Ornithosis/Chlamydiosis / Psittacosis (Chlamydophila psittaci)
This disease is caused by Chlamydia psittaci.
Elementary bodies (infective parts of the organism) are commonly found
in the loft. They are found on feather dust (bloom), dried faeces, loft
surfaces and in respiratory system discharges (aerosols) of infected
birds and birds that are carriers.
These organisms are then spread by air circulation within the loft.
They then settle on the mucous membranes of upper respiratory system
and eyes where, depending on the immune status of the bird, can cause
mild to severe illness. These organisms can also be transmitted from
the hen to the egg (vertical transmission,) resulting in chicks being
born with the disease.
The organism is wide spread and can live in the environment for several
weeks. It is unlikely that there are any pigeons that have not been
exposed to varying numbers of the organism, with race baskets being the
biggest source of infection.
Symptoms shown vary tremendously and are very dependent on immune and nutritional status/stress levels etc. of the birds
Symptoms most commonly found are:-
• Poor race performance.
• Unwillingness to fly around loft.
• Red throats sometimes with mucous “strings"
• Brown wattles especially the area directly above nostril opening.
• Conjunctivitis “one eyed cold”. Bubbles are often
seen in the excessive tears produced. Birds often rub their heads on
their wing butts (shoulders).
• Respiratory distress.
• Green diarrhoea if liver is affected.
• Death in severe cases.
This can be made in the live bird by doing various tests on blood and throat samples.
A rapid test is now available from Medpet where results are available in 10 minutes.
Doxybiotic Plus (Doxybiotic S in cage birds) is the treatment of choice.
Various treatment protocols can be used:-
• When the disease has been confirmed with laboratory tests, treat for 20 days.
• When the disease has been a problem in previous
years, treat for 10 days before the race season (April/May in SA)
• As a preventative treatment during the race season treat for 3-7 days.
• During treatment all sources of Calcium (e.g. grit and minerals) must be removed.
• Lewerstim can be added to the Doxybiotic every 3rd
day. Enteroplus or Intestum can be given with, and after the Doxybiotic.
• Wherever possible, boost immunity with Medimune, Enteroplus, Vitaton 34 and Intestum.
• Doxybiotic should be used every 6 weeks during the race season. This is done as a preventative measure.
• Avoid stress situations e.g. overcrowding.
Salmonella / Paratyphoid
This disease in pigeons is caused by Salmonella typhimurium (var copenhagen). Salmonella
bacteria are species specific meaning that each animal and bird species
has its own Salmonella. It is not transferable from one species to
another. Wild birds, rats, mice etc. play no direct role in the
transmission of the disease. Recent research done on this problem
has shown that the beliefs we have had all these years have been
incorrect. Only symptomless carriers and clinically ill pigeons
are a source of infection.
The organism is transmitted from carrier and ill birds via food, water, faeces, dust, air etc.
Infected hens can transmit the organism to the egg (vertical transmission). This results in “dead in shell”.
Vary tremendously depending on age of bird, immune status, overall
general health of the birds and the organs affected. Symptoms shown
(starting with mildest to most severe), can be:-
• Mild to no symptoms (symptomless carriers)
• Poor performance
• Poor fertility if sex organs are affected
• Poor hatchability of eggs
• Swollen joints
• Nervous symptoms (neck and head twisting. loss of balance). Here the symptoms are
• similar to Paramyxo.
• General signs of poor health, poor appetite, listlessness, weight loss, ruffled feathers etc.
• Death, which in many cases can be sudden.
(See Colin Walker's photos below)
Diagnosis is made by bacterial isolation of Salmonella in the faeces of live birds and isolations from internal organs in the dead bird.
A Rapid test available from Medpet can be done on the faeces of the birds. Results are available in 10 minutes.
Pictures below (courtesy Dr Colin Walker) showing a pigeon with meningeal form of paratyphoid (severe case on the right).
Mediprim, Avivet or Trimethoprim Sulfa are used for 10-14 days.
Supportive treatment in form of immune boosters, Vitamins and probiotics (Intestum, Entero-Plus, Medimune, Lewerstim and Vitaton 34) can be used during and after treatment.
Isolate sick birds. Disinfect loft regularly especially during treatment.
Follow good husbandry practice to ensure birds are in optimum health. Use probiotics and immune boosters wherever possible.
New introductions and strays should be isolated and treated preventatively as above.
Candida / Yeast Infection
This is caused by a yeast called Candida albicans. This is a “normal” inhabitant of the gut but will proliferate rapidly under favourable conditions.
