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Air Sac Mites

Other Names: Respiratory Acariasis, Tracheal Mites

There are several species of air sac mites which can infrequently invade the chicken's respiratory system, resulting in restricted air flow, inflammation, and increased fluid/mucous production. The respiratory signs of chickens with air sac mites are often easily confused with other diseases. There are several types of air sac mites which can infect chickens, these include:
  • Sternostoma tracheacolum: These mites typically invade the trachea, syrinx, lungs, and air sacs of wild and captive birds. The Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae) is especially prone to invasion with S. tracheacolum, and severe infections occur commonly. The female mite lays her eggs in the bird's lungs. Once the eggs hatch, the nymphs and sub-adults feed off the blood rich pulmonary tissue. The life cycle can be completed within 6 days.
  • Cytodites nudus: These mites invade the airsacs, pneumatic bones, lungs and bronchi of chickens, turkeys, pigeons, parakeets, pheasants and canaries.
  • Ptilonyssus spp: These mites tend to occupy the nasal passages of Passerine birds. They are common in wild bird species such as house sparrows (70-40% infection rate).

Clinical Signs

Clinical signs of air sac mites are similar to those seen in any respiratory disease, which include have breathing difficulty, exercise intolerance, coughing and sneezing. Depending on the severity, infection can persist for months or lead to death by suffocation or weakness.


There are several diagnostic procedures to aid in diagnosing the presence of air sac mites in chickens. These include:
  • An oral swab or fecal sample may reveal the presence of the mites or mite eggs.
  • Radiographs may reveal generalized nonspecific radioopacity changes to the pulmonary and air sac fields.
  • Tracheal transillumination - After moistening the bird's skin on their neck with alcohol, use a bright light source to look for dark specks moving in the lumen of the trachea.
  • Tracheal endoscopy may be of benefit.


Air sac mites can be treated with ivermectin or moxidectin, administered topically, orally, or parenterally, once a week, and may require several months. In cases of heavy infestations, the massive die-off of the mites can cause respiratory symptoms to worsen shortly after treatment, prior to improving.

Clinical Signs

Change in vocalization or voice
Reduced or crowing changes in roosters
Clicking sounds
Open-mouth breathing
Increased respiratory rate or effort
Tail bobbing
Head shaking
Frequent swallowing motions
Beak rubbing
Nasal discharge
Loss of balance
Weight loss
Moist breathing sounds ausculted


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Fecal or oral swab samples
  • Tracheal transillumination
  • Tracheal endoscopy
  • Necropsy


Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Ivermectin or moxidectinAdministered at 0.2 mg/kg orally.
Environmental managementCompletely clean out all bedding and nesting material from the coop. Thoroughly clean and disinfect nestboxes and roosting bars. Spray insecticidal spray into any crevices or cracks present.



  • Minimize exposure to wild birds (especially Gouldian finches and house sparrows).
  • Minimize stress
  • Quarantine new birds.

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Exposure to wild birds (especially finches and house sparrows)
  • Chickens with compromised immune systems or during molt (they are more susceptible to invasion).