What is Tapeworm?

Tapeworms are known as cestodes and there are a variety types that can infect birds. These tapeworms infect chickens and turkeys mostly, while other classes of parasites infect other birds. Tapeworms attach themselves to the bird’s bowels by burying their head deep and getting their food from the bird’s bodily fluids.

Once they are established in the bowels, the tapeworms grow a body that resembles a ribbon. This ribbon like body has packets of eggs in segments. Once mature, these egg packets fall off and are passed through the digestive tract into the bird’s droppings. Once these eggs are on the ground, insects then consume the eggs and in turn, birds eat the infected insects. These tapeworms vary in size and length depending on the type of tapeworm your bird has.

Tapeworms are a parasite that can infect both wild and domestic birds. A bird infected with these parasites may or may not present with symptoms. Your bird may appear to be quieter or have loose droppings.

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Symptoms of Tapeworm in Birds

  • Nutritional deficit – Your bird may begin to suffer in regards to his nutrition as the tapeworms drain your bird of their nutrition
  • Quietness – Your bird may no longer talk, sing, or whistle and will become very quiet or even appear to be listless or inactive 
  • Loose droppings – His droppings may change in texture and appearance; this may be a loose dropping that appears to be more watery than normal 
  • Weight loss – You may notice a visible weight loss in your bird; this may be due to his loss of appetite or the fact that the tapeworm is taking the nutrients from him 
  • Decreased egg production - Your bird may not be laying as many eggs as normally (chickens, ducks) 
  • Change in appearance – Your bird has his own sense of pruning and keeping himself clean, therefore you may notice that he is no longer preening the way he once did; this may result in a disheveled appearance, feathers out of place and more
  • Loss of appetite – You may notice that your bird no longer is eating his feed the way he normally does; he may be pickier or just not eating at all
  • Drooping wings – His wings may not be as perky as normal and this can indicate a serious problem 

Types

The types of tapeworms are broken down into what their host is, how they are transmitted and the severity a typical infestation. 

  • Choanotaenia infundibulum – Chickens are the host; they are spread via house flies and is moderate in severity
  • Davainea proglottina – Chickens are the host; they are spread via slugs and snails and is severe
  • Metroliasthes lucida – Turkeys are the host; they are spread via grasshoppers and the severity is unknown 
  • Raillietina cesticillus – Chickens are the host; they are spread via beetles and the severity is mild 
  • Raillietina echinobothrida – Chickens are the host; the tapeworms are spread via ants and have a severe impact
  • Raillietina tetragona – Chickens are the host and they are spread via ants with a severe impact

Causes of Tapeworm in Birds

When your bird ingests what is known as the “intermediate host” which is infected with the parasitic eggs, your bird becomes infected.

The intermediate host can be house flies, slugs, snails, grasshoppers, beetles and ants. These insects ingest the eggs found within infected bird droppings. Once the insect ingests the eggs, they become infected and are then eaten by your bird. 

This can happen with birds who are kept as pets in your home, in the wild, farms or pet stores. However, pet birds are least likely to become infected as they have limited access to eating insects.

Diagnosis of Tapeworm in Birds

Fortunately, the diagnosis of tapeworms is relatively easy due to the visibility of the egg packets in bird droppings. The egg packets are anywhere from white to pink in color and can be spotted without a microscope. This results in easy identification of the parasite. 

You may also notice actual segments of the worm hanging outside of your bird’s body or in his droppings. In the event you notice other symptoms such as lethargy, poor nutrition or weight loss, it will be important to discuss the signs of illness with your veterinarian when you bring your bird in. To best identify what parasite your bird is infected with, a sample of the worm will be necessary. It will be recommended to treat an entire area or the remainder of your flock to avoid further infection.

Treatment of Tapeworm in Birds

Treatment is also relatively straightforward when it comes to tapeworms in your bird. There are 2 treatment options’ praziquantel or epsiprantel. These 2 medications will be administered to your bird as directed by your veterinarian. The second part of treatment will be to clean the area where your bird may have contracted the tapeworms.

Cleaning the area can mean either moving your birds to another area that is clear of possible infection or by spraying the infected area with appropriate insecticides to destroy any eggs or insect carrying eggs. Preventing your birds from having access to droppings that may be infected will also help to prevent the further transmission of the infection.

Recovery of Tapeworm in Birds

Follow up will be necessary as directed by your veterinarian. Once the infection is cleared in your bird’s system, there should be no further concerns. However, without the proper precautions taken in your bird’s environment, he could be at risk contracting the infection again. A full recovery may take some time depending on the severity of his symptoms at the time of diagnosis and treatment.