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pigeon Keeping The Birds Healthy During Racingpigeons
By Dr. Colin Walker

Edited for the International Federation 12/04/12

In a stock loft disease control is straight forward. Diseases present are identified and treated and new birds are treated prior to entry. In this way the stock loft becomes a mini quarantine station producing healthy babies from healthy stock birds each year. On the other hand in the racing loft about 1/3 of the occupants leave the loft each week to mix with birds from many other lofts in race baskets where disease can easily spread. One needs therefore to monitor closely for disease and treat when it appears or alternatively have health programs in place to prevent disease occurring. While in the race units the birds drink each other’s water and breathe each other’s air. It is inconceivable that week after week that returning birds will not bring some disease home. What are the diseases of concern and how do we control them?

Worms and Coccidia: Both parasites are commonly spread through the droppings in race units. Either droppings should be examined microscopically every 3-4 weeks to monitor for infection and the birds treated if infected or alternatively the birds preventively treated every 4 weeks. Worms are treated with Moxidectin, 5mls per 1L for 24 hours. If tape work segments are seen in the droppings use Moxidectin Plus, ¼ ml per bird instead. Coccidia are treated with Tolravet, 3mls per 1L for 48 hours.

Wet Canker: This is the most common medical cause of poor race performance. At our clinic, if it has been more that 3 weeks during the race season since a team has been treated then we would expect to find some birds with wet canker in 90% of those teams. Given this incidence we are quite happy to recommend routine preventative treatment. In most lofts, 2-3 days every second or third week on Turbosole, 1tsp per 2L gives good control. However, follow up crop flushes should be done to make sure that resistance to the drug has not developed. Other medications are available if required. Monday and Tuesday are the best treatment days as any race stragglers are usually back which means all birds in the loft can get a full dose. This also gives the birds sufficient time to ‘lift’ before the next race after having any canker organisms present eliminated. If birds are not treated weekly crop flushes should be done to ensure that treatment is not required.

Respiratory infection: No one wants to give their birds antibiotics unless they need them but at the same time no one wants to loose birds and then find that they have a respiratory infection. Respiratory infection is easily spread from one bird to another in race units and infection is common. Ideally birds should be regularly checked for respiratory infection (see Chlamydia respiratory test). When diagnosed during racing birds are given a longer course, usually 4-5 days, of Doxy-T or Triple Vet initially and then shorter follow up courses, often of 2-3 days every week or second week for several treatments to keep the problem under control while the birds natural immunity and fitness gradually improve. In lofts where respiratory infection have been a problem in previous years and no loft parameters have changed (ie. same loft design, loft location, genetic make-up of birds) it makes no sense to simply wait for respiratory infection to come again. In this situation preventative treatment it given with Doxy-T or Triple Vet for 2-3 days every 2-3 weeks. This can be mixed with canker medication. It is important however to not replace antibiotic use for good management practices.

E.coli and Yeast: E.coli and yeast levels can be checked by microscopically examining the droppings. They are always found in the bowel in low numbers. They are opportunists and increase in number when the birds become stressed and their ability to resist disease is compromised. When at high levels the droppings will become green and mushy. E.coli and yeast can be treated with probiotics eg. Probac or to a lesser extent with acids such as citric acid (1tsp/6L). Probac can be used on a needs basis on any day when the droppings are green and watery due to these problems but it is important to identify and correct (if possible) any predisposing stress. Common potential sources of stress are over training, persistent humid or cold weather, persistent falcon attack or a poor diet. Probac can be added to the water (1tsp/2L) or onto the food (1tsp/2kg).
Obviously lots of other potential health problems occur but these are the common ones. If you are unsure what is going on with your bird’s health please feel free to give us a call.

Chlamydia Respiratory Test – Sending in samples
Chlamydia is the principal cause of respiratory infection in pigeons and accurate testing can be done from mailed in swabs or blood samples. In the early stages of infection Chlamydia is most readily detectable in eye and nose discharges, in the cells lining the mouth and to a lesser extent the droppings. Later in the infection the organism is better detected in blood. If the birds look like they have a respiratory infection (eg. red watery eyes or dirty ceres) or they are sneezing get a clean cotton bud and wipe this vigorously into the slot in the roof of the mouth or under the eye lid of a watery eye. Snip the head of the cotton bud off and place in a clean clip lock plastic bag and mail to us. For birds that look normal but are simply not doing well then to check for Chlamydia a drop of blood is a better sample. When investigating causes of poor race performance it is a good idea to send in droppings to check for other problems at the same time as the Chlamydia respiratory test.

Minimizing the need for medication during racing though good hygiene and stress control:
Stress increases the vulnerability to disease by compromising the normal function of the immune system. As stress increases it takes lower levels of germs to cause disease. Two ways therefore to minimize disease and the need for medication is to minimize stress and decrease exposure to germs. Just competing in races exposes each bird to many unavoidable stresses e.g. time away from the loft, altered feeding and watering patterns, exertion and exposure to predation. These cannot be avoided but many stresses can be loft based and here the role of the fancier become important. Overcrowding, poor parasite control, a cold damp loft, an inadequate or unbalanced diet and over training are all potential causes of loft based stress. In addition to management practices and a loft design that minimizes stress the fancier can also minimize the risk of disease by keeping the lofts ‘germ load’ as low as possible. This is achieved by maintaining a clean dry loft, feeding good quality feed in a hygienic way and regularly disinfecting drinkers (for this I recommend F10). Good hygiene and minimizing avoidable stress will result in healthier birds and a decreased need for medication. Often when disease occurs in the racing loft medication is only part of the answer. Although medications can be used to good advantage it is important to review the birds management and environment otherwise the response to medication may be poor or the health problem may keep coming back.

Panting – Do the birds have a respiratory infection?
A common concern amongst fanciers who call us is that their birds are panting. The worry is that these birds may have a respiratory infection. Certainly birds with a respiratory infection particularly involving the airsacs are more inclined to pant but virtually any health problem will sap energy, decrease stamina and lead to panting after moderate exercise. Problems as diverse as coccidia and wet canker can cause panting in this way. Also many birds that pant are actually quite healthy. Birds that are fat, unfit, moulting or hot will pant. Similarly, birds that fly very hard and fast such as those intimidated by frequent falcon attacks will pant. Here, they simply cannot exchange enough air to match their exercise rate. A good analogy might be asking a marathon runner who is obviously very fit and well to sprint 100metres half way through a marathon. In this situation a marathon competitor will pant. Persistent panting warrants a health investigation which should include microscopic examination of the droppings, a crop flush and a Chlamydia respiratory test.

Why do old healthy breeders get wet eyes:
Some cocks and to a lesser extent hens get enlarged eye ceres as they age. This can lead to the eyelid pulling away from the eyeball surface and inefficient tear drainage. Tears overflow the eyelid margin (often becoming dry and yellow), secondary bacterial infection can occur. Exposure of the inside of the eyelid can lead to air drying and UV damage. The birds often swing their head around and rub the eye on the wingbutt leading to self trauma. The usual solution is a surgical one where skin around the eye, either as a V resection in the lower eyelid or in a procedure where the skin is removed from the corner of the eye leads to a tightening of the eyelid and a reduction in eye cere bulk. Other complicating factors can be blockage of the tear duct and secondary sinus infection.

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