UNDERSTANDING, PREVENTING AND TREATING YOUNG BIRD DISEASE (YBD) IN PIGEONS

Introduction

Young Bird Disease (YBD) is a collective term coined by pigeon fanciers over the last few years. It is actually a combination of a few different diseases, which have very much the same clinical symptoms.  Circovirus is the main cause of this syndrome but it also includes Paramyxovirus, Adenovirus/E Coli and Herpes virus.

Other diseases such as Coccidiosis, Paratyphoid and even severe worm infestations may mimic the disease but will normally not spread so rapidly.

Understanding the syndrome

The fact that YBD is actually a few different diseases that may be found alone or in combination, is often very confusing to the pigeon fancier whom will consider this as one single disease entity. Circovirus is often the initial cause of this syndrome. This virus was originally seen in parrots where it causes the dreaded Psittacine Beak and Feather disease (PBFD). In pigeons it will rarely affect the feather growth but will rather affect the immunity of youngsters. The virus will target fast replicating cells in the body and as result of this, its target organ in youngsters will be the organ known as the Bursa of Fabricius. The Bursa is a small organ found only in young birds up to the age of 1 year. It is the organ where all the white blood cells (wbc) of the young growing pigeon are produced. The wbc are the cells that circulate throughout the body and are responsible for the whole cascade of immunity against diseases. If these cells cannot be actively produced in the bursa, the pigeonís entire immunity will be destroyed and it will become susceptible to any infectious disease. Circovirus will effectively destroy the cells in the bursa and render the pigeon defenseless against diseases.

It is thus important to understand that if a pigeon is infected with Circovirus it will very often succumb to other viral diseases, and will also not be able to fight against diseases such as Crop canker, Coccidia and others. From the above it can be understood that it is extremely important to try and prevent pigeons from contracting Circovirus.  

It is however also possible that pigeons may contract one of the other viral diseases without Circovirus being present and that the fancier will consider these as being Circovirus where in fact it is not.

Symptoms of Young Bird Disease

With the exception of Paramyxovirus where the nervous symptoms of loss of balance, tremors and extremely watery stool are seen, the symptoms of YBD in pigeons are all very much the same irrespective of the inciting cause. Pigeons will initially become slightly droopy and show a loss of appetite. Some pigeons may show symptoms of vomiting. If the pigeons are already training they will become lethargic and will train poorly. Many youngsters are also lost during the training tosses once the syndrome starts.  The pigeons will loose condition rapidly, they will start to consume an excess of water and a very loose stool will be seen. The loose stool may vary in appearance but is often a very green, sloppy and voluminous stool. If however the pigeons are suffering from Paramyxovirus the stool will be extremely watery with a typical well formed small feacal segment, found in the clear watery droppings. In most cases nervous symptoms will follow in a few days if Paramyxovirus is present.

Depending on which of the viruses are present, between 5 and 40% of pigeons may die. It is clear that it will not be possible for the pigeon fancier to make a diagnosis as to which of the viruses are involved in the syndrome. The only way of making a firm diagnosis is by way of a Post Mortem and laboratory tests. However, if this is not possible or practical it is still possible for the fancier to control and treat the disease as the basic principles stay the same irrespective of the underlying cause of the disease.

The only exception is Paramyxovirus where other control measures of vaccination need to be done.

At this stage there are no effective vaccines for the other viral diseases causing YBD. The use of chicken vaccines for related viral diseases such as using the Egg drop syndrome vaccine of chickens to try and prevent Adenovirus in pigeons, is not effective and not recommended due to significant strain variations in pigeons and chickens.

Preventing YBD in pigeons

The prevention of an outbreak of YBD in pigeons is dependant on some basic principles of flock management.

Preventing exposure to the virus and correct vaccination

It makes perfect sense that if pigeons are never exposed to any of the viruses causing YBD that it will be impossible for them to contract the disease. Due to the nature of our sport it is however impossible to keep our pigeons in strict quarantine for the rest of their lives. It is thus not possible to keep the virus away from them forever. We know however, those youngsters will be at their most susceptible during and shortly after weaning due to the stress of weaning. It is imperative that youngsters be weaned into a separate weaning loft where they will not be exposed to other adult pigeons that may act as carriers of the disease. The youngster loft should preferably be separated from the other lofts or should have a solid wall between it and the other lofts. It is prudent to have a foot bath with good antiseptic in front of the young bird loft and to wear a protective clean coat only intended for this loft. Under no circumstances should pigeons from any other fancier (even if he is well regarded) be allowed directly into the youngster loft.  Such pigeons should be housed in a separate isolation loft or basket for 4 weeks, and during this time should be systematically treated and vaccinated with the Medpet young bird program to cleanse them from other diseases.

