Of Mites and Men

Amelia, not very happy to be photographed in this way and frankly, I don’t blame her.

During yesterday’s bird visit extravaganza, my friend and I noticed something strange about Amelia’s behavior: she wasn’t very active. She spent most of her time preening (cleaning her feathers and skin with her beak), rather than pecking about or roaming with the other Junglefowl.

I didn’t put much thought into it at first, but after the bird visit was over and John had taken his birds away, she was STILL standing around, preening.

I had recently taken the cat to the vet for strange scabs in his ears, odd head shaking and what seemed like an uncomfortable amount of scratching. It turned out he had ear mites.

Suddenly, it occurred to me Amelia might have mites as well, as the behaviors are similar. I took to the Internet for answers, finding out it was highly likely she was infested.

Symptoms of mites include:

  • Excessive preening (!)
  • Dry, scaly feet
  • Missing feathers

Upon closer inspection, Amelia displayed all of these symptoms. Further reading revealed some interesting points, such as the fact that chickens and other fowl roll around in dirt (known as a “dust bath” ) to rid themselves of and prevent mites, as the dust and dirt smother the parasites. (I knew they took these baths, but never WHY)

After unsuccessful attempts to get Amelia to dust bathe, I resorted to manually flipping her around in the dirt and sprinkling dust over the affected areas, under her wings (which, alarmingly, were totally barren of feathers!) and near her tail/vent (the area where her….waste exits).

The next problem area, dry, scaly feet, I addressed in comical fashion. Advice from another blog told me oil rubbed onto the feet and legs will smother mites, similar to the dust bath. I flew into the kitchen, coming up with sunflower seed oil, which I applied to her legs and feet. Oddly, she seemed to enjoy this.

My hilariously crumpled bottle of sunflower seed oil. (It’s the only way it’ll fit in the cupboard!)

Another bit I found suggested putting garlic and apple cider vinegar in her water, as mites do not enjoy the taste of blood saturated with these things. Off to the kitchen again, this time for garlic powder and a dash went in her water dish. Apple cider vinegar was something I lacked and would have to go to the store for.

The final piece of advice I dug up recommended something I had never heard of: “Diatomaceous Earth” (I’m still not sure I pronounce it correctly). This is a substance, made of a sedimentary rock, ground into a fine powder and having various properties, including pest control. From Wikipedia: “The fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. Arthropods die as a result of the water pressure deficiency…”

I had an inkling Tractor Supply carried the stuff, but I was up against a time limitation (yes, I do have a day job) and the Supply is quite a hike from my house. A quick search revealed Wal-Mart has the stuff, at least on their website. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone (well, maybe save one bird with one stone) by picking up the apple cider vinegar AND this weird stuff at a store kind of on my way to work.

They didn’t have it. All I could find was the apple cider vinegar. Out of time (running way behind actually), I went to work, somewhat frustrated.

After work, with not much time to spare (working weird hours in the afternoon has its advantages, but getting to stores before they close is not one of them!), I flew to what my phone’s navigation CLAIMED was the nearest Tractor Supply, but turned out to be a local mom and pop shop. I was somewhat perturbed by this, but decided to give them a try anyway, as I didn’t have much choice late in the evening. This turned out to be great, as the clerks knew exactly what I was talking about, told me how to pronounce it correctly and informed me there are different varieties for different purposes, including one for lawn care and the food grade sort I needed for my bird.

Another benefit of shopping at the unexpected store was this five-pound bag being priced the same as two-and-a-half pound bags I saw advertised online.

This morning, I added apple cider vinegar to her water, slathered her feet with oil and added Diatomaceous Earth to her feed, as well as sprinkling some on her.

I have no idea who got the mites first, the bird or the cat.

I am keeping a close eye on her, keeping her separated from the other birds (also the cat!) and will see what are the results of these remedies. I have also added apple cider vinegar to my adult hen’s water and the Diatomaceous Earth to the cat’s litter box. I am not taking any chances.

Thanks for reading, as always!

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