vaseline needs to cover the scals – This will soften the encrustations and then allow contact with the mites to suffocate them (and their eggs).
This treatment should be applied repeatedly several times during the week until mites and their eggs have died.
The Depluming Mite
The Depluming mite on chickens is a relative of the scaly mite. It is a burrowing mite that burrows in the skin by the shaft of the feather.
The mites causes irritations to the skin of your hen or rooster and feeds off the juice that are released as a result of the irritation.
Because of this the chickens will pluck her own feathers out and will look a bit worse for tatty and wear.
It gets interesting….
Unlike other parasites, the depluming mite doesn’t always affect all of your chickens. You might just have one that will suffer this hellish fate.
This doesn’t mean it can’t affect your whole bird flock. The mite carries out its complete lifecycle on the bird over seventeen days. Instead of laying eggs like a lot of other parasites, the depluming mite gives birth to live young.
Signs and Symptoms of Depluming Mites
- Broken feathers
- Loss of feathers
- Plucking their own feathers out
- Weight loss
- Thick, crusty skin at the bottom of the feathers
- Reduction in egg production
How to treat depluming mites on chickens: The depluming mites is nasty and well known for being tricky to get rid of as it digs deep into the skin where the mite powders struggle to reach.
There are other methods and there had been argument amongst poultry keepers as to which is the best way to treat depluming mite.
One of such is using flowers of sulphur baths. You can purchase this at most pet stores and it will kill any parasite living on your chicken (including the depluming mite). This natural mineral is in no way harmful t your chickens, other pets or garden.
Another treatment some flock folks use is Ivermectin. Ivermectin is sometimes prescribed by vets however Ivermectin isn’t licensed for poultry, but if you do choose to use this you should contact your vet for advice on how to use it.
If you believe your chicken do have this mites, it might be best to get advice from your vet on how to get rid of depluming mite problem.
Mites, another one of the plenty chicken parasites is easier to fix at the early stages.
Chicken poultry bug otherwise known as bedbugs may not come to mind when we think of our hens, rooster, and chicks, but they can actually suffer from them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that an adult female bedbug will lay about 5 eggs each day throughout her life. She can live for up to 12 months – that’s a huge number of nasty baby bedbugs!
Solution: The most effective method on how to get rid of bed bugs in poultry is to keep the hen house clean and to dust it with approved dust from time to time.
Note: Remember to put on gloves alongside any other protection equipment you require when dusting.
This is another example of external chicken parasites
Do chickens get lice or fleas? Yes, they do
Do chickens help control fleas? Only if they eat them. However, in most cases, they are the victims/prey.
A lot of chicken fleas are brown in color, smallish, but large enough to be noticed amongst chicken feathers. The most pervasive infestations are usually witnessed during the hotter months, so extra caution and watch is needed during this period.
There are two similar types of chicken fleas: the European chick flea is the more popular one over areas in the US.
It’s cousin the Western chick flea (aka black hen flea), is majorly native to the Pacific Northwest and Canada. The Western flea prefers to live amongst chicken droppings rather than on the bird itself.
Solution: To treat either type of flea you need to dust all of your birds with approved poultry dust or diatomaceous earth (even if some of your birds do not show signs of infection – if one of your chicken has fleas, they all do).
When you dust them, pay more attention to under their wings, main tail and saddle feathers.
You will then need to remove nesting/bedding in their coop and clean and dust. Pay special attention to roosts, corners, and crevices.
In two weeks, you need to repeat the dusting and clean out the coop once more. After the 2nd clean, your coop should be clean and free from fleas.
Note: Currently, there exists an ongoing controversy over the use of diatomaceous earth. Some people say that it is not healthy for birds or the environment so use at your own risk.
The Sticktight flea deserves its own category because they require their own unique treatment. Once they infect a chicken, they are really hard to get red of. They come together around eyes, combs and wattles so they are kind of easy to spot.
