- Finches (especially Gouldians - it is in fact the number one killer of Gouldian finches.
- But have also been diagnosed in other birds
Birds may be less vocal; canaries stop singing. The feather quality deteriorates. Birds appear fluffed up a lot of the time and are less active.
Sneezing, coughing, wheezing, squeaking, wet nostrils, and labored / open -mouth breathing. Other symptoms include tail bobbing, weakness, weight loss and sneezing and clicking sounds while breathing. Those symptoms are often more noticeable after a strenuous activity, such as after a flight.
Unreliable in the live bird. In some instances, the mites are visible to the naked eye, or, they may be spotted on microscopic examination of the fixed tissues. The vet often performs a tracheal swab.
Air sac mites are transmitted via the air by close contact with an infected bird that may be sitting nearby and coughing or sneezing onto other birds releasing a tiny mist of moisture that contains the air sac mite that then infect nearby birds.
Contaminated drinking water is another primary source of transmission.
Please note that BEFORE treatment commences, the real cause needs to be identified. Several diseases / health conditions cause the same symptoms that can be seen by birds infected by air sac mites; for example, respiratory infections or a vitamin A deficiency could be the real cause.
Without treatment, a bird infected with air sac mites will eventually die, as the mites proliferate and eventually cause a complete blockage of the air passages resulting in death by suffocation.
Air sac mites can be treated, but the treatment protocol should be carefully supervised by a vet. Giving too little medication is going to be ineffective and giving too much will lead to a massive die-off of these air-sac mites that then cause respiratory blockage. Also, one has to consider that the commonly prescribed medications themselves are toxins and overdosing your pet can have serious consequences, including death.
If one bird of the flock is suffering an infestation of air sac mites, it is advisable to treat ALL birds since it is likely that all have been exposed to this mite via the drinking water and direct exposure.
The most common drugs used for that purpose are Ivermectin (USA), Ivomec (Europe) and a variety of other drugs are available in other parts of the world. For self-treatment SCATT has become a popular choice (active ingredient: Moxidectin). Other products available for that purpose are Iverlux (active ingredients: Ivermectin 0.8 g/L and Slippery Elm). Self-treatment is risky, but in places where no avian vet is available, sometimes the only option. Please NOTE: if self-medicating: there is risk involved in doing so - it is strongly recommend to follow the instructions of your doctor ...
The producer of Abba Seed recommends the following dose and method to cure Airsack Mites by using Ivervmectin 1% Injectable Solution (it is available in many veterinary supply places or from your local veterinarian). In the evening, just before the birds go to sleep, remove all the drinking water from the cages or aviary. The next morning the birds will be nice and thirsty. Vigorously shake the Ivermectin bottle. Then to 16oz. of drinking water add 1cc of Ivermectin. Again, shake the mixture well and place before the birds in a clean pre-sterilized container. The birds will drink the solution with gusto. Usually one good drink will cure the above mentioned problems. Leave the water treated with Ivermectin before the birds until they drink all of it or until the next day. Repeat the treatment in two weeks. Personally, as well as many fellow fanciers we treat the birds with the above mentioned method twice a year, in January and at the end of the breeding season. Be careful, Ivermectin is a very powerful parasiticide. An overdose may kill your birds. Do not administer Ivermectin straight from the bottle. GA.
Common treatment protocol by a vet:
The vet dribbles the drug onto the neck or between the shoulder blades of the sick bird which will enter its body and acts as a contact poison for the mites. The vet usually performs this treatment three times: on the first, fifth and ninth day of therapy. Usually an improvement can be seen within 24 hours after the first course of treatment.
Vets commonly treat birds with Ivermectin Propylene Glycol, which differs from the Ivermectin one finds in the farm stores with the picture of a cow on the front of the bottle. Birds require a special dilution and if given to a bird full strength, or improperly diluted, death could result. Only the Ivermectin available for birds is correctly formulated for birds and can be given right from the bottle. Please note that this a double application treatment. After the first application repeat in twelve days, as during the first time you are killing the mites but not the eggs. During the second application you are killing the mites that hatch from the eggs. The usual vet recommendation is to treat twice a year, or up to 4 months in humid / warm climates. Your vet will be able to advise you on the details.