• Primary infections by viruses (often seen with young bird disease) and bacteria.
• Overuse of antibiotics without counteracting their effect with pro/prebiotics like Intestum and Enteroplus.
• Stress, poor feeding, quality of food and management.
• Delayed emptying of crop (“slow crop”). Food is still present in the crop in the mornings.
• Poor performance
Other symptoms may be shown but are often as a result of the primary infection
Easily made by taking crop scrapings or a crop flush. The budding yeast
are easily identified as can be seen in photo. The more budding that is
seen the more significant the problem.
Prevention and treatment
Prevented by regular use of Intestum and/or Entero-Plus especially after a course of antibiotics.
Medistatin is used for treatment. It is safe for use during racing and breeding season.
Caused by a protozoan
parasite living in the wall of the intestine of mainly pigeons ,budgies
and finches. In most cases it is found in small numbers but it will
proliferate rapidly under warm wet conditions, lowered immunity, stress
(overtraining in pigeons) poor management and nutrition.
In mild cases no symptoms are seen. Diagnosis is made by doing a faecal
floatation test. Photo (courtesy of Dr Colin Walker) shows the Coccidia parasite in the centre with budding Candida surrounding it.
In more severe cases a dark green to bloody and smelly diarrhoea is
seen. Later the birds show weight loss, poor appetite, fluffed-up
appearance and death.
In the past small numbers of oocysts (eggs) in faecal test were not
considered a problem. Now, especially in racing pigeons, we have found
that it is necessary to treat, regardless of the numbers of eggs found.
Even small numbers of the parasite can cause damage to the intestinal
wall. This enables bacteria and viruses to gain easy access to the
Medicox and Coximed are most commonly used. Ronamp, Avisol, Embazin, 4 in 1,
Trimethoprim/Sulfa can also be used.
Canker / crop canker (Trichomoniasis)
This is a common disease caused by a motile protozoan organism called Trichomonas columbae (in pigeons)
Transmission through the saliva, is by direct contact by two adults
“beaking” or between parents and youngsters being fed, or by indirect
contact via water and food.
Variable symptoms are seen. They include:-
• Poor performance in racing pigeons.
• Yellow cheesy “growths” in the mouth. Excessive salivation and possibly slime in the throat.
• Difficulty in swallowing. Slow emptying of crop (”slow crop").
• Poor appetite leading to weight loss.
• Abscesses of sinuses, navel (from infected crop milk spilling onto
nest material) and cloaca. Post mortem sometimes shows abscesses in
many internal organs.
• Death especially in younger birds.
Diagnosis is easily made by taking a crop scraping or crop flush. The
motile organisms are easily seen. See photos courtesy of Dr. Colin
Many products are available. These are Meditrich, Canker tonic,
Medizole, Ronamp, Canker combo, Emtryl, Cankerex plus and 4 in 1.
Haemoproteus / Pigeon Malaria / Pseudomalaria
This is a protozoal disease of pigeons caused by Haemoproteus columbae, a parasite carried by the pigeon fly (Pseudolynchia canariensis) and to a lesser extent mosquitoes/midges.
The parasite present in the salivary glands of the pigeon fly is
transmitted to pigeons when it feeds on the bird. These parasites after
completing part of their life cycle in the walls of the blood vessels
of mainly the lungs and liver eventually arrive in the blood stream.
This stage of the life cycle (gametocytes) is seen on blood smears (see photo, courtesy Dr Rob Conradie).
While feeding on the
pigeon, the fly will take in these parasites which then multiply in the
fly thus completing the life cycle which takes about 30 days.
Most pigeons show no symptoms apart from a drop in performance during
the racing season. In severe infestations anaemia,lethargy and exercise
intolerance will be seen.
Diagnosis can only made by examination of blood smears to detect the presence of parasite.
The only stage of the life cycle that responds to treatment is the Gametocyte
stage present in the red blood cells. Due to this and the fact that the
life cycle takes 30 days, treatment has to be given over a long period
The most widely accepted treatment regime is 10 days of Primaquin at
1ml per litre before the race season and 1-2 days of treatment with
Primaquin at 2mls per litre once weekly preferably throughout the year.
The vector/carrier (the pigeon fly) obviously has to be controlled as
well. All birds in the loft especially new introductions and strays
must be sprayed regularly with Avian Insect Liquidator (AIL).
Air Sac Mites
Each bird has nine principal air sacs with several diverticulitis
within its respiratory tract. They are not connected to each other. The
air sacs communicate with the bronchus and with several air filled
bones such as the femur and humorous. The porous nature of these bones
aids the bird’s flight. The habitat of the mites is in these air sacs.
