Ringworm (dermatophytosis) is a fungal skin infection that affects humans and animals, including parrots. It’s most common in young parrots and those with pre-existing medical conditions. When a parrot 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’ll 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 into contact with the fungal spores, including 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 types of fungi that cause ringworm. These fungi produce spores that infect and attack the host. The 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 roam outside of their cages get ringworm.
The parrot’s immune cells will fight to keep the infection at bay, but this only happens when the parrot’s healthy.
Can A Parrot Fight Off Ringworm?
A healthy parrot may be able to fight off ringworm. Parrots that are most vulnerable include:
- Young parrots. Younger birds lack sufficient immune cells.
- Old parrots. An older bird’s immune system won’t be as effective.
- Unhealthy parrots. An unhealthy adult will have a compromised immune system.
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 can still:
- Weaken the immune system
- Cause 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.
Symptoms of Ringworm in Parrots
Owners may be unaware that their parrot has ringworm. That’s because it’s difficult to tell when a parrot has ringworm, especially in the early stages. That’s because:
- 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:
Ringworm can show up anywhere on the body. Have you noticed your parrot scratching one or more parts of its body? If so, while wearing gloves, move the feathers out of the way and check for inflamed patches of skin.
If your parrot is scratching itself excessively, it might break the skin. This needs to be resolved or the 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 more prominent in animals than humans. They’re characterized by bulging lines that surround a patch of skin. They may even resemble scar tissue.
Ulcers and sores might 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 warning sign of ringworm.
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 play with your parrot, and it’s this that can infect 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 likely prevent infection. However, it could bring back the spores on its feathers and infect you, friends, family, and other 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 as robust. Young parrots’ 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 asymptomatic carriers, meaning that they exhibit no symptoms. This risk is heightened if other animals are allowed to go outside.
Some parrots are captured from their natural habitats and smuggled into the country. All those parrots are kept together for long periods of time, spreading ringworm to other birds.
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 can prevent ringworm.
Stress can adversely 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 stressed for long periods of time are more likely to become ill.
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.
Parrot Fungal Infection Treatment
Here’s a step-by-step approach to treating ringworm in parrots:
Keep your parrot from touching anything or anyone. Since ringworm is contagious, it’ll spread quickly.
Keep the parrot in its cage while you clean any area where it might have been. Here’s how:
- Get rid of any mold or fungi with white vinegar or a non-toxic disinfectant
- If you have other pets, they should be bathed
- Advise anyone 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 over-the-counter topical medications that you can use to treat ringworm 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.