Environmental Treatment and Supportive Care
During the treatment period, it is important to sanitize the drinking containers daily, as birds can get reinfected via contaminated drinking containers.
At this time, it is important to prevent a bird from exerting itself. Flights should be prevented until after successful treatment of this condition.
It's best to remove any grit until the finches or canaries are well again (parrots shouldn't be given grit at any time). Some birds will over-eat grit when they are ill and may become impacted.
If providing supplements to your pet, please discuss with your vet whether any of the enriched bird foods/supplements may interfere with the prescribed drug's action.
Follow the procedures for supportive sick-bird care. Your pet needs all the help he or she can get to get well.
Other Relevant Web Resources
Index of Bird Diseases ... Symptoms and Potential Causes ... Bird Species and Diseases They are Most Susceptible to
Please also refer to the below article for further information on air sac mites...
Air Sac Mites
David Friddle, DVM - * The Animal Hospital
2107 Marlboro St. Birmingham, AL 35226 Phone: (205) 823-6002 Fax: (205) 822-5113
A common respiratory problem seen in Gouldian finches and less frequently in canaries is caused by air sac mites (Sternastoma Tracheacolum). The life cycle of the mite is still not known but is probably spread to nestling birds from the regurgitated nutrients by the parents. They can be coughed up from the trachea and swallowed and passed orally or through the stool. Food and water can also be contaminated from coughing and sneezing.
Owners and aviculturists may see a progressive loss of condition in these birds, respiratory distress, wheezing and squeaking sounds, coughing, sneezing, discharge from nares, loss of voice, gasping, and occasionally head shaking. Birds rarely die from this but it can have a long-term effect on the flock in both health and economics.
A positive diagnosis can be made by trans-illumination of the trachea using a pinpoint light source shining through the skin and "windpipe". The mites are tiny black specks within the trachea. As they are not always seen in this manner you may have to treat based on clinical signs in these birds. If lab work can be performed there is often an increase in a certain white blood cell called a basophil.
There have been a variety of treatments documented over the years. One involves placing a No-Pest Strip (diclorvos) by the cage and covering it for an hour monitoring the birds very carefully for evidence of wobbling and toxicity. The strip should be aired out for 1-2 days prior to use. They can also be used to hang in the aviary but away from contact with the birds. This treatment has the potential to be more harmful to the birds than the mites and its use is very questionable.
More commonly Ivermectin is used. Various regimens have been used and the choice can be selected due to a variety of factors - is it a single bird or flock; are the birds easily handled or highly stressed; what is the degree of infestation; and possible resistance of the mites. An easy way to treat is using 0.1% Ivermectin (1:10 dilution with propylene glycol) topically on the bare skin on the lower neck over the jugular vein area using approximately one drop. A small amount of alcohol on a swab may be necessary to view the skin through the feathers. This is simple and fast and works well in many birds. A disadvantage is inconsistency of absorption of active ingredients. Another choice is to dilute 1:10 in saline and dose orally at 0.05mg (1 drop or 0.05ml) once every 2 weeks for 1-3 applications (some literature has up to 6 treatments needed for a difficult infestation). Saline dilution may have a precipitate but this does not seem to change the effectiveness. This is a dose of 50 micrograms and is at the high end of the therapeutic range and should be reserved for resistant mites. The normal dose recommended is 400 micrograms/kg and can be achieved with a 1:50 dilution and giving 1 drop.
Propylene Glycol is not used for oral administration due to its potential aspiration into the trachea and resulting damage to it. Some have used the more dilute dosage (1:50 with saline) orally once daily for 3-4 days. Some also inject the medication IM every 2 weeks or once daily for 3 days (400 micrograms/kg) but this is extremely stressful to the birds and aviculturists. Always mix the Ivermectin and diluent fresh for each treatment. Evidence of over-dosage would be sleepiness, trouble standing, and drooping head. These signs will be seen within 10-60 minutes. Water dishes may need to be removed during this time as drowning could occur. As a precaution each breeder should test the dosing on a few birds prior to treating the entire flock. With a flock problem it is wise to retreat prior to each breeding season.
If the respiratory problems do not clear up after treatments then there are several other opportunists, viruses, or bacteria (enterococcus) that can cause primary and secondary problems. Use of immune system stimulants may be helpful. It is best to seek veterinary assistance for these problems.
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