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pigeon Early Failure to Survivepigeons
By: Dr. David Marx

This title implies failure of squabs to survive early in their lives. The earliest we can consider is when they are still in the shell. Death can occur early on in development, or at-or-near hatching time. The other failure to survive occurs in the first few days of life after hatching.

These deaths, when other than random, suggest an infection which overcomes the chick. These infections can occur in the egg, where the developing squab becomes infected either by bacteria incorporated in the egg, or more commonly from bacteria penetrating the egg shell. The typical black egg which when opened shows some decomposing fetal material, is typically from an early overwhelming infection. Other infections occur when the egg becomes infected later in development or when the infection progresses slower, not overcoming the developing squab, but weakening it severely. In the latter the squabs die just before or during the pipping. The hatching requires a large effort by the encased baby. When weakened by infection, it becomes unable to put forth this effort and dies. These babies, when examined closely, are seen to have not absorbed all of their egg sacs; this being another clue to a retarded development.

Squabs that die after hatching frequently appear to have been trampled by their parents. They have been trampled, but only because they have perished first. They are unable to vigorously feed or otherwise thrive.

As to the reasons why these infections occur we have to consider several things. These syndromes are notoriously associated with paratyphoid, but paratyphoid is, by no means, not the only thing which can cause them. It is, in fact, the most common cause, but we know from culturing many of these eggs/babies that other bacteria often are implicated. Salmonella is a fickle organism and sometimes it will not grow on culture, but it is in fact still the underlying culprit. We, instead, culture secondary invaders. It is impossible to know if this is the case in all, or if the usual secondary invaders are primary causes of the syndrome. I feel that frequently other bacteria are in fact primary disease producers in many of these cases.

When we see an inordinate number (an epidemic) of this we suspicion paratyphoid because of the statistical odds that salmonella is the pathogen. We also know that other bacteria can cause similar syndromes. These other bacteria, in what I believe is the frequency of occurrence, are Pseudomonas spp., Proteus spp., E.coli, Klebsiella spp., and Citrobacter spp. Of these Pseudomonas can be the most difficult to treat because it is notoriously resistant to many antibiotics.

When it becomes pandemic, i.e. involving virtually all of the babies one must think of loft contamination. Loft contamination implies that the numbers of bacteria in the loft environment has become so high that it is virtually impossible to escape infection, especially by the most susceptible. This happens because of prolonged periods of high humidity and mild to warm temperatures. This allows the bacteria to flourish in the enriched environment. We all know that dryness and very cold work against bacterial growth, and the opposite promotes their growth. With any infection an infective dose of bacteria is needed, so the higher the numbers of bacteria in the environment the easier it becomes for the infective dose to be achieved.

So what can one do? If one suspicions paratyphoid it is frequently necessary to break up the couples and treat vigorously (with Baytril or Saraflox) for at least 10 days and vaccinate the breeders WHILE they are on the antibiotic. For the other bacteria, look first at loft contamination. If this does not seem to be a reasonable cause, then treat as with paratyphoid. If it appears that we may be dealing with loft contamination, remove all litter and nesting material, clean the loft thoroughly and disinfect it. Use only clean dry nesting material and work to eliminate dampness. If the birds are to continue to feed babies and reproduce during treatment, do not vaccinate (this will make them neglect their eggs and babies), and treat with an antibiotic which is safe to use during reproduction such as Amoxicillin or Cephalexin.

Ideally, cultures can be done on these casualties before further contamination. Here we can determine what we are dealing with and which antibiotic will give us success. Several specimens to culture reveal much more information than culturing a single one.

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