Solution: The best way to remove them is with tweezers. Once you’ve pulled the fea out, coat the area with a layer of Vaseline.
The hen house bedding needs removing, and then cleaning thoroughly, with an approved ust of course. Repeat this step in another 14 days and make sure to pay special attention to crevices and corners, and roosts too.
They affect the outside and are thus called external chicken parasites
Note: Apply dust with a small toothbrush when dusting chickens’ heads. The respiratory system of a bird is sensitive to dust and problems can come to light if they intake too much dusk.
Flies and Mosquitoes
Can chickens get sick from mosquitoes? Yes, they can
Do chickens eat mosquitoes? In most cases, no.
Mosquitoes are always around in the air – in every country.
Mosquitoes, black flies, and biting gnats (punkies or midges) are extremely irritating to chickens and their human owners! They are generally found around areas of wetlands and stagnant water.
How to get rid of mosquitoes around chicken coop: To rid and treat them, make sure to drain any stagnant water sources nearby. If you still find your chickens infected use an approved pesticide like “Mosquito dunk”.
Note: Do not put Mosquito dunks in the chicken’s water! They might die!
If you do not want to use a pesticide, you can make use of a natural prevention such as garlic cloves or apple cider vinegar. Simply place this in the water and this in most cases is enough to deter these flies from resting there.
If you have a high population of mosquitoes you should probably vaccinate your birds against avian pox.
Also known as Blowflies, filth flies, do not bite but they can be really irritating and can transmit tapeworms to chickens.
If a hens’ vent area is majorly dirty and unkempt a fly may as well lay eggs in the matting. When the maggots hatch out, they will eat the flesh underneath and dig down – this is also known as flystrike (Myiasis). Depending on the severity of the infestation it can kill a chicken.
In most cases, treatment can be carried out at home, but in severe infestations you should contact a veterinary should be consulted.
Solution: Treatment involves bathing the area in warm water (standing the chicken in a bowl seems to work well). The infected area needs to be irrigated initially with hydrogen peroxide; this will encourage the maggots to leave the area.
After the first flushing, irrigate several times with warm saline. All maggots must be removed with tweezers.
Then you need to use a dryer to dry the area ( a blow dryer will work) and spray the area with Vetericyn wound spray.
As soon as you notice the infection this routine needs to be done twice a day. Then after the first two days, stop using hydrogen peroxide as it prevents skin regeneration. Continue the outlined routine until the infestation has cleared up.
Botfly and Screwflys
These two insects are real definition of parasites.
Their eggs are laid on the skin of the chicken and the larva will burrow down into their tissue. They remain there until they mature.
As soon as they mature, they leave the tissue and drop to the ground where they pupate and turn into a Botfly.
The Screwfly was once endemic to Mexico, the US and several South American countries; since 1982, it has been effectively eradicated from the US.
As with blowflies, frequent health checks, and cleanliness in the coop goes a long way to prevent your hens from getting infected.
Lice are one of the common chicken parasites.
Chickens can be infested with more than one kind of lice. The most common in the US being: head, louse, body louse, shaft louse and wing louse.
The easiest way chickens catch lice is through wild birds, from contaminated equipment or clothing, and adding birds to an existing flock without quarantine.
A female louse can produce between 50-300 eggs in her short three week lifespan, so you need to ensure to treat your chickens as soon as you notice any lice.
Solution: To treat your chickens you just need to use a poultry dust. Like Fleas, make sure you focus on the saddle feathers, wings, and main tail area.
In two weeks, repeat the dusting and then check again 14 days after. You must find after the second check that all that all the lice are completely gone – if they aren’t, dust them again and wait a further 14 days.
Note: Are you afraid of chicken lice on humans? Before you run around and jump screaming into the shower. You cannot get chicken lice, they can jump on you, even bite you, but they will never set up house on you!
If you love in the frigid North, you are unlikely to come across fowl tick! Blue bugs (Fowl ticks) primarily live in the warmer states – Arizona, California etc.
