All parrots can get worms, even with good husbandry and optimal living conditions. However, the risk of worms can be minimized with a deworming treatment, even if a parrot isn’t exhibiting symptoms.
Roundworms and tapeworms are parrots’ most common internal parasites, living inside the digestive tract. Parrots can also be at risk of worms that target the gizzard, respiratory tract, and eyes (under the nictating membrane and lacrimal ducts).
Worms often arise from exposure to other infected birds through feces, contaminated food or water, and playing in the soil. Indoor parrots that live alone have a reduced risk of worms but remain vulnerable.
Worms should never be ignored. Left to grow in size and multiply in number, worms can deprive the body of vital nutrients, leaving them malnourished, physically weak, and vulnerable to severe illness.
Some worms that infest birds are zoonotic, meaning they can be passed between parrots and humans. If a parrot has worms, always wear gloves when handling and cleaning its cage.
Do Parrots Need Worming?
Parrots should be dewormed regularly. If you buy a parrot from a pet store or breeder, check if it has been wormed before bringing it home so that you know how to proceed.
You should still quarantine a new parrot, even if it has been wormed. The parrot will have been surrounded by other birds, putting it at risk of parasites, illnesses, and diseases.
How Often Should Parrots Be Wormed?
Regularly worming a parrot as a precaution reduces the likelihood of internal parasites. So, a parrot should be given a preventative wormer every 3-6 months.
What Worms Can Parrots Have?
Here are the most common types of worms in parrots:
Roundworms are most common in parrots, especially the sub-genus Ascaridia platyceri, which is exclusive to psittacines. Roundworms are usually spread through fecal matter that hosts eggs.
Roundworms can attach themselves to many parts of a parrot’s anatomy, so they must be treated before the parasites multiply. As roundworms grow in number, the risks magnify.
The digestive tract is the most common location for roundworms. Once they enter a parrot’s body, they form a thick, capsule-like shell, making worms increasingly difficult to shed.
Preventative worming is the best way to minimize the risk. Roundworms can be stubborn and don’t always cause symptoms initially. However, they can be killed with deworming medication.
Tapeworms are a common issue in birds, with only a mild impact on the health of larger parrots. However, left ignored, tapeworms can cause serious infection as they deprive a bird of nutrition.
Due to their shape, tapeworms (also called flatworms) reach up to 60 mm long. Tapeworms sustain themselves on food the parrot consumes. The more a bird eats, the bigger the worms grow.
Larger tapeworms steal more nutrients from a parrot’s food, potentially leading to malnutrition or starvation. Tapeworms are shed in the feces in segments, making them difficult to identify.
Worms are easily passed between birds, but tapeworms are likelier to arise through water supplies infested with eggs when a parrot lives alone.
Hair worms (Capillaria)
Hair worms take their name from their size and shape. These parasites are up to 2cm long and very thin, similar to human hair. Hair worms burrow into the small intestine and esophagus, creating ulcers.
Hair worms are more common in poultry than companion birds. Sometimes asymptomatic, hair worms will steadily reduce avian immunity to other infections, which can lead to severe illness or death.
Blood in the feces is most likely to manifest when a parrot is infested with hair worms.
Eye worms (Oxyspirura sp)
Eye worms, sometimes called avian eye flukes, are common in parrots. As the name suggests, eye worms impact a parrot’s nictating membrane (third eyelid), lacrimal ducts, and eye glands.
Once the larvae have evolved into full worms, they migrate toward a parrot’s eyes. The worms will then settle under the eyelid or nictitans, leading to conjunctivitis (pink eye) and other irritation.
Eye worms multiply quickly, causing parrots considerable distress.
Gizzard Worms (Acuaria skrjabini)
Gizzard worms are rare in captive parrots, as they’re usually only found in birds that eat wild insects.
As the name suggests, they reside in a parrot’s gizzard. These parasites set up home in the gizzard lining and seek nutrition. The gizzard is where the parrot grinds food before digestion, meaning that worms will have no food shortage.
Of course, the more food they consume, the less nutrition a parrot will receive from meals. In addition, gizzard worms can lead to direct bacterial infection, especially once the worms multiply.
Gape Worms (Syngamus trachea)
Also commonly known as forked worms and red worms, gape worms live within the trachea wall of a parrot. These parasites rob a parrot of the ability to breathe by depriving it of oxygen, forcing the bird to “gape” for air, hence the name.
Gape worms live in pairs; the male worm will attach itself to a female, which is larger, in the shape of a Y. Left untreated, gape worms will cause significant respiratory distress.
Younger parrots are most at risk of gape worms due to their underdeveloped lungs.
Signs of Worms in Parrots
Worm infestations will manifest in varying ways, but there are warning signs:
- Seeing worms hanging from the parrot’s cloaca.
- Clear sight of worms in bird poop or their eggs.
- Diarrhea – not to be confused with polyuria (excessive urine production.)
- Blood or mucus in the parrot’s feces.
- Messy bottom – check for fecal matter becoming matted around the vent.
- Sudden weight loss, even if a parrot is eating regularly and heartily.
- Plucking of the feathers caused by the stress of the infestation.
- Muscular weakness.
- Lethargy and lack of vibrancy in the parrot’s appearance.
- Excessive verbalization, especially in a young parrot.
What Causes Worms in Parrots?
The consumption of contaminated food and water is the most common cause of worms in parrots. If you feed a parrot live insects, they could cause worms.
Worms can also be passed on through contaminated fecal matter of other animals. A parrot may develop worms through mouse or rat droppings or even from a pet cat or dog.
Worms can be zoonotic, so you may unwittingly pass them on to a parrot. If you pick up dog feces or empty a cat’s litter tray, wash your hands before handling the parrot.
Can Worms Kill Parrots?
While not all worm infestations are considered medical emergencies, they can be fatal.
The presence of gape worms that impact a bird’s ability to breathe must be dealt with urgently. Gizzard worms are equally concerning due to their ability to cause bacterial infection.
If a worm infestation is causing a parrot to lose weight, it’ll become increasingly weak and lethargic. This means a parrot can’t always support its body weight while perching or fly while exercising.
Worms will multiply, exacerbating the strain on the parrot’s body. Worms can lead to anemia, vitamin deficiencies, and various life-threatening conditions.
Above all, worms are frequently uncomfortable for a parrot, causing significant stress, compromising the immune system, and significantly shortening its lifespan.
What Is The Best Worming Treatment for Parrots?
A pet store will stock over-the-counter parrot dewormers. Examples include:
- Beaphar Bird Worming Liquid (arguably the best treatment).
- SoluVerm Water Soluble Bird Worming Treatment.
- Vetafarm Wormout Gel.
Most worming medications are effective against common infestations like tapeworms and roundworms, but check if your choice of remedy will also treat less common worms.
Check for side effects associated with worming medication. For example, some dewormers can increase a parrot’s core temperature, so you may need to manage this concern to avoid overheating.
Administer a worming treatment and deep clean the cage. Then, use a bird-safe disinfectant to ensure that any remaining eggs are killed and removed.
Consider periodically changing the deworming treatment if a parrot is prone to worm infestations.
Like all medications, a parrot’s body can develop resistance to the formula. You may also need to review a parrot’s diet and lifestyle if worms become an ongoing concern.