The Great Parasite Debate or Treat ‘em or Lose ‘em!!
                                                     By Marcus Pollard

Given the amount of rain that has fallen over the past months my email box has suggested that many of you are getting a ‘tad twitchy’ about the prospect of worms, coccidian and other parasites so might be a prudent time to revisit an old "chestnut"!!

Now everyone that knows me will be aware that I am a stickler for developing a sound regular worming program but during a brief foray into the world of forums my reasons for adopting such a strict regime was severely questioned.
Many stated that birds should only be wormed when it can be proven that they actually have worms and any other treatments are suspect and that my regime was "dangerous".
However may I dare to suggest that by the time you find that they do have worms it may be a tad too late for birds which are so adept at ‘camouflaging’ the fact that they have anything wrong with them at all!!

So think it may be prudent to actually give the logic behind our 3 monthly worm-outs ‘whether they need it or not’!!
Back in the day when I was a struggling zoology student I had plenty of free time and access to an unlimited number of excellent microscopes and used to regularly take flock faecal samples and analyse them at the University between classes.
In case anyone else is interested in the methodology I simply placed a couple of white shiny pieces of A4 photocopy paper under perches and other areas of frequent usage to collect a few well-aimed ‘shots’.
The samples were then collected next morning and each aviaries was pooled together to give an amount that could be used for a flotation test – basically mixing up a super-saturated solution of one of several chemicals (sugar or salt for example if nought better is available). The faecal sample is then mixed with this solution and the worm eggs will float to the surface and any sample taken near the top of the solution will give you a representative egg count.
A well as the flotation method I also simply made some smear slides of the faecal sample and studied these under the microscope as well.
Now here comes the ‘rub’. I never once checked a sample and found that it was completely worm egg free in all the years that I checked them!!
At this point it would be remiss of me not to point out the great handbook of all things microscopic that is available through ABK in Danny Browns excellent work "
Under the Microscope—Microscope Use and Pathogen Identification" – just wish I’d had it when I first started with worm analysis as it would have made life far easier!

So from those results we sat down and worked out what would work best for us and the finches that we kept and as my sampling seemed to be about every 3 months anyway we adopted that time period for our worming regime and have stuck to that for decades. In fact the only thing that has changed has been the wormers used!!
Why? Basically because no-one to date could or has convinced us that there was any sound logical reason to alter a protocol that has worked extremely well.
Especially for finches kept on the colony system in a mixed aviary by someone with a full-time job!!

Prior to instituting this worming regime we had often found excessive worm counts in autopsied birds – both local and imported finches – and post implementing this strategy it became a rarity to even find a worm egg during autopsies. The money outlaid during those early trial days was well spent as it enabled us to at least control one of the biggest killers of finches that we had encountered.
Now of course, like so many other finch keepers, I work full-time and such analysis through the microscope would be difficult to fit into an already packed schedule. However, not a day goes past that I don’t thank the stars that we went that one yard further ‘back in the day’ to ensure that we could stay on top of at least one major problem.
Also had the opportunity to attend a day seminar at the Knox Bird Clinic under the tutorage of Dr Colin Walker which was fantastic for refreshing my knowledge and learning a heap more besides! Always be on the lookout for these types of seminars as they are terrific in updating your knowledge on all things finchey!

Now to those that say "my finches don’t have worms" I say that you must be the luckiest finch keeper on the planet or could it be that you’ve never investigated why your finches actually die!!
Did have just such a conversation many years ago where a guy was basically stating what a waste of time it had been listening to my talk on worming regimes as his birds never had worms and none had ever died from the effects of said worms. When I asked him what the autopsies had revealed to him he looked shocked and stated that he did not have the money to waste having autopsies done and that his ‘mistakes’ simply ended up in the rubbish bin – twas time for me to walk away I thought!!!

Anyway, as far as evolution goes there are a few relics from the past that have remained unchanged throughout much of evolutionary history and I suspect very few people would go swimming with either crocodiles or the larger sharks!!
As many of the parasitic organisms also fit into that category how you’d expect your birds to remain free from them is beyond many of us!!

