No one can deny that healthy stock birds and good management are the foundation of a successful breeding season. Therefore, it should be a necessity to visit a veterinary that specialises in pigeons to get your birds checked. This should be done at least one month before you are intending to couple the birds so that you have enough time to treat them bearing in mind that many medications can have a negative effect on a pigeon’s fertility.
The main problems of the breeding season are canker, coccidiosis, external and internal parasites and then, of course, salmonella. Canker is the most common parasitic disease affecting young birds. It is caused by trichomanas gallinae, a small parasite that lives usually in the crop. Old birds that have a light infection will how no external signs of the disease. It is advisable to treat your birds four weeks before coupling and during the incubation period. It is difficult to have a pigeon that is completely free of trichomonads. The parents will pass on the trichomonads to their youngsters and most of the time this should cause no problem as the youngsters should create a level of immunity to canker. However, there are different strains of trichomonas and some can cause a lot of damage. Sometimes it is possible to see umbilical inflammation. Another sympton is the presence of yellow caseous growths in the throat.
So what are the available medications? These all belong to the group of 5-nitro-imidazoles (ronidazole, metronidozole, carnidazole …).
Ronidazole is available as a water soluable powder under various branded names, Roni-Forte, Tricho Stop etc. A standard treatment would last five days. Metronidazole is available as tablets in a variety of strengths. The most common that you are probably aware of is Flagyl which contains 500 mg metronidazole. Individual birds are given ¼ of a tablet once daily which should be given on an empty stomach (no food or water for two hours). Carnidazole is available in tablet form (Spartrix). You can give one tablet to youngsters and this should be used when birds do not have a heavy infection.
Another parasitic disease that compromises the health of the breeding birds is coccidiosis. Such infection interferes with the digestive system as the parasite multiply in the intestinal wall. Coccidiosis infestation can be treated with toltrazuril (Baycox). This may be given two weeks before coupling.
Your birds should most certainly be free of worms (hairworm, roundworm and tapeworm) and there are many medications for treating them (levamisole, moxedectin, febantel). After any treatment for worms you must take care to give the loft a complete disinfection even to the point of using the bowlamp on the floor and perching areas in the loft. If this is not possible then it is advisable to treat every three weeks over a six-month period.
One of the most feared diseases is paratyphoid caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhimurium. This bacterium can cause different types of disease, be it in the bowel, the joint, or generalised form. Mostly when you have an acute outbreak of paratyphoid on your loft you will see a pigeon with weight loss and greenish diarrhoea.
Pigeons with red swollen joints of the wing or leg should always be suspected of the chronic form of salmonellosis. In the generalized form you see multiorgan involvement with rapid weight loss leading to a death. A blood test can, in many cases, confirm the disease. The blood should be taken from the tarsel vein.
Blood serum is mixed with paratyphoid antigen, When positive the serum will clot because the antigen forms a complex with the antibodies in the serum.
What can you do when you are faced with an outbreak of salmonella?
Pigeons with swollen joints and sick birds should be eliminated or at the very least be separated because there is a possible danger that they may become carriers. When stressed, these pigeons shed the organism in their droppings (for months) and can infect other healthy pigeons.
In order to avoid such salmonella outbreaks you must at all times avoid over-crowding. The loft should be disinfected to decrease exposure of the healthy birds to the bacterium. A ten-day course of enrofloxacine must be started. After this treatment you may consider vaccination which can be a useful aid to control. If you want to know if your treatment has been successful, you should collect droppings over a three-to-five day period and have them tested in a laboratory.
If your loft environment is good yet you are still having problems with respiratory infections this could well mean that chlamydia or ornithosis is latent in the birds. Breeding is a stressful time for the birds and ornithosis may flair up and cause problems. Treating with doxycycline for three-to-four weeks is the best solution if the problem is recurring.
These treatments must be given well before the breeding season as all calcium products have to be removed and this will affect the birds. You may also have the problem that such long-term treatment may cause a yeast infection due to the disruption of bacteria in the pigeons’ bowels. A probiotic during and after the treatment is certainly a must. These treatments are no guarantee of the complete elimination of chlamydia, but will reduce the multiplication of the bacterium in the pigeon.
It is obvious to us all that when the birds are breeding they need better nutrition. Supplementing their diet with vitamins and minerals will aid the birds during this time. A well-balanced mixture with a high protein level is no luxury, the birds, and their youngsters, will require this. Also, vitamin D and calcium supplements are strongly advised, this is especially necessary during the first three weeks after hatching. Grit alone is not enough, the calcium levels are not just important for nice eggshells but also for the bone development of the growing youngsters.
The principle goal is to start the breeding season with healthy stock. This cannot be achieved merely by putting the lights on two weeks before coupling the birds, they should be taken care of the whole year round. First of all go to the pigeon veterinarian at least one month before you couple your birds, have them tested for canker, coccidiosis, worms, ectoparasites, salmonella and treat with the appropriate medication.
A well-balanced diet at all times is needed and do not forget their supplements. A calcium and vitamin supplement may be given three times a week, however, do not forget that most vitamin supplements are synthetic and you should avoid overdosing with vitamins, A, D, E and K as this can be toxic. Consider what I have said and I am sure that you will breed strong and healthy young birds.
Dr Johan Van Der Cruyssen
Dr Greta Van de SompelGeraardsbergse Steenweg 130