Complete chicken parasite guide
Backyard chicken keepers should be aware of the symptoms of Worms, Mites and Lice in chooks and apply the treatment as soon as possible to reduce the stress and physical damage they can do.
These are also known as chicken parasites and are divided into two categories, Internal and external. Internal parasites such as worms and coccidia are spread through excrement in the feed and water supply. This type of parasite can drain your hens of needful vitamins and minerals, leading to a variety of deficiencies and digestive problems. External parasites include mites, lice and fleas. Mites will feed on the chicken's blood, whereas lice will feed on skin follicles.
Prevention of Worms, Mites and Lice in Poultry
You will quickly learn that prevention of parasites is not only an easy road that treatment, but you will also be rewarded with happier hens! For external parasites such as lice and mites it is essential for you to keep a clean chicken coop and hen house with regular treatment for lice and mite.
To prevent external parasites such as mites and lice, it is also important to not only encourage your backyard chickens to have a dust bath but to make it a great one. We explain in this article "What is a Chicken Dust Bath" the hows and why of dust bathing - including what you can add to give your hens a layer of protection from mites and lice. Of most importance, we recommend adding Diatomaceous Earth to the dirt they love to fluff around in. This "spa treatment" will help stop the spread of infestations.
To naturally prevent internal parasites such as roundworms and gapeworms try to ensure that your birds cannot leave their droppings in their feed or water. You can do this by choosing a feeder and drinker that they cannot stand or scratch in. Other natural preventative measures include ensuring a clean hen house with dry bedding, keeping a relatively stress free environment, Apple Cider Vinegar added to drinking water, and Diatomaceous Earth added to feed.
Northern Fowl mite.
The Northern Fowl Mite is a common poultry parasite. This mite is tiny in size and not easy to spot at first sight. At its largest, its body is 1mm in length. They are found on a chicken's feathers and body, feeding on their blood, potentially up to 6% of a chicken's blood total. Mites are easily transferred from hen to hen and can be introduced to the coop by rodents, wildlife and birds.
Northern Fowl Mites love the cooler weather. Be aware of the symptoms and provide the necessary treatment for these parasite.
Signs & Symptoms:
- Typically, poultry with an infestation will have black debris clumped along their vent area. This will be a build up of dried scabs, mite eggs and dried blood.
- The Chicken will be trying to scratch at the affected sites. They will do this by brushing up against posts or chicken wire.
- Abnormal biting at feathers
- Chickens will appear stressed due to pain
It is equally important to not only treat the Northern Fowl Mites and also put in preventative measures. We recommend treating the birds with the Vetafarm Avian Insect Liquidator. To use, dilute the solution as recommended and spray directly onto the feathers, avoiding the beak and eyes. It is also important to spray the coop and nesting boxes. This spray treatment will provide up to 6 weeks of residual protection from mites and insects.
Chicken Red Mite
The Chicken Red Mite is also simply called chicken mites. As these mites measure as little as 0.6mm-1mm, these mites can be difficult to eradicate. In fact, it may even take a while to recognise an infestation. Typically, Red Mites live in the cracks and crevices of a chicken coop. At night time, they will come out of their hidey-places to feast on your backyard chicken's blood.
This creates a traumatic environment for your chickens. You may see their health deteriorate with an increased risk of anemia and odd behaviours as Red Mites terrorise your hens at night
Signs & Symptoms:
- Reduction in weight gain in young birds
- Reduced egg production
- Pale comb due to stress and or anaemia
- Chickens are reluctant to enter their hen house
- When checking the coop, you may notice clumps of red mites or of their excrement.
- Check your hen house after dark with a torch, keeping an eye out for tiny mites crawling along beams and walls
How to Control Red Mites
The most effective treatment for Chicken red mites is a three-pronged approach, treating the chickens, the hen house and the coop. This may take a few treatments to see total eradication.
Treat the coop, including all the crevices and nesting boxes using the same spray. Another treatment for both the bird and the hen house is a Poultry dust. This will also work by suffocating the mites.
Scaly Leg Mites
Scaly Leg Mites are a prevalent chicken parasite that lives beneath the scales of their feet and legs. These tiny mites cause a lot of discomfort to chickens as they eat the tissue under their skin, depositing crud in its place. The result is a lump, crust appearance on their feet and lower legs. Lesions will often be infected and irritated.
If left untreated, these mites can cause lameness, loss of toes and infections that may result in death.
It's important to note that Scaly Leg Mites can also affect wild birds, which may bring the mite into the chicken run. This contagious parasite loves damp grounds and moist conditions.