Now in order to try and reduce the infestation there are a few simple steps that anyone can try and implement.
As avid readers of all things Russell Kingston we have always remembered his catch phrase from many years ago of dry, dry, dry in relation to the aviary environment. For us this is a little easier as all our aviaries down here are covered which does make the dry part easier!!
However, as many of these aviaries are fully planted we simply cover the floor with coarse pebbles, cracked rock and even shell grit to ensure that when the plants are watered the water itself runs away and is not sitting around creating wet trouble spots throughout the cages. The compost heaps and other bare floor areas have long given way to dry floors – just means we have to work that little bit harder to supply live food to our birds.
Thus, even if you do have open aviaries it is a relatively simple matter to ensure that the floor area is properly drained reducing wet damp areas much loved by parasites of all types by using gravel coarse sand and small pebbles!
Insects are another source of annoyance as many act as intermediate hosts for a number of parasitic worms types – some have a direct life cycles too so simply removing insects won’t fully solve the potential dilemma but it will help!!
Open aviary rooves are another source of potential problems as free-flying birds can often introduce worm bundles back into your aviary system and its not by accident that many aviaries are fully rooved these days in Australia – regardless of locale.

When worming your flock you might care to ensure that you adhere to a few logical points that we’ll outline here for you.
● Try and avoid worming your birds during periods of excessive heat as this may drastically effect their water consumption.
● If the wormer is particularly bitter – say as in Cydectin Plus – then use a sweetener before presenting it to your finches. Some NSW breeders use a product called Sweetaddin from Penfolds to achieve this while I stick to good old brown sugar. How do you know if it’s too bitter? Well by tasting it of course – go on, you know you really want to!!
● When worming remove other water sources such as cucumber and even green leafy vegetables as finches will try anything rather than drink most wormers. Think I exaggerate? Then wait until you see them trying to drink the moisture off the wire in the morning!! Mind you it’s not all bad as many finches will try anything to get their moisture and if you’re having trouble getting finches to consume your vegetable mixes or such then worming time is when it will ‘magically’ disappear!!
● Avoid worming birds in any metal containers other than stainless steel.
● If your vet says the recommended dose is "X" then please do not be tempted to serve it up at "-X" strengths as this reduces the killing power of the wormer and may lead to many strains of worms developing a resistance to that wormer. Mixing at "+X" strengths may very well prove fatal!!
● Again if your vet tells you the recommended dose rate is "X days" then please adhere to it as there is no doubt a very sound reason for setting that time range. Presenting it for "-X days" may also contribute to resistance problems.
I am aware that many say the first drink is possibly enough to get rid of a worm burden but refer back to the evolutionary history bit previous and you’ll perhaps understand why we are not ever going to be blasé about anything related to worms and worming!! If it says for five days then do it for 5 days!! Especially if treating for hard to get at worms such as gizzard worm you would be well advised to adhere to the full treatment period.

So there we go a little bit of assistance with setting up for worming.
Possibly here is the correct place for also suggesting to the ‘worm-a-phobics’ that might still remain out there that it is the correct way to go.
Now it has been recorded that birds utilise a huge range of natural food products out there in the bush. Quite possibly among those items are those that have a purgative effect which may serve to expel many of their wormy burdens. For example wild Green rosellas consume copious amounts of the fruit from the Blackberry bush when in season. The astringent and diuretic effect of these berries turns their dropping bright purple and extremely runny and it is espoused that this is ‘nature’s way’ of worming this species.
Now as my birds don’t get out as much as afore mentioned Green rosellas I haven’t a clue what they might like to treat themselves with so it’s up to me to provide the correct treatments to rid them of the worms they are carrying before these can adversely affect the bird. OK, Ok, whether they like it/ want it or not!!
This topic always causes heated debate yet no-one questions the advantages of us supplying seed mixes researched from various sources based on wild bird observation – may I dare suggest that regular worming is far, far more important than all of that!!