As with mites, birds will be reluctant to roost at night since the ticks will bite and in the worst case they can cause paralysis by secreting a neurotoxin into the chicken’s blood.
Treatment is almost like mites, dusting and removal of ticks with tweezers.
If after the treatment the bird displays signs of illness a veterinarian should be consulted.
One of the most devastating chicken parasites….
Like all things, opinions and treatment differs. I have explained simple remedies that are easily available to most bird folks. If at any point you are uncertain please make sure to contact your local vet.
I’m pretty sure that by now that you realize that cleanliness in your chickens, their coop and frequent checks is the best thing to keep many of these critters at bay.
Also, lots of these insects can be stopped from nest boxes and coops by the use of certain herbs, for example rosemary, lavender, and mint – they will also keep your coop smelling fresher and a little sweeter!
However one of the best ways to keep these parasites away from your chickens and their pen is to let your chickens take regular dust baths.
If they lack access to natural dust bath, you can make them one!
Enjoying this guide to chicken parasites article? Continue reading for more…
Chicken Dust Bath
One of the best things to make a chicken dust bath out of is a child’s paddling pool.
If you plan to place this outside at the mercy of the weather, you will need to make a few cuts with a box cutter or similar, on the bottom the entire length of the pool to release rainwater.
Make a mixture of peat moss and wood ash (about half and half) is what I like to recommend in your chicken spa. Filter the bigger chunks out and use the finer wood ash. Make sure you fill the paddling pool up to 2-3 inches from the top and there you have it.
My birds have always enjoyed this combination
Let Us Know Below What You Do To Keep The Critters (external chicken parasites)Away!
Internal Chicken Parasites : Types and Cures
Note: This is the second part of the series o chicken parasites. This part will focus on the internal parasites faced by chickens.
Above, we have talked about the harm (damages) that parasites can cause your chickens. We will not repeat this information but remember that prevention is always better than curing.
Let’s now turn our heads towards internal chicken parasites and examine how you can spot these parasites and more importantly, cure the parasitic creatures.
Worms in chicken poop is a sure way to know that your lovely birds are infected.
Worms are still the undisputed champions of internal parasite and sadly, there are different kinds of worms.
The good news is that clean housekeeping and care will make your girls worm free.
Free rangers are higher at the scale of catching a form of worm.
There are two ways by which a bird can become infected – Direct and indirect. Direct method is when the bird forages and eats the parasite’s eggs from infected pasture or poop. Indirectly is when the hen consumes another creature) e.g. slug, earthworm, or snail) which already has the parasite.
Chickens love to snack on worms (eathworms) but unfortunately we are not talking about this type of worms. Like any other animal, chickens too can suffer from parasitic worms, and will require frequent worming to prevent them from becoming infected.
It is easier and cheaper to prevent worms than to treat them.
There are 3 variety of parasitic worms that chickens can contract:
- Roundworms – There are many types of roundworms including hairworms, threadworms, and the large roundworm which is commonly found in poultry. Roundworms can be found in your chicken’s digestive tract. You may be able to notice these worms in your hen or roos droppings (depending on how serious the infestation is).
- Gapeworms – These worms have the habit of attaching themselves to the trachea of the chicken. A chicken with Gapeworms will “gape” which explains why your bird appears to be gasping for air and will stretch their neck and head up to the sky.
It is more general for these worms to be picked up via intermediate hosts such as snails, worms, and slugs.
- Tapeworms – Tapeworms in poultry attach themselves to the lining of the intestine. They are less common but can really weaken your chickens immune system.
The Lifecycle Of Worms
The life cycle of worms (regardless s=of type) shows that getting rid of these pesky beasties can prove to be ultimately difficult.
Direct ingestion means that they will consume the worm egg. Indirect ingestion means they will eat a worm or another bug that is the host of the worm egg.
