What is Knemidokoptes Mange?

The parasites burrow into the bird’s unfeathered areas such as legs, claws, beak, eyelids and vent. Knemidokoptes feed on keratin, a fibrous structural protein found in the skin of birds. The bird’s beak is made up an internal skeleton and keratinized skin.

Untreated knemidokoptes mange may cause severe lameness and can even lead to the bird’s beak falling off.  The loss of the beak will cause the bird to die from starvation and/or blood loss.

Knemidokoptes are burrowing parasitic mites, which can cause a great deal of damage to birds.  These parasites burrow into the unfeathered skin of birds, causing painful deformities that can become debilitating. Knemidokoptes is also known as knemidocoptes and cnemidocoptes, slightly different spellings. Knemidokoptes mange is also referred to as cere mites and scaly face.

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Symptoms of Knemidokoptes Mange in Birds

Symptoms may include:

  • Gray or white scales and crusts on the bird’s beak and cere (the skin above the beak).  The scales have the appearance of a honeycomb
  • Crusted lesions and growths on the legs, commonly called “tassel foot”
  • Crusty growths on the eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive preening
  • Skin irritation
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Swollen legs
  • Lameness
  • Inability to perch
  • Bird is irritable, behavior changes (biting, depression)
  • Claws become overgrown and cracked
  • Secondary bacterial infection and arthritis (inflammation of the joints)

Types

The three most common avian knemidokoptes parasites are:

  • Knemidokoptes pilae – These parasites infect psittacines and are most commonly found in budgerigars but also found in parakeets, cockatiels and parrots
  • Knemidokoptes mutans – Found in fowls, chickens, turkeys, and pheasants
  • Knemidokoptes jamaicensis – Found in passerines; canaries, finches, mynahs, crows, blackbirds and crows

Causes of Knemidokoptes Mange in Birds

Causes of Knemidokoptes Mange may include:

  • The parasite is transmitted by direct or close contact with an infected bird.
  • Rubbing, or perching on contaminated objects (bowls, toys, cage, stands)
  • Genetic predisposition

Diagnosis of Knemidokoptes Mange in Birds

You may be asked to fill a patient history form prior to meeting with the avian veterinarian. The questionnaire may include questions regarding your pet’s past medical conditions, housing, environment, routines and diet.

The veterinarian may ask you if your bird has been recently boarded and/or around other birds.  Highly stressed patients may need to have a mild sedative administered before the doctor performs the physical examination. 

The veterinarian will check the bird’s eyes, nares (nostrils), ears and beak.  He may bend and rotate the patient’s limbs to assess if the bird shows signs of pain or arthritis. He will evaluate the patient’s overall condition.  He may take a skin scrape for microscopic analysis.  A complete blood count (CBC) may be recommended.  The CBC can help determine if the bird is anemic, has mineral deficiencies and if there is a bacterial infection.  Birds with growths (tassel foot) may also need x-rays, to check on the condition of the bones and joints.

Treatment of Knemidokoptes Mange in Birds

Birds with knemidokoptes mange are usually treated with ivermectin.  Ivermectin can be administered orally, topically or injected.  It may require several treatment doses to get rid of the mites.  Ivermectin is a strong medication; it is important to follow the veterinarian’s instructions. The veterinarian may also prescribe moxidectin, to be used topically. Bacterial infections and open lesions will be treated with antibiotic orally or topically. 

Knemidokoptes is highly contagious, so if your bird shares his cage with other birds, they too should be treated.  Please do not try to treat knemidokoptes with pet store mite sprays, which are ineffective in treating knemidokoptes mange.  In addition, do not use cage protector products that are hung inside a bird’s cage. They contain an insecticide that can be toxic to birds.

The scales should not be pulled off before they are ready to come off, it will cause the wound to bleed. The veterinarian may recommend an antibiotic emollient cream to help soften and hydrate the patient’s skin. Applying a brewed, cooled down, chamomile teabag to the area may also help to loosen the crust. Birds that had knemidokoptes mange on their beak may need to have regular corrective beak trims.

The bird’s cage, bowls, stands and toys must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.  The area around the bird’s housing should be wiped down and the flooring should also be cleaned and disinfected.

Recovery of Knemidokoptes Mange in Birds

Birds that were diagnosed and treated in the early stages of knemidokoptes mange have a good recovery prognosis.

The patient will need to have follow-up visits to monitor his progress and to be re-examined for mites.  Additional skin test for microscopic analysis may be necessary.

The Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) recommends that pet birds should have annual wellness checks to ensure that they stay healthy. The AAV also advices that newly purchased birds should be seen by an avian veterinarian within three days of purchase.