Antibiotics
( anti bios = against life )

Now that you have built your loft and the birds are under your care, you may want to imitate some well known fanciers who "clean out" their birds in the off season with the use of antibiotics. But, please, stop for a moment and think about it! Do we subject our human athletes to some treatment like this every year? Do you want to eliminate some disease your pigeons may be carrying? This kind of treatment is also aptly known as "blind" treatment and frowned upon by all veterinarians who deserve that name.

Or do you want to do this to simply prevent disease? The news is that such is impossible. How could the administration of an antibiotic now against "bug X" prevent one from becoming infected with "bug X" a few weeks or months hence?

You may answer to all of the above with: "Well, it doesn't do any harm. If the bugs in question are not residing in my birds, the administration of the antibiotics were simply a waste of time and money."
I wish it were that harmless. You will have hurt your pigeons more than you imagine and may actually have increased the likelihood of them becoming infected. A recent study 1 showed that chicks exposed to various antibiotics (novobiocin, nitrofurazone, Bacitracin) had an increased rate of infection by Salmonella enteritidis than chicks without this antibiotic treatment. In other words, it can be assumed that these antibiotics damaged the resident intestinal flora to such an extend that it could no longer prevent the colonization of Salmonella enteritidis. The control chicks, the ones spared the unwanted effects of these antibiotics, had an intact intestinal flora which was efficient in preventing colonization of Salmonella enteritidis. This study also supports my experience with the use of Bacitracin in May / June 2003 in the Alberta Classic Derby birds and the consequent rash of salmonella infections, an experience unknown in previous years. I, too, thought the use of Bacitracin completely harmless as little of it is absorbed from the GIT. How wrong I was in that assumption!

Well, just one study, right? Wrong! There are many such studies literally screaming to anyone who has ears and a disposition for accepting modifications to current practices.

Some antibiotics stimulate bacteria to produce L-forms which are cell wall deficient bacterial forms capable of producing atypical latent, chronic, or recurrent infections and being very resistant to antibiotics. The production of L-forms can be likened to some defense mechanism because their existence in the body of the pigeon may escape detection by the immune system.
"In certain species of Proteus, Bacteroides, Escherichia, and Streptobacillus, normal cells may swell into large bodies, which may then disintegrate into numerous particles about 0.2mm-3 in diameter. These particles can pass through bacteriological filters, require a more complex medium than that which supports growth of the parent, are antigenically similar to the parent, and can revert back to the parent bacterial form. In some species, the large bodies form spontaneously, in others, an inducing stimulus is required. The production of L-type growth by penicillin has revealed that L-forms are essentially naked protoplasts." [Review of Medical Microbiology by Ernest Jawetz, Joseph L. Melnick, Edward A. Adelberg]

2 Kiessling D, Gerlach H, Kosters J. showed that Salmonella typhimurium var. copenhagen could not be isolated from common street pigeons ( which are not expected to having been exposed to antibiotics ) but 40% of racing pigeons were positive for infection with Salmonella. Furthermore, 11 of 79 positive samples were in the L-form, explaining the resistance to therapy and the failure of vaccination.

One may now realize that the question of whether to use antibiotics or not should not be made in haste and even if the use of antibiotics is indicated, should we administer them to the flock as a group or individually? Think of the future career of a Medical Officer of Health of any small city after advising the citizenry of mandatory antibiotic therapy because one or a small group of citizens have an infection!

If one would prefer to manage occasional problems of salmonellosis, for example, which alternate and effective therapy is there? The answer lies in the judicious use of Probiotics ( pro bios = for life ) and Prebiotics:

a.) Mannose supplemented drinking water prevents the colonization of the chicken intestine by Salmonella typhimurium. 3

b.) Indigenous cecal bacteria and dietary lactose effectively controlled Salmonella typhimurium cecal colonization in newly hatched broiler chicks. 4, 5, 6

c.) Anaerobic cecal flora with or without dietary lactose given orally on the day of hatch increased the resistance of the birds to cecal colonization by Salmonella typhimurium and a coccidial infection had no detrimental effect on this resistance to Salmonella colonization. 7

d.) Administration of cecal bacteria encapsulated in alginate beads was less effective than administration of these cecal bacteria by crop gavage, spray, or in the drinking water. 8

e.) Cecal bacteria from adult chickens that increase Salmonella enteritidis colonization resistance become rapidly established in the ceca of newly hatched chicks following contact with the vent lips. 9

f.) Used poultry litter and lactose in the feed ration of Leghorn chicks and hens protect against Salmonella enteritidis colonization. 10

Broilers need to be kept off feed during shipping to the slaughterhouse. The problem encountered is that Salmonella and Campylobacter tend to colonize the crop while it is empty. A similar situation may excist while racing pigeons are being shipped to the points of release.
The problems associated with infected broiler crops is that these crops would contaminate the carcasses upon slaughter. Broiler producers can solve these problems in the following novel ways:

a.) An anaerobic cecal culture can effectively reduce Salmonella crop colonization. 11

b.) 0.44% lactic acid significantly reduced the number of Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination of crops. 12

c.) ECP (similar to bleach: a strong oxidizing agent) in the drinking water could reduce Salmonella crop contamination in broilers. 13

d.) 2 to 10% sucrose ( simple table sugar ) added to the cocktail pre - shipping reduced the number of Salmonella and Campylobacter in the crops of broilers. 14

And yet, the above not withstanding, what do we do if most birds in our flock are infected with Trichomonas gallinae, for example? I think that one will have to treat the flock with a suitable antibiotic or a suitable combination of antibiotics if this flock is harmed by an infection present. However, I don't think that treatment should stop here. The administration of antibiotics should only be the first step which needs to be followed by the addition of vitamins as these are no longer produced for the bird by the now destroyed intestinal flora. Furthermore, we also need to try and help rebuild this flora, so essential for immunity in general, by giving the birds pre- and pro-biotics over a period of a few weeks. Rebuilding this flora does not happen overnight. I would also continue the administration of pre- and pro-biotics for the prevention of infectious disease indefinitely.

The use of anti-biotics can therefore be a powerful tool at our disposal but one needs to consider all the ramifications of their effects and mitigate some of the undesired side effects through the subsequent use of vitamins as well as pre- and pro-biotics which have been shown to often make the use of anti-biotics no longer necessary.

This page was last up-dated on January 10, 2004

Below are your comments:
Tuesday September 6, 2005
Paul Clark
Reading, Berkshire England
62.253.96.40
I fully agree with your comments on anti biotics. when buying in some new stock this year for the family lofts i refused 2 Look at one breeders options as he feeds turkey pellets which contait antibiotics & in my veiw birds raised on these for 5 weeks or more will not have developed a good immune sytem ( or possibly any immune system ) at a crucial stage in there young lives. This may make ecconomic sense for a commercial breeder but what happens when u put these birds in your loft & then expose them all the things your birds may carry but have a natural resistance to? I dont know if breeders in canada use turkey pellets but it has been around for some time in the uk & I personaly think this is weakening the birds espesialy if u consider many race teams sold from breeders are 2nd or 3rd generation from the prize birds they brought in all reared on turkey pellets. In nature a bird with a weak immune system dies so can not breed. the stongest survive 2 breed so strenghtening speicies. can these ppl see the basic flaw in there systems instead of just the /$ signs This is my opinion anyway & if it upsets some breeders sorry but its my opinion

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