Dr Rob Conradie

By Dr Rob Conradie

Over the years when we have done tests at the surgery, at clinics, pet shops and on pigeon days, we tested for:- Canker, Candida, Malaria, worms and Coccidiosis

Records of all these findings have been kept for the past few years.  Results given here are for the 2015 season only.

Strangely enough the birds of only about 18% of the fanciers were clear of all the conditions they were tested for.

Of the conditions that can be tested quickly and easily Canker is probably the most important, purely because of the frequency with which we find resistant strains. We have a situation here where in some lofts they have nearly become the equivalent of superbugs that we get in hospitals: 36% of the birds tested were positive for Canker. Many of these birds had been treated for Canker a week or so before the test. The product they used had obviously become ineffective in that loft. After treatment with a Canker product, do not assume that the treatment has been effective.

Ideally the birds should be tested again 24-48 hrs after treatment to ensure the treatment has worked. This is where regular testing has become important. If you only do one test, say by a vet, do a Canker test.
Fanciers should be encouraged to:-
*Make use of facilities available to you.
*Ask a veterinarian in the area if he would help you as a group giving you special rates.
*Learn to use your own microscopes or form groups with a pooled microscope. (I am prepared to teach anyone that is interested free of charge). On the updated Medpet website there are photos of Candida, Coccidiosis, Malaria, Round worm and Hairworm. These photos would help with identification of what you are seeing.

I my own loft I tested every Sunday to determine whether I needed to treat for Canker.  Amazingly, I found that treatment was needed if not every week, certainly every second week. It is true though that some families of pigeons are more resistant to canker than others. I must admit that I did have a small sub family within the larger family that seemed to be more susceptible to Canker. These were the ones I selected for testing. If they were clear, I assumed the loft was clear.
Previously when I used Dicestal, these same birds showed more of a setback than the others.

We are often asked what the best Canker remedy is. The best one is the one that WORKS BEST IN YOUR LOFT. I know of successful fanciers that use one of the older, supposedly less effective products again and again with good results. In my own loft the one that worked best for me happened to be Meditrich and Canker Tonic. If you have resistant strains of Canker (where nothing has worked for you), use Ronsec.

The general rule, especially if no testing is done, is to vary the treatments to hopefully prevent a resistance from developing. Judging from test results in most lofts it appears that in many lofts treatment has to be given every two weeks unless testing shows otherwise. If you have to treat in this way, try to work out which of the Canker remedies appears to work best based on your race results.

In crop scrapings we also looked for Candida. 15% of birds tested positive. The incidence of Candida increases under the following conditions:-
1. Stress
2. Underlying primary conditions e.g. Young bird disease. When the incidence of YBD peaked we had peaks in Candida infections.
3.Use of antibiotics, especially where the use of the antibiotics over the whole season seems to eventually have a cumulative effect, especially when combined with stress that the birds experience in the longer races in hot weather. The incidence of Candida seemed to increase towards the end of the season as a result of this.

These crop scrapings will not detect Yeasts found further down the intestine. What is happening there is unknown unless we do further, more expensive laboratory testing. If we suspect this, it would probably be best to treat these yeasts anyway

What I found interesting were a few situations where I found little wrong with the birds during the initial testing, and told the fancier to give Medistatin on Sunday/Monday and a Entero-Plus later in the week. Many reported far better results within a week. The intestinal flora had been given a chance to recover and any E.coli that were probably threatening to cause further problems, were suppressed.

 How is it possible for a bird to fly at its best when the intestinal tract is not 100% healthy as a result of yeast and E.coli overgrowth? We would not be able to run long distances feeling even slightly queasy as a result of a mild intestinal problem. The best athletes would have difficulty to perform at their full potential. Bruce Fordyce in the year he was aiming for his, I think 10th win, had a mild digestive upset. He did not win that year despite the fact that he had the capability and fitness level to do so.

The same would apply to a pigeon. The intestinal tract is a large organ of the body with a large and important lymphoid/tonsillar system, (immunity producing cells,) that needs to be cared for. Don’t underestimate the importance of a healthy intestinal tract. A healthy intestinal tract results in a healthy pigeon.

To maintain intestinal health the value of Medistatin immune boosters like Medimune, Entero-Plus, Intestum and pigeon tea must not be underestimated. The probiotics stabilise the intestinal flora and along with the other immune boosters assist the lymphoid tissue in the system to fight off infections that may be challenging the bird.

