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How to Treat Internal and External Parasites in Chickens


Your Chickens and Parasites: How To Treat Internal and External Parasites

Parasites are a constant threat to your flock. An infestation of external or internal parasites can be much more than just a nuisance, some can be life-threatening. Recognizing symptoms and understanding effective treatment plans is essential to maintaining a healthy flock.

External Parasites

External parasites, including lice and mites, attack poultry by either sucking blood or feeding on the skin or feathers. Flocks infested with lice or mites can show similar symptoms: decreased egg production, reduced appetite and weight loss. Because early detection can prevent a flock outbreak, regularly check your flock for external parasites.

Poultry lice are tiny, wingless parasites with broad heads. Lice spend their entire life cycle on the chicken, but do not suck blood. Instead, they eat feathers and dry skin usually found below the vent. Lice can be controlled with: nicotine sulphate, malathion 4-7% dusts, or stirfos.

Mites are spider-like creatures that are so small they are hard to detect. They typically survive on a chicken's blood, tissue cells, or feathers. Mites do not need to live on chickens to survive; some types live in the chicken coop and only crawl on the bird to feed. Common poultry mites include: Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, and Scaly Leg Mites.

The Northern Fowl Mite is the most common external poultry parasite and can be very hard to eliminate. It lives on the bird at all times and sucks blood from the chicken to survive. These mites can live up to three weeks and are commonly spread through bird-to-bird contact. Treatment includes: nicotine sulphate, malathion, stirfos and carbaryl.

Red Mites live on birds during night and feed on their blood. Found throughout the chicken coop in tiny crevices or in nesting boxes, these mites can live up to one year without feeding on hens. These parasites can carry fowl cholera, fowl pox or New Castle disease. Treatment includes: painting walls, roosts and other cracks with carbolineum, other anthracene oil or malathion.

As the name indicates, Scaly Leg Mites live under the scales of chickens' legs. These mites will leave white encrustations between the scales, but, if left undetected, thick scales will build up on the legs. This parasite spreads slowly throughout the flock. Treatment includes dipping the infected birds' legs in hot water and then in a petroleum based oil.

Prevention and early detection can control external parasites within your poultry flock. Clean and disinfect the chicken coop regularly along with any nesting boxes. Reduce foot traffic in the chicken coop and avoid contact with wild birds. When new poultry arrive, a quarantine of at least two weeks will allow time to carefully examine and treat the birds if necessary.

Internal Parasites

Internal parasites can be common in backyard flocks. Common internal parasites include roundworms and tapeworms.

Roundworm is picked up from the ground as chickens scratch around eating bugs - beetles, snails, slugs, grasshoppers, ants, and earthworms - that are contaminated. The adult worm lives in the intestine where it lays eggs which are excreted in the birds’ droppings and transmitted throughout the flock as the chickens scratch for food. Birds suffering from roundworm infections are usually thin with poor feather quality and often suffer from diarrhea.

Tapeworms are flat, ribbon-like worms comprised of numerous sections. Tapeworm larvae can be carried by intermediate hosts such as slugs, termites, and snails. When chickens eat these infected bugs, they pick up the parasite which attaches itself to the wall of the intestine. Segments of the worm will break off and pass through the chicken in its droppings where it can spread to other birds in the flock.

If you suspect roundworms or tapeworms, contact your avian veterinarian. Identifying what parasite is present in your birds will get your chickens started on the right treatment. If one or two birds are symptomatic of infection, the whole flock should be treated. Treatment for internal parasites may include: piperazine, phenothiazine, or dibutyltin dilaurate. Good litter management can break the worms' life cycle. Other control measures include avoiding overcrowding in the chicken coop and prevention of contact with wild birds.

Sanitation is the key to preventing infestation of both internal and external parasites within your flock. For the tools you need to care for your backyard flock, trust the experts at Southern States.

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