Chicken mites can literally suck the life out of your hens. They’re pests that can cause a lot of health issues. You need to eliminate them from your coop as fast as possible.
In this article, you’ll discover how to spot these tiny insects on your chicken AND in your coop. You’ll also find options to get rid of them, and when it’s time to call the vet.
What Are Chicken Mites?
Chicken mites is a generic term for:
- Red Mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) aka Roost Mite or Poultry Mite
- Northern Fowl Mites (Ornithonyssus sylviarum)
- Tropical fowl mite (Ornithonyssus bursa)
- Knemidocoptes mutans (the mites that cause scaly leg mites)
- Feather mites (25+ different species)
- Depluming mite (Neocnemidocoptes gallinae)
(In this article, we’ll discuss these mites together, with a separate section for scaly leg mites. Each breed above can cause the same health issues, and you can deal with them the same way.)
Mites are tiny insects that crawl on your flock’s skin and feathers. They can also inhabit the scales on your chickens’ legs. They bite chickens, and suck their blood (yes, like miniature vampires). They can also cause skin irritation, resulting in red, flaky skin.
In extreme cases, they can actually kill your chicken. How? Well, as the mites feed on your hen, she can lose iron. Over time, anemia can set in, and potentially cause death.
Given the right conditions, mites can complete a life cycle in as little as 7 days, potentially exploding their population in your coop.
Mites can also transmit:
- Salmonella Enteritidis(2)
- Pasteurella multocida
- Coxiella burnetii
- Borrelia anserina
- Eastern, Western, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses(1)
- Fowl poxvirus(1)
- avian spirochaetosis
- Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae(3)
A single mite can live up to 10 months in your coop.
How Do Chickens Get Mites?
Mites are all around us. Once you start raising chickens, they’ll eventually try to inhabit your coop – especially if you don’t clean it regularly. Soon, they’ll start looking for a food source – your chickens.
Mites like to hide in corners and crevices. Since nesting boxes tend to have lots of great places for mites to hide, they’ll soon make their way there. When your hens visit their boxes to lay eggs, the mites will jump onto your chickens.
Mites can jump from chicken to chicken as well. Pretty soon, your whole flock could be infected!
Can Chickens Die From Mites?
A lot of people wonder whether their flock can die from a mite infestation. The short answer is “yes.” If left untreated, mites can cause many health issues. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, chicken mites might cause anemia, leading to death(1). It’s possible mites can eat up to 5% of a chicken’s blood in one night.
How To Know If Your Chicken Has Mites
Signs your chickens might have mites include:
- Mite poop around the base of feathers (especially the vent)
- Feather loss
- Excessive preening
- Unkempt appearance
- Raised scales or loss of scales on your flock’s legs
- Pale combs
- Blood spots on eggshells
However, the only way to know for sure if your chickens have mites is:
- When you see the pests themselves on your chickens
- You identify their eggs
- Mite feces
When checking your chickens, you might notice a greyish black substance at the base of their feathers and/or on their skin. In my experience, you also might notice this greyish black substance around your chickens’ vents (both hens AND roosters). This substance is likely mite poop, and it’s a pretty definite indicator your flock has mites.
Loss of Feathers
One sign of mites you’re likely to notice is feather loss (just remember that feather loss can indicate a LOT of things, including molting and very active roosters). Some areas to pay attention to are the:
- Tail feathers
You might see patches of open skin, or even raw or red skin.
Raised Scales (Scaly Leg Mites)
The simplest way to explain what raised scales looks like is to share a picture:
The scales on their legs lift up as the waste from the mites starts to build up under the scales. Eventually, the chicken will start to lose their scales, which can lead to other secondary issues such as bacterial infections. The legs might even bleed. Once the mites are eliminated, the scales usually grow back. (Don’t confuse this with bumblefoot, which is a bacterial infection that causes lumps on the bottom of your flock’s feet).
Pale combs can indicate a lot of health issues, including mites. As your chicken loses blood to the mites, she’ll start to lose iron. Eventually, she might become anemic, since iron is important for circulating oxygen. As she becomes sicker, her comb might turn from a bright, healthy red into a pale pink or peach color. In extreme cases, your chicken might die.
Blood spots on eggshells
When mites bite your chickens, they can sometimes leave an open wound. It might be very tiny, or, especially if your chicken picks at it, the wound can be pretty significant. If your chicken has these wounds around her vent, then you might start to notice blood on her eggshells.
While this doesn’t definitively prove your hen has a mite infestation, you should still double check her for mites. You should also remember that your hens can have mites even if you don’t see any blood on their eggshells.
When To Contact The Vet
If your chicken:
- Has dry, itchy skin
- Feather loss
- Raised scales
- Unkempt appearance
- Seems unwell or depressed
- Is opening/closing her beak as if gasping for air, and/or
- You see mites, their feces, and/or their eggs
Then you should seek the advice of your vet, especially if you’ve tried treating it on your own, but have been unsuccessful.
How Do You Get Rid Of Mites on Chickens?
Now that we know what chicken mites are, why they’re a health issue, and when to contact your veterinarian, let’s talk about how to get rid of mites and keep them out.
