Resistance to Infection

Looking at a pigeon there is very little the eye can see which would indicate the sporting quality of this bird. Some very good pigeons have short wings while other equally good ones have long wings and the same can be said about every other physical feature we care to examine. We cannot measure the quality of a racing pigeon with a ruler or a weighing scale but good pigeons do have common characteristics. On top of this list is probably good health. If I could give anything to my favourite racing pigeons I would choose immunity against infections because it is precisely this which may eventually fail them. Properly prepared our pigeons do well in the first 6 weeks of the season but the constant stress they experience during racing and road training can be seen to cause a gradual breakdown in their immunity. Signs of this are evident in the throat, the inflammation of which will first be evident as a slight reddening of the laryngeal mound surrounding the glottisa or opening to the trachea. This initial slight reddening is due to the blood vessels in the laryngeal mound becoming more prominent. This is followed by a generalized reddening of the mucosa and some swelling which may be sufficiently severe to close the choanab or internal nares (the slit on the roof of the mouth). One will also find secretions of mucus which are an attempt by the bird's physiology to neutralize and dilute the irritation. This state of affairs would be confirmed by a microscopic examination of these secretions which would show a massive amount of bacterial activity. Cultures would show that this inflammation is not due to some exotic bacteria but due to the multiplication of the micro-organisms normally present.
Going to the other end and taking a fecal sample often confirms the state of affairs one finds in the mouth. The percentage of normal inhabitants like Escherichia coli and cocci have increased tremendously and one may even find some budding yeast cells, organisms normally absent in health.
Birds with the symptoms outlined above will no longer be able to perform to their ability and will also not show any inclination toward free and exuberant exercise. Instead they will return after a short fly and be panting even on days when the temperatures are not too warm. Although they are fighting an infection they did not pick up some exotic bug in the racing baskets. It is the normally present micro-organisms which have multiplied greatly due to the break down of the bird's immune system which in turn is due to the stress of constant road training, shipping, racing, and all the other stressful events an athlete has to endure. The hormones released by the adrenal cortex due to stress inhibit immunity. The consequent lower resistance to infection allows the normal inhabitants to multiply explosively causing disease.
    What is the solution?
  1. Administer antibiotics?
  2. We can try to decrease stress as much as possible
  3. and can look for ways to boost the immune system
It is obviously important to react before the bird's performance has declined, i.e. react when one sees the first sign of the blood vessels of the laryngeal mound becoming more prominent - when one notices an increase in Trichonomas organisms in the crop smear or cocci and E. coli in fecal smears. The administration of antibiotics will have side effects which may depress the form even further. Antibiotics will deplete the intestinal flora of micro-organisms which in turn will make it easier for fungi and yeasts to colonize the intestine and this type of infection is very difficult to treat. Using iodine containing products may prevent colonization by yeasts and fungi. Using a very specific antibiotic selected on hand of sensitivity tests will allow us to use a minimal amount with the highest efficiency.
The reduction of stress should be our aim during any of our activities with pigeons although the sport of racing pigeons is inevitably linked with stress and is not different than the situation with human athletes.
Trying to boost the immune system has been wishful thinking until very recently although physicians and scientists have often seen desirable side effects of pox vaccinations: We can see from the above that although vaccination with Baypamun, an inactivated sheep pox virus responsible for "orf", leads to non-specific paramunity in a wide variety of animals who are normally not a host of this inactivated virus, paramunity can be elicited with other vaccines as well. The last point above shows that chicken deposit antibodies in the yolk just as efficiently as mammals do in the colostrum.
Although it should not come as a surprise I was nevertheless astounded by how much stress young horses, calves and pigs experience from weaning, transport and commingling. This reminded me of the time when I received young pigeons for the Alberta Classic Young Bird Derby and the subsequent health challenges. In this context it is regrettable that Baypamun® is not yet available in Canada. Still, the above shows that:
  1. There is another tool for fighting infections and keeping our birds healthy besides using antibiotics.
  2. The complete eradication of Chlamydia and Hexamita, for example, from one's loft, although possible, may not be desirable. If bacterial strains were eradicated, how would these birds and their offspring develop resistance to these micro-organisms which they would eventually come in contact with during flying competitions and shows?
Like it or not, we need to learn to live with micro-organisms and perhaps even use them to our advantage for strengthening not only our own defences but also the defences of our birds.


Pfizer is marketing the new version of "Baypamum": http://www.pfizerah.com/product_overview.asp?drug=ZS&country=US&lang=EN&species=EQ
Parapox Ovis Virus Immunomodulator

An immunomodulator consisting of inactivated (killed) parapox ovis virus, Zylexis aids in the reduction of upper respiratory disease associated with EHV-1 and EHV-4 that can be expensive to treat, and may compromise the health of other horses, resulting in lost training or competition time.


  • Equine herpesvirus (EHV) types 1 & 4 latently infects 80% of all horses

    • EHV-1 has been demonstrated to cause respiratory disease including pneumonia, abortion and stillbirth in pregnant mares, and neurologic symptoms.

    • EHV-4 has been demonstrated to cause respiratory disease in young and stressed horses.

  • Equine herpesvirus is easily reactivated by common stressors such as environmental changes, training, competition and trailering.

  • Reactivation causes a high viral load that can contribute to sickness, respiratory signs, and sometimes results in pneumonia.

  • These infections can be expensive to treat, may compromise the health of other horses in the barn and may result in lost training/competition time for valuable show horses.

  • Zylexis has been safely and effectively used in horses in Germany since 1998.

  • Safe for use in healthy horses including foals four months of age and older.


For use in healthy horses four months of age or older as an aid in reducing upper respiratory disease caused by equine herpesvirus types 1 and 4.

This page was last up-dated on May 14, 2007

Below are your comments:
Monday July 4, 2005
Karl Frank
Edmonton, AB
Something I read in Ad Schaerlaken's web site corroborates the above:
"Now I have heard about fanciers that still use La Sota in order to boost the condition. Does La Sota improve the condition indeed?’
ANSWER: Yes it does; Many champions use La Sota indeed before a race they want to win."
Tuesday September 6, 2005
Paul Clark
reading, england
I agree fully with your thread's. In 2001 an unindetified virus wiped out 99% of my father Yb team & a fair few of his old birds n stock despite 3 lots of lab tests we did not discover the cause. In 2003 2 birds started showing symptoms ( twitching , partial paralsis & loss of all vitality) these where isolated & in a nothing 2 lose situation i treated the whole lofts water for 2 weeks with an echinacia tea (5-6 capsules in a cup of boiled water added to the water can) all symptoms disapeared on stopping the 2 infected birds showed symptoms so these were destroyed & lofts retreated . results 2001 loft decimated.2002 lost 2 birds. Dont know how this may efect raceing form as we stopped raceing when we saw a problem but would suggest this is worth a try as an immune system booster/anti viral

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