Mites — Lice Treatment And Prevention, BackYard Chickens — Learn How to Raise Chickens

Mites & Lice Treatment And Prevention

A parasite is any living thing that lives off another living thing. External parasites can either suck blood or eat feathers. Chickens with bad infestations become thin, don’t lay eggs well, and have reduced fertility. With really bad infestations your birds may die. Chickens can get anemia from these bugs. Hens, to some extent, can treat themselves by dust bathing. Dust bathing is really good for your chickens. It dislodges the parasites and also helps get dirt and oils off of them. Make sure your chickens have an area to dust bath and if they don’t, put a big pan filled with sand in their pen. Inspect your hens regularly for signs of parasites.

Parasite symptoms: (All of these symptoms don’t apply to every parasite listed)

  • Itchiness
  • Bare patches
  • Lots of scratching
  • Loss of weight
  • Diarrhea
  • Symptoms of paralysis
  • Swollen legs with scales standing up
  • Laying slows or stops
  • Sitting hunched up with ruffled feathers
  • Reduced fertility
  • Listless

Here is a picture of a mite infestation.

Picture by bluebee

Mites are spider like creatures. These bugs are under 1/25 of an inch in their length. Most are microscopic (can’t be seen with our eyes). They usually live off of blood, tissue cells, or feathers. They can be spread by contaminated shoes, other chickens, equipment, clothing, etc. Mites aren’t always on the chicken; some actually spend a good amount of time off the bird. Here are some common mites.

Red Mites

This mite has eight legs and crawls on the chickens during the night to feed on their blood. Red mites are gray until they eat, after filling up with blood they turn red. Found in tiny cracks, crevices, or in nesting boxes, these can actually kill chickens. Also check under the perches for red mites. Living up to one year without feeding on hens, take care to treat the birds multiple times. When using a broody hen, inspect the nest she will be brooding in very carefully, making sure to check every crack for these mites. Birds may not go up at night if the infestation is bad. In hot weather the population of red mites really increases. A single female can lay up to 120,000 eggs. Check your birds at night for red mites. They will be crawling around on perches and on your birds. They can bite humans if the infestation is really bad. These horrible little bugs can carry New Castle disease, Fowl Cholera, and Fowl Pox.

Scaly Leg Mites

Scaly leg mites are small mites that burrow under the scales on chickens legs. They spread very slowly from bird to bird. If the legs are seriously affected, the scales will be lifted and under the scale, it will be inflamed and bleeding. If it goes unnoticed for a while, the legs will have little white encrustations (crusts) between the scales. Remove these but only after soaking and several treatments of petroleum jelly or else they will bleed. Only really bad infestations cripple the bird. An easy treatment is Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline) on the legs. This will smother the mites.

Notice the raised scales.

Northern Fowl Mites

A Northern mite is the most serious external parasite. It shows itself as damp patches on feathers, there will be many crawling around on the patches which occur in the neck feathers and vent feathers. The wings and tail affected by these birds looked like they have been chewed on. They also cause scabby skin and darkened feathers around vent. You may also see them (in bad infestation) crawling around on egg in nesting boxes. These mites multiply very quickly, so act fast with treatment. Take all the chickens out and put them in a different coop for a while. After a couple weeks in an unoccupied coop, these mites will die. Clean the hen house very well, making sure to get every corner. Treat your chickens every week until the mites are gone. Killing these mites is hard but not impossible. Chickens should not be put back in the infected coop until the coop has had time to air out from all the powders/sprays. Northern fowl mites are hard to control, don’t give up.

Feather Mites

These mites live on the feathers and eat the plumage. The damage to the base of the feather is very bad and ruins the feathers. Thankfully, they are not common in North America. Some types of feather mites cause so much irritation that the birds pull out and scratch their feathers in order to get relief.

