Fleas are ectoparasites that affect not only mammals such as dogs and cats, but also wild birds and domestic poultry.
Chicken fleas or Ceratophyllus Gallinae are a common problem in Europe and North America, affecting nearly 75 species of birds and mammals. They are known to infest bird cages, poultry shelters and other building structures where animals and birds are housed. Both the male and female Ceratophyllus Gallinae are known to bite their hosts, leaving behind red bite marks and spots. In case of very large infestations, it is not uncommon to see a decrease in egg production owing to chicken fleas.
Other common poultry fleas include the Sticktight flea and the Western Chicken flea (Ceratophyllus Niger), which you may also encounter depending on the area you live in.
Appearance and life cycle of Ceratophyllus Gallinae
Morphologically, chicken fleas can be identified based on the 4-6 bristles present on the surface of the hind femur. The adults are 2-2.5 mm long. They have a pair of eyes and 24 teeth. There are no spines on the basal section of the legs. The life cycle consists of eggs, three larval stages, pupa stage followed by adult chicken fleas.
The adult fleas spend the majority of their time hiding in the host’s nests and come out and latch onto the birds to feed for short durations.
Symptoms of chicken flea bites
Chicken fleas and their bites can bring about varied responses depending on the sensitivity of the host animal.
- These ectoparasites leave hemorrhagic saliva on the victim that can lead to severe itching, irritation and rashes.
- The size of each blood meal of the Ceratophyllus Gallinae is generally small. However, repeated feedings and very large scale infestations can sometimes lead to fatal iron deficiency or anemia, especially in very young fowls.
- Pruritis, allergic dermatitis and secondary skin infections from chicken flea bites are common. These can lead to decreased egg production.
- Primary lesions, crusted papules and alopecia are also common due to chicken flea bites.
- Ceratophyllus Gallinae are known vectors of serious diseases like plague, tularaemia etc.
Treating bites on chickens and other birds
If you discover symptoms of chicken flea bites, proper treatment needs to be initiated.
- It is important to identify which animals have been bitten. This is generally done by observing the birds for signs of agitation, extreme itching etc. Younger fowls will look disheveled and restless.
- Isolate the affected birds and treat them with dry fowl shampoo. Aloe Vera lotion, chamomile or other soothing lotions containing Calamine etc. can be applied to the bird’s bodies. This will help soothe the bitten area.
- It is important to follow the cleaning procedures explained below in order to prevent further bites on the body.
Getting rid of chicken fleas
To get rid of chicken fleas and avoid further infestations, follow these steps.
- The first thing to do is to keep the chicken coop clean and tidy. Clean and replace the bedding and nesting boxes regularly. Periodic inspection of the boxes, roosts and beds, especially around the corners, can help prevent large Ceratophyllus Gallinae infestations down the line. Throw away or burn infested beds if required.
- Food grade diatomaceous earth powders can be sprinkled liberally around the coop. These are readily available in gardening supply stores. The powder works by dehydrating the chicken fleas and shredding their insides. The chicken flock can also be regularly dusted with the powders.
- Apple cider vinegar is especially beneficial in treating chicken fleas on the host bird’s body. Diluted ACV can be sprinkled directly on the birds, taking care not to hit the bird’s eyes or mouth.
- It is important to avoid using dog or cat flea products. Permethrin, Carbaryl or boric acid powders can be fatal to the chickens.
There are many effective products and methods available in the market for preventing and treating Ceratophyllus Gallinae infestations. However, many of the treatments described above need to be repeated every 10 days in order to break the flea life cycle. This is especially important to prevent re-infestation of chicken fleas.