Across My Desk


Dr Colin Walker & Associates (03) 9764 9000

By Dr. Colin Walker, B.Sc B.V.Sc M.A.C.V.S.(Avian Health)

Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic

03 9764 9000


Across My Desk


New Vaccine for Salmonella

A new vaccine has been developed in Melbourne against Salmonella for use in pigeons It is now in the final stages of production and should be available by the time this article goes to print. Salmonella is commonly carried in the bowels of healthy pigeons. When the birds get stressed and their ability to fight infection is reduced Salmonella can invade the body through the bowel wall and cause disease. Salmonella is one of the many health problems that can flare in the race season when the birds come under stress. Salmonella flare-ups during racing cause a loss of form, require lengthy antibiotic coarses to control and have a prolonged recovery period. They can also be difficult to diagnose and for this reason are often diagnosed incorrectly. Vaccination before racing is a very effective way of decreasing the chance of this happening. The new vaccine is given by injection and can be mixed with the PMV vaccine. This means it requires very little effort to protect your birds. The vaccine is also very cheap. Interested fanciers can get further information by contacting the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic.


Changes at the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic

After 35 years of practising as a veterinarian I decided in January to step back from full time consulting. Spending less time consulting means that I now have more time to focus on other pigeon related activities, in particular the recent development of the Salmonella vaccine mentioned above. The Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic"s commitment and passion to pigeon racing continues. Dr. Stacey Gelis, a qualified avian vet with over 20 year"s experience has joined our staff. This means that along with Dr. Corrie Pinkster and myself, the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic now has three qualified avian vets . The Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic is one of only two "bird only" veterinary practises in Australia (the other is in Brisbane) and the only clinic in Victoria and New South Wales with three avian vets on staff. Services to our pigeon clients remain unaltered. Both Dr. Gelis and Dr. Pinkster have many years experience with birds generally and pigeons in particular. Many Victorian fanciers will already know Dr. Pinkster. Consulting, diagnostic testing and supply of products will continue as per normal. Fanciers who wish to speak to me can always reach me either at the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic or other numbers and I look forward to helping fanciers whenever I can.


Antibiotic Blends

It is important that fanciers use antibiotics correctly. Many antibiotic preparations used by fanciers are blends of antibiotics. For example, "Sulpha AVS" contains trimethoprim and sulphadiazine, while "Doxy T" contains doxycycline and tylosin and "Triple Vet" contains doxycycline, tylosin and spiramycin. I know of some fanciers who give Sulpha AVS and Triple Vet each one day per week to the birds. This means they are giving five different antibiotics for one day a week to their birds. This achieves nothing and the potential for the development of harmful organisms and subsequent disease is enormous. Such fanciers run the potential of getting into a spiral of using more and more drugs to control routine problems . It sounds harsh but the only one who probably benefits in this situation is the supplier of the drugs.


Length of Antibiotic Treatments

Too many fanciers use antibiotics for too short a period of time to be effective. Antibiotic courses of three days should be the minimum. Antibiotic courses of five to seven days are routine. Sometimes longer courses are required. Giving shorter courses of antibiotics kills the easier to kill bacteria and selects for a population that is harder and harder to kill. Some antibiotic medications, particularly those used for respiratory infections, are used by fanciers as outlined above are blends of two or three different antibiotics. This compounds the situation. Giving multiple antibiotics together for short periods is a great way of creating "super bugs" in the loft that become progressively harder and harder to control.


Streptococcus Plague

Over the last year many fanciers, sometimes as many as three or four per day, have rung the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic saying their birds have been diagnosed with health problems due to the bacteria Streptococcus. In one instance a whole club was diagnosed with Streptococcus. Ill health and poor race performance due to Streptococcus in pigeons cannot be diagnosed by examining droppings and certainly not over the phone. Streptococcus is a normal inhabitant of the pigeon"s bowel. It is found in 40% of healthy pigeons" droppings (even Fed winners). Streptococcus can invade the bowel wall and cause disease in other sites of the body, as indeed can many other bacteria in a pigeon"s bowel (as can bacteria in our own bowel for that matter). Finding Streptococcus in the bowel of healthy pigeons means nothing and treating it there is not only a waste of time and money but opens the door for other health problems. Put simply, demonstrating the presence of Streptococcus in the droppings means nothing. They are normal there. Saying that this is a problem, in my opinion, demonstrates a failure to understand the condition and suggesting treatment is simply a waste of time and money.


Diagnosing Airsac Disease in the Droppings

Diagnosing mycoplasmal respiratory infection by examining the droppings is another "untruth" that has become more widely believed throughout the pigeon community over the years. Fanciers often mention this. Professor Bob Doneley, the Professor of Avian Medicine at the University of Queensland, in his recent book "Avian Medicine and Surgery in Practice", published 2011, specifically states that mycoplasmal respiratory infection cannot be diagnosed in the droppings. To state very clearly, there is no recognised veterinary test that will diagnose mycoplasmal respiratory infection in the droppings. Fanciers should speak to an avian vet about the methods available to accurately diagnose this problem in their birds and how to manage it.