Chigger Mites

Chigger mites are red and infest the skin of chickens as well as humans. They leave small itchy red spots where they have been feeding. These mites can be straw colored and are very small. The immature chiggers are the ones that feed on blood. Chiggers are commonly found under the wings, on the breast, and legs. When feeding chiggers inject poisonous saliva that liquefies the skin, they then feed off of that. It then causes really itchy skin, swelling, and scabs. Young birds stop eating, drinking, and may die. I’ve been bitten by a few chiggers before and it really itches.

Body Louse

Body lice chew through the skin into growing quills to get to the blood. You will find scabs on skin and light eggs. Body lice move really fast so it may be hard to see when you check your birds.

Head Louse

This is the most serious louse pest. They are very harsh on young birds and they spread from the hen to her chicks. Seriously infected chicks will die.

Common Fowl Louse

These are the most common louse. Because parasites itch, feathers are picked and scratched, making bare patches. They reproduce rapidly laying groups of eggs called nits.

See also:  How to Remove Insects From the Ear Canal, Healthfully

Always keep your chicken coops clean and dry. Use dust like Garden & Poultry dust to prevent these parasites. Make sure your chickens have a place to dust bath. Regularly check your chickens for these parasites (at night will be easier because you won’t have to catch them).

If you have any question please feel free to ask.

For further reading and forum discussions on lice and mites, see here:

How To Identify, Treat, and Prevent Chicken Lice

Posted by The Happy Chicken Coop on May 2, 2019 Posted In: Guides

Last updated on May 23rd, 2019 at 10:33 pm

It might seem strange to learn that even chickens can become infested with lice. They eat bugs, after all, but these external parasites are not the typical run-of-the-mill chicken treat-type bug. They spread fast and can cause severe problems for the entire flock. Identifying an infestation early, and treating the flock quickly, is extremely important to prevent a decline in health, and in some cases death. I want to mention not to panic if you find lice present in your flock. This has been a battle for generations and there are ways to identify, treat, and prevent lice on your chickens.

Ads For Chicken Lice Prevention – early 1900’s

What are Lice? – Lets Identify

Lice are considered external parasites. They feed off of the host, from the outside–think mites, or fleas. Some are tiny while others are large enough to see with the naked eye. Poultry lice feed on a chicken’s dead skin, their blood, feather shaft debris and anything else they find appetizing on a chicken.

Typically, lice have an elongated abdomen. A louse will spend its entire life-cycle living on an unsuspecting chicken, usually under the feathers, and near the vent. Lice enjoy a warm environment, so these types of nooks and crannies are precisely what the lice love.

Lice spread easily from chicken to chicken, so bringing any new chickens into a flock can be dangerous if they are not quarantined and monitored before introducing them to their new feathered friends.

Generally, chickens can handle a few mites here and there. Often, dust bathes will stifle an infestation. As usual, a chicken takes pretty good care of itself and knows when a dust bath is in order; however, when they are overrun with lice, that’s when the problems start. Lice multiply quickly, and an out-of-control infestation means a chicken is being fed upon by many lice; thus the beloved chook runs the risk of becoming anemic, due to blood loss. An anemic chicken has a weakened immune system, and can easily contract other infections and diseases. If the condition is not treated, it can often lead to death.

Diatomaceous Earth For Mites
Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade – 10lb With Powder Duster

  • Natural Product – composed of 10lbs of 100% ground freshwater diatomaceous earth with absolutely no additives or fillers.
  • Omri listed – listed with organic minerals research institute

The burning question on everyone’s mind is usually, “Can I get lice from my chickens?” and the answer is, “nope!” Luckily, poultry lice are much different than the lice people often think of— they are unlike the kind kids often bring home from school. Poultry lice are entirely different and have no desire to live with humans. They prefer our feathered friends instead, mainly because their diet consists of poultry skin and feathers.


Chickens naturally get lice just by being around in their environment. They can even get them from wild birds. It isn’t hard for a flock to become infested, and when they do, it can happen quickly. If chickens are kept in unfavorable living conditions, chances of becoming infested with lice are much higher. For example, a small dirty coop is a perfect environment for lice to multiply and live on multiple chickens.

