Symptoms and Treatments of Chicken Parasites: Lice, Mites, Worms, Scaly Legs, Coccidiosis

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Lice are extremely irritating for your chickens, and a severe infestation can also kill small chicks.

Lice are just big enough to be spotted with the naked eye as pale insects on the skin. When you examine your chicken’s feathers, you might spot them crawling around the base of the feathers, and you may see clusters of their eggs on the feather stems. Lice love somewhere soft and warm, so also check under the wings and around the vent area. Other symptoms include a dirty vent area, weight loss and reduced egg yield.

Lice should be treated using a specialist lice powder for chickens, and always apply it exactly as per the instructions. Apply the powder to EVERY bird in your flock, infected or not. Lice can survive for up to 5 days without a host bird to feed on, and can reproduce in just 3 weeks. What’s more their eggs are resistant to the powders, so repeat the lice powder treatment in 7-10 days to kill off the next louse generation before they can breed again.

You must also clean out all bedding and dispose of it well away from the chicken coop. Then, properly clean and disinfect the chicken coop including under the perches, before filling it with fresh bedding, and returning your birds.

Chickens naturally rid themselves of lice by taking a dust bath. If your chickens do not have access to natural soil, provide them with a box filled with dry soil or sand.

If your chickens do have a lice infestation, remember to replace the dust bath contents with fresh materials, and add a dash of lice powder just to be on the safe side.

Mites

Mites are parasites that feed on your chicken’s blood, and there are two main types. Northern fowl mite lives on your bird, while the troublesome red mite does not. Instead, red mites hide away in dark corners of the chicken coop, emerging at night to feed on your poor unsuspecting chickens. The level of irritation from a red mite infestation can cause broody hens to abandon their nests and pluck out their own feathers. Other symptoms include weight lose, lower egg yield and visible mites on the skin or around the vent.

Again, treatment is with a specialist red mite powder, applied to each chicken’s feathers right down to the roots.

And again, the only way to get rid of the mites is to give your chicken house the most thorough of cleans. Remove all bedding and thoroughly clean the inside of the house, getting into every corner and under every ledge or perch. Dust all areas with red mite powder, or disinfect every last millimeter of surface with a poultry-safe disinfectant spray. Let the chicken coop dry, and refill with fresh clean bedding before allowing your chickens to come home and roost.

Scaly Leg

Scaly leg is caused by a mite that burrows under the scales of your chicken’s legs. Symptoms include leg inflammation, swelling and lameness. If left untreated, the condition gets worse, as the scales get pushed away from the skin by the mites’ excretions.

If your chicken has scaly leg, you must isolate the affected bird(s) as scaly leg is extremely contagious. Most vets will advise regular, gentle washing of the legs to remove the surface layer, and then application of a suitable treatment to allow the leg to heal. Some chicken keepers dip the affected legs into surgical spirit twice a week to keep the legs clean and disinfected.

NEVER try to lift or remove any affected scales; this is very painful for your chicken and unnecessary, as the damaged scales are replaced during the chicken’s annual moult.

As with all mite infections, you must also clean out and disinfect your chicken coop. Check for any damp patches caused by a leaking roof or similar, and fix immediately; scale mites love damp conditions. Chickens with feathered feet are particularly prone to scaly leg, so remember to check their legs regularly.
Worms

Worms are endoparasites, which mean they live inside their host, so they are not possible to spot by eye. The usual external symptoms of worms are loss of appetite and weight, lower egg production, faded comb colour and liquid droppings.

Unfortunately these parasitic worms tend to live inside earthworms, one of your chicken’s favourite snacks. Once your chicken eats the earthworms, the parasitic worms attach themselves to the lining of your chicken’s oesophagus, crop and mouth, causing swelling that constrict the gut.

Young birds can also suffer from tetramer infestation, whose larvae lurk inside beetles and woodlice. The newly hatched female worms live in the chicken’s stomach, causing anamia and lack of condition.

All types of parasitic worms can be treated / prevented by regularly worming your flock. There is much debate about whether regular preventative worming is either necessary or desirable, so ask your vet for advice.

Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis tends to affect young chickens between 3 and 6 weeks of age, giving them bad diarrhoea and symptoms akin to sever depression. The single-cell parasite that causes the disease is spread by chicken poo, so is easily transported on any surface including clothing, shoes, buckets, etc. Proper cleanliness is vital to its prevention, so you should always rear young chicks separately from the main flock, and in a well ventilated, clean, dry coop or house.

Chicks build a natural immunity by the age of 16 weeks, so many breeders feed chicks a special chick crumb containing an anti-coccidial agent.

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