The worms will then hatch and begin to live happily inside your chicken reproducing and laying eggs which will be passed out in your bird poop and the cycle begins again.
If your chickens are infected, it is way easier to eliminate the worms if you move your chicken to a new feeding area frequently. This means that your chicken won’t ingest on a continual basis the eggs which are in your chicken droppings.
How To Stop Chicken’s Getting Worms.
Prevention is the best remedy. But if that fails you, here are some measures to take to ensure you keep worms at bay:
The eggs of the parasite love wet, mucky areas that are warm, so ensure to keep your runs clean and mud free.
- Keep the bedding/litter inside your coop dry and fresh; ensure to clean up the poop on a regular basis. If you’ve encountered a bad weather and the litter gets damp- throw it away as soon as possible.
- Worm eggs are killed by UV lightrays from the sun, so keep the grass in the run short.
- At times, wild birds can spread the parasite to your flock – make sure to keep wild birds out of your coops/runs.
- Quarantine new birds and if the bird looks poorly to begin with – don’t take it home!
- Give your flock lots of room, overcrowding leads to different problems, not just parasites.
- Use crushed garlic gloves or apple cider vinegar in their water once a week – this will help provide their gut flora a good balance.
- You can prevent worms using a vast number of products. Omlet stock a range of herbal worming treatments such as Verm-Xthat can be administered to your chicken’s water or feed every month. Your second option for preventing worms is a to use a chemical called Flubenvet which can be administered every 3-6 months..
These preventative techniques can be used on any form of worm parasite. However, some worms require special treatment, so let’s take a look at the different types of worms which chickens can catch and how to treat them.
It can be difficult to tell if your chickens have worms which is why prevention and frequent worming is necessary and important.
A chicken with worms will go off lay, might have diarrhoea, will consume more feed, and in serious cases will lose weight. A serious infection can be life threatening. Chickens with Gapeworm will often stretch their neck gasping for air.
Commonly, Roundworms are the most known type of worms to infest a chicken.
So, if your chicken has roundworm, symptoms to watch out for include: watery poop, dull comb, loss of appetite, dehydration, wanting to be alone, dull eyes and wattles and a loss of balance.
On rare occasions in extreme cases, a worm will find it way to the hen’s oviduct and a worm will be found inside the egg- a nasty experience!
Note: As ugly and nauseating as it may look, it is really not a health threat to humans.
Younger chickens are more prone to worms and will struggle to add weight if they have them inside of them. This is why you need to be really careful and watchful with young hens, after around 4 months and above they develop resistance to the worms.
Treatment: There are various treatments that can be used to cure your birds of these parasites.
Wazine is perhaps the most commonly found drug and is approved for poultry use. It comes in a liquid form and is required to be mixed with your poultry water.
While your chickens are given Wazine, you cannot eat their eggs – this is referred to as a withdrawal period. The withdrawal period varies from product to product but it’s typically a week (7 days) to two weeks (14 days).
Worms are gradually building resistance to some of the worming medicine in circulation, so I advise you to use wormers sparingly and with caution
Some chicken owners worm their birds every 5 months whether their chickens have worms or not. I advise you only administer if you see a problem.
Capillary Worms lives in the crop, proventriculus and esophagus of the bird.
It’s attack symptoms are like the Roundworms: loss of weight, looking tatty, reduction in egg laying and food intake.
You can treat Capillary worms like Roundworms, you can use Wazine.
Tapeworms need an intermediate host (snail, earthworm etc.) to be able to get to your bird.
Although they don’t cause much problems, however they can make your bird lose weight and look thin, but they rarely cause chicken death.
Tapeworms require an intermediate host (earthworm, snail etc.) to be able to infect your bird.
Good coop hygiene and cleanliness is the best way to prevent your chickens from contracting Tapeworms.
This variety of worm is mainly found in warmer climate like the Southern states of the US.
