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External Parasites - lice and mites

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The advice given in this sticky is that of the authors and cannot be considered as professional advice. It is, however, drawn from the experience of a large number of forum members.


The administration of any veterinary medicine not indicated for the treatment of that condition in that particular species is illegal. If you wish to use such a medicine it will need to be prescribed by your veterinary surgeon.


This means that when you administer, or admit to having administered, a drug which is not licensed for poultry use in the UK, which you have not obtained on prescription through a UK vet, you are acting illegally and could be prosecuted.


Please bear this in mind when posting about medical matters in an open forum where your comments are available for everyone to read.



Lice / Mites / Fleas / Ticks / Bugs / Flies


External parasites are of great interest to poultry keepers as they can be a great nuisance to our hens and on occasions can cause serious illness and even death :!:

The chicken will slowly decline rather than falling ill suddenly. The main symptoms are weight loss or slow growth, reduced egg production, scratching and biting themselves, damaged feathers, listlessness and death.


The external parasites most encountered in the UK are lice and mites so I will for now restrict this sticky to them.




De-beaked birds are more susceptible to lice as they cannot preen efficiently.


Lice which affect birds chew their host rather than biting, they do not suck blood, they feed on dry skin scales and feathers. They cause irritation by the act of movement on the skin and the action of their mouth. They can cause the bird so much irritation that the birds will not sleep, eat or drink properly. They may injure themselves by scratching and pecking their own bodies. There are a number of avian lice which affect different parts of the bird’s body. They usually travel on to your birds from wild birds or from used equipment and crawl from bird to bird or by contact with infested feathers (especially during a moult). Some lice may carry other diseases.


The louse lives for several months going through its entire life cycle on the bird's body. The female louse lays her eggs ‘nits’ on the bird's feathers and sticks them there with ‘glue’. These hatch after between 4 to 7 days and the nymphs which hatch look like the adults but smaller and nearly transparent. They go through several moults and develop colour as they grow. When it is mature the louse mates on the bird and starts laying its nits.


Claret, edited to add: Link to excellent paper on poultry lice and mites




Inspect your birds at least one a month. Look for moving lice on feathers or skin and for white or greyish egg clusters at the base of the feathers. Hold your hen gently and part their feathers (like stroking a cat backwards) so that you can see right down to their skin, try to look at all areas of the body (if you hen will allow :lol:)




Adult Lice on chicken




Lice eggs on base of feathers


Treatment and Prevention


The treatment for Lice and Red Mite overlap to a great extent. For instance, Barrier red mite powder is effective against Lice as well as Red Mite. So it is fairly safe to assume you can use the same chemical treatment for both.


Malathion powders and pyrethroid sprays where approved for bird application are very effective.



Barrier Red Mite Powder and Concentrate is excellent for use in irradiating lice and mites from your hens or hen house. It contains only pure and natural ingredients which are entirely non-toxic and is suitable for use in organic farming systems. Red Mite Powder contains minute slow release granules that remain effective for up to six weeks - depending upon infestation and conditions.


Poultry Shield actually makes contact with the mite and their eggs. The reaction on contact is the break up of the wax coating causing dehydration and death of the mite. It at the same time penetrates the protective coating of the mite eggs producing a similar reaction. The kill time from contact of Poultry-Shield with the mite to eventual dehydration is approximately 48 hours.


Ivermectin NOTE: this product is not licensed for use on poultry.


Ivermectin discussion on the Pekin Bantams site:


My vet recommends Ivomec Eprinex, which doesn't seem to require a withdrawal period for eggs.


Well, I have managed to get hold of my chook vet (as mentioned in another thread) to continue our discussion about using Ivomec Eprinex to zap internal and external parasites in chooks.



NOTE: this product is not licensed for use on poultry, so I cannot recommend its use on chickens, but I thought that some of you might like to hear what he said.



This product can be used to spot on the back of a chooks neck to kill off any external parasites (lice, scaly leg worm etc) and also to treat for internal worms (like we do with Flubenvet). He recommended 2-3 drops on the back of the neck, on the skin (like with cat/dog flea drops). With a repeat after 3 days if the birds already have an infestation. And a preventative dose once a month, or less in the winter.


He says that he would recommend an egg withdrawal period of 7 days, but that this was totally up to me so long as I wasn't giving the eggs to anyone else (incidentally it has been used to treat worms in humans in Africa ).


This product differs from regular Ivomec, which is more expensive and is manufactured for vaccination rather than as a 'pour on'.


I shall be picking mine up tomorrow and will report back with the results.


My chooks are plagued with lice at the moment and catching and dusting all 7 of them every few days is a mammoth task



Frontline NOTE: this product is not licenced for use on poultry. The tests needed to be licensed for use on food producing animals have not been done. Tests to ensure its safety for use on poultry have also not been done.


It can be used but only when deemed necessary by a vet. The only legal route to the use of Frontline on poultry is by vet's prescription. The vet is then able to give any necessary after care.



I am going to have a chat to my vet about Frontline versus Ivormec Eprinex to see which is better. As fas as I see it, Ivomec will cover endo- and exo-parasites, whereas Frontline only does the exo-parasites, but I will confirm this when I've had a chance to speak to him about it.






