What are Depluming Scabies?

Because of the irritation that the depluming mite causes, your bird will often pluck at her own feathers, even ripping them out to get to the cause of the itching (the mite). Thus, your bird can end up looking a bit tatty, with stripped areas of feathers on show. The depluming scabies or mite doesn’t always affect all your birds, it can just affect one. It lives its whole life on your bird, which   lasts just over 17 days on average, and they give birth to live young, rather than lay eggs like most other varieties of scabies do.

The depluming mite (scabies) burrows into the skin around the where the shaft of the feather grows. They can be really irritating to your bird.

Book First Walk Free!

Symptoms of Depluming Scabies in Birds

  • Your bird will start plucking her own feathers out causing balding patches or tattered feathers 
  • Obvious irritation to your bird as the mite irritation causes damage to the skin and fluids to ooze out 
  • It looks like your bird is molting but may be the wrong time of the year 
  • Damaged feathers from constant preening and self-plucking 
  • At the base of the feather, you will notice scaly crusty skin 
  • Your chicken may drop off her egg production 
  • Stumps of broken feathers left in the skin 
  • Weight loss and unkempt condition 

Types  

  • Depluming mites usually attack chickens, pheasants and geese; the mites burrow into the skin at the base of the feathers, causing intense irritation
  • Red mites – Usually attack chickens and turkeys; they are black in color but turn red after feeding (they are blood suckers) 
  • Scaly leg mites – These are tiny and invisible to the naked eye, burrowing into the skin on the legs and feet producing unusual flaky growths on these areas
  • Northern fowl mite – A blood sucking variety affecting game birds, turkey and chickens (they infest areas around the bird’s vents, under the wings, and high on their legs)

Causes of Depluming Scabies in Birds

  • Although not usually life threatening to your bird, they may cause intense irritation and put any chickens off laying their eggs 
  • The life cycle of the depluming mite is approximately 17 days but they have live young so allow for that when treating 
  • A new bird introduced into your flock may be infested with depluming mites and pass them on 
  • Wild birds that mix with your birds can pass on the mites from one breed to another 
  • Birds can only get depluming mites from direct contact with other infected birds

Diagnosis of Depluming Scabies in Birds

If you notice your birds plucking their feathers out or notice that the flock is suddenly looking pretty tatty and unkempt with broken feather shafts and some balding patches, you can be sure that the depluming mite is responsible. When checking your bird, look at the base of the feathers and you will notice skin irritations and infestation. The mite is tiny and burrows deep into the skin so you may not actually see the mite.

If you don’t see the mite, the veterinarian can take a scraping of the area for a positive identification. As well as confirming the condition, the veterinarian can advise of treatment options for both your bird and its environment. Because of the damage the mite causes, secondary conditions are bacterial skin infections and cannibalism. A bird that is looking below par can become a target for other birds so if it is just the one, it will need to be kept under observation and moved to a separate area if this behavior begins.

Treatment of Depluming Scabies in Birds

One method for your bird is to use flowers of sulphur baths. This natural product can be bought at most pet stores and is effective against the depluming mite. Another effective treatment is ivermectin. Your veterinarian may prescribe its use but be aware that this product is not licensed for poultry. Your veterinarian will instruct you on the correct use and dose amount of this treatment. It is advisable not to eat any eggs from poultry treated with ivermectin, and apply the appropriate egg withdrawal period for health purposes. While you will be hard pressed to find an insecticide especially solely for the depluming mite, if you use the permethrin spray and dust (or bird bath) that is used to treat northern fowl mites you may find it helps. 

Other suggested treatments include malathion or sevin dust. Records show one owner had great success from bathing his chicken in a shampoo solution he got from the veterinarian. It is a medicated shampoo for dogs, cats and horses called Sebozole (active ingredients of Miconazole Nitrate 2% Chlorosylenol 1%). The measurement of a teaspoon was added in the bath water, stirred well, applied to his chicken and soaked for 15 minutes, wetting the head and all. Then the chicken was rinsed quickly (leaving most of the solution on them) and carefully blown dry after a towel dry. Apparently, it rids the mites, soothes the chickens skin, and the chicken’s feathers soon regrow.

Recovery of Depluming Scabies in Birds

Once treated, your birds will return to their former glory very quickly. But management requires more than just one treatment of the infected bird. It needs to be repeated after approximately eight days to break the cycle of this pest. You should probably treat all birds; just in case the pest has travelled to infect your other birds. You will also need to treat the bedding and boxes of your birds and ensure that their environment is kept clear of the depluming scabies. Certain times of the year are particularly bad for mites, usually in the warmer months of spring and summer. If you can keep that in mind and be prepared in advance, you will provide your birds with a pest free summer.