of Race Form - Part 2
By Dr. Colin Walker B.Sc. B.V.Sc. M.A.C.V.S (avian health)
In my last article I
discussed the most common disease stopping good pigeons from
performing well during racing, namely wet canker. This article
discusses a second problem that can also do this, coccidiosis. Here
in a nut shell is how to stop this still surprisingly common problem
from affecting your birds race performance.
a group of parasitic organisms that have the amazing ability to
reproduce themselves both sexually and asexually in various organs
throughout the body. There are lots of different types. Some
reproduce in the kidney, others in the liver, some are carried
throughout the body in red blood cells, but the common one that
infects racing pigeons affects the bowel.
what happens is that the organism releases eggs that come out in the
droppings. These have to sit in the environment for at least a
couple of days to become infective. They do however become infective
quicker in damp conditions. Once infective, if a pigeon accidentally
swallows one of these eggs, they move down into the bowel and hatch.
In the common type of coccidia in pigeons four “larvae”
come out of each egg. These then burrow into the bowel wall where
initially they reproduce asexually –essentially
they just keep dividing so that two become four become eight etc.
After a while these “larvae”
differentiate into males and females. These then reproduce sexually
resulting in the formation of eggs. These eggs then rupture back
into the bowel before passing out of the body in the droppings. In
this way the lifecycle is completed.
the significance of coccidiosis?
parasites are reproducing in the wall of the bowel they damage it.
This means that the bowel cannot digest food and absorb nutrients
properly. Affected youngsters usually lose a bit of weight and start
to become a bit quiet. Often in race birds all that is seen is a
loss of form. Powder down feather drop stops and some birds will
develop a ‘pica’-
pecking at perches or eating droppings apparently to source the
nutrients they are missing.
importance for race birds is that the inflamed bowel wall actually
weeps inflammatory fluid into the bowel so that the pigeon looses
tissue protein and blood from its system. When we draw blood for
testing from birds with coccidiosis we find that both the red blood
cell count and the level of total protein in the blood are low.
Having low total protein causes absolute fatigue even after moderate
exercise while, of course, red blood cells carry oxygen throughout
the body. Pigeons with coccidiosis therefore become breathless and
tired after moderate exercise. Even low infections have drastic
effects on performance and returns particularly on low velocity or
As with wet
canker, pigeons need exposure to coccidia when young to form a
natural immunity. Repeatedly treating young growing healthy pigeons
makes no sense. Certainly this will mean that they have no coccidia
but at one stage treatment will have to stop. As they would not have
had any exposure, their immunity would be low and they would in fact
be quite vulnerable to the disease as adult birds. Regularly
treating in this way simply interrupts the ongoing exposure they
need to form a strong natural immunity. Keeping the loft clean and
dry will limit exposure and in most cases make treatment not
coccidiosis levels rise in young birds it usually makes some of them
a bit quiet and fluffed and some will develop a green or watery
dropping. If some of your young birds show these symptoms don’t
assume it is coccidiosis. Get a vet with avian experience to check
some dropping under the microscope. If it is diagnosed and the level
has risen to the point where it is compromising their development
then the birds should be treated. In young birds treatment is only
given if the parasite is causing clinical disease and compromising
the bird’s development. In race birds the
situation is entirely different. Fanciers should have their birds
droppings checked several weeks before the first race and if any
coccidia are present the birds should be treated. It is good to let
the growing young pigeon form as strong a natural immunity as
possible but then get the birds droppings checked before racing to
make sure no infection is present. If coccidia are present the team
should then be treated to make sure the season is started with
allow a controlled exposure to the disease in young birds through
maintaining a clean dry loft and avoiding treatment unless the
parasite is actually making the birds sick. In most cases, you will
find when the birds are checked prior to the first race that they
are clear of the disease, having formed a strong natural immunity.
This however should not be assumed and checking is essential. Any
residual infection should be treated prior to racing so that the
birds can give their best.
Monitoring the disease through racing
racing the level of coccidia in competitive birds should be absolute
zero. Droppings should be regularly checked under a microscope
throughout the season. When the problem is identified it should be
treated. The eggs are readily visible when magnified a hundred
times. It seems that as little as one egg on every second or third
x100 microscope field is enough to compromise performance.
There are a
whole range of coccidia treatments available. Many are
pharmaceutical dinosaurs and should be discarded. The one I commonly
use and recommend is toltrazuril
is sold under the brand name “Baycox”.
The reason I like it is that it only has to be given for two days to
be effective and it is very safe.” Baycox” only requires a treatment
course of two days. This means that if the condition is diagnosed
early in the week the whole course can be given before the next
race. The drug works in an amazing way. It substitutes for vitamin
B. This means the parasite “thinks”
that toltrazuril is actually vitamin B and takes it into its system
but once inside the drug then kills the coccidia. Another advantage
of “ Baycox “is that it can be combined with any other treatement eg.
for canker or respiritary infection etc. but not with vitamin
supplements that contain vitamin B. Supplementing with vitamin B
simultaneously overrides the effect of the drug. Interestingly human
coccidiosis is common, apparently in people with AIDS. A medico
friend of mine told me that toltrazuril is used here.
The dose of “Baycox’ is 6mg/kg.
As the solution is 25mg/ml this works out at 3mls/1L of drinking
water. This solution is made fresh each day and provided as the sole
drinking water for two days in a row. As I mentioned, any other
medication can be mixed with it except B group vitamins.
Sold under a
range of brand names. An effective drug that has the disadvantage of
having to be given for five days to clear an infection.
based antibotics such as trimethoprim/ sulphdiazine do have some
action against coccidia but they are essentially antibacterial drugs
that have the side affect of also interfering with coccidia
reproduction. Their anti bacterial property is usually a
disadvantage because they tend to kill the good bacteria in the
As with most
drugs these days, resistance to all the above medications is seen
and a successful treatment can never be guaranteed even if the drug
is used correctly. Because of this it isvery
important to check the droppings after treatment to make sure it has
Interestingly during the race season, pigeons often seem to get into
a negative disease cascade so that if one disease appears it often
weakens the birds predisposing them to other diseases. At my clinic
we often find that birds with coccidia also have wet canker. Many of
my clients are at a distance from the clinic and even though it can
be easy to mail in droppings it can be more difficult to bring in
live birds. I find that birds that have coccidia in their droppings
often have wet canker. And so if you do mail droppings into your
avian vet and he/she finds coccidia and it is not possible to take
pigeons in for a crop flush [to check for wet canker ] do be
sensitive to the fact that if they have coccidia, wet caker may also
be involved. If necessary the “Turbosole”
(for wet canker) and “Baycox”
can be mixed in the same drinking water
In the next
few articles I will discuss the best ways to control respiratory
infection and parasitic worms.