The Wormers:
Let me reiterate here that I am but a humble zoologist and not a vet so all that follows are based upon my own research and experimentation. It is based on some excellent correspondence with a number of vets and private breeders but when all is said and done I am not qualified to comment further on the products herein – it is just what I do, no more, no less!! So users beware!!
Also due to ABK editorial policy
I am unable to present you with dose rates for the wormers I use but would be happy to answer your queries through my email at marcus_pollard@hotmail.com

As an example of what I mean and the critical need to investigate any and all wormers that you intend to use I shall meander with you through my experiences with the wormer Valbazen.
Once received a number of finches for a couple of breeders down here which were terrific finches and the guy we purchased them from stated to us they had been wormed using Valbazen. Despite being young birds none ever managed to produce a fertile egg for any of the people that received them. We outcrossed them to our own birds with the same result – nary a fertile egg.
I spoke to a friend at the University who told me that this product caused birth defects in rats and mice. Further conversations with a well-known Queensland vet also revealed that it caused the very same birth defects in cats and dogs. Based on this cause and effect we avoided using this product in birds.
Why mention this here? Basically because most of the wormers we use are NOT designed for use specifically in birds and the desire to prod all finch keepers into researching the drugs they opt to use for worming purposes.
Just because I use it doesn’t mean that so should you – note the cunning, stealthy way I further reduce any liability on my part for worming finches!!

Cydectin Plus is one of our ‘newer’ staple wormers of choice and one that has assisted in making air-sac mite a thing of the dark past- at least at the time of writing. Now something that never fails to annoy someone – the active ingredient of this product is Moxidectin and the plus bit refers to the addition of praziquantal which treats for tape worm. Sheep strength concentration is the only one used with our finches.
Ivomec has the active ingredient of Ivomectin and is one we use for stubborn cases of air-sac mite. It is mixed with alcohol and added directly onto the back of the neck and the alcohol speeds its passage into the blood stream. Very easy to overdose with so extreme care needs to be taken when applying unless you wish very inebriated finches!!
It works well to remove nasty cases of air-sac mite and, once removed, Cydectin Plus will weave its magic!!
We did try and use it in water but found that it was immiscible in water which resulted in an oil slick on top of the water which means most clever finches will drink around the oil slick and the dumber ones from the oil slick – with potentially terminal results!!
Panacur 100 is another old favourite but I must admit I’d never dared use this strength before Dr James Harris recommended its use to me. At this strength it does have the advantage that you only need a quarter of the Panacur 25 dose rate. That is excellent as Panacur tends to settle out and using a quarter of the volume has distinct benefits in that area! Oxfen and several other fenbendazole wormers in this line can be substituted for Panacur but if Dr Harris recommends Panacur 100 that’s good enough for us!
Even then this wormer will still tend to settle out a little so care needs to be taken to ensure that the mix is stirred up during the day and never tip a fresh mix on top of the old before thoroughly washing out the residue from the water bowl. This brand provides us with a non-praziquantal based tape wormer.
Equimax Liquid Allwormer is a horse wormer that is a good back up wormer containing abamectin (one of the avermectin family of round wormers) and praziquantal yet again!! This one was recommended by a breeder in Queensland and appears to be well received by many in the finch game.
Avitrol Plus contains levamisole hydrochloride and praziquantal and is the red coloured wormer oft commented upon.
We only use this drop wise through a crop needle on new finches that arrive and it is never presented in the water bowls based on several well documented deaths among finches treated in this manner. Some use it at well below the recommended dose rate but as this has resistance implications it is to be avoided.
I have never experienced any problems with it given straight from the bottle drop-wise. It is the only specific bird wormer that is in our cupboards.

Hopefully from that group of products there are a couple to add to your anti-parasite arsenal that will help you keep your flocks worm free!!
If you’re not a fan of water based wormers you could investigate Droncit in the seed but most fincho’s these days prefer the water based ones as it’s not really an option to crop needles huge numbers of finches every 3 months!!!

So there you have it a Mug’s Guide to worming finches so off you go and thoroughly research these products and devise your own defences to the parasite problem and never, ever underestimate those little evolutionary survivors or it’ll be your flock that will suffer!!

Oh, and before I depart don’t forget to do a follow-up worming session around 14 days after your initial worming.
Why you ask? In order for you to smash those parasite eggs that may have hatched after your initial treatment and when deciding upon the correct combination for this follow up dose we recommend you try and offset the drugs for your target species. If you are hunting tapeworms then the first dose might be with a praziquantal based wormer then a follow up with one of the fenbendazole drugs – just to maximise your killing effect on the tape worms by using different drugs.

To those that say their aviary or cage system is parasite free or that wormers are a load of bunk I say that if an ant can gain access to your cages then so can a host of parasites!!!
Be afraid, be very afraid!!