Since chickens love to roost together, moving from chicken to chicken is easy for lice. If one chicken is infested, it is safe to assume everyone in the flock should be monitored and treated. Leaving one or two untreated is usually a big mistake because the cycle has not been broken.

Symptoms of an Infestation

Lice are relatively easy to recognize, and with careful monitoring, any infestation can be squelched before it gets out of control. The following symptoms are good indicators that a flock may have a bit of a problem:

  • Fatigue – Chickens who are no longer their perky selves may have an infestation. If they seem withdrawn and sluggish, they may have some unwanted tag-alongs.
  • Patchy reddish dark pink areas and wings that look like they have been chewed on are a sign of infestation.
  • Pale combs and wattles – When a chicken becomes anemic, its beautiful bright red combs and wattles often become a pale pink color. This is a good indication that they may be infested with lice.
  • Dirty vent – Every hen gets a bit of a dirty bottom from time to time, but if upon closer examination the vent appears to have tiny specks of dirt around it, then perhaps it isn’t just a bad day in the nesting box.
  • Drooping wings – Chickens let their wings drop when they aren’t feeling well. Often they do this on hot days to allow the air circulate around their bodies, but if they do this every day, it probably means they aren’t doing all that great. Time to take a closer look.
  • Itchy – Lice are itchy! Chickens will be itching a lot more than usual if they are infested with lice. They may also be doing more dust bathing than usual because the dust soothes the itches and suffocate the lice. They may be self-medicating.
  • Drop in egg production – There are many reasons a chicken may have a decline in egg production, but sometimes lice can be the cause of it.
  • Visible lice – Some types of lice are extremely small, and others can be up to 1/4’ big. The larger they are, the easier they are to see with the naked eye.
  • Lice Eggs on Shafts – Upon further inspection of a chicken’s feather shafts, small eggs will be clumped up (almost like a buildup of whitish dirt) around the bottom part of the chicken’s feather. This is where lice love to lay their eggs.

Brad Mullens / University of California, Riverside – Lice Eggs On Feather Shafts

Treatment of Poultry Lice

At the first sign of lice living amongst a flock, they should all be treated immediately to prevent the outbreak from becoming deadly. Treating lice is a lot of work, so doing it right the first time, makes it a much less painful chore. The following steps will work in most early cases of an infestation:

  1. Move the chickens out of their coop- While lice love to live on the chickens, they also dwell around them between meals. Removing the chickens is the first step in taking control back from the intruders.
  2. Treat- Dust diatomaceous earth (food grade) on all of the chickens. This is a natural way to treat and prevent poultry lice and other health issues. It’s pretty much amazing, and a must-have for the chicken owner. Do this by taking a 50lb bag of play sand that can be found at a general hardware store and mix with 12 cups of DE (diatomaceous earth). This is the perfect dust bath for your chickens.
  3. Feed iron – Because infested chickens have likely lost a lot of red blood cells due to anemia. Iron is a great way to give back what they have lost. Iron-rich treats like pumpkin seeds, peas, and spinach will be a hit amongst an infested flock.
  4. Feed protein – Protein will give a weak flock the energy they need to start the recovery process. As strange as it may sound, scrambled eggs are a great way to provide a quick energy boost. Hey, it works for humans!
  5. Clean coop – Cleaning the old coop, top-to-bottom, and over again, is of the utmost importance. Returning pest-free chickens back to an infested coop will start the entire cycle over again. The coop must be cleaned thoroughly, bedding burned, and corners scrubbed before bring back the now-healthy hens and roos.
  6. Dust again- Because the lice most likely laid eggs, chickens must be dusted once again to ensure any newly hatched eggs are wiped out like the adult lice. It doesn’t hurt the chickens do to this a few times over the following months just to be safe. Providing diatomaceous earth as a dust bathing option will also help prevent new infestations.
  7. If your flock has sever infestation you can use a insecticide with Pyrethrin. It comes in powder/dust or spray solutions. I am strongly against insecticide based treatments unless it means the flock is close to collapse.
Diatomaceous Earth For Mites
Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade – 10lb With Powder Duster

  • Natural Product – composed of 10lbs of 100% ground freshwater diatomaceous earth with absolutely no additives or fillers.
  • Omri listed – listed with organic minerals research institute


The first time a beloved flock becomes infested with mites can be a scary experience, and prevention is should be a priority going forward.