Your basic options include:
- Pharmaceutical Options (best to talk to your vet)
- Natural options like herbs and diatomaceous earth
- Extreme heat
- Extreme cold
It’s always best to speak to your veterinarian to determine the best pharmaceutical option. The chemical and pharmaceutical options can be toxic, expensive, and/or ineffective in the long term, however.(1)(5)
How To Kill Chicken Mites Naturally (And Prevent Them From Returning)
There’s a few different options to kill mites naturally. Some work great for your chickens, others are better for your coop, and some (like herbs) serve dual purposes. These are just options, and you’ll have to decide for yourself which options are right for your coop.
For your chickens, your options include:
- Diatomaceous earth
- Wood ash
For your coop:
- Diatomaceous earth
Herbs & Herbal Blends
Humans have used herbs for generations to deter pests. In modern times, recent studies indicate that herbs show promise to repel pests. One government agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even lists certain herbs as safe to repel pests (they call herbs “minimum risk ingredients”, meaning a minimum risk to the environment).
In our experience, herbal blends are far better than a single herb, which is why we don’t discuss single herbs in this article. Sometimes, readers try to use a single herb, and don’t have the results they desire. Because of this, we now only recommend herbal blends we use ourselves
We used to try using single herbs, but they never worked as well. So, we started mixing herbs together, with a much better outcome. This blend became our product MitesBGone.
We love MitesBGone because it’s an all-natural herbal product for dust baths. To use it, we just sprinkle the herbs in our flock’s nesting boxes and dust bath areas. You can use just the herbs, or mix it with diatomaceous earth. Chickens love exploring MitesBGone.
You can view more about this herbal blend here. The blend is 100% non-GMO and all natural, and makes it so easy to use herbs for mite control.
Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized shells of diatoms, which are prehistoric aquatic algae. These fossilized diatoms are then crushed, making a powdery substance. DE is also comprised of silica, clay minerals, and iron oxide.
Diatomaceous earth can help treat mites because the particles have sharp edges, which slice the exoskeletons of mites. The mites then die.
In one study which was run by the University of California Riverside, birds were given a dust bath of sand and diatomaceous earth. These hens showed a huge reduction in the amount of chicken mites and lice after just seven days.
Many people avoid using DE because it can lead to respiratory issues for both chickens and humans (unlike herbs, which is why we use herbs). When inhaled, over time, there’s the potential the DE will damage both human and poultry respiratory systems.
If you decide to use DE, however, it’s important to use masks.
You can find diatomaceous earth in any feed store or on Amazon. You can find it on Amazon at TheFrugalChicken.com/DE.
Just remember that when it comes to DE, you always want to use food grade diatomaceous earth. Construction grade isn’t usually pure, and could be mixed with anything. Just check the label to be sure.
If you want to use herbs AND diatomaceous earth, you can try this product. The diatomaceous earth and herbs come pre-mixed.
How To Use Diatomaceous Earth
The easiest way to incorporate DE into your coop is by offering a dust box with a diatomaceous earth/sand or dirt mix. There’s really no formula for how much of either to offer. Personally, I use a 1:1 ratio. If you plan to offer your DE bath in a run, you will need to remove it when it rains, otherwise you’ll be left with a gloppy mess.
Another option is wood ash. There’s fewer studies regarding wood ash, so personally, I would use it with herbs and/or diatomaceous earth. Otherwise, you might not have the results you want.
What is wood ash? It’s the residue from burning wood. Yes, you can use ash from your wood-burning stove. Just make sure you use wood that’s not treated with chemicals in any way.
Steer clear of ash that’s made from any other substance besides wood. It’s not the same thing, and it won’t be as effective and it might harm your chicken. Wood ash is between 25 and 45 percent calcium carbonate. Wood ash can work against chicken mites because it potentially smothers them.
How Often Should You Treat Chickens For Mites?
Mites can live up to 10 months in your coop, and it only takes 7 days for a mite to complete its life cycle. If you want, you can consistently use natural options (such as herbs or diatomaceous earth). It certainly won’t hurt. To consistently use herbs or diatomaceous earth, adding them to your flock’s dust bath is easiest.
If you and your vet determine a pharmaceutical course of treatment, then it’s best to discuss those details with your vet.
How To Apply Natural Options To Your Chickens
Applying products to your chickens can be a bit daunting at first. They’re live animals that tend to flap their wings and startle easily. Here’s some ideas to make it a bit easier.
Apply treatments at night
It’s easiest to apply any treatments at night. Your chickens are naturally quieter, less likely to startle, and less likely to run (and if they do, lock your coop to keep them contained). Simply pick them up from their roost and use your herbs, diatomaceous earth, etc.
Hold them firmly, but gently
To dust your chicken, hold him or her firmly. First, pick your chicken up. Next, hold her so her wings lay flat against her body. She might squawk and sound unhappy, but she’s fine. Finally, apply your treatment to the area of concern.
Applying treatments to legs
If you need to apply treatments for scaly leg mites, then make sure the legs are exposed. You can do this a few ways. You can wrap your chicken in a towel (like a burrito), making sure to leave the legs exposed. If your chicken is being very difficult, you can hold your chicken by the legs. She will be upside down, which will calm her. You can then apply the treatment as needed. I use this option only as a last resort.