Antibiotic Combinations

Not all antibiotics can be given together. Antibiotics fall into two basic categories- bacteriostatic and bacteriocidal. Bacteriocidal antibiotics kill bacteria when they are reproducing. Bacteriostatic antibiotics stop bacteria reproducing and then because bacteria live only a short period of time, the bacterial populations that fail to replicate die out. Bacteriocidal antibiotics effectiveness can be reduced by up to 90% if they are concurrently used with bacteriostatic antibiotics. This is because bacteriocidal antibiotics require the bacteria to reproduce to kill them, but the bacteriostatic antibiotics actively stop the bacteria reproducing and therefore becoming vulnerable. The most common antibiotic blend used by fanciers that fits into this category is a blend of amoxicillin (bacteriocidal) and tylosin (bacteriostatic). Presumably any vet who prescribes this must have good reason to do so.


Baytril and Respiratory Infection

A common cause of respiratory infection in pigeons is Chlamydia. It can cause eye colds, dirty ceres and sneezing etc. Chlamydia often occurs concurrently with other respiratory pathogens like mycoplasma and bacteria. Baytril is not a good choice for a respiratory infection due to Chlamydia. Chlamydia is an intracellular bacteria. Baytril stops Chlamydia replicating but is not particularly effective at clearing the organism from the pigeon"s system. This means that the birds appear to improve but relapses are common. A much better choice of medication is an antibiotic like doxycycline, eg DoxyvetTM that not only stops Chlamydia replicating but also clears it from the bird"s system.


The Supply of Prescription Medications and the Law

Recently in this magazine there was some mention that the laws concerning the supply of prescription medications have recently changed. This is most definitely not the case. It has always been a vet"s duty to responsibly supply prescription drugs. This means ensuring that the animals that the medication is intended for actually need them, will get benefit from them and that the medication will be used in the correct manner. The usual way that a vet meets these requirements and can satisfy any subsequent Vet Board inquiry is by physically examining the birds. Unfortunately some vets feel they meet this requirement by examining any bird from a loft, either with no problem or an unrelated problem, sometimes months earlier and will then supply medication for an extended period without any diagnostic work. Ironically some fanciers feel these vets are providing a good service or in fact are doing them a favour. The end result in many instances is that the fanciers can spend a lot of money and the birds receive a lot of medication that they don"t need. I know of vets in Australia, the US and the UK who abuse their prescribing rights in this way. Such vets are frowned on by the rest of the profession. The only consistent winners in this situation are often the vets selling the drugs. In these days of technology there are many ways to diagnose problems and to develop appropriate health management programmes, even if fanciers are many miles from an avian practice – phone calls, emails, youtube videos, mailed-in samples, couriered-in live or dead birds. With today"s advances in diagnostic technology canker, Chlamydia, Circovirus, Herpes virus, Salmonella, Coccidia etc. etc. can all be accurately diagnosed if the correct samples are submitted.


Second Opinion

Many fanciers think that there are only two or three avian vets in Australia. In fact there are over 30 fully qualified practising avian vets in Australia. All have achieved this qualification by sitting the same post-graduate exams in avian medicine and surgery and are all equally qualified to help with pigeon problems. Fanciers in the eastern States are spoilt for choice. There are about seven avian vets practising in each of the eastern states namely Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. If fanciers are not happy with the advice they receive it can be wise to receive a second opinion. There are only two practices in Australia which exclusively see birds, one is in Brisbane and the other is the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic. Disappointingly for New South Wales fanciers there are no practices that only see birds. In Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria there are several practises that employ more than two avian vets. I think it is best to use a clinic that has several vets on staff. Vets as they age, particularly if they are the only vet in the practice, run the risk of becoming professionally isolated so that their advice may no longer be consistent with the rest of the profession to the point of being no longer fully accurate or even plain wrong.


Cleanse the Bowel

I see products available to fanciers marketed as "bowel cleansers". This is an impossible and silly suggestion. "Bowel cleanser" is an unfortunate term that has crept into the pigeon fancier vernacular. It has as its basis a silly idea that the bowel in an inert tube, like a garden hose and flushing something through will selectively kill the harmful bacteria and in the process "cleanse" the bowel. The bowel, in fact, contains a fragile blend of bacteria that need to be preserved for the bird to be healthy. This blend is easily disrupted by stress and medication. One of the worst things you can do to a racing pigeon is disrupt the normal bowel bacteria. The bacteria found normally in the bowel of a pigeon are essential for digestion and nutrient absorption and help to protect from disease. The "good" beneficial bacteria are the easiest to kill while the potential disease causing ones are harder to kill. Any product marketed as altering or "cleansing" the bowel is almost certainly doing the pigeons harm.