  • Monitoring – Monitoring a flock frequently will help catch infestations early.
  • Quarantine – New birds should always be quarantined and monitored for at least 30 days before being introduced to the resident flock.
  • Treat entire flock – If one chicken in a flock as lice, it’s a safe assumption that they all have it. Treating the whole flock prevents re-work.
  • Dust Baths – Giving chickens access to a dust bath, preferably sprinkled with diatomaceous earth, will allow them to care for themselves. Chickens are smarter than we know, and they usually know long before we do that they have a problem with lice.

Always Encourage Chicken Dust Bathing!

Unfortunately, most backyard flocks will become infested at one point or another. Prevention and regular checkups are the best way to head off an infestation. Once an outbreak is identified and treated, the flock will return to the perky little unit they once were. Production will return, and breakfast will once again be served.

  • How to choose the perfect breed of chicken for you- including our top 5 beginner picks.
  • What to feed them for optimal health and egg laying, including if you’re on a tight budget.
  • From bringing your chicks home for the first time to putting eggs on the table, we’ve got it all covered.

Poultry Lice and Mites Identification and Treatment

M ites and poultry lice are a natural part of every backyard- they travel on birds, rodents and other animals, so when your chickens become infested, it doesn’t mean you’re not keeping a clean coop, it simply means your chickens enjoy the Great Outdoors! Being able to identify each type external parasite is not important, but the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of an infestation and how to treat them is.

The following information may make you itch, but not knowing how to treat mites and lice effectively can have devastating consequences for chickens. This Facebook follower of mine had to have her hen put to sleep from a severe mites infestation that she had been trying to control with DE, aka: diatomaceous earth , which failed to work as usual.

Monthly or bi-monthly flock inspections of each chicken should be performed in order to identify and address parasites before an infestation worsens. Particular attention should be paid to brooding hens since they dust-bathe less frequently than usual, making them especially vulnerable to parasites.

Dirty vent feathers demand a closer look.
Some of the common signs of any type of mite or lice infestation in a chicken are: dirty-looking vent feathers, decreased activity or listlessness, a pale comb, changes in appetite, a drop in egg production , weight loss, feather-pulling , bald spots, redness or scabs on the skin, dull, ragged-looking feathers, crawling bugs on a chicken’s skin or nits on feathers.

Poultry Lice Northern Fowl Mites

The two most common categories of external parasites in chickens are mites and poultry lice. Poultry lice are NOT the same as human head lice and people cannot contract lice from chickens.

Northern fowl mites and Red Roost Mites are two of the most common poultry mites. These tiny, eight-legged beasts can live both on the chicken and in the coop. Red roost mites are partial to cracks and crevices in wood, roosts and inside nesting boxes.

Mites can be grey, dark brown or reddish in color and can often be seen along feather shafts and underneath roosts after dark. Red roost mites are active at night when they venture out to leech blood from chickens. With its moist, rich blood supply, the vent area is a favorite feeding ground of mites.

Typical signs of a mite infestation are scabs near the vent, eggs on the feathers and feather shafts and a light colored bird’s feathers may appear dirty in spots where the mites have left droppings and debris. A heavy mite infestation can lead to anemia and death of a chicken. Mites will bite humans, causing minor irritation in the affected area (and an urgent desire to take a gasoline shower).

Another common mite is the scaly leg mite, (Knemidokoptes mutans) which I discuss in detail here.

