Last Updated on May 9, 2022 by Ali Shahid
Lovebirds are wonderful family pets that possess such a loving and jolly nature. These docile birds are fun to play with but also demand care and health management. Certain skin parasites such as fleas are opportunistic and cause significant discomfort for lovebirds.
I, as a veterinarian, have seen many cases of lovebirds scratching and plucking their skin and feathers. They do this mostly to get rid of the irritation and parasites but are unable to do so. Fleas not only cause severe allergic reactions but also lead to stress on your lovebirds.
According to the data published by CDC, there are 2500 species of fleas that are distributed worldwide. Solely in the United States, more than 300 species are currently been reported. The bird flea known as Ceratophyllus gallinae is commonly seen to affect lovebirds & other birds.
Fleas, just like mites, are a common skin parasite of many pet animals. Your lovebirds can easily get infected and these stubborn fleas are not easy to get rid of. By following certain preventive measures, you’ll be able to stop the spread if you have many lovebirds in a single place.
Not only do these parasites cause discomfort and dermatitis but they also transmit other deadly diseases. Research has shown that fleas also transfer other germs when they start feeding on the lovebirds. The feces of fleas contain many different microorganisms that cause secondary bacterial and viral diseases.
Lovebirds & Fleas Susceptibility
Fleas are opportunistic parasites meaning they’ll lodge themselves on the feathers and skin of your lovebirds whenever they find a chance. Contrary to the misconception that lovebirds are resistant to fleas, research has shown various flea species affecting the birds such as parakeets and lovebirds.
As soon as your pet catches a flea, it will start laying eggs and multiplying on the surfaces of skin & feathers. Fleas grow and reproduce at an exponential rate and cause flea dermatitis in a very short time.
Your lovebirds are susceptible to flea attacks and are very sensitive to handling the problems caused by these parasites.
Lovebird Fleas Causes & Transmission
Similar to dogs and cats, fleas can spread at an exponential rate. They are tiny little creatures that possess a pair of strong legs for jumping. Your lovebirds will get a flea infestation quite easily if they make contact with an already infected bird or are currently living in a very unhygienic environment.
Within 2 to 3 days of contact, the flea will start laying eggs that will hatch in the next 2 to 4 days. Also, the temperature and humidity play a very crucial role in deciding the pace of flea infestation spread. The whole life cycle of the flea will get completed in almost 20 days.
In terms of causes, playing or making contact with another infested bird is the most common reason. If you have many lovebirds and some of them start plucking their feathers or scratching their skin, you must consider this an alarming situation for other ones.
Moreover, unsanitary conditions such as not changing and cleaning the material and droppings in the cage are also major factor that contributes to flea infestation. Fleas are very hard to kill and they can live in the cage crevices and bedding material just like they live on the skin of lovebirds.
If you recently have a tour outside with your lovebird and he/she interacts with other birds, there are chances that flea might jump on your bird. Likewise, other flea-infested pets at your home may get involved in carrying bird fleas back into the house from outside.
Identification & Signs of Lovebird Fleas Infestation
Discomfort & Restlessness
The first and foremost sign you’ll observe in case of a flea infestation is the restlessness in your lovebirds. Fleas not only just live on the skin and feather surface but also bite and burrow inside skin layers.
The biting will cause severe itching in birds leading to uncomfortable and irritating behavior with excessive scratching of skin and feathers.
Red & Inflamed Skin Patches
Living on the skin and biting also elicit allergic reactions and inflammation on the infected sites. The allergic reaction will cause an increase in inflammation on the surrounding skin and it may appear raw in appearance. The overall skin will appear pinker and your pet will become aggressive on touching the skin.
Feather Scratching & Preening
When there are parasites living on the skin surface, lovebirds naturally start grooming themselves to get rid of them. However, due to the strong clinging properties of fleas, they are unable to completely remove these stubborn parasites. In response, they got aggressive in terms of scratching their feathers.
The more than usual scratching results in too much preening of feathers and consequently, feathers will start breaking off from the follicles. You’ll observe them doing excessive preening even though they are not plucking the feathers. This is another crucial sign as you might not see such behavior under normal circumstances.