Signs & Symptoms:
- Crusty looking skin on feet and lower legs. May appear lumpy
- Thickened legs
Treatment. While it can be reasonably straightforward to rid your chicken of Scaly Leg Mites, the effects and deformities that they cause on their feet and legs are lasting. Therefore you must apply treatment and re-treatment as soon as possible.
To treat scaly leg mites naturally, we recommend using VetRx solution. The procedure is easy, simply soak the chicken feet in a warm bath of water for a few minutes then softy rub the skin with a gentle toothbrush to remove any excess scales. When you have finished, dry the feet and apply some VetRx remedy solution onto the feet, legs and comb if affected. Repeat this process every three days.
Remember to treat the hen house and coop using insecticide.
Read more: How to treat scaly leg mites naturally
Shaft Louse a nuisance problem for backyard chickens. Shaft Louse are an ectoparasite that lives and breeds on your hen, causing irritation and inflammation, resulting in significant discomfort.
Measuring between 1mm - 6mm in size, lice are relatively easy to spot if you are looking for them. You will notice they move quickly in and around the feather shafts.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Lice eggs will be found in clusters at the base of a feather; sometimes these will be easier to spot around their vent area
- Reduced egg production
- Scratching against posts or fencing
- Preening more than usual
Treatment of lice
Just like in humans, lice can be difficult to treat - often taking many rounds of treatment for success. This is due to their egg cycle, which can be resistant to treatment.
To rid your chickens of lice, you should use a poultry dust such as David Grays Poultry Dust. Spread the dust in between the feathers, ensuring you get the dust to the skin and shaft of their feather. As the lice hatch, you will need to do another round of treatment.
Roundworms - Internal Chicken Parasite
Roundworms are a fairly common parasite found in chickens and birds. Subspecies of roundworms include large roundworms and small roundworms. Large Roundworms are particularly harmful to backyard chickens causing intestinal blockages, malnutrition and even death.
- Weight loss
- Eating more often
- Worms in chicken poo. If you look closely, you may see teeny tiny white strands in the chicken poo
- Pale yolk colour
- Decreased egg production
To treat internal parasitic roundworms in chickens, we recommend Kilverm Poultry Wormer. This treatment is suitable for use in laying hens.
Natural remedies for Gapeworm include treating your chickens with Apple Cider Vinegar added to their drinking water and adding Diatomaceous Earth to the chicken feed. This type of remedy is best suited for a small number of parasites. If your hen has a significant infestation, they will require a medicated treatment.
Chicken Gapeworms are thin, red worms that reside in the Chickens trachea. This is particularly harmful as an infestation can quickly move to the lungs and obstruct breathing or stop the chicken from eating. We discuss Gapeworm at length in our article Respiratory Infection or Gapeworm?
Signs and Symptoms
- Chicken is gasping for air
- It looks like your hen is yawning
- Shaking their head, trying to dislodge the worms
Treatment of Gapeworms
If one bird is showing signs of gapeworm it is important to treat your whole chicken flock. We recommend treating your chickens for gapeworm with Avitrol Plus
Chicken Cecal worms are an internal parasite that locates themselves in the ceca. This common backyard chicken parasite is rarely a major issue chickens however problems can arise if the worms are carrying the Histomonas melegridis parasite, which is most harmful to Turkeys.
Treatment of cecal worms is relatively straightforward using Kilverm Poultry Wormer. This worming treatment is safe for use with laying hens.
Protozoa - Coccidia
Coccidia is a form of protozoan parasite. Coccidia lives and breed in the chicken's digestive tract, causing tissue damage and reducing the ability to absorb nutrients. Coccidiosis is the inflammation caused by coccidia, which can be fatal to young chicks and immune-suppressed chickens.
We discuss Coccidiosis in depth in our article: Microscopic Parasites called Coccidia causes coccidiosis in chickens.
Signs & Symptoms
If you see any of the following symptoms in your backyard chickens, you need to act fast.
- Bloody or watery stools
- Lack of appetite
- Droopy posture and lethargy
- Reduced egg production
- Pale combs and wattles
Treatment of coccidiosis
The majority of chickens that come into contact with Coccidia will have developed an immunity to this parasite. However, if you see the above digestion related symptoms it is important to seek early treatment so that your chickens should have a good prognosis.
Treatment involves quarantining the bird from the rest of the flock and administering Amprolium through the drinking water. We recommend using a medication drinker. This will allow you to observe how much water is being consumed and to control the amount of medication applied.
Above we have discussed the most common chicken parasites. By having a firm health baseline for your chicken flock, you will be able to quickly determine if they are unwell, and treat early if necessary. Next time you are feeding your chooks, take not of their overall vitality, the colour of their combs, how much feed they are consuming and how their stool looks.