Parakeets get mites from other infected birds.
They may come in contact with mites when:
- they are put in a cage with a bird that has mites
- they fly around in an outdoor aviary with other infected birds
- they live in dirty conditions with other mite-infested pets nearby
Some of the mites that torment parakeets can also feed on other birds, dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, horses, and people.
It’s possible for you to catch mites from your parakeet, and for your parakeet to catch mites from you.
But with careful attention to cleaning, veterinary treatment when needed, and some simple, sensible precautions around affected birds, you can bring mite problems under control and make them a thing of the past.
What kinds of mites affect parakeets?
Mites are tiny eight-legged animals that are distantly related to crabs and spiders.
Most mites are parasites. They feed on blood or keratin, the protein that makes up skin, feathers, claws, toenails, and beaks.
Mites cause direct damage to bird tissues, but the real pain of mite infestation is generated by the bird’s immune system.
The immune system generates inflammation to get rid of the mites. But the inflammation causes constant pain and irritation to the bird.
There are our main types of mites that affect parakeets:
- Red mites are a parasite that affects parakeets, other kinds of parrots, and chickens, among other birds. Scientific surveys have found that between 83% and 94% of all chickens have red mites. Red mites can suck as much as 3% of a parakeet’s blood supply every night. They transmit Newcastle disease. E. coli, Salmonella, and bird flu viruses.
- Scaly face mites burrow into a parakeet’s cere (the fleshy growth over its beak), beak, and skin. They can do so much damage to a bird’s beak that it simply falls off. Scaly face mites can also accumulate around a parakeet’s vent, where it releases droppings. One of the first signs of scaly face mite problems is the bird’s constant scratching.
- Scaly leg mites cause the skin on a parakeet’s legs to flake and the legs themselves to swell. It can also cause oozing, bloody lesions on the back of the bird. These mites also affect backyard poultry, although they are more common in tropical areas.
- Air sac mites may interfere with a parakeet’s ability to sing. Parakeets have an organ called an air sac, which pumps the air it inhales and exhales since its lungs are in a fixed position. These mites can affect both the air sac and the throat.
Are lice and mites the same thing?
Lice are not eight-legged mites. They are six-legged insects that can cause problems similar to those that are caused by mites.
Lice are a lot easier to detect than mites. Lice are usually about 3 mm (one-eighth of an inch) long. They can still hide in a parakeet’s feathers, but you can spot them with a little effort.
Mites are usually 1 mm (one twenty-fifth of an inch) long or smaller. Since some mites, like red mites, are only active at night, you may never see them. The best way to be sure whether a bird has mites is to get it examined by a vet.
Best ways to prevent mites in Parakeets
Cleanliness is the key to preventing mite and lice problems.
There are cleaning chores you have to do every day.
There are some cleaning tasks that are OK to do once a week, and others that only need to be done once a week.
Daily Cleaning to Prevent Problems with Mites
Red mites can transfer E. coli and Salmonella from bird droppings to the bird’s skin. Droppings provide cover for these tiny creatures to hide during the day only to come out at night.
Changing your parakeet’s bird cage liner eliminates one more place of mites to hide — and keeps the cage smelling better
Food and water dishes need to be removed and cleaned with a mild detergent, rinsed, and dried before refilling every day.
This stops the growth of bacteria that can harm your birds and you, too. It also stops the growth of bugs in bird seed that can multiply if left unchecked.
Even more importantly, cleaning food and water dishes removes air sac mites that could have been coughed or sneezed up by infected birds so they don’t spread to birds that aren’t infected yet.
Wipe down all surfaces in your parakeet’s cage with a damp cloth every day. Clean the bars, perches, and any toys.
Remove stuck-on messes with a bird-safe cage cleaner such as lemon juice or baking soda mixed in tap water, applied with a spray bottle.
The primary value of daily cleaning of your parakeet’s cage in mite control is removing eggs before they can hatch.
Because the mites that live on parakeets can also live on human skin, it is important to wear gloves while cleaning the cage and to wash hands after taking gloves off.
It’s not a bad idea to time your cage cleaning chores so you take your daily shower after finishing the task.
Weekly Cleaning to Prevent Problems with Mites
Choose one day a week for regular, thorough cleaning of your parakeet’s cage.
Weekly cleaning adds another layer of protection against bacterial infections and intestinal parasites and gets rid of mites in their larval stage.
Wash the cage tray. Bird cages have a tray to hole the liner that catches spilled food and bird waste.
Scrubbing the tray once a week with lemon juice in water or baking soda in water helps to remove sticky films of bacteria and mite larvae.
Be sure the tray is dry before putting a fresh liner in and returning it to the cage.
Remove and then scrub the grate at the bottom of the cage. Some parakeet cages have a grate in the bottom of the cage so droppings fall through and accumulate on the liner.
The grate can become sticky with bird droppings that didn’t fall through. These droppings can provide a home for scaly leg mites and bacteria
Remove the grate and give it a thorough cleaning in a large amount of water, like a bathtub, once a week.
If necessary, use a scrub brush to remove stuck-on waste. Like any other part of the cage, make sure it is dry before you return it to the cage.
