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Lice

Lice Overview


Lice are a common ectoparasite (external parasite) of chickens. Lice are tiny (1-6 mm [0.04-0.24 in] in length), wingless insects which possess chewing mouthparts, used to feed on dry skin scales, scab tissue, and feather parts of the chicken. There are several different species of lice that invade chickens, each species differs in appearance, where they are found on the bird, and by what they eat.
where to look for lice on chickens
Adult lice will lay their eggs at the base of the feather shafts or along the feather barb. They look like cemented clusters of small eggs, which each egg less than 1 mm long. Lice are transmitted to chickens through close contact with infested birds.

Lice Vs Sticktight Flea Vs Bedbug

LiceSticktight FleaBedbug
Adult Appearance   
Size1-6 mm (0.04-0.24 in)1.5-4 mm (0.06-0.16 in)4-12 mm (0.15-0.47 in)
ColorYellowish to brownDark brownReddish brown
Turns redNoNoYes
WingsNoNoNo
Body typeFlat, elongatedFlatOval and flat
SpeedQuick-movingSlow movingQuick-moving
Visible to the naked eyeYesYesYes
Feeds onDry skin scales, scab tissue, feather parts, bloodBloodBlood
Where they are foundSpend their entire life on the host -- abdomen, vent, breast, back, neck, wings, and tail.Bare skin on the head - comb, wattles, near eyesHide in crevices, cracks, behind floorboards, in walls, and behind wall outlets during the day, feed on chickens at night
TransmissionWild birds, wildlife, rodents, contaminated fomitesTurkeys, wildlife, wild birds, dogs, cats, horses, pigs, people, soil, litterContaminated equipment
Where eggs are laidFound in white clusters at the base of feather shaftsLay their eggs around the eyes anad wattles of chickens, causing nodules. Once the flea larvae hatch, they drop off the chicken to live in the soil for 2 weeks.Tiny, microscopic whitish, sticky eggs that adhere to surfaces in secluded areas
Average Life cycle2-3 weeks1-2 months4 weeks
How you can tellCause feather loss, irritation; eggs laid in clumps at the base of feathersVisible during the daytime, found in clusters on unfeathered areas, such as the bird's eyes, comb, and wattles.Look around the premises for the presence of bugs
TemperatureCool weather, greatest in the autumn and winter.Warm and humid weatherTemperate regions
Clinical signsUnkempt feathers, anemia, skin lesions, weakening, loss of appetite, weight loss, reduced egg producion, restlessnessdark brown spots face, anemia, restlessness, swollen eyelids, crusted lesions, ulcerations, blindnessExcessive feather loss, vent irritation, lesions on breasts and legs, anemia, reduced egg production
ZoonoticNoYesYes
Carry diseasesNoNoYes

Clinical Signs

Tiny insects or eggs visible on birds
Weakness
Loss in appetite
Decreased egg production
Restlessness
Feather loss
Red, scabby, irritated skin
Clusters of eggs at the base of feathers

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Skin scraping

Treatment

NameSummary
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Ivermectin 1% dropsApplied to chickensIn accordance with label instructions
Poultry powderIt is more important to apply the powder directly to the bird's body rather than the premisesIn accordance with label instructions
AshAdd spent ash from a wood-burning fireplace into the chicken's dustbathing areaNatural Chicken Keeping Blogspot
NuStockApply to clusters of eggs by coating the egg sacs with itNatural Chicken Keeping
Neem seed extract spray133 dilution (with tap water) of a neem seed extract (MiteStopĀ®) or by spraying them with the freshly diluted product

Apply caution because neem is toxic to chickens if ingested.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) (food grade)6 cups of DE combined with 25 lbs (1/2 bag) of washed play sand in a large plastic container such as a plant pot or storage containerA. Murillo, UC Riverside; Martin et al., 2012
Force moltingWhen chickens molt they will shed the lice-infested feathers. However, these feathers need to be promptly removed, to prevent reinfection of the new feathers that grow in.

Prevention

  • Do not trim beaks
  • Provide a dustbathing area for chickens, using a combination of sand w/ diatomaceous earth (DE), kaolin clay or sulphur
  • Maintain clean bedding
  • Regularly examine birds

Prognosis

Good as long as the problem is addressed.

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Blogs

Risk Factors

  • Chickens with injured or deformed beaks, which prevent them from practicing effective self-grooming of their feathers.
  • Not providing chickens with an area to dustbath

Seasonality

WinterSpringSummerAutumn