Some birds can be infected by the mites and appear healthy. The nature
of the symptoms depends on several factors: volume of mites and degree
of inflammation, not only in the air sacs but also in the lungs,
bronchus and trachea. A clinical sign of air sac mites is open mouth
breathing, which has a characteristic clicking sound. In a heavy
infection some birds can be observed gasping for air. Other signs
include coughing, nasal discharge, and tail bobbing, weakness and
weight loss. As far as it is known, the complete life cycle of the Air
Sac Mite is approximately fourteen to twenty one days.
is a product that was developed for birds in Australia by Vetafarm...
The active ingredient is Moxidectin. This drug kills the mite by
interfering with the transmission of nerve impulses in the mite causing
its paralysis and death. Birds, like mammals do not have the same nerve
transmission system as mites so the drug is harmless to them. The
manufacturer recommends for best results, re-treatment should be
carried out 3 to 4 times per year.
Scaly Face Mite
The scaly face mite (Knemidokoptes pilae)
is found primarily in Parakeets (Budgerigars), though it can turn up in
canaries and finches as well. The mite is found on the corner of the
beak on side, the vent and the legs, and can be diagnosed by
identifying the clinical sign of their presence on the bird. This mite
burrows in the shin, causing a powdery appearance. If you look closely,
you will see a honey-comb pattern of holes in the skin, representing
burrows and tunnels caused by the mites.
Use SCATT the same for scaly
face mites as you would for air sac mites. Apply 1 to 2 drops depending
on the size of the bird (1 drop per 30g body weight), to the bare skin
between the shoulders. You may need to re-treat in three weeks as the
mites, which live in the "DEAD" beak or leg scales, do burrow down to
feed on the blood. It is very difficult to get the SCATT down into the
infected areas. This medication works from the inside out. Re-treat
every three weeks until infected beak grows out. Treatment may take up
to 6 weeks.
Lice, Pigeon flies, and mites (Ecto-parasites)
Lice and flies especially are commonly seen.
All cause extreme irritation to the birds resulting in stamping of
feet, feather picking and in racing pigeons a loss of race form.
Pigeon flies (jockeys), are responsible for the transmission of pigeon malaria (Haemoproteus
- see section above on this disease). In severe infestations the
flies can result in anaemia. Interestingly, they can also
transmit lice from one pigeon to another.
Two species of mites are shown in the photos. Top photo shows quill
mite (courtesy of Dr. Rob Conradie). The photos at the bottom
shows the effect of scaly leg mite (courtesy of Dr. Colin Walker).
Also see the pictures below of scaly mite in early and then advanced stages, moving to the right, courtesy Dr Colin Walker.
The treatment of choice on the birds and in the environment is Avian
Insect Liquidator. It is extremely safe and can be used in all species
of birds. It works by killing the adults as well as preventing the eggs
and larvae from developing.
Scatt, a specially formulated preparation applied to the back of the neck, is also very effective.
Worms / Internal parasites / Helminthiasis
This group consists of Roundworm (Ascaridia), Hairworm (Capilaria) and Tapeworm.
Round and hairworm are transmitted by birds eating or pecking at
infected faeces on cage surfaces, food and water. Tapeworms are carried
by weevils found in food and other insects. The bird has to eat these
intermediate hosts to become infected.
In very mild cases mainly asymptomatic but in severe cases marked weight loss despite a normal or increased appetite.
As round and hairworm are very seldom seen in the faeces diagnosis is
made by microscopic examination of faecal floatation. The eggs are
shown as in photo courtesy of Dr. Rob Conradie. Tapeworm segments can
be seen with the naked eye.
Treatment and control
Mediworm tablets or powder can be used in most bird species. It can be used during breeding and the moult.
It is important to flame the cages/loft at time of treatment so that
the worm eggs can also be destroyed. They will otherwise re-infect the
birds. Remember that the area in front of the loft can also be
contaminated. Unless paved, the worm eggs in the ground or grass can
live for a long time. In these cases deworming has to be done on a
Respiratory tract infections
Very common in racing pigeons. Often referred to as “slime in the throat”.
- Mycoplasma, seen in canaries and Gouldians as well as pigeons. In pigeons it is often seen in association with Ornithosis (called Ornithosis complex). Mycoplasma
is a genus of bacteria that lacks a cell wall, and hence is not
affected by typical antibiotics. Mycoplasmosis is one of the primary
causes of upper-respiratory disease in pigeons, canaries and
may also be transmitted via the egg and cause infertility or early
death of chicks in the egg or in the nest.