Mites are one of the most common and important problems encountered by poultry keepers. There are a number of mites which are of interest to us including:


Red Fowl Mite

Northern Fowl Mite

Scaly Leg Mite, Scaly Skin Mite

Feather Mite, Quill Mite


Mites are not insects but are Arthropods, they have eight legs. They are very small about 1mm in length and some are even smaller. They live on blood tissue cells and feathers. Most mites spend a lot of time off the bird and are spread by contaminated equipment clothing and shoes and by infested birds including wild ones, they can also be carried by rodents. Most mites live in the bird’s night accommodation rather than on the bird themselves, some remain on the birds, some hide in feather parts, some burrow under the skin, or make their way deep within the body to live in the lungs, liver, or other organs.


Mite infestation causes irritation, low vitality, feather damage, increased appetite and low egg production, stow growth and if the infestation is severe, anaemia and death. Mites can transfer to humans, they may not bite but can cause dermatitis.



Red Mite


(Dermanyssus gallinae) is the most common mite found in this country and is more of a problem in the summer than the winter as it becomes inactive as the temperature drops. Red mites are grey until they suck the chicken’s blood and turn red. They live and lay their eggs in cracks and crevices in the chicken house and can survived for up to 6 months off the chickens which means housing can remain infested for a long time after hens are removed. They breed rapidly and an infestation can build up very quickly. The mites are active and feed at night, and are not usually found on the bird during the day except in a heavy infestation some may stay on the bird during the day and may even invade the roof of the bird’s mouth causing serious anaemia. The hen’s eggs may have small streaks of blood on them, and hens may be reluctant to go into their coop to roost. Red mite will also bite humans :shock:



Picture reproduced from Practical Poultry Magazine Sept 2006




Red mites are very small, about 1 mm. This is a magnified picture of an infestation in a wooden hen coop


Here are a few more pictures of red mite -








Pictures courtesy of Urban chick :D



Checks, Treatment and Prevention


Frequently inspect the nooks and crevices in your hen coop. In the Eglu there are not many hiding places. The ends of the roost bars and joints in the plastic units could provide harbours. The picture above will give you some idea of what to look for, if in doubt wipe any suspected deposit with white kitchen paper and you will see it smeared with red (consumed chicken blood).


Treatment of red mite is by cleaning the accommodation thoroughly (a pressure washer is brilliant for the Eglu). Danger areas can then be dusted with Red Mite Powder or Poultry Shield or other product containing Synthetic Pyrethoid, Pyrethroid, or Permethhrin and Piperonyl Butoxide. Repeat at weekly intervals until the mite has gone.


A heavy infestation may need a prescription from your vet.


Dusting with the above or a non chemical method of prevention such as Diatom is recommended at all times. A lot of omleteers add diatom to the hen’s dust bath too.


Here are some suppliers of red mite treatments:


Omlet Shop

Domestic Fowl Trust

Biolink Ltd

SPR centre



Northern Fowl Mite


The Northern Fowl Mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) is more aggressive than the Red Mite. They live on the bird itself continuously, and will feed around the clock. They may spread Fowl Pox and Newcastle Disease. You'll see very small red/brown mites, and discoloration of the feathers due to the eggs and waste of the mite. They and are small grey/black and can often be found near the vent with scabbed and cracked skin around the vent. In bad cases, scabby comb, face and wattles can be seen. Controlling this mite requires that the treatment be directed at the bird rather than the accommodation.


Checks, Treatment and Prevention


Inspect birds and accommodation frequently looking for mites crawling on the bird and in the nest, also look for darkened vent feathers and scabby skin around the birds vent. If found dust the birds and accommodation with Mite Powder. Repeating weekly until the infestation is gone.




Scaly Leg Mite


Scaley Leg Mite (Knemidocoptes mutans) is found on the scales of the legs and feet, you may see lifting of the scales, and separation from the skin of the leg underneath. The legs and feet may become swollen, tender and have a discharge or exudate forming under the scales and can give the bird trouble walking.





Checks, Treatment and Prevention


Scaley leg mite can be treated by a direct contact treatment with a substance which will suffocate the mite such as vegetable or mineral oils, but may need treatment by a vet. Claret was advised to spray the legs of her hens with Frontline spray then coat with vegetable oil (**Note that Frontline spray is not licenced for use on poultry in the UK) It is wise to treat the chicken coop with mite powder or spray repeating after one week.


DO NOT PULL OFF OR PICK THE SCALES. They will fall off and be replaced when the chicken moults.



The mites below are, thankfully, rare and are just given for your interest !



Scaly Skin Mite

Scaley Skin Mite (Epidermoptes bilobatus) is rare and causes Avian scabies. It burrows into the skin causing inflammation and itchiness. The skin thickens with brownish-yellow scabs which may become infected with a fungal infection. It is difficult to control and can cause death. Culling infested birds is usually required.


Feather Mite

Feather Mite (Knemidocoptes gallinae) are barely visible and burrow into the skin at the base of the feathers causing the chicken to scratch and pull its feathers out. They are more prevalent in warm weather. Control of this mite is difficult, and infested birds may need to be culled.


Quill Mite

Quill Mite (Syringophilus bipectinatus) inhabits a feather quill resulting in partial or total loss of the feather leaving a powdery deposit in the quill stump. Affected birds may need to be culled.


There are some mites which can even infest internal parts of birds. eek-1.gif

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