Knemidokoptic Mange or Scaly Leg and Face Disease in Birds

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

While many owners believe parasites are common causes of skin disorders and feather loss in birds, this not always the case. However, knemidokoptic mange, also called "cere mites" or "scaly face and leg mite" is a relatively common disorder of the beak and/or feet of several species of small pet birds.

What causes knemidokoptic mange?

Knemidokoptic mange is caused by a small microscopic mite. The technical name for the particular mite involved is called Knemidokoptes pilae (also spelled Cnemidocoptes).

What species of birds are usually infected?

Most commonly, parakeets (also called budgerigars or budgies), cockatiels, lovebirds, and canaries are infected. It is more common to see this disease in relatively young birds, but adults may also be affected by these mites.

How can I tell if my bird is infected?

There are certain types of lesions that occur in birds with this infection. The lay term for knemidokoptic mange is "scaly leg and face disease." Large amounts of honeycombed-looking scales and crusts can be seen on the bird's beak, cere (the area on the face for the nasal openings), eyes, and/or legs. Severely affected birds generally have very long, crusty upper beaks and thick, crusty toes. The infestation can also involve the skin around the eyes, vent (where the bird defecates), and uropygial gland (also called the oil or preening gland).

In canaries, the lesions or skin condition is a bit different. The mites cause crusted projections from the legs and toes, giving the condition in canaries its common name of "tassel-foot". Your veterinarian can usually confirm the diagnosis with a physical examination and microscopic analysis of the crusts by use of a skin scraping to look for the microscopic mites, just like a dog or cat veterinarian would do to look for mange mites.

How did my bird become infected?

The disease is usually transmitted by close contact between infected birds. However, it is also felt that there is a genetic predisposition to the condition, as not every bird exposed to an infected bird will develop the condition.

"The lay term for knemidokoptic mange is 'scaly leg and face disease'."

How is knemidokoptic mange treated?

Veterinarians typically use an antiparasitic drug to kill the microscopic mites. You should also disinfect your bird's cage, perches, bowls, and toys with soap and water or a common household cleaner to prevent re-infection. Mite sprays sold at pet stores are usually ineffective in treating the condition. Mite protector devices do not work and contain a chemical known to cause cancer in humans. These mite protectors have been incriminated in the deaths of some birds.

"Mite sprays sold at pet stores are usually ineffective in treating the condition."

Follow the advice of your veterinarian to effectively treat this condition.

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