Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens
Ringworm (dermatophytosis) is a fungal skin infection that can affect bird species.
It’s rare but most common in young parrots and those with pre-existing medical conditions. When a parrot is infected with ringworm, a skin patch will develop an itchy, raised, scaly, and red ring.
Parrots with ringworm will have been infected through direct contact with the infected spores released by fungi from an infected human or animal.
When parrots have ringworm, the irritation may cause them to pluck out feathers and peck at the area until it becomes ulcerated and bleeds.
Following exposure to the fungal spores, it takes 2-4 weeks for the symptoms of ringworm to manifest. The itchiness or feather loss will likely alert you to the problem.
Since ringworm can be transferred from birds to humans as it’s zoonotic, wear protective gloves during handling sessions and treatment. Wash your hands when you’re done.
Dermatophytosis in Parrots
Ringworm (tinea) is a fungal infection that affects the skin of humans and animals. The infection will create small circles that appear on the skin. These small circles have lines that are:
- Red and inflamed.
- Clear or scaly inside the circles.
- Itchy and irritated.
- Raised lines.
- Blistering (occasionally).
In mild cases, ringworm looks like a rash, and the lines surrounding the skin patch are only slightly raised. In more severe cases, the rash develops sores and ulcers.
How Parrots Get Ringworm
Many believe that only mammals can get ringworm, but this is untrue. Avians, like parrots, can be infected just as easily. This happens when a parrot:
- Comes into contact with the fungal spores, including Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton fungi.
- Touches infected animals or people, transferring the spores to the parrot’s skin.
More than 40 types of fungi can cause ringworm. These fungi produce spores, which are airborne pathogens carried by the wind.
They land on the ground once they’ve traveled away from the fungus that released them. Some parrots that roam outside their cages get ringworm.
The parrot’s immune cells will ward off infection, but not always successfully.
Fighting Off Ringworm
Parrots most vulnerable include:
- Young parrots.
- Old parrots.
- Unhealthy parrots.
An immune system may be compromised due to the following:
- Poor diet.
- Lack of exercise.
Ringworm isn’t Deadly To Parrots
Ringworm isn’t a dangerous or life-threatening infection. However, it can still:
- Weaken the immune system.
- Cause feathers to fall out.
- Be itchy and uncomfortable.
Without feathers, parrots are more vulnerable to cold temperatures. Likewise, a parrot that constantly picks at the ringworm site is likelier to bleed and get infected.
Symptoms of Ringworm in Parrots
Owners may be unaware a parrot has ringworm in the early stages. That’s because:
- It takes 2-4 weeks for the symptoms of ringworm to manifest.
- Feathers will hide the rash until they fall out.
Here are some common signs of ringworm in birds:
Ringworm can appear anywhere. Have you observed the parrot scratching one or more parts of its body? If so, while wearing gloves, move the feathers and check for inflamed patches of skin.
If a parrot is scratching excessively, it may break the skin. This must be resolved, or the bacteria may enter the body via the open wound.
Ringworm manifests on the skin as inflamed circles.
According to Mycopathologia, this symptom will be more prominent in animals. They’re characterized by bulging lines surrounding a skin patch that may resemble scar tissue.
Ulcers and sores might appear in the infected area. Check for other symptoms if you see rash-like spots but not circles. The circles may develop within a few days.
Loss of Feathers
Once the infection takes hold, the parrot will lose feathers around the irritated area. A warning sign of ringworm is if it develops bald patches outside the molting season.
How Parrots Get Ringworm
Ringworm is rare in parrots. If they contract it, here’s why:
Parrots who come into contact with small children are most likely to develop ringworm.
Kids get infected when interacting together, playing outside, and petting animals. Your child may then play with a pet parrot, which unwittingly infects them.
If a parrot plays outside, it may get infected by ringworm.
The fungal spores on grass, leaves, or outside toys. If a parrot was exploring or rolling around on the lawn, it may have been exposed to fungi.
If the parrot is healthy, its immune system will likely prevent infection. However, it could bring back the spores on its feathers and infect humans and other pets.
Illness And Injury
If a parrot is ill or recovering from injury, its immune system will be compromised.
A parrot may also get ringworm due to its medication. For example, antibiotics reduce the number of immune cells in the body.
A parrot’s age partially determines whether the active spores lead to infection. Young and old parrots must be monitored more closely as their bodies aren’t as robust.
Juvenile parrots’ bodies are still developing and lack mature cells, while the bodies of senior parrots have diminished immune function.
A parrot’s chances of getting ringworm are higher in a home with pet cats or dogs.
Some animals are asymptomatic carriers, meaning that they show no symptoms. This risk is heightened if other animals are allowed outside, which cats and dogs frequently do.
Some parrots are captured from their natural habitats and smuggled into the country illegally. All those parrots are kept together for extended periods, spreading ringworm to other birds.
A parrot’s living area can be a breeding ground for fungal growth.
Good husbandry improves the lives of parrots. Frequent washing, cage cleaning, and a clean living area can prevent many conditions, including ringworm.
Stress can compromise a parrot’s immune system. A marked reduction in immune efficacy is commonly observed in parrots that endure long-term mental and physical stress.
Regardless of age, parrots stressed for long periods are likelier to become ill.
The immune system can’t function properly without nourishment. Being malnourished doesn’t always mean the parrot doesn’t get enough to eat. It may not be getting the nutrition it needs to thrive.
Parrot Fungal Infection Treatment
Here’s a step-by-step approach to treating ringworm in parrots:
Quarantine the parrot, keeping it away from humans, companion birds, and other household pets (including cats, dogs, and rabbits). Since ringworm is contagious, it’ll spread quickly.
Keep the parrot in its cage while you clean everywhere it has been. Here’s how:
- Get rid of mold or fungi with white vinegar or a bird-safe disinfectant.
- If you have other pets, they should be bathed.
- Advise anyone you live with to stay away from the parrot.
- Wash clothes that came into contact with the parrot.
You can take a parrot to a vet for ringworm treatment. However, you can use over-the-counter topical medications to treat ringworm at home.
If a parrot still has feathers in the way, be consistent about applying ointment. Never remove feathers. The parrot’s skin is already inflamed, so you’ll irritate its sensitive skin.
Most treatments will clear up fungal skin infections within 7-10 days.
Contact A Vet
The ringworm should be gone in 7-10 days. If not, take the parrot to the vet.
If the ringworm is severe, a vet may need to prescribe oral medication. This can be more effective since it targets the fungus in the parrot’s entire body.
According to the Lancet, oral treatments reduce the itching sensation faster than topical treatments.