Parasites in Birds
Unlike dogs and cats, parasites are not commonly diagnosed in pet birds. When present, however, they can cause generalized debilitation for the birds. Some parasites cause specific clinical conditions.
What exactly is a parasite?
Parasites are most commonly microscopic organisms that live on or in another living organism, benefiting themselves but not the host organism. Internal parasites, which occur inside various organs of the body such as the stomach or intestines, include be "worms" (tapeworms and roundworms), protozoa and trichomonads. External parasites, infecting the skin or feathers, include mites, fleas and ticks.
Are certain species of birds prone to certain types of parasites?
Yes. For example, canaries often develop infections with tracheal mites, which cause respiratory problems. Cockatoos often develop blood parasite problems. Cockatiels often develop Giardia infections of the intestines that can cause severely itchy skin lesions. Budgerigars and canaries most commonly develop scaly leg and face disease caused by the Knemidokoptes pilae mite. Intestinal parasites like worms are more likely found in wild caught birds.
How are parasite infections diagnosed?
Sometimes diagnosis is easy, whereas at other times different diagnostic tests must be performed. With Knemidokoptic mange, your veterinarian can often make a diagnosis based on the results of a physical examination and a microscopic analysis of the skin lesions. Intestinal parasites are often seen when the feces are examined microscopically. Blood parasites are often seen during a routine blood count.
Are parasitic infections harmful?
"Overwhelming parasitic infections in young or small birds can be serious and even fatal."
While not usually fatal when diagnosed early, parasites can cause discomfort (as in the case of skin parasites) or malnutrition (as in the case of intestinal parasites). Overwhelming parasitic infections in young or small birds can be serious and even fatal. At the very least, parasites irritate birds and make them unthrifty and prone to secondary infections.
How are parasitic infections treated?
External parasites are often treated with specific antiparasitic medications. Additionally, the bird's environment including its cage, food and water bowls, and perches and toys should be thoroughly disinfected.
Internal parasites can be treated with a variety of oral or injectable medications. Due to the life cycles of most parasites, several treatments may be needed. Annual examinations and fecal tests can help determine if your bird is chronically infected with parasites.
My veterinarian recommends multiple fecal tests, yet they are always negative. Why are all these tests needed?
Keep in mind that a single negative fecal test may be meaningless, if the parasite is not producing eggs at the time of the test. Because some parasites shed eggs intermittently, and only adult stages are capable of reproducing, multiple fecal tests are often necessary to diagnose parasites. Fecal examinations are relatively inexpensive, so having one or two tests performed each year will not cost much and yet will help ensure your bird's health.
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