Both dogs and humans can be plagued by the parasites that normally infect birds. Although they are often called lice, these parasites are actually mites. Bird mites are species-specific, that is, they can bite other animals but they cannot complete their life cycle without a bird host says Alameda County Vector Control Services District (ACVCSD). The real problem occurs when mites are able to travel back and forth between bird nesting sites and human households.
Types of Bird Mites
The varieties of bird mites are numerous and they parasitize both domestic and wild birds. Only a few bother humans.
Ornithonyssus bursa is also known as the tropical fowl mite. The Australian Department of Medical Entomology says that this mite attacks domestic and wild birds throughout the warmer regions of the world.
The northern fowl mite, Ornithonyssus sylviarum, leaves dead host birds in large numbers, swarming throughout a house as they look for a new host.
The chicken mite, Dermanyssus gallinae, can infect canaries, pigeons, sparrows and starlings. This mite feeds on the host bird at night and hides in cracks and crevices during the day.
There are many species-specific strains of the Cheyletiella mite. This mite preys on other mites and insects as well as feeding off host birds.
How Humans or Dogs Become Affected
Bird mites can enter homes through broken roof tiles or unprotected eaves. They can also travel inside from nests under window awnings, says the Australian Department of Medical Entomology website.
When birds die or leave the nest, mites may enter a house looking for a replacement host, writes Karen Vail on the University of Tennessee Extension website. Heavy rains can also cause mites to leave flooded eaves and gutters and enter the home, she adds.
A Long Island woman was rushed into quarantine in 2006 when bird mites entered her bathroom through a vent.
Bird mites are rarely disease-transmitters but they can affect the health of humans and their pets.
As they search for a host, mite “test bites” can lead to irritation, itching and skin rashes. The bite swells to about the size of a pimple, says ACVCSD, and scratching can lead to secondary bacterial infections.
Bird mites don’t burrow under the skin of humans or dogs and they can’t complete their life cycle with hosts other than birds but the sensation of crawling mites can be a source of intense bother for many.
Bites, rashes and other skin irritants can sometimes be caused by other sources, real or imagined, says ACVCSD.
Karen Vail suggests using a magnifying glass to see the mites, whose size is likened to that of a period at the end of a sentence.Placing glue boards around walls or using adhesive tape on the skin (can provide proof of infestation.
More than 30,000 species of mites have been so far identified, says University of Nebraska professor Barb Ogg. Some bird mites are so similar to rodent mites that only a trained taxonomist can determine the difference.
Proper identification is crucial in choosing the correct treatment, especially when a dog is infested. Your veterinarian can help identify what type of parasite is affecting your dog.
Although most bird mites only live a few weeks away from the host bird and cannot reproduce without bird blood; some northern fowl mites may survive up to six weeks and chicken mites can be especially hardy. Chicken mites can live as long as several months, according to scientists from the University of Minnesota Extension.
Prescription creams and medications may relieve itching and allergic reactions to bird mites but the source of the infestation must be identified and eradicated.
Bird nests and droppings must be located and removed from attics, chimneys, eaves, gutters and rafters. Vail says that droppings should be moistened before removal to prevent fungus and potential disease-causing compounds from becoming airborne. Gloves and a respirator should be used during this process.
The nesting areas must be dusted or sprayed with insecticide and all potential places for birds to enter or build nests must be barred and blocked.
Indoors, insecticides labeled as safe for in-home use can be used. Vacuuming and cloths moistened with alcohol or ammonia can be used to remove mites on hard surfaces.
Frequent laundering of bedding and clothing in hot water will kill lingering mites and dry, low-vapor steam applied to upholstery and furniture.
Sumei FitzGerald has been writing professionally since 2008 on health, nutrition, medicine and science topics. She has published work on doctors' websites such as Colon Cancer Resource, psychology sites such as Webpsykologen and environmental websites such as Supergreenme. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of Connecticut where she also studied life sciences.