Whenever we fly badly we immediately think of respiratory conditions and give antibiotics, possibly making the yeast overgrowth worse. We do not think of the possibility of maybe a slight subclinical yeast overgrowth.

We all know we need to use antibiotics but we need to  prevent potential yeast overgrowth with Medistatin. This would be given on Sunday and Monday and Entero-Plus would be given on say Wednesdays, after antibiotic treatment

While on the subject of intestinal health, coccidiosis and internal parasites come to mind.
During testing we found 25% of the birds were positive for coccidiosis. If the numbers of eggs found are low, we often do not treat. There are many that believe that coccidiosis is only treated when egg counts reach a certain level. This may be true. What we need to keep in mind though is:-

1. The coccidia that is present must have caused a certain amount of intestinal damage. The barrier between intestine and blood stream is broken, allowing bacteria to enter the blood stream. Why allow this to happen?
2. If untreated these coccidia numbers would increase in times of hot wet weather and when birds are stressed and over trained. If they were not there in the first place this would not happen.
3. What is the point of working on intestinal health with Probiotics etc. and then not treating the coccidia?

The medications available for coccidiosis are Avisol, Coximed, Embazin, Medicox, Ronamp, Trimethoprim/Sulfa powder and 4 in 1.

The percentage of round worms found was 12%. These would also affect intestinal health. We all know that the loft has to be flamed to kill worm eggs lying on the floor at time of treatment otherwise the birds would become re-infected. We all have an open loft at times. The area around the loft would also harbour worm eggs. If the loft has a history of worm infestations, testing and treatment would have to be given on a more regular basis as nothing can be done to the area around the loft

No hairworm was found this year but the incidence is usually around 5%.

For both of these worms and tapeworm Mediworm would be the best product to use.

Pigeon Malaria (Haemoproteus) was found in 15% of blood smears. In previous years it has been higher than this.

What we must remember here is that this parasite has a 30-day complicated life cycle. The only stage of the life cycle that can be treated is the stage seen on blood smears. All other stages of the life cycle can’t be treated. It is for this reason that the recognised treatment is 10 days of Primaquin at the start of the season and 1-2 days a week (say Sunday and Monday) ideally throughout the year. We have to do it this way because new parasites leaving the walls of the blood vessels of liver and lung can only be treated when they arrive in the blood stream. To complicate matters the bird could have in the meantime picked up new infections from bites by the pigeon fly.

The cornerstone of treatment and control is Primaquin treatment and pigeon fly control. We must also remember that mosquitoes have also been shown to carry Pigeon Malaria.
In my own loft for 2 years in a row I tested all 80 of my race birds. One year I found 10 positive and the other year, 14. The problem we do have with this testing is that if I were to have tested 3 of those 10 or 14 birds I would have made a positive diagnosis in all 3 but it would have been more likely that I would have taken any of the other birds and had a negative result. Test but do not stop treating regardless of the outcome of the test.

Remember that malaria is an individual bird problem and not a loft problem. A loft can be performing well while there are a few cases of Malaria in a few birds.
If you looked hard enough you would probably find a few birds with Malaria in every loft. If you have a bird that is suddenly not performing as in the past have it tested for Malaria. They are often found to be positive.

Plasmodium which is a true malaria carried by mosquitoes is something we also find on blood smears. I did not find any this year but it has been found in previous years. Not enough research has been done with these 2 parasites but I would imagine the Plasmodium would affect the birds performance more than the Haemoproteus.
Primaquin would again be the treatment of choice. This strengthens the case for regular primaquine treatment.


Young Bird Disease (YBD) often affects our young birds in the off season. We may have birds dying, and we treat the rest and appear to have it under control when we start to train them in April/May the following year.
When placed under stress when training and racing starts, these youngsters, now yearlings show a second wave of infection. They either become clinically ill again or harbour a smouldering infection without the fancier necessarily being aware of it. They appear healthy. The pigeon fancier often only becomes aware of it when he starts experiencing heavy losses during tosses and races.

A pigeon clinic in Europe tested 45 strays that had been brought to them by members of the public. All 45 tested positive for Circo virus. The fanciers that had sent these birds to the race were obviously happy with their condition, but they had not recovered from the virus and never came home.

You may be asking now-what has this got to do with the performance of the rest of the loft i.e. 2 and 3 year olds?

