Lice and mites are parasites that typically infest wild birds, although they can also appear on pet birds. Your feathered friend doesn't naturally carry these pests, which can make her very sick. Unfortunately, if Polly catches lice or mites, they may affect you, too, causing itching and skin irritation.
Mites are tiny eight-legged arthropods that feed on your pet bird's blood. The most common types of mites that can affect your feathered friend are scaly-faced mites, air sac mites, feather mites and red mites, according to BirdChannel.com. Some of these mites remain on Polly, feeding on her blood, while others, such as the red mite, only feed on your bird at night, running off and hiding in crevices around your home during the day. Mites can cause a variety of health conditions for your bird, including itchiness, scaly lesions, anemia, feather damage and trouble breathing. A mite infestation requires a visit to Polly's avian vet for treatment.
Lice are a type of parasitic insect most common in wild birds, although they can sometimes affect pet birds. If Polly has been infested with lice, the pests will feed on her dead skin cells and feathers, giving her a ratty, "moth-eaten" look, according to the West Toowoomba Veterinary Surgery website. Lice stay on your bird's skin and live there for life, causing her skin to become itchy and irritated. Polly will need veterinary treatment to get rid of these pests. This condition can sometimes cause feather plucking, so look for signs of lice, including their small white eggs along the shafts of Polly's feathers, if she's been pulling them out.
Avian Parasites and People
It's not normal for your feathered companion to be infested with either lice or mites. Most pet birds are free of these pests, although they can catch them from contact with another infected bird, such as one from the outside. You can also pick up mites or lice from handling other birds and accidentally transfer them to your own avian friend. While both of these types of parasites primarily affect birds of all sizes, from budgies to cockatoos, they can bite people, too, causing itching, redness and even secondary skin infections. Fortunately, neither mites nor lice survive for long outside of their natural avian hosts and won't infest people in the same way that they do birds, according to the Orkin website.
Prevention and Treatment
Your vet will treat your bird for the mites or lice infesting her using ivermectin-type medications or sprays and powders containing ingredients like permethrin. Avoid using so-called "mite protectors" in your bird's cage, which are ineffective and made from paradichlorobenzene, the active ingredient in mothballs. This chemical is carcinogenic when inhaled by your bird and may also cause liver damage, warns BirdChannel.com. Sprays or powders containing organophosphates like malathion are also potentially dangerous to Polly and shouldn't be used on her, warns AvianWeb.com. After having your bird treated by your vet to eliminate the parasites plaguing her, thoroughly clean her cage, vacuum your home and, in serious infestations, have your home professionally treated for pests.