Cleaning Your Coop
If your flock has mites, you’ll want to treat their coop as well. I have a full step-by-step breakdown of how to clean a coop here.
The idea is you want to eliminate mites from all the nooks and crannies possible. It can be difficult to ensure the whole coop is clean, but it can be done. I would personally use more than one option from this list, such as power washing, then adding herbs to the coop bedding.
Some options include:
- Power Washing
- Diatomaceous Earth
If possible, you can heat treat your coop and/or nesting boxes. In studies, temperatures of 113 degrees or higher (45 degrees C) have been shown to kill mites. If possible, you can remove the nesting boxes and place them under a heat source to raise temperatures to 113+ degrees. Very hot water might also work. In some areas of the United States, summer temperatures can provide all the heat necessary.
Similarly, temperatures below -4 °F (-20 degrees C), have been shown to kill mites. If you live in a Northern climate, and your temperatures get far below -4 degrees F, then it’s unlikely any mites will last the winter (at least mites in the coop. Mites on your chickens might last longer because your chickens provide heat.)
Similar to using heat to rid your coop of mites, if you can get very hot water (over 113 degrees), you can try power washing the mites away. Just make sure to get into all the crevices.
You can apply DE to your coop floors, including any crevices where mites can hide out. Adding it to the nesting boxes will also help those areas. It’s best to follow the directions on the packaging for the proper amount of DE. Just make sure your flock isn’t in the coop so they don’t inhale it. You should wear a mask as well.
As I said above, I’ve had good results with power washing and using herbs. Both ideas are less caustic than diatomaceous earth, and easy to execute. The herbs we use come pre-mixed in MitesBGone Coop Herbs. First, we powerwash the coop. Then add new bedding and MitesBGone Coop Herbs. I have a 10 foot by 12 foot coop, and use 1 cup in each corner, and then 2 cups sprinkled around the rest of the coop. I also add ½ cup to each nesting box, after they’ve been cleaned.
So, will bleach kill chicken mites? In short, yes, bleach will kill mites. It’s used to treat clothing and other fabrics to rid them of mites such as scabies. However, I don’t personally use it in my coop. Bleach is a harsh chemical, and it’s hard to know how much to dilute it so your chickens stay safe. If you do want to use bleach, make sure it’s heavily diluted. Keep your chickens out of the coop for a few hours as well. Since peer-reviewed studies show that high/low temperatures and herbs are effective against mites, those are the methods I personally use.
Does Vinegar Kill Chicken Mites?
There are no studies that show whether vinegar made from grapes will kill chicken mites specifically. However, vinegar is a commonly used all-natural household cleaner, and it’s certainly effective to get rid of poop and other grease. It certainly won’t hurt your flock.
In one study, researchers used wood vinegar(6) to rid a coop of mites. It was successful. There aren’t very many studies, however. If you can find wood vinegar in your area, it’s certainly worth a shot.
Does Lime Kill Chicken Mites?
Lime is essentially calcium carbonate (the same thing that comprises oyster shells). It might kill mites, and according to the USDA, it’s an old timey method to kill scabies on sheep. It certainly won’t hurt your chickens.
Can Chicken Mites Live On Humans?
While chicken mites won’t necessarily infest your body as long as you bathe and wash your clothes regularly, you can still carry them around(4), so if you handle your hens to treat them, make sure to wash yourself and your clothes in hot water. Also be sure to practice good biosecurity, and scrub your shoes in a bleach or citrus vinegar solution so you don’t re-infect your flock.
- Chirico, J.; Eriksson, H.; Fossum, O.; Jansson, D. (2003). “The poultry red mite, Dermanyssus gallinae, a potential vector of Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae causing erysipelas in hens”. Medical and Veterinary Entomology. 17 (2): 232–234. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2915.2003.00428.x. PMID 12823843.
- Rosen, S.; Yeruham, I.; Braverman, Y. (2002). “Dermatitis in humans associated with the mites Pyemotes tritici, Dermanyssus gallinae, Ornithonyssus bacoti and Androlaelaps casalis in Israel”. Medical and Veterinary Entomology. 16 (4): 442–444. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2915.2002.00386.x. PMID 12510897
- Sparagano OAE, George DR, Harrington DWJ, Giangasparo A. Significance and control of the poultry red mite Dermanyssus gallinae. Annu Rev Entomol 2014; 59:447-466
- Kohsyo Yamauchi, Noboru Manabe, Yoshiki Matsumoto and Koh-en Yamauchi. (2014). “Exterminating Effect of Wood Vinegar to Red Mites and its Safety to Chickens.” Japan Poultry Science Association. doi:10.2141/ jpsa.0130170
- Photo of red mite: by Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium – Dermanyssus cfr gallinaeUploaded by Jacopo Werther, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24610992
Treating your flock for chicken mites is necessary in order for them to have healthy, happy lives. And luckily, there’s a lot of options for all natural treatments – for your flock AND their coop. Hopefully, one or two ideas in this article will help you out! If you’ve successfully used any of the ideas above, let us know!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.