Just like in free-ranging wildlife populations, pathogens can cycle through pigeon populations at any time; the morbidity and mortality rates of individuals can depend upon geography and seasonality, age (juvenile vs. adult), sex, host species susceptibility, stress, food and water availability, habitat quality, predator/prey dynamics (numbers of individuals), prior health and genetic status of individuals as well as previous exposure to and virulence of a pathogen. Domestic and invasive species, fomites, and vectors can also introduce and spread disease into wild populations previously naïve to such pathogens. All of these factors contribute to the overall health status of wildlife populations.
These factors can also apply to our own domesticated pigeons. This is why developing and following a preventative health care program for your pigeons is crucial; it not only minimizes a disease outbreak, but can lessen the severity of disease in your flock. Having a protocol in place can help you act quickly should a disease event occur.
In general, the following guidelines are helpful when developing your own plan:
- Get to know what’s normal in your birds in order to recognize abnormalities (anorexia, emaciation, lethargy, weakness, poor condition). Observe feed and water intake as well as fecal and urinary output. Isolate any pigeons showing signs of illness.
- Develop a relationship with a veterinarian knowledgeable about birds; submit ill and/or recently dead birds for diagnostic sampling, necropsy, and histopathology (± advanced diagnostics) in order to determine the cause of illness and to develop an appropriate treatment plan for the individual pigeon and flock.
- Quarantine any new birds or birds returning from a race or a show as far away as possible from your flock for a minimum of 30 days. Vaccinate pigeons and treat for internal and external parasites in all new birds before introducing them to your flock. Take care of quarantined birds last to avoid cross-contamination.
- Provide a nutritionally balanced and complete pigeon diet, free of contamination by insects, rodents, mold, and moisture. Store in a cool, dry place in a secure container. Do not feed contaminated seeds and grains to your pigeons!
- Provide safe housing with appropriate lighting, ventilation, and protection from drafts. Lofts must also be predator proof and secure enough to prevent access by rodents and wild avian species (sparrows, songbirds, etc.) that may introduce pathogens such as Salmonella.
- Clean your lofts regularly! Bird droppings and other contaminates can spread infectious diseases and parasites. Remove excrement and uneaten food daily; clean drinking containers, hoppers, and feeders daily; disinfect weekly. I typically like to use a dilute bleach solution at a ratio of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water (rinse thoroughly after 10-15 minutes of contact time).
- Avoid overcrowding your pigeons and other stressors that may result in immunocompromised birds.
- Follow a strict biosecurity and management program for your loft to minimize disease outbreaks.
It doesn’t matter if you have 1 or 500 pigeons; developing a preventative care plan is essential for the health of your birds!
Do you have any hints or tips when it comes to the health of your pigeons? Share below!
References and Resources:
Higbie C, Pollock C. Pigeon disease primer. February 2, 2015. LafeberVet Web site. Available at http://lafeber.com/vet/pigeon-disease-primer/
Johnson-Delaney, Cathy A. “Pigeons.” The Avian Module for the Exotic Companion Medicine Handbook. Lake Worth, FL: Zoological Education Network, 2005. 3. Print.
Rivera S. Avicultural medicine: Quarantine. May 6, 2008. LafeberVet Web site. Available at http://lafeber.com/vet/avicultural-medicine-quarantine-protocols/