Stop Diseases Before They Enter Your Loft: Preventative Healthcare in Pigeons
Pathogens can cycle through pigeon populations at any time; the morbidity and mortality rates of individuals can depend upon several factors including geography and seasonality, age (juvenile vs. adult), sex, stress, and prior health and genetic statuses of individuals. Wildlife, fomites (e.g. clothing, tools, etc.), and vectors (e.g. insects) can also introduce and spread disease into populations previously naïve to such pathogens.
When it comes to our own domesticated pigeons, developing and following a preventative health care program 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 behavior, feed and water intake, as well as fecal and urinary output. Immediately isolate any pigeons showing signs of illness.
- Develop a professional 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. Search the online directory provided by the Association of Avian Veterinarians or contact your state agriculture department or veterinary diagnostic laboratory if you have trouble finding veterinarians.
- 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. Always take care of quarantined birds last to avoid cross-contamination to healthy pigeons.
- 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!
- Do not over-supplement or over-medicate as a disease prevention or treatment.
- 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.
Remember, plan and 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!
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.
Mayer, Jörg. Clinical Veterinary Advisor: Birds and Exotic Pets. Edinburgh: Saunders, 2013. Print.
Rivera S. Avicultural medicine: Quarantine. May 6, 2008. LafeberVet Web site. Available at http://lafeber.com/vet/avicultural-medicine-quarantine-protocols/
Association of Avian Veterinarians link: http://www.aav.org/