What is Scaly Leg Mite?

Scaly leg mites occur most often in budgerigars, canaries and other small domesticated birds.  It can occur at any age but younger birds are more susceptible to the mite infestation. 

Birds that are infected with scaly leg mites will lose feathers and may develop a deformed or crooked beak from the skin infection. Your bird may also experience intense itching from the mites. In most cases, there is no itching until the lesion appears and becomes crusty. An antiparasitic medication will be needed to eliminate the mite from your bird.

Scaly leg mites, also called tassel foot, can also occur on your bird’s face and beak. These mites are from the genus Knemidokoptes and are parasitic. It is also called Knemidokoptes mange and it does require veterinary attention. Scaly leg mites will cause your bird to develop a skin infection.

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Symptoms of Scaly Leg Mite in Birds

You should be inspecting your bird’s overall body and feathers for any changes that could indicate that something is wrong. Early detection of scaly leg mites will make it easier to treat and be less stressful for your bird. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment.

  • Scaly gray or white crusty lesions on skin especially on feet, legs and beak
  • Misshapen beak, toes or feet
  • Itching
  • Feather loss
  • Feather plucking

Causes of Scaly Leg Mite in Birds

The life cycle of the Knemidokoptes mite is spent entirely on a bird. The mite will burrow into the top layer of the skin and form tunnels. Sometimes the mite will remain dormant until some form of extreme stress occurs causing your bird’s immune system to weaken. Some birds will be genetically susceptible or have a suppressed immune system from an underlying condition.

Researchers believe that the mites are transferred from the adult birds to their un-feathered offspring in the nest. The mite can also be transferred from adult bird to adult bird.

Diagnosis of Scaly Leg Mite in Birds

When scaly leg mites are suspected, your veterinarian will complete a full physical on your bird to ensure that there are no underlying health problems that have caused the mites to become active. This may also include a full blood workup and serum analysis to check for any deficiencies.

Your veterinarian will do a skin scraping of the infected area. This skin scraping will be analyzed under a microscope looking for the actual Knemidokoptes mite or the eggs. If the mite or eggs are present, then your veterinarian can make a definitive diagnosis of scaly leg mite.

Treatment of Scaly Leg Mite in Birds

Your veterinarian will prescribe a medication to eliminate the mites. If you have more than one bird, all birds in your home will need to be treated for scaly leg mite even if they are not showing any symptoms. They have been exposed and are likely harboring the parasitic mite.

Ivermectin is usually the treatment of choice for scaly leg mite. Your veterinarian will prescribe the initial treatment of 10 days and then have you bring your bird back in for an examination. It will generally require anywhere from 2 to 6 treatments, 10 days each, to completely get rid of the mites. Ivermectin can be applied on the skin behind the neck, injected or given orally. Your veterinarian will discuss with you the best administration method for your bird.

Antibiotics may also be given if there is a secondary bacterial infection from the open lesions on your bird’s face, legs or feet. Always follow dosing instructions and never give any medication without first consulting your veterinarian. 

When treating for scaly leg mite, thoroughly disinfect your bird’s cage, bowls and toys along with any other items that they come into contact with regularly. You will want to disinfect at the beginning and end of each treatment round.

Recovery of Scaly Leg Mite in Birds

When properly treated by your veterinarian, your bird should recover from scaly leg mites. If your bird is suffering beak, feet or toe deformities from the scaly leg mite, those deformities will probably not resolve themselves. The deformity may be permanent. Speak with your veterinarian about these deformities and ask what can be done, if anything, to help correct them.

Regularly disinfect your bird’s cage, bowls and toys to help prevent the scaly leg mite from spreading. Some veterinarians may also provide an antiparasitic medication as a form of prevention if you suspect that your bird has been in contact with another bird suffering from scaly leg mite. Speak with your veterinarian about this option.