itchy bird scratching bird

7 Common Causes for an Itchy Bird

Itchy bird? It's more common than you think. Find out the common reasons that birds get itchy, inflamed skin.

 Revised: 6/13/2023

Does your itchy bird have you worried? If so, you’re not alone. Many birds suffer from itchy skin at some point in their lives. The good news is that it’s usually treatable! In this blog post, we’ll be discussing 7 common reasons why birds get itchy and what you can do about them. We’ll be looking at issues such as giardia, mites, and low humidity, and how to help your bird get relief from their itchy skin. So keep reading to find out more!

What is normal itching for a bird

Bird scratching can be a common worry for many bird owners.

Itchiness is usually caused by environmental factors or even parasites, but some level of scratching and preening is normal behavior for a bird.  

Birds have feathers that need to be maintained through regular preening. Preening helps to keep the feathers in good condition and free from dirt and debris. Additionally, many birds have oil glands on their lower back, which they use to spread oil onto their feathers to keep them waterproof and healthy. This oil also helps to moisturize the skin.  

But if your bird is scratching a lot and damaging its skin or feathers but sometimes an itchy parrot or itchy bird may overgroom itself or scratch more than usual, which can be a sign of an underlying issue. 

itching bird

1) Giardia

Giardia is a protozoan parasite that affects birds and is one of the most common causes of itching in birds. The Giardia parasite is found in water and soil and can be passed on to your bird when they drink contaminated water or eat food that has been in contact with the contaminated water or soil. If your bird contracts the Giardia parasite, you will notice them scratching excessively and they may also have diarrhea.  

If you suspect that your bird has Giardia, it's important to take them to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. Your vet will usually prescribe a medication like Metronidazole or Fenbendazole to treat the infection. It's also important to change their environment to prevent reinfection. This means making sure that any food and water containers are washed and sanitized regularly, and changing the bedding in their enclosure often. You should also avoid taking your bird outside until they have fully recovered from the infection. 

Preventing giardia is as simple as keeping your bird's environment clean and giving them fresh water every day. 

2) Mites

Mites are another common cause of itching in outdoor birds. These tiny parasites feed on the bird's blood and can cause irritation, itching, and discomfort.  

Mites can be hard to detect because they are so small, but signs of an infestation include redness and inflammation on the skin and feather loss. If left untreated, mites can cause serious health issues for your bird, including anemia and secondary infections.  

If you suspect your bird has mites, it's important to take them to the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. Your vet may recommend a topical mite treatment or oral medications to get rid of the parasites. Keeping your bird's environment clean is also important for preventing mite infestations. Regularly clean their cages and dishes, as well as vacuum and dust surfaces they come in contact with. 

3) Low Humidity

Low humidity can cause your bird to become itchy, as they require a certain level of humidity in their environment. After all, most parrots are from very humid areas of the world. 

Symptoms of dryness in birds can include dry and flaky skin, dry and brittle feathers, and increased scratching. If you suspect your bird is itching due to low humidity, the best way to remedy this is to increase the amount of moisture in your bird's environment.  

To raise the humidity levels in your bird's environment, you can mist them with warm water from a spray bottle several times a day. You can also place a bowl of warm water in the cage so that it evaporates and increases the humidity. Placing a humidifier near the cage or in the same room can also help to increase the humidity levels.  

It is important to note that if you are increasing the moisture in your bird’s environment, you will need to make sure it stays clean and fresh as well. Excess moisture can lead to bacterial and fungal infections if it is not monitored properly. It is also important to monitor your bird closely while they are being exposed to higher humidity levels and make sure they are comfortable.  

The ideal humidity levels for birds are 40-60%, so this is what you should strive for. If your bird's environment is still too dry even after increasing the humidity levels, you may want to consider providing them with a daily warm mist bath or using a sprayable moisturizer such as aloe vera. These products can help relieve dryness and soothe your bird's skin. 

4) Food Allergies and Sensitivities

It’s not uncommon for birds to be allergic or sensitive to the foods they eat. Allergies and sensitivities can cause excessive itching, flaking skin, sneezing, and other signs of discomfort. If you’ve ruled out other potential causes of itching, then a food allergy or sensitivity could be the culprit.

If you suspect your bird is having a reaction to a certain food, it’s important to identify the offending item. A good way to start is by removing all seed-based items from the diet and seeing if the itching resolves. If it does, it’s likely that one or more of those seeds was causing the problem. Alternatively, you can add in new foods one at a time and observe your bird for any reactions.  