- Bacteria. Found commonly. The most common bacteria isolated are Pasteurella (now called Gallibacterium) Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, E.coli and many others.
Clinical signs ... variable but include:-
Open mouth breathing
Dirty (discoloured) wattles
Mucous in back of throat often causing a “string” between tongue and palate (see picture below, courtesy Dr Colin Walker).
Swollen wide open tracheal opening
Inflamed soft palate and tonsils.
Scratching at nose
Rubbing eyes on shoulder (wing butt)
- Where possible throat swabs should be
taken and a culture and sensitivity test done to determine what is
causing the problem and what the best treatment would be.
- Failing this, if Mycoplasma is suspected use Longstim, Tylobiotic, or Tylodox.
- For a bacterial infection use Avivet, Mediprim, Trimethoprim/sulfa powder, Doxybiotic, Longstim, Tylobiotic or Tylodox.
- For a mixed bacterial and Mycoplasma infection use Longstim.
- For Ornithosis complex Tylodox is used.
In species other than pigeons please ensure that the product recommended is safe for use in that bird species.
Pigeon pox is caused by a
virus belonging to the poxvirus group, a group of viruses that cause
disease in many species. The avipoxvirus subgroup includes a
number of closely related viruses such as fowl pox, pigeon pox and
There are two clinical
forms of pigeon pox, probably associated with different sources of
infection. The most common method of transmission results from
mosquito bites. Obviously, the resultant lesions will appear on
featherless areas of the body, e.g. on the eyelids, around the beak (see pictures below courtesy of Dr Colin Walker) and
occasionally elsewhere on the body. The lesions start as small
papules and gradually progress to a wart-like thick dark scab.
Eventually the scabs will fall off and complete healing generally takes
place within four weeks of infection. This form of the disease is
seldom life threatening and is often more of a nuisance in racing
pigeons as it results in a break in the training program.
The second form of pigeon
pox is probably due to droplet (aerosol) infection and involves the
mucous membranes of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and trachea. This
is often referred to as the wet form of pigeon pox as the lesions on
the mucous membranes are soft and cheesy in nature. This is a far
more serious form of the disease. Affected pigeons appear very
sick, stop eating, have difficulty in breathing and generally lose a
lot of weight. Mortality mostly results from asphyxiation due to
blockage of the respiratory tract by the necrotic material or else from
secondary bacterial infections with the formation of toxins.
Occasionally a mixed form
may occur with cutaneous scabs as well as soft lesions in the
respiratory or even the intestinal tract. This mixed form is more
common in racing pigeons and may be due to the presence of predisposing
conditions. The crowding of racing pigeons in baskets often leads
to fighting with resultant skin lesions, which will allow entry of
virus. The very close contact between such pigeons will also
facilitate contact transmission resulting in the cutaneous as well as
the mucosal form.
Vaccination, in most
instances, amounts to controlled exposure of pigeons to field strains
of the virus by applying the virus to a part of the body where least
damage would result. Squabs five weeks or older should be
immunised. The directions for use described in the package insert
that accompanies the vaccine should be carefully followed. There
are basically two methods of vaccine application. In the one
(scratch method) a hypodermic needle (supplied in the package) is
dipped into the vaccine and one or two scratches made in the skin of
the breast. This method requires some skill – if the scratch is
too superficial, the virus will not “take” and no local lesion will
develop. Should the scratch be too deep and a fair amount of
blood exudes from the wound, the vaccine is flushed out, with no
resultant “take”. In the absence of a local lesion there is no
certainty that the pigeon will develop immunity. This method is
very popular with most pigeon fanciers but the immunity following
vaccination is often variable as a result of the variable percentage of
The most effective method
is the so-called “follicle method”. About five feathers are
plucked out on the lower leg and vaccine applied by means of a brush
that has been dipped into the vaccine. Follicular lesions develop
within 7-10 days and although the lesions may look unsightly for a few
days, they disappear completely after 2-3 weeks. The general
health of such vaccinated pigeons is not affected but the resultant
immunity is of high quality and good duration.Taking
into consideration the superior efficacy of the “follicle method”,
MEDPET strongly recommends that Medipox be administered by this route
rather than through the “scratch method”. (Despite the fact that
many pigeon fanciers achieved acceptable levels of immunity through the
“scratch method” in the past.)
