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Does My Gouldian Finch Have Air Sac Mites (ASM)?

Updated on August 22, 2014

What Are Air Sac Mites (ASM)?

Air sac mites, also called "ASM", are tiny organisms --- about the size of a pin head --- that dwell within the bird's air sacs, which comprise the bird's lungs. Yet many bird lovers have never even heard of these parasites!

Air sac mites are a top killer of Lady Gouldian Finches, Canaries and other pet birds, including:

  • Zebra Finches;
  • Budgerigars (a.k.a. Budgies or Parakeets);
  • Owl Finches;
  • Heck's Grassfinch; and
  • Shaft-tailed Finches.

While these are the bird species that are most commonly affected, it should be noted that all birds can get air sac mites.

The air sac mite can live within the environment, on perches, in nests and beyond. The mite makes its way onto the bird's head and then enters via the bird's nostril. It works its way down the trachea and into the lungs where it lays its eggs. The air sac mite's lifecycle, from egg to nymph to adult, can be completed in just six days.

Once in the lungs, the mites and their eggs irritate the lungs, causing inflammation, increased mucus production, lung hemorrhaging (bleeding) and ultimately, pneumonia and respiratory failure, which is usually fatal.

Air sac mites are difficult to treat because they can remain dormant in the immature nymph stage for an indefinite period of time, only emerging from dormancy and growing into an adult when exposed to warm, humid conditions. For this reason, they can remain undetected and dormant in the bird's respiratory tract and in the environment for a long period of time. Then, once exposed to warm, humid conditions, they emerge from dormancy, causing what appears to be a sudden ASM outbreak in the flock.

This ability to remain dormant and survive outside the bird's body makes air sac mites very difficult to eradicate.

Air sac mites are often deadly, especially because they're often undetected until the bird is in late stage respiratory failure. For this reason, early detection of ASM and administration of preventative treatment for at-risk birds like Gouldian Finches is very important.

Gouldian Finches get air sac mites (ASM) more often than nearly many other finch and bird species.
Gouldian Finches get air sac mites (ASM) more often than nearly many other finch and bird species. | Source

How Do Gouldians Get Air Sac Mites?

Gouldian Finches get air sac mites in a few different ways. There are four basic methods of ASM transmission, which are as follows:

Feeding chicks --- Gouldian Finches can get ASM from a parent during the mouth-to-mouth feeding that occurs during the nestling, hatchling and fledgling stage of life.

Preening and cuddling --- Gouldians are social birds and they enjoy preening each other; mates will also cuddle together when they sleep at night. The mites can dwell on the bird's feathers, so they may be ingested into the bird's mouth and trachea. Once inside the airway, the mite makes its way into the lungs. Gouldian Finches also engage in courtship behaviors where one may feed the other; this can also cause ASM infection.

Contaminated food and water --- Air sac mites can live outside the body in the environment. If one bird sneezes or secretes mucus into the water or food supply, the mites can contaminate the food or water, which is then consumed by another bird.

Environmental contact --- The mites can also live in the environment for a period of time, so they may be shed onto a perch or nesting, which is then contacted by another bird who is subsequently infested.


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Symptoms of Air Sac Mites

You may observe a range of different symptoms of air sac mites in your Gouldian Finch, including:

  • Sneezing;
  • Open-mouth breathing;
  • A clicking sound while breathing;
  • Fluffed feathers;
  • Lethargy;
  • Sleeping during the daytime;
  • Decreased appetite;
  • Tail bobbing;
  • Labored breathing (in advanced cases);
  • Rapid respiratory rate (in advanced cases);
  • Refusal to eat (in advanced cases.)

Gouldians with ASM are also unusually quiet as they are trying to conserve their breath. Just as a human in respiratory distress may find it difficult to talk, a finch with ASM may find it difficult to vocalize in a normal manner.

Remember that birds are very good at hiding signs of illness, so often, once you observe noticeable ASM symptoms, the infestation is quite severe.

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Get a Light to Diagnose Air Sac Mites (ASM)

Dorcy 41-1406 Mini Flexible LED Flashlight with Belt Clip, 8-Lumens, Silver Finish
Dorcy 41-1406 Mini Flexible LED Flashlight with Belt Clip, 8-Lumens, Silver Finish

This light is perfect for diagnosing ASM in a Gouldian Finch, Canary, Budgie or other small bird.

 

How to Diagnose Air Sac Mites (ASM)

If you're wondering "Does my Gouldian have air sac mites?" you're in luck because diagnosing air sac mites* is a relatively straightforward process.

You will need:

  • a small, powerful pen light (see below).
  • a wet cotton ball.

Follow these steps to determine if a Gouldian Finch has ASM:

  1. Catch the bird and hold him across your palm, with your thumb across the abdomen and his head between your pointer and middle finger.
  2. Dim the lights in the room.
  3. With your opposite hand, take the wet cotton ball and dampen the bird's throat and very upper chest area. This will cause the feathers to clump together, making it easier to visualize the underlying tissues.
  4. Illuminate the pen light and place it up against the side of the bird's neck/upper chest area. If necessary, move it a bit more toward the bird's back. The objective is to illuminate the bird's trachea.
  5. Look for small, black pin sized dots, located inside the bird's throat. These are the air sac mites. They may even be seen moving!

If you see these small black dots in the bird's throat/upper chest area, this is a positive air sac mites diagnosis.

* As always, visiting a qualified avian veterinarian is always preferable to a home diagnosis.

Are Gouldians More Prone to Air Sac Mites?

When it comes to air sac mites, Gouldian finches are a bit more susceptible than some other species. They are known as being a bit more fragile and sensitive to this ailment.

While all birds can suffer from theses mite infestations, Gouldians tend to be more hard-hit and more apt to succumb to this condition due to their overall fragility compared to some more hearty varieties of finch.

Gouldians also seem to be more prone to complications from ASM, such as respiratory infections and problems during treatment. In severe infestations, a massive die-off of the mites can result in "clogs" and obstructions within the air sacs as the bird's body works to flush away the dead organisms.


How Do I Treat Air Sac Mites in a Gouldian Finch?

There are a few different medications to treat air sac mites in Gouldian Finches, Canaries, Budgies and other small pet birds.

The two most common medications are called S76 and SCATT.

SCATT is applied topically, so it requires actually catching the bird.

S76 is administered via the bird's water, making it ideal for treating an entire flock or treating finches that are not tame and hand-friendly.

These medications can be administered for an existing infestation or as a routine preventative, which is advisable for Gouldians who live in an outdoor aviary.

Both products can also be used to treat scaly beak mites and scaly leg mites, also known as "tasslefoot."

These medications are generally not available through mainstream pet supply stores, though they can be found in some specialty bird shops and from avian veterinary clinics.

Both S76 and SCATT are available online via specialty Gouldian Finch sites such as LadyGouldian.com.

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