Scaly Leg Mites / Tassle Foot / Depluming Scabies
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- Overview (below)
- Disease Progression
- Is it Scaly Leg? Other Possible Causes of these Symptoms
- Common Treatments
Scaly Leg is most commonly caused by Knemidokoptes - also spelled Cnemidocoptes, which are eight-legged microscopic mites that are related to spiders, ticks and scorpions - but obviously much smaller in size. They burrow in the feet and legs, but may also affect the vent and face.
Different species of mites affect different species of birds. Knemidokoptes are most frequently found in budgies; however, they have also been reported in other species of birds. In canaries and finches, the same mite causes a condition commonly called 'Tassle Foot'. It is also likely that some birds are genetically more susceptible to these mites than others.
These mites are very contagious; therefore, if one bird has it, all birds that it came in contact with need to be treated.
Secondary bacterial infection and arthritis may occur.
It is thought that in many instances, these mites are acquired in the nest, with the infection remaining latent for a long period of time. Early signs of this disease may be seen after six to twelve months.
- Scaly leg mites bore under the scales on the legs of the bird.
- Feet or legs have a crusty, scaly appearance, which may also sometimes appear around the vent and wing tips (as well as the face and beak).
- Legs / feet may look swollen.
- The claws may become overgrown and cracked.
- The scales may become infected.
- Heavy scaling and overgrown claws can result in lameness / reduced mobility, inability to perch and increased discomfort in the bird.
- In Canaries, their legs develop thickened areas that look more like corns.
- NOTE: Older canaries can naturally develop scaly legs that don't have anything to do with mites, but are instead an indication of a build-up of calcium salt between the scales of a canary's feet and legs. Younger canaries usually don't have these scales, although some canaries are susceptible to having the calcium salt metabolism problem their whole life. However, as a general rule, scaly legs in YOUNG canaries are most often (but not always) associated with scaly leg mites.
- In Pigeons, a type of knemidokoptes causes severe itching and this is often referred to as "depluming scabies". These mites tunnel into feather follicles and feather shafts causing severe itching and feather loss.
- The lesions typically develop very slowly, so that an infected bird may appear normal for a long period of time.
- Advanced infestations spread to the unfeathered parts of the body.
- If left untreated, the bird will succumb to the disease.
- The vet will take a scraping of the affected areas. The mites are present and are visible under a microscope.
- Advanced cases have characteristic crusty / scaly lesions.
- Any swellings can be caused by strangulated fibers or insect bites.
- Nutritional Deficiency: Birds deficient in vitamin A are particularly susceptible to this condition. Seeds are typically low in vitamin A. This vitamin promotes appetite, digestion, and also increases resistance to infection and to some parasites.
The most obvious sign of a vitamin A deficiency is a feather stain above the cere. The staining of the feathers above the nostrils reflects a discharge from the nostrils. Subtle differences may be seen as far as the color intensity of the cere and feathers is concerned - and the overall condition of the plumage. A bird deficient in this vitamin may have pale, rough-looking feathers that lack luster. The cere may look rough instead of smooth, and you may see an accumulation of a yellow dry scale on the sides of the beak.
Please refer to "Bird Nutrition" for food items rich in Vitamin B.
Environmental Treatment: Even though this mite spends its whole life cycle on a bird, it also seems able to burrow into wooden perches in the cage. Therefore, it is important to replace wooden perches / toys in infected cages / aviaries weekly. Some recommend using perches from native trees. Some mites could have fallen off and hide in the cracks and crevices of your bird’s cage. Therefore, keeping the cage / aviary clean is particularly important until this infestation has been resolved.
The most effective treatments of infected birds are
- Ivermectin (insecticides) which can only be prescribed by a vet.
- Avomectin or Moxidectin (insecticides) can be prescribed by a vet or may be available at your better pet / bird store without a vet's prescription
- SCATT: One of the most effective treatments for mites seems to be SCATT - a treatment produced by Dr. Marshall - a well-known and published avian vet in Australia. Another treatment is S76.
Scatt has a residual effect and one dose is effective for about 3 weeks. The other treatment, S76, is a good choice for treating mites that do not feed directly on the bird’s blood or living tissue, such as feather mites.
Other treatment options - only recommended for treatment of initial or minor infections:
- Scalex Mite and Lice Spray for Birds - and it is also effective in removing scales. Scalex is usually freely available at local stores
- Rubbing petroleum jelly (alternatively: olive oil, baby oil or paraffin oil) on the feet and legs, which will suffocate the mites and soften the crusts for easy removal. These preparations should also be placed around the vent and on the wing tips of each bird as the mites sometimes hide in these areas. This procedure is repeated every 3 to 4 days for 2 weeks (or every day for 5 or 6 days). The old scales will then fall off over time and be replaced with new scales.
- One breeder described coating seeds with vegetable oils and as his canaries walked over the seeds, their legs got coated with oil and the mites suffocated. He stated that his canaries were mite free within 2 weeks.
- NOTE: The drawback with the above options is that the oil is very difficult to remove from the bird's feathers and sometimes one has to wait until the next molt, when new feathers replace the oiled ones.
- Don't be tempted in pulling the scales off before they are ready, the wound will start bleeding.
- Chamomile tea: Brew yourself some nice chamomile tea for drinking, and take the warm and wet teabag and gently place it over the affected area . The chamomile will help loosen the crust while healing the wounds at the same time.
- Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) Some people also add GSE to the water - for its anti-parasitic properties.
I received the following e-mail that might be of interest to you:
"I wanted to share with you that I have a friend who's bird suffered terribly from the worst case of bird mites her vet had ever seen. He had a crusty substance covering his face and beak from the mites. I suggested to her that she get some GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract), mix five to ten drops in one tablespoon of distilled water and dab onto the affected areas. Never use GSE full strength and be careful to avoid eyes. This treatment cured her bird. He is finally mite free after a horrific battle not unlike the one described in the article. It worked relatively quickly too. You can also add one drop of GSE to every four to eight ounces of drinking water and treat the bird from the inside. "
(Note: Any treatment protocol needs to be discussed with a qualified vet first. There is no guarantee that any of the listed treatment options are safe and/or effective.)
NOTE: "Cage protectors" commonly found in pet stores are ineffective and may be toxic.
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