1.    These Circo virus positive yearlings or even those that had YBD in off season have a lowered immunity. They are unable to suppress challenges by various other disease conditions, (Canker, one eyed colds, other viruses, bacteria, Mycoplasma etc.) These organisms are able to multiply freely in these birds. The more these organisms are able to multiply in the bird the more it is able to excrete. The older birds then get challenged by these increased numbers which under normal circumstances they would probably be able to handle, but at this stage they are stressed from racing and being challenged with higher levels of disease. This could lead to problems. They are not at this 2 and 3 year old stage susceptible to Circo virus but will be susceptible to everything else that these yearlings are distributing. For example the incidence of Canker, one eyed colds and other problems will be higher. Have we not seen an increase in incidence of these conditions over the last few years? It may to a certain extent explain why we are experiencing heavier than normal losses in the race season.
To illustrate this point further I would like to mention a thesis on pigeon racing done by a vet in Germany. The faeces in the baskets collected from transporters returning from liberation points were tested for viruses starting from race 1, and finishing at the last race. He found increased levels of these viruses as the season progressed. This illustrated the point that as birds became stressed by the longer races they became less capable of suppressing these infections. Most of these viruses found were hopefully mild and did not affect race performance too much but it does illustrate the fact that with the longer races and more stress the birds are less capable of suppressing these viruses. If he had tested for other organisms he would have found the same trend.

This thesis was done before YBD was found. Imagine if this thesis was done today. Without much doubt, increased numbers of these viruses would have been found.
We have never allowed our newly weaned youngsters to mix with the race birds while they are racing. These youngsters have immature immune systems. They would be a source of all sorts of infection to the birds still racing. The yearlings we have been discussing would have a worse effect on the old birds than the newly weaned youngsters would.

Comparing this with a scenario in humans-If a young child goes to a crèche with a cold, he or she has an immature immune system and as a result of this excretes a large numbers of viruses. Within days most of the other children in the crèche have colds. The same would apply to pigeons.

2.    What is the effect YBD has had on Paramyxo? We have found that it seems to  have
become more important to vaccinate youngsters at 3 weeks before they are likely to get Circo virus. A second booster vaccine is given 4 weeks later.

A new development has been the occurrence of cases of Paramyxo half way through the race season. It appears that because YBD affects the ability of birds to develop a high level of immunity the immunity they do develop in some lofts, does not last the whole season. To overcome this we maybe need to vaccinate again half way through the season.

When Paramyxo vaccines were first manufactured, they only lasted 6 months. Over a period of time they were improved so much that only an annual booster was required. It appears now that under certain conditions some vaccines do not last the full 12 months purely because the birds did not develop a strong enough immunity in the first place. Giving Medimune for a few days before and after vaccination will help them to develop a stronger immunity.

3.    We often get complaints that a fancier’s 2 year olds or maybe 3 year olds as an age group are not racing well. As yearlings these birds could possibly have been raced and trained at some stage in the season with varying degrees of YBD. Did we not do some sort of damage to them by doing this? We all know that when we send yearlings to a race some of them come back having lost more body mass than you would expect for the distance they have flown. Surely this is not good for them in the long term?

This is purely speculation but when we raced YB in December/January those birds often did not perform later in that same year as yearlings. They only performed again as 2 year olds. By the same token yearlings that was raced hard and far did not perform as 2 year olds but generally performed again as 3 year olds. This was happening before YBD came along.
When we raced yearlings harbouring YBD, were we not doing the same but to a greater extent?
We all know that when we have flu the worst thing we can do is to exercise. Would the same not apply to yearlings harbouring viruses? Could they possibly not perform under par, definitely as yearlings but later as 2 year olds?

To sum up then:-
•    Yearlings harbouring Circo virus could excrete more organisms than normal and become a source of unrelated infections for older birds
•    Paramyxo programme may need to be changed to allow for decreased immunity development. Medimune will help them develop a stronger immunity.
•    Yearlings that are raced while harbouring Circo virus do not always race well as 2 year olds.
•    Don’t underestimate the value of having regular tests done especially for Canker. Don’t assume that all remedies will work in your loft.
•    Don’t overlook the importance of the value of health of the intestines. In this regard make use of products like Medistatin, Pre and probiotics and immune boosters.
•    The use of Immune boosters has become more important considering the problems we are having with YBD and the effects that YBD is having on older birds.

For more information about some of the above diseases and other copmmon avian diseases that the pigeon fancier can encounter, see the Medpet article on Common Avian Diseases.


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