BackYard Chickens › Member Pages › Mites & Lice! Treatment and Prevention

Mites & Lice! Treatment and Prevention

Mites & Lice! Treatment and Prevention



     A parasite is any living thing that lives off another living thing. External parasites can either suck blood or eat feathers. Chickens with bad infestations become thin, don’t lay eggs well, and have reduced fertility. With really bad infestations your birds may die. Chickens can get anemia from these bugs. Hens, to some extent can treat themselves by dust bathing. Dust bathing is really good for your chickens. It dislodges the parasites and also helps get dirt and oils off of them. Make sure your chickens have an area to dust bath and if they don’t, put a big pan filled with sand in their pen. Inspect your hens regularly for signs of parasites.



700  700

Pictures by cheeka



Parasite symptoms: (All of these symptoms don’t apply to every parasite listed)


  • Itchiness
  • Bare patches
  • Lots of scratching
  • Loss of weight
  • Diarrhea
  • Symptoms of paralysis
  • Swollen legs with scales standing up
  • Laying slows or stops
  • Sitting hunched up with ruffled feathers
  • Reduced fertility
  • Listless



Here is a picture of a mite infestation.


Picture by bluebee




     Mites are spider like creatures. These bugs are under 1/25 of an inch in their length. Most are microscopic (can’t be seen with our eyes). They usually live off of blood, tissue cells, or feathers. They can be spread by contaminated shoes, other chickens, equipment, clothing, etc. Mites aren’t always on the chicken; some actually spend a good amount of time off the bird.  Here are some common mites.


Red Mites

     This mite has eight legs and crawls on the chickens during the night to feed on their blood. Red mites are gray until they eat, after filling up with blood they turn red. Found in tiny cracks, crevices, or in nesting boxes, these can actually kill chickens. Also check under the perches for red mites. Living up to one year without feeding on hens, take care to treat the birds multiple times. When using a broody hen, inspect the nest she will be brooding in very carefully, making sure to check every crack for these mites. Birds may not go up at night if the infestation is bad. In hot weather the population of red mites really increases. A single female can lay up to 120,000 eggs. Check your birds at night for red mites. They will be crawling around on perches and on your birds. They can bite humans if the infestation is really bad. These horrible little bugs can carry New Castle disease, Fowl Cholera, and Fowl Pox.


Scaly Leg Mites

     Scaly leg mites are small mites that burrow under the scales on chickens legs. They spread very slowly from bird to bird. If the legs are seriously affected, the scales will be lifted and under the scale it will be inflamed and bleeding. If it goes unnoticed for a while, the legs will have little white encrustations (crusts) between the scales. Remove these but only after soaking and several treatment of petroleum jelly or else they will bleed. Only really bad infestations cripple the bird. An easy treatment is Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline) on the legs. This will smother the mites.


Notice the raised scales.


700  700


Pictures by TimBaumann




Northern Fowl Mites

    A Northern mite is the most serious external parasite. It shows itself as damp patches on feathers, there will be many crawling around on the patches which occur in the neck feathers and vent feathers. The wings and tail affected by these birds looked like they have been chewed on. They also cause scabby skin and darkened feathers around vent. You may also see them (in bad infestation) crawling around on egg in nesting boxes. These mites multiply very quickly, so act fast with treatment. Take all the chickens out and put them in a different coop for a while. After a couple weeks in an unoccupied coop, these mites will die. Clean the hen house very well, making sure to get every corner. Treat your chickens every week until the mites are gone. Killing these mites is hard but not impossible. Chickens should not be put back in the infected coop until the coop has had time to air out from all the powders/sprays. Northern fowl mites are hard to control, don’t give up.


Feather Mites

     These mites live on the feathers and eat the plumage. The damage to the base of the feather is very bad and ruins the feathers. Thankfully, they are not common in North America. Some types of feather mites cause so much irritation that the birds pull out and scratch their feathers in order to get relief.


Chigger Mites

     Chigger mites are red and infest the skin of chickens as well as humans. They leave small itchy red spots where they have been feeding. These mites can be straw colored and are very small. The immature chiggers are the ones that feed on blood. Chiggers are commonly found under the wings, on the breast, and legs. When feeding chiggers inject poisonous saliva that liquefies the skin, they then feed off of that. It then causes really itchy skin, swelling, and scabs. Young birds stop eating, drinking, and may die. I’ve been bit by a few chiggers before and it really itches.



     These pests are either blood sucking or chewing parasites. But chicken lice only eat feathers or shedding skin. Lice vary in size and shape length is 1/25 to ¼ inch. Most are yellow or straw colored. They are very hard to see on white chickens but easy on dark. Luckily, lice die quickly when off of chickens. They’re many types of lice that can be seen, head, body, and feather lice. By grooming chickens can keep lice at a minimum. So debeaked birds or overgrown beaked birds are more likely at risk for lice. Because lice bite chickens, they pull their own feathers out to try and make the irritation stop. Chickens lay poorly and have low fertility when infected with lice. They are spread through contact with other contaminated birds. You can see lice crawling around on the chickens skin and vent. Louse eggs will be clumped on the feather shaft.