Again like Tapeworms it requires an intermediate (i.e. cockroach) to spread. Symptoms include redness, scratching at the eye, drainage, swelling and a cloudy discoloration of the eye.
If left unattended to, it will finally lead to blindness.
Treatment: You can use VetRx to cure this.
VetRx comes in a canister which you can then spray over your chickens. After a couple of cycles of the spray the worms should be flushed out.
These evil looking worms live in the bird’s respiratory system.
If the infestation becomes very serious, the affected bird will gape its mouth to get air – this is known as “the gapes”.
Other signs include: hissing and head shaking while opening its mouth and stretching its neck and head shaking.
A severely infected bird can lose its life – early signs are lethargy, looking unkempt and a sudden reduction of weight.
Wazine can be administered if the worms are not severe.
On the other hand, if the infection is bad, you will need to consult your veterinarian. They will typically prescribe Fenbendazole – however be careful as overdosing your bed with this bird can kill a hen.
Remember: If you fear that your birds might have Grape worms, collect a fecal sample from different birds and take it to the vet for testing. The test is relatively cheap and quick.
Protozoa is a single celled organism – which in most cases are harmless. However there is a few that can let hell loose in your flock.
The most common and deadly of these protozoa diseases are coccidiosis.
Coccidiosis is mostly problematic in chicks and growing pullets and is often the prime suspect in the cause of death between the ages of three to six weeks.
Chicks who eat out with their mothers slowly build up immunity to the disease by being exposed to it. However chicks brought in from outside sources are more likely to suffer since they have no immunity to the Coccidia present in their new surroundings.
I recommend you keep new chicks isolated on clean litter with clean food dishes and water for at least two months.
If you plan to expose the chicks to your existing backyard birds, you might need to allow your local vet vaccinate them.
If you are raising chickens organically and do not want to use medications, keep your chicks away from the flock until they are at least 2-3 months old, then you can introduce them to your resistant flock.
Observe them carefully during this period and id they show signs of bloody diarrhea, lethargy, looking tatty – isolate them and treat immediately.
I cannot even begin to talk about the havoc coccidiosis can cause in a henhouse.
As explained earlier, prevention is better than cure. So, probiotic added to water, a clean henhouse and consistent health checks can all help to avoid this deadly disease.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection which is caused by Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii).
This is one of the few parasites in existence that can affect both chickens and humans. In fact, an estimate of 1/3 of people will be infected by Toxoplasma gondii during their lifetime.
It is spread by cockroaches, rodents, and flies and is found in the poop of infected animals.
Although harmless, you can prevent Toxoplasmosis from affecting you and care should be taken to always wash you’re your hands after handling or spending time with your birds and make sure to use gloves when you clean out the coop.
Giardiasis is a really rare parasite and it is often not problematic unless it overruns the immune system.
Your chicken can contact this internal parasite by pecking at infected poop (cat, dog, etc.) and symptoms include dehydration, weight loss, and diarrhea).
If you suspect your chickens have the Giardiasis infections, check out your local vet and they will prescribe your chickens antibiotics.
Note: Humans can also catch Giardia, so good hygiene practices and sanitation will help to prevent transmission.
Cleanliness Is Key
Ensure your chickens are well kept and free from parasites isn’t easy but as far as you keep your coop clean and regular health checks then you are on the right track.
This completes our look at internal chicken parasites.
If you would like to catch up on the first part, then you can catch up here.
It would be nice to know that most backyard chickens do not suffer from the more uncommon parasites. As always – good housekeeping practices and sanitation will help to limit the exposure of your flock,
Any and all sick birds must be isolated and watched carefully. Take notes of the behavior the bird exhibit, what symptoms has it displayed? Watery poop? What color? Drinking? Eating? As gross or unappetizing as this may sound, it will help you to narrow down the likely suspect disease and will help you cure it ASAP.
Now that you know all the complete list of chicken parasites. Let us know below if you’re going to start keeping a health diary for your chickens!