It is currently accepted in the scientific community that different
isolates (or “strains”) of the pigeon pox virus may exist. Although
these “strains” may vary with respect to their potential to cause
disease in pigeons, it seems that these “strains” are very similar from
an immunological perspective. This implies that illegally-imported
pigeon pox vaccines hold no advantage over the commercially-available
and locally-registered pigeon pox vaccines. In fact, exotic
vaccines illegally-imported from outside the South African borders
carry the risk of introducing new strains of the virus into the country
which may aggravate the disease.
Vaccinate with Medpet’s Medipox,
and even though you may have used the scratch method successfully in
the past, be aware that things have changed with this virus in the last
few years and you are strongly recommended to use the follicle method.
Specifically, avoid using pox treatments that have been brought in from foreign countries as this creates more problems than it solves.
A common viral infection of pigeons caused by a Paramyxo virus, another strain of which causes Newcastle disease in poultry
The virus is spread throughout the loft via water, food, loft surfaces and the air (aerosol).
It can spread very rapidly causing the symptoms described below within 2 -6 days after contact.
The disease can take on three different forms or combinations of these.
• Nervous symptoms with typical head twisting, star
gazing and tremors. Photos courtesy of Dr Colin Walker show these
typical symptoms (with wet droppings typically associated with
Paramyxovirus infection; and abnormal stance & head position
adpoted when the virus infects the bird's brain. If it were to
affect the nerves (which is also nerve/ brain tissue), lameness in
wings and legs can be seen.
• When the kidneys are affected, the birds drink a
lot of water resulting in watery faeces. The typical picture seen would
be the solid parts of the faeces forming a small “worm” in the centre
surrounded by what looks like pure water.
• When the intestine is affected, diarrhoea is seen.
• Death can occur within a few days.
Being a virus there is no specific treatment. Supportive treatment that can be used includes Vitaton 34, Medilyte, to combat the effects of dehydration and Medimune to boost immunity.
Nobilis Paramyxo vaccine is very effective in the prevention of this disease.
It is best given to youngsters at 3 weeks of age and again 4 weeks later.
Before the race season it is again given to these youngsters and all
the older race birds and stock birds. It is repeated annually.
Young Bird Disease /Syndrome
Typically seen at 4 to 12 weeks, often with a second wave of a milder
infection when training and racing starts when they are about 6-10
months old. Symptoms can be variable depending on virus and secondary infections involved. They include:-
Called a syndrome more than a specific disease because it is caused by a number of viruses with Circo virus playing the major role. The other viruses found are Adeno, Herpes and Paramyxo.
The virus spreads rapidly by direct and indirect (through water, air, excretions and food) contact.
Very poor appetite
Delayed emptying of crop
Drinking lots of water
Rapid weight loss
If Paramyxo is involved nervous symptoms (twisting of neck) and very watery faeces are seen.
Destruction of the immune system leads to inadequate response to vaccinations and susceptibility to secondary infections.
Poor returns from training tosses and races even in birds that to the
fancier appear normal. This is associated with second wave of infection
In severe infections mortality can be as high as 50%.
Treatment and prevention:
There is no vaccination against the disease.
Rest the birds for as long as possible.
Isolate sick birds.
Boost immunity with Medimune powder and tablets, Enteroplus, Intestum, Viroban, and Medibrew.
Correct dehydration with Medillyte.
Treat secondary infections.
For bacteria use Mediprim, Avivet or 4 in 1
Canker must be treated with Meditrich, Canker Tonic, Emtryl, Canker Combo, Ronamp or Cankerex-Plus
Candida is very often a secondary problem. Treat with Medistatin
Vaccinate against Paramyxo with Nobilis Paramyxo. The latest
recommendations are 1st vaccination at 3 weeks and 2nd one 4 weeks
later. The earlier vaccination is advised to allow babies to develop an
immunity to Paramyxo before Circo virus becomes a problem. Once they
have Circo virus they are unable to develop sufficient immunity.
Vitamin, mineral, amino acid and protein supplements
Medpet has a variety pof products that can assist with mineral & vitamin deficiencies.
A vitamin, mineral and electrolyte additive used after strenuous exercise in racing pigeons
Added to the food to supply amino acids, vitamins, minerals and trace elements
A vitamin, mineral, trace element and iron supplement.
A Calcium. Vit. D3 and Magnesium supplement used 2-3 times weekly, mainly during the breeding season.
Liver protectant and detoxifier.
Used twice weekly. The essential fatty acids promote optimal plumage health
Premolt 5 and 100
For optimal feather health especially useful during the moulting season
Also indicated for feather plucking and calcium deficiency in parrots fed only seed diets.
A high protein supplement for pigeons
A very popular affordable combination of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Can be used anytime of the year.