Description: There are several different types of worms that may infest birds. Worms are typically slender, long, soft-bodied parasites and live inside the bird’s body. Nematodes are one type of worm found in some birds, and roundworms (ascarids) are the most common nematode. Ascarids have a direct life-cycle, meaning that their eggs are directly infective to birds. In dogs and cats, roundworms require an intermediate host, such as a rodent, that the pet must ingest in order to acquire worms (there are other ways, but this isn’t applicable to birds). Ascarids may be found in the crop, proventriculus, ventriculus, intestines, ceca, body cavity, brain surface of the eye and periorbital tissue, heart and subcutaneous tissues. In the wrong host, ascarids may just migrate through tissues inside the bird, and will not end up in the intestinal tract, the most common place that these worms are found.
Cestodes are tapeworms. Usually, the intermediate host must be ingested for a bird to acquire tapes. The mot common intermediate host is the cockroach or possibly the grain beetle.
Flukes, also called trematodes, may be found in the liver, intestines, kidney, air sacs, oviduct, blood vessels and on the surface of the eye.
Roundworms can directly infest birds, unlike the process it takes for mammals, such as cats and dogs, which can only be infested if they ingest the worms in their larval state by ingesting a rodent, lizard, insect or other infested organism. Pet birds can become infested if exposed to the droppings of wild or other infested birds whose droppings contain infective eggs that contaminate the pet bird’s food, cage or water.
Worms can cause obstruction and they compete for nutrients in a bird, which can lead to tissue damage, weight loss and diarrhea. In some cases, a severely infested bird may become emaciated with a swollen coelom, similar to a puppy with a pot-bellied appearance from a belly-full of roundworms.
A bird with just a few worms may show no clinical signs at all, or the bird may lose weight, develop diarrhea or show signs of general debilitation in severe cases.
Immediate Care: If your bird passes worms (and this should be differentiated from fly larvae, or maggots, that can be found occasionally if a fly deposits eggs into a pile of droppings) you should bring your bird (and the worms and some fresh feces, if possible) for evaluation by an avian veterinarian. There are several FDA approved deworming medications used on mammals that are proven to be safe for psittacines as well, however, some dewormers can cause liver damage or other problems to birds. Your avian vet should be consulted to determine which treatment is optimal for your bird.
It is more difficult to diagnose worms in birds because the typical fecal flotation examination used to identify worms in other animals is not as effective in birds because the GI transit time is so short that the worm eggs don’t have a chance to build up in the feces, as they do in dogs and cats. Finding a worm in the dropping is diagnostic. It is more difficult to find a tapeworm egg in the dropping, and occasionally, as occurs in dogs and cats, a tapeworm segment, that looks like a grain of rice and may be moving may be passed by a bird.
Long Term Care: In an August 2005 article Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, Dip ABVP – avian practice, recommended that all birds being seen by a vet for the first time be dewormed for ascarids, especially if the band shows that the bird was bred in the southeast portion of the USA. She also said birds that have passed worms in their droppings should be periodically treated with dewormer for the remainder of their lives because the larvae may become encysted in the tissues and become activated during times of stress. If you have questions about whether your bird has worms, parasitology labs have special stains and test that can be performed on droppings collected over several days to increase the chances of effectively diagnosing worms in birds.
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Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Diagnose Your Bird tool is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s ailment. If you notice changes in your bird’s health or behavior, please take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.