Unfortunately, pigeons are considered by many as disease carriers. In one sense that is true, but in another, it is the result of bad press.
An influential American journalist once dubbed them ‘rats with wings’ and that label has stuck.
Any connection with rats tends to make people shudder and think of the Black Plague.
Pigeons can contract more than their fair share of diseases which might lead you to ask are pigeons dirty but most pigeon diseases that are transmittable to humans (zoonotic) are caused by pigeon droppings, not the actual pigeons themselves.
For both pigeon lovers and those that fear them, here is a list of common pigeon diseases.
- Pigeon Pox
- Herpesvirus infection
- Adeno-Coli Syndrome
- Pigeon Lice
- Bird Flu
This article was written by our qualified veterinarian Cristina.
This is part of our commitment to providing you with the most trustworthy veterinary advice for your pigeons.
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Also known as paratyphoid, it is a bacterial disease, mainly of the intestinal tract, that not only affects pigeons and other birds but other animals and humans.
Symptoms: Weight loss, diarrhea, yellow poop, increased thirst and generally bad condition. Leg and wing joints swell up which can cause limping. Droppings are wet, slimy and greenish. The disease can also lead to infertile eggs and dead hatchlings.
Treatment: Antibiotics are effective. A vet will prescribe Oxytetracycline, Ciprofloxacin, Furazolidone or Enrofloxacin. Also, give them vitamins and minerals.
Prevention: Cleanliness is the key. Salmonellosis is transmitted via food, water and bedding contaminated by infected droppings. Make sure that pigeon poop is cleaned up on a daily basis. Pigeons can also be vaccinated against paratyphoid.
This is caused by Mycobacterium avium, which can infect all birds.
Symptoms: Lumps on wings and legs. General and rapid weight loss that leads to starvation and death.
Treatment: There is no known effective treatment for this disease among pigeons. Birds with this disease should be culled immediately to prevent the spread to other birds.
Prevention: It is a disease that can linger almost anywhere in the environment and has a prolonged lifespan. Extreme hygiene measures are advised.
Also known by the common name of canker.
Symptoms: pigeons suffer weight loss and are less animated. Along with less appetite, they drink more. Their droppings are also watery, and they tend to have ruffled feathers. There may be yellowish liquid in the mouth and throat.
Treatment: Isolate the bird for several weeks and monitor it. Try to control its stress levels. Make sure all drinking vessels are regularly cleaned. Vets will prescribe medication – typically Rodinazole – that is administered via drinking water.
Prevention: Strict attention to the hygiene of drinking water.
A viral disease-specific to pigeons. It is rarely fatal.
Symptoms: This is a virus that spreads slowly. The signs are dry, crusty pox scabs on bare skin around the eyes, beak and feet.
Treatment: There is no treatment. If a bird is infected, the virus will clear up in four to six weeks.
Prevention: A once-in-a-lifetime vaccination is the best treatment. Vaccinations should be given before the breeding season. If you fly/race your pigeons, then also do it before the flying season.
Hexamitiasis is an intestinal disease transmitted by infectious faeces that occurs mainly in the summer months.
Symptoms: Frothy, watery diarrhoea, weight loss and depression. Infected birds refuse food but drink more water. It can lead to depression, convulsions and terminal coma.
Treatment: Antibiotics like Rodinazole are prescribed and some herbal preparations, for example, Travipharma Travi-Allicin-Plus have proved effective.
Prevention: Good hygiene must be applied to drinking water. Infected birds should be isolated.
A fungal infection that commonly affects the lungs.
Symptoms: Birds have difficulty in breathing. They have flaking skin, greenish deposits on the tongue and inside the mouth, plus fragile and breaking feathers.
Treatment: Can be treated with prescribed drugs such as Nystatin or Amphotericin B.
Prevention: Any feed or water the bird has discarded and replaced. Vets recommend that birds diagnosed with this disease should immediately be culled.
Also known as avian malaria.
Symptoms: General weakness with fever and anaemia. Can be fatal to younger pigeons.
Treatment: Chloroquine should be added to drinking water.
Prevention: Dip or dust new birds before adding them to your flock. Also isolate new birds for a while, just in case.
Coccidiosis is an intestinal disease.
Symptoms: Slowness, weight loss and thirst. Also dehydration and loose, greenish droppings.
Treatment: Add sulphonamides to drinking water.
Prevention: Maintain a strong hygiene routine, clearing out all droppings daily and maintaining a balanced diet with sufficient vitamins. Vitamins A, K, and B complex are recommended.
