What is Tassel Foot?

These mites are invisible to the naked eye, but they cause a crusty white growth on your bird’s feet and legs causing severe itching and restlessness. These mites also attack the facial area especially around the beak and eyes and can concentrate around the vent.

Left untreated, complications compromising your pet’s health can occur which can eventually result in death. If your bird gets infested with these mites, any other birds housed with it will need treatment as well.

Tassel foot, or scaly leg disease, is caused by the scaly leg mite (knemidocoptes mutans) that burrow into the limbs and toes of your bird.

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Symptoms of Tassel Foot in Birds

  • The infestation leaves a tell-tale scaly grey or white crusty lesions on the limbs and feet (these mites can also infect the bead, eye, and vent areas)
  • Discomfort
  • Depression – your bird may seem quieter and sit with its feathers fluffed out
  • The toes may become deformed causing an inability to grip the perch or stand on its feet
  • Tassel like protrusions grow out from the legs and toes 
  • Localised tissue swelling where infestation occurs 
  • Constant itching and scratching by your bird 
  • Agitation
  • Irritability 
  • Pecking at the feet or leg area 

Types 

  • There are three main categories for scaly face mites that can affect your bird
  • They are a burrowing type of mite, invisible to detect until the crusts start forming around the infested area 
  • There are three main categories for scaly face mites that can affect your bird
  • The Knemidocoptes mutans is a mite type that usually affects the limbs and feet of your bird 
  • Knemidocoptes jamaicensis are a type that infests songbirds and finches 
  • Knemidocoptes pilae infest birds of the parrot family (psittacines) 
  • Collectively they are just known as scaly mites
  • Treatment is the same for all types

Causes of Tassel Foot in Birds

  • The mites spend their whole life cycle on a bird – they are described as an eight-legged mite related to spiders and ticks but so much smaller 
  • They form tunnels in the top layer of your bird’s skin by burrowing through the tissue 
  • Contagious between birds so if you have more than one bird, all will need treatment
  • If your bird has a deficiency in vitamin A it can make it vulnerable to this condition 
  • A seed only diet is low in vitamin A which can produce lowered immunity
  • Lowered immunity makes your bird more susceptible to the mites 
  • Nest box infestation – often this can remain latent for a long time 
  • Direct contact between birds can transmit the mites

Diagnosis of Tassel Foot in Birds

At first, you may not be aware that your bird is suffering from this infestation. Then you may notice the legs and feet look a bit red and perhaps swollen, while your bird is acting differently and is a bit agitated. Then you will start to see the typical white lesions or crustiness starting to build up on your bird in the affected area. A trip to your avian veterinarian specialist is advisable to be able to treat this condition before it creates serious health related issues. Heavy crusting can cause your bird's claws to become deformed and overgrown. It can also result in lameness, and the inability to perch. 

Your avian specialist will take scrapings of the affected parts of your bird’s body, and he will also check other areas such as the beak, wing tips and vent to ensure the mites have not spread further. Under a microscope, the mites are visible and easily confirmed as the cause of your bird’s discomfort. This diagnosis rules out other similar causes such as insect bites and infection. While your specialist is performing his physical examination, he will ask about the typical daily diet for your bird and may make suggestions for supplements to assist your bird’s health, such as Vitamin A which promotes increased resistance to infection and provides some protection against some parasites.

Treatment of Tassel Foot in Birds

Tassel foot in your bird can be treated in several ways. Ivermectin is an insecticide which is widely used by veterinarians and is only available through their clinics. Other options available described below, may be utilised but it is best to have the approval of your veterinarian before moving forward. Avomectin and Moxidectin are products that may be available through reputable pet and bird stores without a prescription. Another option is a product called Scatt, which is proving to be very effective. It has a residual effect with one dose being effective for up to three weeks. Products such as Scalex Mite and Lice Spray for Birds are available at your local store and is effective in removing the scales of crustiness that build up. Don’t try to pick off the scales unless they are treated and have softened, or you could cause bleeding sores on your bird. 

After consultation with and on the advice of your veterinarian, you may attempt to treat your bird by rubbing olive oil, baby oil, or paraffin oil on the feet and legs to suffocate the mites and soften the crusts for removal. Be careful how much oil you put on, or your bird’s feathers can become coated, and it is hard to remove. Moderation is the key. A holistic approach is to treat your bird with grapefruit seed extract (GSE). Using five to ten drops in one tablespoon of distilled water, you can dab this onto the affected area. You can also use one drop of GSE to every eight ounces of drinking water to treat from the inside out. But never use it full strength on your bird, and carefully avoid the eyes. 

Recovery of Tassel Foot in Birds

It may take a few weeks to get the mite infestation under control, but follow your avian specialist’s directions to complete the treatment. If you have more than one bird, they will all need treating to ensure the scaly mite is eradicated. Although the mites live on your bird, they can also burrow into the cracks in the timber inside a cage such as wooden perches and remain latent for several months before coming out to reinfect your bird again.

Thorough cleaning with a nontoxic cleaning material, and replacing any wooden structures will ensure that your birds home is safe and free from mites. If your bird is given antibiotics to prevent or heal any secondary bacterial infections, make sure you continue the treatment until the very end to ensure its effectiveness.