The feathers of your lovebird will lose not only their number but also their natural shine. The continuous preening and scratching will give them a ragged appearance. Some skin burrowing flea species will embed themselves in and around the feather follicles resulting in feather loss and crusty irritated skin.
Visible Lovebird Fleas
Unlike mites, fleas can be seen with naked eyes crawling on the surface of feathers. If you carefully hold your pet in your hand and gently lift the wing feathers, you can observe the fleas with naked eyes. But don’t try to remove them by yourself or it will injure the delicate skin of lovebirds.
Lovebirds Fleas Treatment
Importance of Vet Visit
No matter how light or severe the infestation is, you need to search for a veterinarian in your area. These exotic animal experts will thoroughly examine the lesions for a more precise diagnostic approach.
Your vet may require performing skin scrap testing for the identification of possible agents other than fleas. Lab testing gives you the confirmatory diagnosis of the underlying problem whether it is caused by fleas or other external parasites.
After eliminating the differential diagnosis such as bacterial & fungal infections, lice, and mites, the veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate treatment for your lovebirds. The therapeutic approach can be oral or topical depending upon the condition.
Orally Recommended Flea Treatments
As far as oral flea treatments are concerned, most experts go for certain medications such as moxidectin and ivermectin. These medicines will be prescribed to be given orally through food or water.
Recent research has shown the efficacy of providing oral insect growth regulators (IGRs) that can effectively kill flea eggs and larvae. Even if there is a less severe infestation, these regulators will seize the growth of fleas on your lovebird’s skin.
Recommended Topical Flea Treatments
There are many topical preparations available for flea treatment such as sprays and creams. These can be used easily on the feathers and skin surface and give relief from flea irritation. Although this treatment is less effective as compared to oral, both can be used simultaneously for best results.
You must never use a flea spray without consulting a veterinarian. These sprays are only applied after vet prescription and contain certain chemicals such as fipronil. Ingesting and inhaling these chemicals can lead to life-threatening poisoning in lovebirds.
Lovebirds Flea Prevention & Your Role
The treatment of fleas will take a little longer duration to get cured. You need to follow some experts’ recommended guidelines to prevent the re-infection of fleas. Deep cleaning is one domain you should focus on.
Minimizing the chance for fleas to come back and infest your remaining lovebirds is very crucial. One thing you must make sure of is to maintain the cleanliness of the cage and surrounding area. Chaining the bedding and removing the droppings is the best course for healthy lovebirds.
When applying any spray or pesticide in the cage of your birds, make sure the cage area is out of reach of lovebirds. It is preferable to place them in a separate room before you apply these products. Even a small amount of these chemicals is dangerous for these delicate pets.
Provide your lovebirds with a warm bath in water mixed with any topical anti-flea preparation is your go-to option. Regular bathing in this solution will eventually drown and dislodge the fleas from the feathers and skin.
Having lovebirds at your home is a very joyful experience for every bird lover. Fleas are a very common parasitic problem in these pets that requires thorough treatment and prevention. Adopting anti-flea practices will save your lovebirds from falling into the trap of irritation and itchiness.
Additionally, early diagnosis and identification are important in controlling the further spread of fleas to your whole aviary. If you see visible above-mentioned lesions of flea infestation, contact your nearest exotic animal veterinary expert promptly.
Should I clean the nests of lovebirds along with the cage for flea control?
You must make sure the nest is clean and free from any droppings. Fleas develop on the organic matter present in droppings which is very ideal for their larval growth. The larva feeds on it and hatches from thereafter completing its life cycle.
Can I use the commercially available bird-safe anti-flea spray?
As a veterinarian, I never recommend you to believe in the catchy ‘bird-safe’ words on these products. These sprays contain organophosphate chemicals and must be used with caution and only after the veterinarian’s prescription.
Can humans get infected with lovebird fleas after contact?
Just like mites, fleas are also host-specific and they don’t live and feed on humans. If you are dealing with an infested lovebird, you might see them crawling on your skin. But they aren’t harmful to you in any way.
Ali Shahid is a veterinarian by profession and an animal lover. He loves to give expert opinions about different animals. He has worked in top organization of birds like Bigbird Feed and Poultry Research institute. He loves birds, especially parrots and has great experience in different parrot farms.