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5 Common External Chicken Parasites

Parasites are nasty critters. 

According to Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky:

Parasites are organisms that live in or on another organism, referred to as the host, and gain an advantage at the expense of the host. There are several external parasites that attack poultry by either sucking blood or feeding on the skin or feathers.”

As I said, they’re nasty and can cause weight loss, reduction in egg-laying, itching, missing feathers, anemia, and even death. Once a parasite is spotted, the entire flock will need treatment.

Five of the most common chicken parasites are Lice, Red Mites, Northern Fowl Mites, Scaly Leg Mites, and Fleas.

Nobody likes parasites, especially your chickens! Find out how to get rid of them! #chickenlice #chickenmites #poultrymites #scalylegmites

Lice

Look for Lice under the feathers of your chickens, especially under the wings and around the vent area. They suck the blood of the bird, which causes anemia and if not treated death. The lice that adhere to a chicken are not the same as human lice, so there is no concern for contamination.

Treatment

We have a whole post on a natural treatment for lice, but if you have a major infestation, you’re going to have to get out the big guns to take those guys down!

Sevin for chickens is an effective treatment used for many external parasites. Always wear gloves and read label directions before using it. Never apply directly to a chicken. Apply to the interior and exterior of your coop. A small amount of Sevin added to your wood ash dust bath can be used as a preventative. 

Malathion Spray can also be used to disinfect your coop. Permethrin can be applied directly to your flock by mixing with water.

Prevention

  • Weekly inspection
  • Thorough cleaning of coop and bedding, including nesting boxes
  • Dust baths
  • No contact with Wild Birds

Red Mites

Red mites hide in cracks and crevices during the day. They come out at night and feed on the chickens. Red mites are most common during the summer months. If you’re flock does not want to go in to roost at night that may be a sign you have a red mite infestation.

Red mites are hard to detect, but you may see them on the vent area of a chicken or in the coop. Wooden coops are more susceptible to an infestation due to the many cracks and crevices.

One way to spot them is to take a white paper towel, and once you let the flock out in the morning, wipe it along the bottom of the roost. If you find red streaks on the paper towel, you indeed have red mites.

An infestation in your flock can cause pale combs and wattles, a drop in egg production, and anemia.

Treatment

If at all possible, the most thorough treatment is to rehouse your chickens for six weeks and treat the coop with Sevin spray. Use it several times to eradicate all those tiny varmints.

A less invasive approach is removing the flock and cleaning out all the bedding. Make sure to place all of it in plastic bags so the red mites can’t infect another building. If you have a felt roof, it will need to be taken off and replaced.

Then mix either Smite Professional Disinfectant or Barrier Red Mite X Concentrate with water. Apply to coop getting all cracks and crevices and leave for 15-20 minutes. Then use a high-pressure power washer and push out all the red mites as they come to the surface. Wait 15 minutes and repeat until you don’t see any red mites when washing down the barn.

Let the coop completely dry, put in new bedding and sprinkle Red Mite Powder on both your chickens and the coop. Target the perches, rubbing the powder into them to prevent the red mite from returning.

Reapply the powder 2-3 times per week, especially from May to October.

Prevention

  • Weekly inspection
  • Thorough cleaning of coop and bedding, including nesting boxes
  • Dust baths with Red Mite powder added to it (use as directed)
  • Paint paraffin into all cracks and crevices in your coop
  • Double-sided sticky flypaper or tape on the underside of perches
  • Use Poultry Shield when cleaning your coop

Northern Fowl Mites

The Northern Fowl mite is the most prevalent and severe of the mites as it spends its entire life cycle, seven days, on the chicken. It feeds off the chicken and then lays its eggs there also. The mite can take 6% of a fowl’s blood level, which causes anemia and even death. With the short life cycle, the infestation of Northern Fowl Mites can be extreme in a short amount of time.

The mite prefers colder temps, so the winter months are when to be on the lookout for them. The mites show up as a dark grey coloration and matting around the vent. 

Treatment

Exzolt added to the flock’s water is a newer product on the market and is 99% effective. Exzolt contains fluralaner which attacks the mite’s nervous system killing them. It is necessary to administer it twice, seven days apart to banish all life cycles of the mite. This product does not affect egg or require an egg withdrawal cycle. 

Two other products for treating Northern Fowl mites are Fipronil and Elector PSP. Always follow product instructions.

On the natural side, Garlic spray can also be useful. Mix a 10% garlic solution with water and spray on the chicken’s vent and abdomen. Apply three times in total, once every seven days.

Prevention

  • Weekly inspection
  • Thorough cleaning of coop and bedding, including nesting boxes
  • Dust baths
  • Keep all rodents and wild birds from the flock
  • Sanitize all supplies that come into the coop 
  • Disinfect and Clean coop regularly

Scaly leg mites

Scaly leg mites burrow under the leg scales, eating the skin and leaving debris behind. The evidence that your flock has scaly leg mites is pretty evident when you see thick, discolored, crusty looking feet on your chickens. They are very painful for the chicken and can cause lameness or even loss of toes.

Treatment

First, soak the legs in warm water but don’t pull off any scales. Gently remove any loose skin. Dry the legs thoroughly and then apply an oil, olive, vegetable, or a similar type of oil. Gently rub the oil into the legs using a toothbrush. Wipe off any excess and then cover the legs with Petroleum jelly. Coating the legs with the petroleum suffocates the mites.

Repeat this process several times a week until the legs are healthy once again. It can take several weeks to accomplish.

Another treatment is adding two tablespoons of sulfur powder to a half a cup of petroleum jelly. Apply daily for a minimum of two weeks, but once again, it may take much longer to accomplish healthy legs and feet on your chicken.

Also, thoroughly clean and disinfect your coop as the mites live in the coop and nesting boxes as well.

Prevention

  • Weekly inspection
  • Thorough cleaning of coop and bedding, including nesting boxes
  • Dust baths
  • Keep rodents and wild birds from the flock
  • Clean and disinfect any branches you bring into the coop or run

Fleas

Fleas on chickens are brown and easy to view. They are prevalent during the summer months and can be found congregating under the wings, saddle feathers and around the main tail area. 

Fleas can cause malnutrition, restlessness, overall poor health, decrease in egg production, and anemia. Fleas usually camp out in the bedding and then feed on the chickens as they please.

Treatment

Remove all bedding and nesting boxes and burn so that the fleas no longer can be a threat. Thoroughly sweep down the inside of the barn, removing the roosts and disinfecting them outside of the coop, allowing them to dry in the sun.

Use a water and white vinegar solution, a coop cleaner or 10% bleach to water mixture to spray down the coop. Allow it to dry completely. Cleaning of the coop will have to be done again in two weeks to ensure that all fleas are gone.

Then treat the chickens with Malathion spray, Permethrin, or other approved treatment. It will also have to be administered in two weeks once again.

Prevention

  • Weekly inspection
  • Dust Bath
  • Thoroughly cleaning of coop and bedding, including nesting boxes
  • Adding a clove or two of garlic to drinking water
  • Plant mint around your coop, dry it and place inside coop also

Prevention is the easiest way to avert the dreaded parasite infestation, but if the worst happens, we hope these tips help you diagnose and treat your flock!

Have you had a bad infestation of parasites? Tell us about it below.

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