Parasites in Parrots

Domesticated or wild parrots can get a variety of parasites.

Domesticated or wild parrots can get a variety of parasites.

Is your pet parrot losing feathers, suffering from skin inflammation or having general ill health? Your parrot could have parasites. Just like all other animals, parrots can become infected with parasites. A routine veterinary checkup for your parrot should include examination for external and internal parasites.

Parasites Defined

A parasite grows, feeds and lives on or in another organism, such as your parrot. Parasites can live internally, inhabiting the blood, respiratory tract or digestive tract of your bird. Some parasites live externally, causing problems with skin and feathers. Captive parrots get exposed to parasites by direct contact from other birds and indirect contact from parasite carriers. Parasitic infections can cause parrot illness and death, or no symptoms at all.

Protozoal Parasites

Protozoa, single-celled microscopic organisms, can cause serious disease. Some protozoan parasites, such as Trichomonas, live in a parrot's throat or crop and can cause coughing, sneezing and low appetite. The crop is a muscular pouch that stores food prior to entering the stomach in birds. Other protozoa like coccidia, toxoplasma and giardia, infect the intestinal tract of parrots and cause symptoms of depression, weight loss, diarrhea and feather picking. At least 12 different protozoan parasites can infect parrots.

Intestinal Worms

Roundworms, hairworms, tapeworms and threadworms make up a group of intestinal parasites that can affect your parrot. These types of parasites can cause weight loss, depression, loss of appetite and sometimes sudden death. The presence of intestinal worms can be diagnosed by your veterinarian using a fecal exam looking for parasite eggs. Several exams may be needed due to intermittent shedding of eggs by the worms.

Mites

A variety of parasitic mites can affect your parrot. Mites affecting parrots include the scaly face mite, red mites, feather mites and air sac mites. Mites are tiny eight-legged invertebrate animals related to spiders and ticks. These parasites live on the skin and in feather shafts feeding on your parrot's blood. They cause crusty skin, feather loss and sometimes anemia. Air sac mites climb into the respiratory tract of your parrot and cause breathing troubles and voice changes.

Other Parasites

Feather lice live on your parrot's skin like mites but feed only on skin and feather debris. Parrots may become itchy from these lice and have poor-quality feathers. The hippoboscid fly, most often found on wild parrots, sometimes affects captive parrots. These flies move quickly, biting the least-feathered parts on a parrot to draw blood. The stickfast flea occasionally affects parrots in close proximity to chickens. The fleas often attach to the skin on the head of a parrot. Both the hippoboscid fly and the stickfast flea can cause blood loss and anemia.

 

About the Author

Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.

Photo Credits

  • George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images