Called Smadel’s disease. Caused by various strains of the herpes virus, it targets DNA mainly affecting lymphatic tissues, nerve cells, and epithelial cells, such as those of the skin, mucosa and liver
Symptoms: Depend on which parts of the body are most affected. It can manifest as breathing problems, liver disease and brain infection among others.
Treatment: An anti-herpes medicine called Acyclovir may work. Vaccination tends to reduce the mortality rate in the surrounding population.
Prevention: There are no specific prevention methods against this disease although vaccination can reduce the risk of infection and transmission.
Ornithosis is a zoonotic disease also known as pigeon chlamydia. It is caused by different strains of bacteria.
Symptoms: Infected birds are generally in poor condition with apathy reluctance to fly, conjunctivitis, beak secretions, and swollen eyelids. There may also be coughing, sneezing and itching.
Treatment: Medicines that contain Chlortetracycline are effective.
Prevention: Many pigeons are symptomatic and can pass the disease through the faecal-oral route or by releasing pathogens through their breath into the air. There is no known method of prevention.
Mycoplasmosis is the avian form of catarrh, which has multiple causes. It is caused by a bacterium that affects the respiratory tract. It is spread through sneezing or fluid discharge from the sinuses.
Symptoms: Many birds are carriers without symptoms. Symptoms include reluctance to fly, the beak turns a greyish colour, with greyish mouth scabs. There is also difficulty with breathing, runny nose, and inflammation of the throat.
Treatment: A range of different antibiotics can treat this, but early diagnosis is essential.
Prevention: Do not overcrowd your loft and have a meticulous hygiene routine, especially of bird feeders and water sources.
Also known as thrush, this is a mould and yeast infection of the crop and intestines.
Symptoms: Lethargy, ruffled feathers, loss of appetite, mucus-filled extended crop (not to be confused with sour crop), trouble swallowing and regurgitation.
Treatment: A vet will prescribe anti-fungal medication e.g. nystatin, flucytosine, ketoconazole, fluconazole or itraconazole.
Prevention: Ensure proper nutrition that includes all the nutrients and vitamins a pigeon needs and a good hygiene routine.
Adeno-Coli syndrome typically affects the central nervous system of younger pigeons.
Symptoms: A loss of appetite, vomiting and rapid weight loss and watery, green foul-smelling droppings. Also Increased water intake and head twisting.
Treatment: As a multi-factor disease (one that features or gives a greater susceptibility to secondary infections) there isn’t a specific cure. Products such as Belg-Amco, Dacoxine and Belgasol are said to have some effect.
Prevention: Address the secondary bacterial infections, look after loft hygiene and prevent stress to younger birds.
Paramyxovirus is a deadly, highly contagious disease that is notifiable in many countries (as it is also zoonotic).
Symptoms: Twisting of head or neck, weight loss, laboured breathing, slimy green droppings and high mortality rate.
Treatment: Electrolytes probiotics and acidifying agents can be added to drinking water and there are proprietary formulations such as eye drops.
Prevention: Birds should be vaccinated between 4-8 weeks old, using PMV1 vaccine. Continued vaccination once a year before the breeding season.
Destroys the immune system, leaving the pigeon open to other diseases.
Symptoms: Crop is slow to empty, enteritis or simply loose droppings and greenish diarrhoea.
Treatment: Antibiotics can be administered in drinking water. Affected birds should be quarantined immediately.
Prevention: E-coli makes a bird susceptible to a whole range of other diseases. It is the equivalent of AIDS in humans. One good preventive measure is supplying gut bacteria enhancers such as garlic and apple cider vinegar.
An infestation of pigeon lice or fleas can lead to anaemia.
Symptoms: Excessive preening or ruffling of feathers. Irritable, scratching or restlessness. Might be evidenced by pinholes in the feather bones.
Treatment: Before treatment, a vet will need to identify the type of lice. Then isolate the infected birds and delouse with an external insecticide.
Prevention: It is essential keep their habitat clean.
The avian form of influenza, it is highly contagious, and any outbreak is a serious concern due to risk of transmission to humans. It is a notifiable disease in most countries and flocks usually have to be culled.
Symptoms: Swollen heads, watery eyes, lethargy, tremors, a loss of balance and coordination, respiratory issues and loss of appetite.
Treatment: There is no treatment and vaccination is ineffective as the virus keeps changing/mutating.
Prevention: Reduce contact with pigeons from outside your loft especially wild birds, keep your birds away from standing water, foot dips at the entrance to your loft and good hygiene.