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Coccidiosis in pigeons

Coccidiosis is an enteric disease caused by single-cell organisms called protozoans that affects the intestines of pigeons.  The two types of coccidiae that are known to affect pigeons are Eimeria columbanum and Eimeria labbeanna.  The disease will be most severe in young birds, and can wreak havoc amongst flocks that have not previously been exposed. Coccidiosis is most prevalent in warm, damp conditions, and the risk of infection will also be higher where there is poor hygiene or ventiliation.

Transmission

The infective stage of the coccidiae can be introduced to a flock via equipment, contaminated water sources, other animals, insects and even humans.  Most adult birds develop immunity to illness from previous exposure of low to moderate numbers of parasites. Immune adult birds can shed the infective stages of coccidiae into the environment whenever they become re-infected, without developing any clinical signs of disease themselves. Disease results when susceptible birds (ie. young birds or those that have not previously been exposed) are exposed to higher numbers of the parasites.

Signs

In susceptible birds clinical signs of illness will appear 4-8 days after infection takes place. Symptoms are not specific for coccidial disease, but generally include:

-         Hunched posture

-         Ruffled feathers

-         Bloody or mucoid diarrhoea

-         Yawning

-         Paralysis

-         Weight loss

-         Poor performance in racing pigeons

Diagnosis

This is based on clinical signs, faecal examination and the preparation of wet mount slides from the lining of the gut. Ask your vet for further details.

Treatment

Treatment of an infected flock is often successful if administered quickly. Treatment involves use of a coccidiocidal agent. These are usually administered via feed or water. 

Prevention

Simple hygiene practices are largely effective in controlling coccidiosis in pigeons. Cages that prevent access to faeces will help control coccidiosis to a large extent (eg. cages with wire flooring). If your facilities do not separate birds from their faeces it is important that non-absorbent bedding is used, as moist environments support development of the infective stages of coccidiae. Floors should be cement or concrete and should be thoroughly scraped (NOT hosed) out on at least a daily basis. Regular flaming and disinfection of surfaces is also recommended. Feed and water vessels should also be designed to minimise the risk of contamination with faeces. 

The use of anticoccidial drugs on a rotating basis is recommended in some circumstances. As a rule of thumb all birds should be treated one month before breeding season and any new birds should be treated before introduction to the flock. We suggest you contact your vet for further advice on an appropriate treatment regime specifically for your flock.