Here are lice eggs around the feather shaft.


Picture by demerson


Body Louse

     Body lice chew through the skin into growing quills to get to the blood. You will find scabs on skin and light eggs. Body lice move really fast so it may be hard to see when you check your birds.


Head Louse

     This is the most serious louse pest. They are very harsh on young birds and they spread from the hen to her chicks. Seriously infected chicks will die.


Common Fowl Louse

     These are the most common louse. Because parasites itch, feathers are picked and scratched, making bare patches. They reproduce rapidly laying groups of eggs called nits.




      A good treatment for mites and lice wood ash for your chickens to dust bath in. Sevin Dust I found out has been banned for use on poultry. There are other treatments like poultry sprays. Treat by spraying on the chicken and on the roosts, nesting boxes, everything. I use Garden & Poultry dust to help prevent (not treat) mites and lice. They’re many other treatments for these parasites. Covering the nits in petroleum jelly prevents them from hatching and they then fall off.



     Always keep your chicken coops clean and dry. Use dust like Garden & Poultry dust to prevent these parasites. Make sure your chickens have a place to dust bath. Regularly check your chickens for these parasites (at night will be easier because you won’t have to catch them).



If you have any question please feel free to ask.




Comments (38)

Very good article! I didn't know there were that many different chicken bugs *shudder*. No more cuddles! Bring on the dust LOL
Great article! Petroleum Jelly smothered on the nits works great too. It smothers them and they don't hatch, and eventually they just fall out.
Thanks guys. I will add that in MsBagawkbagawk.
I'm curious... are all these mites/lice found all over North America or are there certain areas of the country that are better or worse for contracting these? For instance, we don't have chiggers in Arizona. I'm just wondering if there are certain ones to watch out for in certain states and climates...
Yes they are better or worse in certain areas. However I don't know all the country's they are common in or uncommon in.
Love this article!! Thanks!
Congratulations! Your article is now featured on the homepage carousel! Thanks for submitting it to our BYC Article Writing Contest.
Yet another thing to keep an eye on. Thanks for helping to keep us informed!
GREAT info....another solution that works very well is Petarmor for dogs (not the PLUS version) in the XL size (89 to 132 lbs). A package contains 3 vials normally. Add 2 vials to 16 oz of 90+% isopropyl alcohol (found readily at any pharmacy now) in a clean spray bottle, shake well and put one spray in the vent area (near, not "in") and one spray under each wing. The liquid needs to touch the skin, so separate the feathers
Very good article willowbranchfarm! I had not forgotten that you asked to use some pics... but kind of had... (face/palm) until today... when it is a featured article on The BYC and splashed on my facebook page! my babies... good job!
I found a mix of Sulfur, Lime and DE works great on lice and mites. It is also much cheaper to buy than the poultry dust.
Great Article. Good read...but now I'm feeling imaginary bugs crawling all over me!!
No mention of diatomacious earth being used? Some BYC articles refer to this product as a helpful aide in controling mites and lice. Your input please.
Well I don't have an extra coop laying around if there is an infestation...
Diatomaceous earth did nothing for mites when I used it. I did a full coop cleanout, vacuumed, replaced bedding and then mixed in DE and also dusted the birds with it. Repeated 2 weeks later. Mites were everywhere still. I attacked the mites again with Sevin Dust in the coop, but not directly on the birds. It worked. Now I use poultry dust in the coop monthly when it's cleaned out, and on the birds only twice. I think DE might be ok prior to an infestation though. I might try it again some day instead of using poultry dust.
Has anyone tried the wood ash? and would BBQ charcoal ash work too?
Recently had major lice infestation, bathed worst affected with a weak dog shampoo then rinsed with water containing "Dyna Mite" natural pest repellant which is suitable for use on birds. Picked out as many nits as possible, glued on like concrete. Finally when the birds were dry I dusted with DE which I repeated every week. There are still the odd few lice around but I think I have got on top of the problem. Strangely some birds were heavily infested, others had nothing even though they are in together.
Katsdar! In relation to using wood or charcoal ash, go to advanced search on the BYC web site and type in dust bathing. I know I read some wood types in those articles some where. Hope thats helpful.
I use food grade Diamatacious earth mixed in with the sand bedding and it seems to keep them at bay.
I just bought 5 laying hens from someone on craigslist that said they were perfectly healthy. I inspected them at home before putting them with my flock, and sure enough, they have lice (I think lice, and not mites, but don't know exactly what either look like). I put a few inches of D.E. in a wash tub and held each bird down in it while I covered them in it, being sure to rub it in everywhere. I don't really have a good separation area, and will have to keep them in the garage (which I don't want to do) until they are gone. Any idea how long I should do this or what else I can use? I really want to go pick up some Sevin dust and get it over with. Any ideas? *I'm going to post this in the Emergency/Disease/Pest thread as well.
My three hens have lice and this is the first bug/health issue ive ever had with chickens. are the eggs still okay to eat while they are infested? I will be treating them tomorrow organically with apple cider bathes and a natural "poultry protector" spray.
BackYard Chickens › Member Pages › Mites & Lice! Treatment and Prevention