HAMILTON & DISTRICT BUDGERIGAR SOCIETY INC.
GAPEWORM (Syngamus trachea): (Helminths)
This worm, long recognized in poultry, has been found in a very wide range of avian species. Transmission is either direct from the soil by eating infective eggs or larvae, or by eating earthworms or snails which act as transport hosts for the parasites encysted within them. On arrival in the alimentary canal of the bird, the parasite migrates to the upper respiratory passages where it breeds. The female attaches itself to the epithelial lining of the trachea and is characteristically seen with the much smaller male, permanently attached to it and giving the pair of worms the appearance of a "Y". The presence of adults in the windpipe causes irritation, excess production of mucus, and often frenzied bouts of coughing or sneezing as the birds attempt to dislodge the parasites. In this way the eggs are coughed up, swallowed, and passed out in the droppings. After an incubation period as short as 1 to 2 weeks, the eggs become infective. Small species are worst affected, because large numbers of the worms can block the windpipe. Throwing forward of the head, head-shaking, and gasping (or gaping) for breath is frequently seen in infested birds. Exhaustion, loss of weight, loss of appetite, and death may result from gradual asphyxiation and starvation. On opening the mouth, worms may actually be seen through the larynx in the opening to the windpipe.
Treatment and control:
Adult birds bearing a few gapeworms are a serious danger to nestlings and if possible should therefore be prevented from eating infective larvae in transport hosts such as earthworms. The aviary should be shielded from the droppings of wild birds and should never be built outside in the vicinity of free-ranging poultry or game birds such as pheasants.
An old treatment was the inhalation of barium antimonyl tartrate powder puffed into a large cardboard box containing the birds. A more modern treatment is the oral administration of thiabendazole. This drug appears to be quite effective, but the birds may have difficulty in coughing up the worms. In birds larger than a mynah it is sometimes possible to remove the worms mechanically from the trachea by using a cotton and wire pipe cleaner. The bird's beak is pried open and the cleaner pushed gently through the opening of the larynx and into the trachea. As it is withdrawn it is twisted round two or three times when the worms should stick to the soft cotton surface. This must be done quickly or else the bird may be asphyxiated.
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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.