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Disease In Your Pigeon Loft
So if you are sure that you have an infection, you need to treat.  But what if you only suspect
or want to prevent an infection.  Then what?  Well there are two different schools of opinion on
that.  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. Diluting out the medicated pellets
with less expensive non-medicated feed is even worse.  It does not cure the disease (so it is also wasted
money), but the bacteria can build up resistance to the drug.  Which of the two different ways you go depends
on your exposure to disease.  I keep fantails, not racers.  They are not exposed to other birds and I have a
closed loft.  With my risk of infection low, the first plan of only treating when I know I am infected is probably
the best one.  But as your risk of infection goes up (shows and races), the likelihood that you might choose
the second option of yearly treatment is more likely.
The Best Way to Introduce Disease to Your Pigeon Loft
If I were looking for the best way to introduce disease to my flock, I would race my birds
competitively.  There is no better way to make your pigeons sick.  Think about it.  First, you crowd your
birds into a shipping box with other pigeons from unknown sources and force them to breath the air and
dropping dust from those birds for many hours while undergoing the stress of transport.  Then you
release them to fly home and breath the disease deep down into the body while undergoing even more
stress.  By the time they return to your loft they have experienced the two most important requirements
for encouraging disease to become established; exposure to disease and stress to prevent the body
from fighting it off effectively.
Since racing pigeons are raised to race, everyone is faced with a dilemma.  Ideally, every club
would require two things before someone would be allowed to participate in a release.  The first would
be some sort of disease prevention program at home, and the second would be to use shipping boxes
that have biological filter membranes between groups of birds.  The birds could be segregated by loft
or at least by several lofts together (that each of the owners in that compartment trust).  Until that time
though, individual lofts need to have their own disease treatment and prevention program.
Broadly speaking, pigeon disease can be divided into 4 main groups.  The first being viruses.  
Viruses cannot be treated once they become established, like a common cold or AIDS, you are stuck
with one once you have it.   Some go away like the common cold and some do not, like AIDS in
people.  The only treatment is prevention through isolation or a vaccine (before infection) if one is
available for that particular virus.  

The second group is parasites. There are treatments for parasites once you get them, such as Ivermectin
and the Coccidistadts.  These are often used on a regular basis to keep the parasite load down to a
manageable level.  

The third is bacteria.  Many common bacteria can be treated with normal antibiotics at the normal low levels.  

The fourth is the molds.  Some can be treated with the appropriate drugs. Others have a poor treatment

Prevention is the best plan, by keeping the loft dry and the feed clean.  None of the different treatments
for the four different classes of problems will have any benefit on the other three and will only waste your time
and money.  
Some treatments will actually cause more harm than good if you use the wrong one.  For
instance, if you have a mold infection and you treat with antibiotic for bacteria, it will actually help the mold
grow by removing the beneficial bacteria that compete with the mold for living space in the digestive system.  
So it is best if you can receive the guidance of a pigeon vet before any treatment is begun.  There is no
magic medicine that will cure all that ails your birds.  Unless you still believe in “snake oil”.  It appears that
with snake oil, the higher the price, the more diseases it can cure!  Also there is no legitimate medicine that
will overcome poor management or bad genetics.
There are exceptions to the very general categories listed above.  These are diseases that  do
not really fit in and their treatments are unique.  One of these is very common in pigeons.  It is most
commonly called parrot fever, psittacosis, chlamydiosis, or ornithosis.  What ever you call  it, it can
dramatically reduce the performance of a flier.  

Estimates are that the feral population is infected at rates of between 60 and 80%.  It is sort of a bacterium
but is a lot like a virus.  It can be cured, but  not with the normal antibiotic treatment  that works on normal
bacteria.  In medicated poultry feed, the antibiotic is added at the rate of about 20 grams ( about a table
spoon) per ton.  And that works for other bacteria.  But for this bacterium, rates at least as high as 1%
antibiotic are required.  That is 20 POUNDS per ton.  With this much antibiotic, it is not practical to add it to
the water and it must be added to the feed.  It can also be injected into the breast muscle of the bird several
times over several weeks but this does cause necrosis - a small dead patch of muscle - at the injection site,
not a good thing for optimal performance.  

All birds in the loft must be treated and the loft cleaned to prevent re-infection.  Medicated pellets are
fed as the only feed for 45 days.  You need to also watch out for cold or flu like symptoms in people in the
household, as humans can contract the disease.  

If untreated it can be fatal to humans as well as pigeons.
So how do you know if your loft is infected?  The only way to know for sure is to have a vet test one
of your birds.  Common symptoms are cold or flu like symptoms or green or wet droppings.  Difficult
breathing is often seen in active cases. This results in poor flying performance.  But the disease can lay
dormant until stress brings it out and no symptoms may be apparent.  

On a practical basis, if your birds are routinely exposed to many other pigeons, you'll likely have picked it up
at one time or another.  So should you treat?  That is something that only you and your vet can determine.  
There is no one right answer (unless you know you have an active case, then you must treat).  

Treatment can be expensive, as
all birds must be fed the medicated feed as the only feed for 45 days.  This
feed is specially made following government guidelines for the treatment of this one specific disease. If you
know how many pounds of feed you normally use in a month and a half, you can figure out the cost.  At a cost
of at least $1 per pound, that will typically cost a good-sized loft  two or three hundred dollars to treat.  But if
you do have an infection, either causing problems or even reducing performance slightly, nothing else will
work.  It does not go away on its own and remains for years damaging your birds and racing times.  No
amount of good genetics or good management will overcome that.  No other medication or tonic will work.   

If you consider the cost of better health and performance in your birds, the cost of treatment is slight
compared to all the other time, money, and effort you put into competing in this hobby.  You also need to be
aware that this is one of a few diseases that are labeled as a “reportable disease” by the government.  That
means that if you are confirmed as having it, you must treat by law or you will get a friendly visit from your
State Department of Agriculture.  The reason for this is that it can infect humans and kill us too.  But if you are
confirmed, it is not really a big deal and treatment will keep the government off your back.  I get calls from
infected lofts almost every day and it is not the end of the world as long as you face it and treat properly.
Mike Underwood
(800) 942-3438  email  
4477 South Williams Rd. St Johns, MI 48879
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