External Parasites of Pigeons

The importance of external parasites of pigeons is often overlooked by pigeon fanciers. By ignoring the importance of these parasites the pigeon fancier runs the risk of disease and poor performance in his pigeon loft. The treatment of these parasites is often controversial with many myths, lies and misunderstandings being promoted by unscrupulous vendors or poorly informed fanciers.

This article is intended to give the pigeon fancier the true facts about external parasites in pigeons and to announce an extremely exciting new development in the treatment of external parasites of pigeons.

The importance of external parasites of pigeons:

External parasites are grouped into three main groups namely Lice, Mites and Flies.

Pigeon Lice

Pigeon lice live their whole life on the pigeon. They do not suck blood but live of the bloom and feather debris. Once they are established in the loft they will multiply rapidly and one pair can produce over 100 000 progeny per month. These organisms are not known to carry any diseases, however they lay their eggs on the quills of the pigeons' feathers. They may also cause mild irritation as well as excessive preening that may cause feather damage. They are a sure sign of bad husbandry in a pigeon loft.

Pigeon Mites

Red Mites (Dermanyssus gallinae): live in the cracks and crevices in the pigeon loft. They only move on to pigeons during the evening to suck blood. These mites can not be detected during routine inspection during the day. To identify these mites, balls of cotton wool must be placed into nesting bowls and onto perches in the dark, collected in the morning and then inspected for the typical small red mites hide inside the cotton balls. Red mites cause skin irritation, scaliness and anaemia. Heavy infestations may even cause the death of squabs. Blood sucking lice may also transmit pigeon pox as they will feed on more than one pigeon.

Feather Mites: also suck blood but stay on the birds' feathers and are seen as black crawling dots after taking a blood meal.

Depluming Mites: penetrate the base of the feather shaft causing severe irritation and causing birds to pull or break off feathers.

Quill Mites: enter the shaft of the feathers and cause a fine brown discharge as they suck blood. These mites cause a weakening of the feather structure with breakages of young feathers.

Nasal Mites: found in the nasal cavities and cause severe irritation within the sinuses. Constant sneezing, nasal discharge and rubbing of the beak are observed.

Scaly Leg Mites: live under the skin and scales of toes, feet and legs of pigeons causing scaly accumulations and roughening of the skin.

Pigeon Flies

The Pigeon Fly is commonly referred to as the jockey of racing pigeons. These flies look almost like ticks with wings attached and live most of their lives on the pigeon. They have specially designed hooks on their feet that help them to move rapidly over and under the pigeons' feathers. These pigeon flies are blood sucking parasites and will often fly from one pigeon to the next taking blood meals as they go. They lay 4-5 larvae in any organic material. It is claimed that they inject a toxin that causes mild diarrhoea in babies to enable them to lay their larvae around nesting boxes.

Pigeon flies are the major transmitters of pigeon malaria (Haemaproteus). The extremely negative effect that pigeon Malaria has on the racing performance of pigeons is well known. The constant blood sucking by the Pigeon Fly will also cause anaemia and will further reduce racing performance. They also cause severe irritation in pigeons with feet stomping and constant over preening. This constant irritation will sap the energy levels of pigeons and further reduce racing performance. It has also been shown that they may carry pigeon lice from one pigeon to another. The transmission of Pigeon Pox from one pigeon to another is also possible. From the above it can be seen that the Pigeon Fly is of major concern and every effort should be made to eradicate these parasites from the pigeon loft.

The importance of external parasites of pigeons

When treating external parasites it is important to take the life cycle and feeding habits of these parasites into account. It is also extremely important to use the correct products that have been tested and developed specifically for pigeons. All of the products used for eradicating these parasites are toxic. If the incorrect product is used, or if the wrong dosage is used, pigeons will be poisoned and will often even die. The use of products registered for cattle, sheep and dogs should be avoided at all cost. These products often contain organic phosphates or chlorinated hydrocarbons which are extremely toxic to pigeons. The Pyrethroid containing products are the safest for pigeons and have the broadest spectrum of efficacy against all the external parasites of pigeons. However, the Pyrethroids made for cattle and sheep should be avoided as the carriers and the strengths of these products are developed for cattle and sheep and not for pigeons.

The Ivermectin type products have the distinct disadvantage that they are only effective against the smaller type of blood sucking external parasites of pigeons. Ivermectin has no effect on pigeon lice, Tapeworm or Roundworm and the efficacy against Pigeon Fly is highly suspect. It is often claimed that these Ivermectin containing drops will kill the internal and external parasites of pigeons. This is a gross overstatement of the efficacy of these products. The concentration that is absorbed via the skin of the pigeons has not been proven and thus the efficacy against other internal parasites of pigeons still needs to be scientifically proven.

The use of dips, powders and sprays has been the traditional method of treating pigeons for external parasites. When using these products it is imperative that the lofts also be sprayed as some of the parasites live off pigeons. Special attention should be given to any cracks and crevices in the loft and the area around nesting boxes should also be well treated. It is important to clean the lofts daily and to remove all faecal material especially around the nesting bowls. Pigeon flies will often fly to nearby compost heaps or areas where there is an accumulation of organic material and lay their larvae in these areas. Such areas should also be sprayed and cleaned.

Avian Insect Liquidator is the ideal product to use for spraying the lofts and surrounding area. This product contains one of the newer and safest Pyrethrins, and is highly effective in killing the adult stages of external parasites. It is very safe to use and may even be sprayed on babies, as well as in and around nesting bowls.

Avian Insect Liquidator may also be used very effectively to spray or dip pigeons. The pigeon should be thoroughly wet after spraying.

The use of other sprays, dips and powders not specifically made for pigeons is strongly discouraged. Carbaryl containing powders are not very effective, and especially the Pigeon Fly is not eradicated when treated with powders.

A new breakthrough Spot-on formulation

The use of dips and sprays in dogs and cattle has for the past few years been almost completely replaced with the newer spot-on formulations. These spot-on formulations are much easier to use and are also more effective as they spread evenly across the hair by way of unique formulations. Currently there is no such Pyrethrin spot-on formulation available for pigeons. After extensive research such a formulation is at last available from Medpet. This product called EKTOMED was specifically researched, developed and tested for pigeons. It contains one of the newest, safest and most effective Pyrethrins called Flumethrin. It was imperative for us at Medpet that this product be proven to be effective against Pigeon Fly as well as mites and lice.

Provisional laboratory tests confirmed the safety of this product. Even at 10 x the recommended dose no serious toxic effects could be seen. This increased dose was repeated after 4 weeks and still no toxic effects were seen. Even more amazing was the fact that the pigeons treated at 10 x the dose had no abnormal blood tests, proving that the pigeon livers and kidneys were unaffected even at this high dose. The only mild side effect seen was a transient diarrhoea and irritation at the sight of application that passed in 24 hours.

Provisional laboratory tests also confirmed the incredible efficacy of EKTOMED against external parasites. Especially encouraging was that the product was highly effective in killing the dreaded Pigeon Fly. The pigeon flies would still move around on the pigeon but within a few hours of application they would become sluggish and later would drop off. Within 24 hours all the pigeon flies had died. Field trials done on two lofts where there was a particularly high infestation of pigeon flies were very effective with the total disappearance of these flies within 48 hours of treating.

To effectively and safely treat all external parasites of pigeons will now be as simple as parting the feathers at the back of the neck and applying three drops of EKTOMED with the easy to use dropper bottle.

By Dr. O.J. Botha (BVSc)

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