A Guide to Poultry Parasites
By Alexis Griffee, Florida
When we think of poultry, the first thing to come to mind is generally not parasites. However small, parasites can have a big impact on the health of your flock and the success of your poultry program. Chickens deal with a wide variety of parasites, both internally and externally. Just as there are numerous parasites, there are almost as many different options to treat or manage your flock to keep them safe and healthy. The key to any successful flock is a proper parasite management plan to protect your birds from both internal and external parasites.
Natural remedies for poultry parasites are a highly debated topic among poultry owners. While some swear by the efficiency of their natural preventative and cures, others disregard their claims. Most natural remedies work off of various feed additives. Common natural remedies for parasites are garlic, pumpkin seeds, kelp and apple cider vinegar.
Unlike most chemical wormers, most natural additives and products lack testing and verification of efficiency. Due to this, it is critical for you to take in a stool sample from your birds to be tested by a veterinarian. This will show you if your natural deworming protocol is effective in your area.
When it comes to choosing a deworming product for your flock, there is a lot of confusion. Any time you use a chemical wormer, be sure to follow the recommended guidelines for retreatment. When treating for certain parasites, this is vital to properly managing the problem. This will ensure that you are able to treat the parasites at various stages in their lifecycle. Also, when using a chemical dewormer, take note of any egg or meat withdrawal times. These suggested times have been put in place to ensure that no chemical residue is consumed.
To confuse the issue further, not all deworming products will eliminate all species of worms. Due to this, it is recommended that you take a stool sample to your veterinarian for testing. This will tell you exactly what type of parasite you are dealing with so that you can treat it effectively.
If you are on a deworming protocol, be in natural or chemical, and you start noticing unthrifty animals or experience loses, you need to contact your veterinarian. Often times, uncontrolled or improperly managed parasite problems are confused for other diseases since they share certain symptoms. In the event of a loss of birds, a necropsy can be performed to check for parasite damage. If a parasite problem is discovered, then your deworming plan can be amended as needed to address the issue.
Tapeworms (cestodes) are a very unique parasite and are one of the most difficult to manage once it has been detected. A tapeworm is a long flat worm that is made up of many segments. A tapeworm will shed these small segments, sometimes two to three a day. Each of these segments contains hundreds of eggs. Although, like many other worms, tapeworms are often species specific. However, the tapeworm relies on an intermediate host to complete its lifecycle and infect other birds. The role of the intermediate host is essentially to act as an incubator for the parasite. When the intermediate host is then eaten, the tapeworm can then infect the host species. Common intermediate hosts of the tapeworm include snails, earthworms, termites, beetles and flies. If you free range your birds, they are at an increased risk of ingesting an intermediate host. However, since a fly is a common intermediate host, it is vital to keep your poultry areas clean to reduce the fly population around your coops. By doing this, you will cut down on possible infection factors. Currently, there are no approved medications to use to treat, or prevent tapeworm infections.
Due to their lifecycle, a tapeworm infection is hard to diagnose using a standard fecal test and microscope. Instead, most tapeworm infections are diagnosed by the flock owner when they notice the tapeworm segments shed in their poultries waste. The segments off tapeworm will appear like small rice grains in your bird’s stool.
Roundworms can create a massive problem for your flock. Like most worms, there are several species of roundworms. Large roundworms can be especially devastating. Large roundworms wreak havoc on your poultry’s digestive tract. If left untreated, large roundworms will damage the bird’s intestines so that they are unable to absorb nutrients. Also, a large infestation can cause intestinal blockage and ultimately, death. If you have an infected flock in need of treatment, use a dewormer with the active ingredient piperazine.
Small roundworms can infect poultry like chickens and ducks; however, the more commonly affect turkey. Some species of small roundworms can also infect the intestines. However, a large majority of these species can affect the esophagus and crop of infected birds. Signs of infestations of both small and large roundworms are characterized by lethargy, decreased egg production, low fertility rates, and poor growth rates in younger birds. Small roundworms cannot be treated with the same medications as large roundworms. When it comes to controlling an infestation of small roundworms, the dewormer will need to contain levamisole.
Like tapeworms, both large and small roundworm species can also be transmitted via intermediate hosts. Common intermediate hosts for roundworms are earthworms, beetles and grasshoppers. If your flock is managed on a free-range principle, you will need to closely monitor for roundworms infestations due to this. However, even if your flock is kept in a coop, you will need to ensure the cleanliness of the coop to help minimize contact with intermediate hosts.
