Posted By: Sarah - Vet

Zelda needs help to beat Red Mite

During a busy morning at the surgery, we expect to see a lot of cats and dogs visiting, but we usually have a few other species as well: - mammals, reptiles and birds. Since the rise in popularity of keeping ‘backyard hens’ they are quite frequent visitors. 

Hens have super personalities, they are friendly and chatty as well as being keen gardeners always eager to assist with digging over the beds and snapping up any worms that appear. As a bonus, they provide us with delicious fresh eggs!

It was clear when Miss Zelda, a lovely Black Rock, came in to see vet Sarah (an enthusiastic backyard hen keeper herself), that she is well cared for as she was in excellent condition with superb plumage. Her owner was worried about her, though, as she had stopped laying and had become lethargic and gone off her food. Zelda lives with 2 others who seemed very healthy but had also stopped laying. When she was examined, she seemed a little quiet, but the only really noticeable change was that her comb above her head and wattles under her chin looked pale rather than a nice healthy pink colour.

We thought that the most likely cause of this was Red Mite. This is a common parasite of chickens, particularly during the spring and summer months. It can be difficult to know that they are affecting a coop, and does not mean that coop isn’t being regularly and thoroughly cleaned. They are active at night and hide in crevices in the chicken house during the day. At night they emerge and crawl up the birds’ legs and through the feathers to feed on their blood before returning to their hiding places. They are just visible to the naked eye as they are about 1mm long. If you keep hens and want to check for them, look at the ends of the perches where they may be hiding, or rub a piece of white paper or cotton wool along the underside of the perches when the birds are roosting – if positive, it stains red (you have squashed some mites after feeding).

 In large numbers, red mites can cause just the signs that Zelda was showing, and can even cause death due to blood loss.  A blood sample taken from a vessel in her wing was sent to the laboratory to check for anaemia. In the meantime, her owner went home and treated the coop and was horrified to find large numbers of dead mites afterwards.

Two days later the result from the laboratory confirmed that the mites had fed from Zelda in high enough numbers to cause anaemia. The treatment is to kill the mites using appropriate preparations, and give supportive care to the birds. Fortunately Zelda’s owner had brought her in very promptly so she recovered rapidly once the mites were killed. She and her ‘sisters’ were treated to some nutritional supplements and probiotics to give them a boost and I’m happy to say that all the girls are all laying again and looking lovely. 

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