Poultry lice are fast-moving, 6 legged, flat insects with round heads that live only on the chicken and its feathers. They are beige or straw colored and are typically found at the base of feather shafts near the vent. Poultry lice feed on dead skin and other debris such as feather quill casings. When parting the feathers near the vent to inspect for parasites, they can be seen briefly as they run away. The eggs laid by the female are seen at the bases of feather shafts.

New poultry lice infestation detected early. Note the absence of nits or debris on the feather shafts.

Mites and lice are most commonly brought into chicken yards by wildlife, especially by wild birds. The use of best biosecurity practices and vigilant observation will limit the damage they inflict.

  • Clean coops regularly, disposing of loose feathers that can carry hatching eggs (nits).
  • Limit visits from fellow poultry-keepers who can transport the creepy crawlies on their clothes, footwear or equipment, (vehicles, shared farm equipment, etc.).
  • Secure chicken feed to prevent parasite and disease-carrying wildlife from visiting regularly.
  • Always quarantine new birds properly before introducing them to an existing flock.
  • Provide adequate dusting areas for chickens to care for their own skin and feathers naturally.

Mites and lice will not be repelled by herbs, but other smaller insects may be. An article by Herbalist Susan Burek in a 2011 article in a chicken keeping magazine suggests that many herbs are effective insecticidals.1 Burek explains that various varieties of herbs can repel or kill some insects. However, Burek stresses that the use of herbs should be part of “[a] multi-faceted (pest prevention) prevention plan.” Coops must be kept clean and chickens should be kept healthy in order to fend off pests themselves through dust bathing and preening. Finally, Burek cautions, avoid toxic chemicals and diatomaceous earth , which upset the natural environmental balance (ie: bees necessary for pollination and other good insects that eat parasitic insects).

I do not add diatomaceous earth to my chickens’ dust-bath areas due to the risk to their highly sensitive respiratory systems. Good sanitation practices, frequent flock inspections and providing ample access to sand for dust bathing are sufficient preventative measures for my flock without exposing them or myself to a daily cloud of respiratory danger.


When lice or mites are found on one bird, the entire flock and coop must be treated. There are many different products available to eradicate mites and lice with varying degrees of effectiveness and safety, among them are:

Always rotate treatment products to prevent the development of resistance by parasites.

My preferred treatment for lice and mites is poultry veterinarian recommended Elector® PSP . The active ingredient is Spinosad , a product of the fermentation of Saccharopolyspora bacteria. Elector PSP has NO EGG withdrawal period!

Spray in cleaned, empty coop and on birds at the rate of 9 ml per gallon of water. Always mix a fresh batch for each use.”Spinosad (fermentation product of Saccharopolyspora, a type of bacteria). Single use controls all stages of mites. Also kills flies, beetles, agricultural insect pests. Can be used directly on laying hens and to spray buildings.”* Elector PSP can be purchased HERE.

This video shows Mr. Chicken Chick & I treating three of my hens for mites with Elector PSP.

This video explains HOW Elector PSP works. Read more information about Elector PSP HERE .Treating birds after dark when they have gone to roost is the easiest way to treat the entire flock without having to chase anyone. It’s best to tackle the job with a partner. If using a dust product , while wearing a respirator, dust underneath the wings and vent area of each bird sparingly but thoroughly using the shaker can or a pest pistol .

With all methods except Elector PSP, the entire coop must be cleaned out and treated with particular attention paid to nests and roosts.With Elector PSP, the building can be treated directly with the birds inside it, but parasites are a good reason to clean out the coop anyway.

An extensive list of treatment options (with application rates) for eradicating poultry pests including, lice, mites and fleas, can be found at this link to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

**Treatment for lice and mites with most products must be repeated twice after the initial application in 7 day increments, in order to kill the eggs (nits) that had not hatched at the time of the previous treatments. This does not apply to Elector PSP, which is a one time application.**

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