Before removing an all seed based diet, work on converting your bird to pellets. Most reputable avian vets highly recommend converting your bird to pellets as one of the best things that you can do for your pet. 

If you find that your bird is allergic or sensitive to a particular food, you should eliminate it from their diet and replace it with something similar that they can tolerate. There are many types of bird-friendly foods available on the market, so you should be able to find something suitable. 

It’s also important to make sure that the diet is balanced and contains a variety of healthy ingredients. Many birds do well on pellets as these provide a complete source of nutrition and contain no allergens. It is highly recommended to supplement the diet with fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other nutritious treats. Providing these supplements alongside a fortified pellet diet ensures that your bird gets all of its essential nutrients. Additionally, offering a variety of different foods will help keep them interested in mealtimes and prevent boredom-related issues. 

5) Nutritional Deficiencies

Birds require a balanced diet to stay healthy, and if they are lacking in certain essential vitamins or minerals, they may experience itching and discomfort.  

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Birds with low vitamin A levels can have dry, scaly, and/or itchy skin, along with problems with fertility. The skin that lines the nasal cavity and preening gland and the skin that covers the body needs vitamin A to stay healthy.  

Other deficiencies can include omega fatty acids, which are essential for a bird’s healthy skin and feathers. You can supplement a bird’s diet with these nutrients if necessary to reduce itchiness and keep its skin healthy.  

Be sure to work with a qualified avian veterinarian to develop an appropriate diet for your bird that ensures all its nutritional needs are met. Another cause of itching could be lice or mites. These parasites feed on blood and will cause skin irritation as they move around. If you notice any signs of lice or mites on your bird, take them to the vet right away so they can be treated. 

6) Molting

Molting is a natural process in which birds shed their old feathers and grow new ones. During the molting period, birds may be itchy or uncomfortable due to minor inflammation as new feathers grow in. Plus, if they are deficient in vitamin A, as described above, their skin is not as supple. 

As such, it is important to make sure your bird has access to daily baths to improve the suppleness of the skin and soften the new feather shafts. Another solution is to spray your bird with Aloe Vera Bird Spray which reduces inflammation and discomfort. 

Additionally, providing your bird with extra nutrition during this time can help them better manage their itchy skin as they grow out their new feathers. It is also important to monitor your bird for any excessive preening or scratching which could indicate an underlying issue. If you are concerned about your bird’s molting process, speak to an avian veterinarian to ensure everything is going according to plan. 

7) Fatty Liver Disease

Did you know that a simple behavior like scratching could be an indication of a serious health issue in parrots? Fatty liver disease is a common ailment among parrots, especially those that are overweight or have a diet that is high in fat. If left untreated, it can lead to liver failure, which can be fatal. Therefore, early detection of this disease is crucial for the health and well-being of your feathered friend.

One of the ways to detect fatty liver disease in parrots is by observing their scratching behavior. An itchy parrot may scratch themselves frequently and vigorously. While this behavior is not uncommon in parrots, excessive scratching can be a sign of an underlying health issue, including fatty liver disease. The reason behind this is that when the liver is not functioning properly, it can lead to the accumulation of toxins in the body. These toxins can irritate the skin and cause itching, leading to an itchy parrot that scratches excessively. So, if you notice that your parrot is scratching more than usual, it's time to take action.

To conduct a scratching test on your parrot, observe them for a few days and take note of how frequently they scratch. Then, compare this to their usual scratching behavior. If you notice a significant increase in scratching frequency, it's best to take them to a veterinarian who can conduct further tests and diagnose any underlying health issues, including fatty liver disease. While scratching is a helpful indicator of fatty liver disease, it's not the only diagnostic method available. Other methods include blood tests, ultrasounds, and physical examinations. However, it's important to note that early detection is key in treating fatty liver disease, and scratching can be an early warning sign.

In conclusion, it is important to understand why birds might be itchy and what to do about it. A variety of factors, such as giardia, mites, low humidity, food allergies and sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, and molting can all contribute to a bird's itchiness. It is best to consult a veterinarian or certified avian specialist to determine the cause of your bird’s itching and develop a treatment plan. With proper care, you can help keep your bird healthy and free from itchiness. 

Related Posts:

7 tips to help your scratching bird get relief fast

7 tips you can take right now to support your molting bird

How to clean a bird cage


Digestive Disorders of Pet Birds

Vitamin Deficiencies in Poultry


Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.

Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.

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