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Can I only treat sick birds?
Chlamydia In Pigeons
Since my last article on the subject, I have received many questions about this disease.   
Most questions asked by fanciers can be summarized with 10 basic answers.
Questions & Answers
The 10 Most Commonly Asked Questions About Chlamydia in Pigeons
Mike Underwood
(800) 942-3438  email  
4477 South Williams Rd. St Johns, MI 48879
How do I know if my pigeons even have the disease?
Cold or flu-like symptoms or runny or green droppings are often an indicator of the disease.  
Respiratory symptoms are common too.  But the only certain way is to have a vet test your birds for the
disease.   I always recommend a vet test for the disease if you have any doubts but you need to be
aware that this disease is know as a ‘reportable disease’.  What this means is that if your vet confirms
the disease in your birds, then the vet must report the findings to your state Dept of Ag. Since this can
infect humans too.  This is nothing to worry about but the state may verify that you treat properly to
control the disease.  If you refuse to treat, then in extreme cases, the state will either make you treat or
destroy all your birds as a last resort.
What are my treatment options?
There are really only 3 treatment options for this disease although the federal government
only recognizes one (feed treatment with chlortetracycline).   The first way is with doxycycline
injections directly into the breast muscle every several days for 45 days.  This is not preferred since the
injections will cause a small necrosis, or dead spot, in the breast muscle each time.  The second
option, although not recognized by the government, is by placing drops directly in to the mouth of EACH
BIRD EVERY DAY FOR 45 DAYS.  This will work but is labor intensive for a large loft and can cause a
lot of stress.  The one thing you NEVER want to do is to mix doxycycline or any antibiotic into the
drinking water bowl.   The dosage will not be enough for a cure and will only suppress the symptoms for
a few weeks.  This also will increase the chance of antibiotic resistance and make it harder to treat the
next time.  Also NEVER treat for less than 45 days for the same reasons. The best way is treatment
with chlortetracycline antibiotic pellets as the only source of feed for all birds on the property for 45
days.  Treatment in the drinking water works for most other bacterial disease, so if you have treated for
this disease in the past and it worked, then you birds had some other disease that you only believed
was this one.
How expensive is treating?
With any option used properly, treatment is always expensive.  Short cuts with amounts or
durations will only make the problem worse.  Depending on the brand of feed and the distance it needs
to be shipped to you, costs usually run between $1.00 and $1.75 per pound of feed including delivery
and remember that you will need enough feed to last 45 days.  Most lofts of any size will use several
hundred pounds of feed in a month and a half.  With costs running several hundred dollars, many
fanciers will consider putting down less valuable birds before treatment.
No, every bird on the property must be treated or the untreated carriers will only re-infect the
treated birds.  If one bird in a loft has the disease, all will be exposed and most without symptoms will
be carriers.
Can I give anything else during treatment?
No, the pellets are the only feed for the entire 45-day treatment.  Any mixing with other feeds will
reduce the antibiotic level to the point where it will not be effective.  Also any mineral grit must be
removed, as calcium will interfere with the absorption of the antibiotic.  Even if symptoms clear up
before the full 45 days, treatment must continue the full length of time to prevent a relapse.
What do I do after treatment?
Since the disease is contacted through the dust from the droppings, you need to clean out the
loft of all droppings right before the end of the treatment so the birds do not become re-
How often should I treat?
There are two different schools of opinion on this topic.  The first is that you only treat when you
can confirm that you have an infection.  This will help reduce the chance that the bacteria will build up a
resistance to the antibiotic from over use.  The second opinion is that treatment once a year keeps any
small infection from exploding in the general population and cleans up the loft.  This treatment is
typically done either before the breeding season or before the racing season.  Treatment more than
once a year or continually would not be a good idea.  If you have a closed loft with minimal exposure to
outside birds, including both domestic pigeons and wild birds, then only treating when a disease
occurs would be the best option.  If, on the other hand, your birds are exposed to other pigeons in
competitions on a regular basis, then your risk of infection may be large enough to justify treatment
once a year.
How common is this disease?
Several studies have been done that show that the feral pigeon population has an infection
rate of at least 60%.  In other words, at least 6 out of 10 feral pigeons that your birds may come into
contact with have the disease.  Many starlings carry it too.  I receive calls every day from loft owners
who believe they have it in their lofts.
Can I use these pellets to treat other diseases?
Technically, manufactures are allowed by the federal government to manufacture, sell, and
ship across state lines, this pellet only for the treatment of this one disease.   But any bacterial
disease that is sensitive to chlortetracycline will be cured with these pellets.
Why should I care if my birds are infected?
First, this disease can infect humans and can kill young, old, or weak people.  Second even if
pigeons do not die from the acute infection and only become carriers or maintain a low-grade infection,
the main symptoms are poor lung capacity and poor feather condition.  Respiratory problems are not
all caused by this one disease but this one accounts for many of them.  All the money spent on top
quality stock, training and care is worthless if the birds cannot breath well!  The birds will look unthrifty
and will loose many chicks before fledgling.
Remember, the best defense against disease is knowledge.  Pretending nothing is wrong will only
make matters worse.  So focus on how to prevent, how to treat, and how to discuss disease
problems that are common to all pigeons with other fanciers who’s birds may come into contact
with your birds.  We have covered the treatment this time and I will try to address the prevention
and communication with other fanciers next time.
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