The youngster loft where youngsters are weaned into, should be very well protected against the possibility of feral pigeons entering or even leaving droppings in the loft. These feral pigeons often carry a multitude of diseases. Youngsters weaned into the young bird loft should be treated for Coccidiosis with a Coximed tablet on the day of weaning and should receive a Mediworm tablet against worms on the second day.  The full Medpet young bird program (available at www.medpet.co.za) should be followed on these babies.  It is also extremely important to vaccinate the youngsters with Nobivac Paramyxo virus vaccine on the day of weaning and not to wait until all the pigeons have first reached the age of 2 Ė 3 months. If the Nobivac Paramyxo vaccine is kept in the fridge and a clean needle is used for each pigeon it may be used again and again and does not have to be discarded after opening the bottle. It is also very important to give a booster vaccination with a chicken strain Paramyxovirus vaccine such as Paravacc two weeks after the initial vaccination.

Preventing stress and stimulating the immune systems

Any pigeon that is stressed will excrete cortizol and will become much more susceptible to disease.  Youngsters are particularly vulnerable to the immunosuppressive effects of stress. The youngster loft should never be overcrowded. Enough water and feeding troughs must be supplied that the less strong youngsters may also be able to eat and drink at their leisure. Adequate ventilation and ensuring that the loft is always clean and dry is very important to reduce stress and prevent infectious diseases from multiplying.

The immune system of young pigeons is extremely vulnerable and therefore it is imperative that an adequate program be designed to stimulate and support the immune system of youngsters. There are many products on the market that claims to be immune stimulants. Unfortunately very few of these are scientifically proven or even mildly effective. Medimune is one of the few products made specifically for pigeons that has a sound scientific base and has been proven over the years to be extremely effective in improving the immune function of pigeons. By providing pigeons with the pigeon strain of beneficial intestinal bacteria (probiotics) in the form of Entero-Plus, the pigeonís immune system is supported in another scientifically proven way. Viroban is another of the excellent immune stimulants developed by Medpet and may be combined with Medimune and Entero-Plus. It is advised that Medimune and Entero-Plus be used twice a week on different days and that Viroban be included in the program once per week.

Medpet has added Medimune and Lewerstim tablets to its range of products. Both these tablets are improvements to the formulation and have extra ingredients to enhance its effectiveness. These tablets may be used very effectively in treating youngsters separately for the first 10 days after weaning to ensure an adequate intake of the active ingredients. Lewerstim tablets is an excellent adjunct to the above mentioned products as it contains actives that will stimulate the appetite and support the most important organ namely the liver of youngsters. It is recommended that the two tablets be dosed separately in the morning and evening for the first 10 days after weaning. Always remember that a healthy youngster may one day become a champion adult so it is worth doing everything possible at this early and fragile age to achieve this.

Isolation of potentially ill pigeons and disinfection

Daily inspection of youngsters to ensure that they are at the peak of their health is important. The sooner an ill pigeon can be identified and removed from the rest of the flock, the better. By identifying ill pigeons before they start to infect other susceptible babies, an outbreak of YBD may be prevented. Such ill pigeons must be removed from the loft and kept separate in an isolation loft or basket. Treating such ill babies with Medimune and Lewerstim tablets for 10 days or until they have recovered is advised. Safe and effective disinfection of the young bird loft should be done twice a day as soon as any ill pigeon has been identified.

How to handle an outbreak of YBD

In spite of all the preventative measures discussed above it may still happen that YBD breaks out amongst your pigeons. If this should happen a quick and effective measures are needed to try and minimize the outbreak. Isolation of ill pigeons and effective disinfection of the loft, water and food bowls are the most important first steps to be taken.  Any youngster that looks remotely ill must be taken to the isolation loft.

Immediate vaccination of all youngsters not already fully vaccinated must be done with Nobivac Paramyxo vaccine.  A booster vaccine should be given two weeks later with Paravacc.

If training has started it should be stopped immediately and pigeons must be strictly rested for 7 to 10 days. Pigeons that have not been treated for Coccidiosis and worms should be treated with Coximed and Mediworm tablets on two separate days. Medimune and Entero-Plus must be added to the food for 10 days continuously. If pigeons are suffering from severe diarrhea, Medilyte should be added to the drinking water to prevent dehydration. Mediprim is an excellent antibiotic to use during an outbreak of YBD as it is very effective against most secondary bacterial infections seen with YBD.

To induce the maximum immune response it is recommended that all the valuable youngsters and all the ill youngsters be dosed with a Medimune tablet in the morning and a Lewerstim tablet in the evening for at least 10 days.

Summary

By understanding YBD, the practical and most effective way of preventing and treating the disease can be accomplished by the pigeon fancier. Using well established and sound principles of disease prevention, and using effective scientifically proven medication will ensure that this dreaded disease syndrome does the least damage and is best prevented or contained when an outbreak occurs.  

 
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