Clean and change the perches. Wooden perches may take several hours to a full day to dry, so it’s a good idea to have spare perches you can swap out on cleaning day.
Cleaning the perches removes eggs and larvae of mites, as well as sticky biofilms of bacteria.
Finally, clean and rotate bird toys once a week.
A lot like human babies, parakeets use their mouths to explore their toys. Intestinal parasites can accumulate on toys if they are not sanitized weekly.
Monthly Cleaning to Prevent Problems with Mites
Once a month, give your parakeet’s cage a thorough cleaning.
Take it outside to the deck or patio, with your parakeets waiting somewhere else in your home, and wash it down with a garden hose.
Use a good scrub brush with sturdy bristles to remove any caked-on droppings or food waste.
Get inside every crack and cranny to make the cage as clean as possible.
It’s important not to use any household cleansers other than mild detergent for the food and water dishes and lemon juice and baking soda for the rest of the cage.
Parakeets have very sensitive respiratory systems.
You must avoid using aerosol cleaners, deodorants, fragrances, and beauty products in the same room where you keep your bird.
Don’t even think about using spray-on pesticides to control mites or lice.
Diet Also Makes a Difference
Parakeets that have problems with mites tend to be deficient in vitamin A.
Vitamin A stimulates the production of the keratin proteins that repair damage to skin, feathers, toes, and beaks.
A bird’s body makes vitamin A from beta-carotene and related plant compounds found in yellow, orange, and red fruits and vegetables.
These foods help parakeets fight off mite infections.
Could your parakeet already have mites?
Mite infestations in parakeets sometimes aren’t very noticeable until they are advanced.
That’s why it’s important to seek treatment for your pet if you see the symptoms of mite problems.
Symptoms of Red Mites
It’s hard to get a good look at red mites without a magnifying glass.
If you leave a white sheet over the cage at night and check it the next morning, you may see tiny red or brown spots. Those spots are a good sign you have red mites.
Red mites bite into the skin to suck blood where it is easy to get a hold. That’s why they do the most damage around the eyes and at your bird’s vent.
After they feed, red mites retreat to cracks in the cage or nest boxes. They can kill newly hatched chicks.
Even if you can’t see any red mites, your birds may present these symptoms:
- Constant preening. Your parakeet may also start pulling out feathers.
- Restlessness all the time, but worse at night. The mites bite at night/
- Weakness, fainting, and lethargy. Lack of interest in toys and food. These symptoms are caused by anemia resulting from blood loss.
Red mites are sometimes misidentified as chiggers.
If these symptoms appear after your parakeet has spent time outdoors, chances are that you have an infestation of red mites in the grass of your lawn.
Your parakeets can also get red mites from other pets, such as a dog or a hamster.
Symptoms of Scaly Face Mites
The first sign of scaly face mites is crustiness at the corners of your parakeet’s beak. The crusts may look like a honeycomb.
Then there can be white, chalky crusts around the eyes, and around the nostrils. There may also be crusts on the legs, feet, and around the vent.
Eventually, the mites will have eaten so much of the hard keratin that your bird’s beak is made of that the beak falls off.
It’s essential to get treatment as soon as possible, before their beak becomes misshapen, long before your bird loses its beak.
Scaly face mites don’t cause itching in parakeets, although they may trigger an itching reaction in other kinds of birds.
You won’t see evidence of scaly face mites in your bird’s cage.
Although there are other reasons that you should be very careful about cleaning your bird’s cage, you can’t stop this kind of mite by cleaning.
Scaly face mites spend their whole life cycle, from egg to adult, on your bird’s skin. They are spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected bird.
Symptoms of Scaly Leg Mites
The main symptoms of scaly leg mites is the appearance of white crusts on the bird’s legs and feet.
The toes and feet may become misshapen. The beak may also become deformed if the mites spread there.
Parakeets with scaly leg mites experience severe itching. They may pull out their feathers.
Scaly leg mites also spend their entire lives, from egg to adult, on the surface of the bird. They are spread by bird-to-bird contact.
Symptoms of Air Sac Mites
It’s hard to miss an advanced case of air sac mite infestation. Your parakeet will show:
- Squeaky, shrieky, or high-pitched noises.
- Damp nostrils.
- Excessive salivation.
- Breathing through an open mouth.
- Breathing that seems labored.
- Bobbing tail.
- Weight loss.
- Clicking sounds as your bird breathes.
Air sac mites cause extreme fatigue. Your bird may lose interest in toys and foods, and spend most of its time in the bottom of its cage.
Air sac mites are transmitted in mucus made airborne by coughing or sneezing.
Birds get infected with the mites by inhaling secretions of infected birds, or by swallowing them with food or water.
Lice may make a bird preen, scratch, and ruffle its feathers. The damage to feathers is not likely to be severe.
Lice are larger than mites. It’s not hard to see them on your bird.
What to do if Your Parakeet has Mites
Ivomec (ivermectin) is an effective treatment for mites in parakeets, but you shouldn’t use it until a vet has examined your parakeet first.
It’s important to rule out other possible causes of symptoms to make sure you are treating the right disease.
When ivermectin is indicated, just one or two drops may be enough to get rid of mites for good.
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