E. Coli in Young Birds

By: Dr. David Marx
Each young bird season we see an increase in disease involving the bacteria E.coli. E.coli is a normal inhabitant of the digestive system of pigeons. It has disease potential, but usually needs a predisposing condition to allow it the opportunity to cause infection. Several things can "open the door" for E.coli to cause disease.

Stress, viral infections, intestinal parasites, and other irritants of the bowel such as chemicals consumed while fielding. The usual predisposing factor for young birds is adenovirus. It begins appearing when birds are mixed, either in training, races or when accumulating birds from various sources.

The adenovirus by itself will not cause disease, but in the presence of E.coli, it allows the E.coli to cause disease. Treating the E.coli infection usually eliminates symptoms although it does nothing for the adenovirus infection; this is usually conquered by the birds own immune system with time. There is not an effective vaccine for adenovirus, so we must just let it run its course as we try to control the E.coli during outbreaks.

Usually during outbreaks of colibacillosis (E.coli infection), we use a broad spectrum antibiotic such as Amoxicillin to control it. Antibiotics will not prevent it so use them only during an outbreak. The symptoms usually include vomiting in some of the birds, abnormal droppings or diarrhea, and lethargy.

The birds will not train or race well during an uncontrolled outbreak. A fecal culture and sensitivity study will allow one to choose the correct antibiotic to use. Often we just go with one that has a good "track record," and that has little or no effect on the birds, allowing one to continue training, etc.

Amoxicillin is my first choice of antibiotics when "shooting from the hip". It is gentle on the pigeon and is the least expensive of the good antibiotics. Use 3 Grams per gallon for about 7 days. Retreatment is often necessary, as things may deteriorate within the weeks after treating, as the viral infection spreads through the flock.
Do not forget not to use antibiotics as a preventive. They will not work as preventive, but will only allow the bacteria to become resistant to it, then it won't work when we really need it.
About the author:
Dr. David Marx, DVM, is probably America's best known pigeon veterinarian. An accomplished racing pigeon flyer, he was the founding president and a two-term president of the Association of Pigeon Veterinarians.

In 1992 he began a monthly column in the Racing Pigeon Digest on pigeon health matters and issues, which are now edited and compiled in a handy reference book.

David E. Marx D.V.M.
Golden Valley Pet and Pigeon Clinic
2707 NW 60th Ave.
Norman, OK 73072

 Dr. David Marx
E. Coli in Young Birds

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