Ringworm (dermatophytosis) is a fungal skin infection that affects humans and animals, including parrots. The disease is most common in young parrots and those with pre-existing medical conditions. When a bird is infected with ringworm, a patch of skin will develop an itchy, raised, scaly, and red ring.
Parrots with ringworm will have been infected by direct contact with the infected spores released by fungi. They will have come into contact with an infected human, animal, item, or substance. When parrots have ringworm, the irritation may cause them to pluck out their feathers and peck at the area until it becomes ulcerated and bleeds.
Following exposure to the infective fungal spores, it takes 2-4 weeks for the symptoms of ringworm to become apparent. The itchiness or feather loss will alert you to the problem. Since ringworm can be transferred from birds to humans (zoonotic), wear protective gloves during handling/treatment and wash your hands regularly.
Dermatophytosis in Parrots
As discussed, ringworm (tinea) is a fungal infection that affects the skin of humans and animals alike. The infection will create small circles that can appear anywhere on the skin. These small circles are lines that are:
- Red and inflamed
- Clear or scaly inside the circles
- Itchy and irritaed
- Raised lines
- Blistering (occasionally)
In mild cases, ringworm looks like a rash, and the lines surrounding the patch of skin are only slightly raised. In more severe cases, the rash develops sores and ulcers.
Can Parrots Get Ringworm?
Many people believe that only mammals can get ringworm, but this is untrue. Avian creatures, such as parrots, can get infected just as easily. This happens when your parrot:
- Comes in contact with the fungal spores. These include Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton fungi.
- Touches animals or people already infected. The spores will transfer and settle into the parrot’s skin.
There are 40 different types of fungi that cause ringworm. These fungi produce spores that infect and attack the host. These spores are airborne pathogens that are carried by the wind.
Once they’ve traveled away from the fungus that released them, they land on the ground. Some parrots that are allowed to roam outside get ringworm. It’s usually because they made contact with some grass infected with spores.
As it begins to take over, the parrot’s immune cells fight to keep the infection at bay. Of course, this only happens if the parrot is healthy.
Can A Parrot Fight Off Ringworm?
A healthy parrot may be able to fight off ringworm. If so, it won’t be infected. The parrots must vulnerable are:
- Young parrots. Young parrots don’t have sufficient immune cells.
- Old parrots. An older parrot’s immune system is run down.
- Unhealthy parrots. A healthy adult with a weak immune system.
These parrots have weakened immune systems. Depending on the parrot, ringworm can lead to further health problems. That makes talking to an avian vet important. An immune system may be compromised due to:
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
Is Ringworm Deadly To Parrots?
Ringworm isn’t a dangerous infection. However, it’s still a virus that:
- Weakens the immune system
- Causes a parrot’s feathers to fall out
Without feathers, parrots are more vulnerable to colder temperatures. Likewise, a parrot that constantly picks at its ringworm rash will bleed. That injury is something that may open the path to future bacterial infections.
Symptoms of Ringworm in Parrots
Owners are often unaware that their parrot has ringworm. That’s because it’s difficult to tell when a parrot has ringworm, especially in the early stages. Here’s why:
- It takes 2-4 weeks for the symptoms of ringworm to appear
- Feathers will hide the rash until they fall out
The easiest way to identify ringworm is while you’re bathing your parrot. Here are some symptoms a parrot will display when infected. By noticing them, you can do something about it before others get infected:
Ringworm can show up anywhere on the body. Have you noticed your parrot scratching one or more specific parts of its body? If so, while wearing gloves, move the feathers out of the way and check for an inflamed patch of skin.
If your parrot is scratching itself excessively, it might break the skin. This needs to be resolved. Otherwise, bacteria may enter the body via the open wound.
Ringworm shows up on the skin as inflamed circles. According to Mycopathologia, this symptom will be even more prominent in animals than humans. They are characterized by bulging lines that surround a patch of skin. They may even look like scar tissue.
Ulcers and sores might also appear in the infected area. If you see any rash-like spots but not circles, check for other symptoms. 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. If it starts developing bald patches outside of the molting season, this is a clear warning sign of ringworm in parrots.
How Did My Parrot Get Ringworm?
Ringworm is rare in parrots. However, if they do contract it, here are the likely explanations:
Parrots that are frequently in contact with small children are more likely to get ringworm. In children, ringworm is common. They get infected when interacting with other kids, playing outside, and petting animals. Your child may then come home and play with your parrot, and it’s this that can contaminate your parrot.
If your parrot plays outside, it may get infected by ringworm. The fungal spores can be found on grass, leaves, or toys left outside. If your parrot was rolling around on your lawn, it might have been exposed to the fungi.
If the parrot is healthy enough, its immune system will prevent infection. However, it could bring back the spores on its feathers and infect you, friends, family members, and pets.
Illness And Injury
If your parrot is ill or is recovering from an injury, its immune system will be compromised. Aside from that, your parrot may get ringworm due to its medication. For example, antibiotics reduce the number of immune cells in the body.
The parrot’s age plays a role in whether or not the active spores will lead to infection. Very young and old parrots need to be monitored more closely as their bodies aren’t sufficiently robust. Young parrot’s bodies are still developing and lack mature cells, while the bodies of old parrots have diminished immune function.
In a house with cats and dogs, a parrot’s chances of getting ringworm are higher. Some animals are also asymptomatic carriers, meaning that they exhibit no symptoms. This risk is heightened if the other animals are allowed to go outside. Even if your parrot never leaves the house, it can get ringworm from another pet.
Many parrots are captured from their natural habitats and smuggled into the country. All those parrots are kept together for long periods of time. A single parrot can spread ringworm to other birds.
By the time an infected parrot reaches you, it could have been infected for a long time without showing symptoms. Sometimes, it can even take a month after the parrot is exposed.
A parrot’s living area can be a breeding ground for fungal growth. Proper hygiene improves the lives of all living creatures, and parrots are no exception. Frequent baths, cage cleaning, and a sterile living area help prevent ringworm.
Stress can affect a parrot’s immune system. This deterioration of immune cells is commonly seen in parrots that experience long-term stress. Regardless of age, parrots that have been stressed for long periods of time are more likely to become ill. This will make them far more susceptible to ringworm.
The immune system of a parrot cannot function properly if it’s malnourished. “Malnourished” doesn’t always mean that the parrot doesn’t get enough to eat. Rather, it means that it doesn’t get the proper nutrition it needs.
Seed and pellet-based diets are the most convenient types of foods. However, they usually lack the nutritional content required to keep a bird healthy.
Parrot Fungal Infection Treatment
Once you’ve discovered that your parrot has ringworm, here’s a step-by-step guide to treat it:
Keep your parrot from touching anything or anyone. Since it’s highly contagious, it will spread quickly.
Keep the parrot in its cage while you clean any area where it might have been. Here’s how:
- You can get rid of any mold or fungi with white vinegar or a non-toxic disinfectant
- If you have any other pets, they should be bathed
- Advise anyone else you live with to stay away from the parrot
- Wash any clothes that came into contact with the parrot
You can take your parrot to an avian vet to be treated for ringworm. However, there are many over-the-counter topical medications you can use to treat the infection at home.
If your parrot still has feathers in the way, be thorough about applying ointment and gels. Never try to remove any feathers yourself. The parrot’s skin is already inflamed, so you might irritate your parrot’s already-sensitive skin. Most treatments will clear up fungal skin infections within 7-10 days.
Contact Your Vet
After 7 to 10 days, the ringworm should be gone. If not, take your parrot to the vet. If the ringworm is severe, a vet might 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.