Although a protozoan and not a “worm,” coccidia is a parasite that can have devastating consequences for your flock. Like many other parasites, coccidia in poultry is species specific. There is a total of nine different species of coccidia that infect chickens alone! Coccidia is found in the digestive tracts of their host. From here, these protozoans will damage the intestinal lining of the birds. Due to this type of damage, infected birds will not be able to properly break down their food or absorb nutrients. Coccidiosis (the term for the infection caused by coccidia protozoans) is characterized by telltale diarrhea, which can contain blood or in severe cases be yellow and foamy.
Although coccidian is present in almost all poultry, once coccidiosis has been detected at this point, it is often very hard to manage it. Even if you do save the infected birds, chances are that they will remain unthrifty due to the damage in their digestive tract. Due to this, proper management strategies are key to dealing with this parasite. Many producers have opted to use a coccidian vaccine that is given at hatching. Even with this vaccine, it is important to use medicated poultry starter feed. When you introduce your young birds to your flock or coop, it is vital to introduce them to a clean area that is using an appropriate management program.
The most common chemical treatment of coccidiosis is Corid 9.6 percent liquid solution. This product is simply added to the water for a period of five days. Although not as common as Corid, another solution for coccidiosis is Sulfadimethoxine. Sulfadimethoxine, like Corid, is also added to your poultry’s water source. Due to how damaging and common coccidiosis can be for a flock, many producers use these treatments preemptively on a schedule, as a part of their management program.
Scaly leg mites, Knemidokoptes mutans, are a small grey mite the feed on the tissue under the scales of the bird’s leg. An infestation of leg mites is characterized by swollen, crusty and thick legs. Often times, the bird’s legs will be painful and they will avoid excessive walking. Even though scaly leg mites are external parasites, treatment for them is recommended to employ both internal and external methods. Internally, a dosage of Ivermectin is recommended. For external applications, it is recommended to place a thick coating of petroleum jelly on the legs and toes of the birds. This will suffocate the mites that are currently on the legs. In minor infestations, once the mites are successfully eliminated, their legs will return to normal and lose the swelling. However, in the most severe cases, these mites may cause permanent damage to the bird’s legs. Since scaly leg mites can spread easily to other poultry, it is recommended to separate an infected bird from the flock until treatment has been completed. Additionally, infected birds should not be shown, sold or taken around other, healthy flocks.
There are two categories of poultry lice, biting and blood sucking. Within these two categories are several different species of poultry louse. Despite being a louse, poultry lice are species specific and fall into the biting lice category. One of the most common lice species to affect poultry is the Chicken Body Louse (Menacanthus stramineus) Unlike some parasites, poultry lice will complete their entire life cycle on poultry and do not require intermediate hosts. Poultry lice feed on the dead skin cells, scabs and any blood that is on the bird’s skin surface. Signs of a lice infestation are lethargy, constant preening and scratching, and decreased food consumption and egg production. Although they may get on your temporarily while handling infected birds, poultry lice is unable to live and reproduce on humans.
Poultry lice have approximately a three-week life cycle. Due to this, retreatment is recommended at approximately three weeks to ensure that the lice’s life cycle is broken effectively. Retreatment is necessary regardless whether you use natural or chemical methods for control. During this time, proper cleaning practices are vital to prevent reinfestations.
Northern Fowl Mites
Do not let the name fool you. Although these mites do prefer cooler weather, the southern and western states are not safe from these parasites. Northern Fowl Mites are small black or dark brown mites that are commonly found around the chicken’s vent area. Unlike poultry lice, Northern Fowl Mites are blood feeders. Due to this, a severe infestation of mites can cause life threatening anemia in poultry. Although these mites are not able to live permanently on a human host, they will bite a human if they find themselves in contact with one. Due to this, Northern Fowl Mites are often confused with poultry lice. Although different, both poultry lice and Northern Fowl Mites can be treated with the same medications. The recommended course of treatment for an infestation of either of these is handled both internally and externally. Often times, Ivermectin is recommended to attack the problem from the inside. However, the application of a topical medication is also suggested.
There are several natural methods that are commonly utilized for controlling these external parasites as well. The most common method is to dust the birds in food grade diatomaceous earth. Other methods include using natural chrysanthemum-based sprays on your poultry. Recently, some organic poultry producers have reported success in treating mites with a 10 percent garlic solution in water that is simply sprayed around the bird’s vent area.
Regardless of whether you are an advocate of natural or chemical parasite prevention and control methods, the main goal has to be the health and wellbeing of your flock. If your method, chemical or natural, is not working, then as a responsible owner, we have the responsibility to choose another product to ensure the health of our animals. Although some infestations are simply not preventable, there are some steps that you can take to ensure that you provide the healthiest environment for your flock. Just like any other animal, cleanliness is vital to your chicken’s health and also for preventing some types of parasites. Knowledge and management of parasites is vital to the health of any flock. Whether you choose to manage parasites naturally or chemically, the important thing is that your flock is well cared for and that you have a sound parasite protocol in place.