KD 7

This is a controversial product. Some fanciers believe that it does everything from "cleansing" the bowel through to curing Circovirus. KD 7 is a blend of soaps and detergents. Its principal ingredients are used in the manufacture of soaps and shampoos and to help clean swimming pools. They are not meant for internal use and are certainly not medicines. The primary ingredients are potentially toxic if swallowed. It is not recommended for use in pigeons by the vast majority of vets in Australia. I personally would never use this product on my birds.


Bad Food

Some fanciers are quick to jump to "bad food" as being a cause of health problems. Australian fanciers are spoilt for choice by the good quality grains available to them. Australia is typically not associated with poor grains because of our typically dry environment. The experts at the various grain testing labs such as Agrifood who do accurate testing explain that problems in grain due to fungal toxins and bacterial contamination are very very low. Often "bad food" is blamed for poor race performance in the absence of accurate diagnostic work. Simply putting grain onto a fungal growth medium and seeing if it goes mouldy is a totally "bogus" test. Any food, including the good quality nutritious food that humans eat every day will eventually go mouldy if placed in conditions that encourage fungal growth. Labs that do proper testing should give you fungal toxin estimates and spore counts. If a vet or lab cannot provide these figures be suspicious of these results.


Using Drug Courses to Diagnose Disease

It seems incredible that some fanciers do this with Chlamydia. The rationale is that birds are given Doxycycline (the treatment for Chlamydia). If they get better the thought is that they must have Chlamydia, if they get sick the thought is then that they don"t have Chlamydia and don"t need the drug. This system would see all race birds given potentially lengthy courses of potentially harmful and expensive antibiotics before racing that they don"t need . This system is a totally "bogus" method of diagnosis. These days there are a number of cheap ,quick and accurate ways available to your veterinarian of seeing whether it is worth the expense, time and effort and actually beneficial to give the birds doxycycline. Usually race teams are given pre-season courses of Doxycycline only if they fall into one of the following four categories:

1. The birds have an active respiratory infection that is diagnosed as being due to Chlamydia

2. The birds look normal but testing shows that Chlamydia infection is active within them

3. There were persistent problems with respiratory infection due to Chlamydia in the months between weaning and the start of racing

4. Chlamydia was a problem in the team once racing started the previous year and none of the loft parameters e.g. genetics, loft design, etc. have changed.


Dose of Drugs

Wrong dose rates are used by some fanciers. Baytril and Baycox are two commonly used drugs where fanciers use the wrong dose. Baytril oral syrup comes under a number of different names in Australia - Baytril, Enrotril etc. They are all identical. The dose of Baytril is 25mg/kg. To give a therapeutic dose (ie a dose that will work) this needs to be given at a rate of 0.4ml/pigeon or 10ml/1 litre of drinking water. Some fanciers mistakenly believe that because someone has suggested a lower dose that the Baytril they are using must be stronger. This is not correct. All Baytril oral syrup products in Australia are the same and the above dose is required for the product to have its effect. Similarly the dose of Baycox is 7 to 15 mg/kg. To deliver this dose, drinking water needs to medicated at the rate of 3ml per litre


Grit Engorgement

We have had some fanciers suggest to us that their birds health problems have been due to grit engorgement. This is not a diagnosis but rather a symptom. Pigeons will gorge on grit in one of four occasions:

1. Overt hunger

2. A nutritionally deficient diet

3. Where a pleasant tasting (often salty) grit is provided as a new supplement

4. Diseases that lead to pain of the crop or first stomach compartment

Fanciers need to then work through these alternatives with their vet to find the solution to their birds problem..



Virkon is the band name of a disinfectant primarily marketed to disinfect poultry sheds. We have had some fanciers contact us saying that they have been advised that putting Virkon in the drinking water is a treatment for Salmonella. This is not the case. I personally have spoken to the product"s manufacturer, Virkon can be safely used in the pigeon loft as a disinfectant and to clean drinkers and hoppers. It has the advantage of not being poisonous if residues are swallowed. Putting the disinfectant deliberately into the drinking water with the belief that this is treating a bacterial infection of the bowel is erroneous.


Fanciers beware

Pigeon fanciers are a weird mob when it comes to getting veterinary medicine. Many are happy to spend quite large sums of money on medication but are hesitant to pay for advice on how to use it correctly. The result is that many fanciers use medication wastefully, inappropriately and incorrectly. In an article just last month in this magazine a fancier who finished in his top 10 in his Federation Championship stated that he used a preparation containing two antibiotics (for respiratory infection) and an anti-canker drug for one day a week, each week through racing. This protocol dissapointingly gives his birds no benefit, wastes the fancier"s money and in the longer term does his loft harm as resistant strains of organisms develop. The only person who probably benefited is the person who sold him the drugs. The difficulty with this sort of thing is that other fanciers read what he did, view him as a successful flier and are inclined to copy him when in fact his birds are doing ok despite what he is doing. The fancier is also failing to effectively protect his birds against respiratory infection and wet canker which was his aim. This probably compromises race performance in the short-term and as mentioned above makes them harder to effectively protect in the future as resistant strains develop.

Many older fanciers regard themselves as semi-experts concerning all things pigeon and it can be very hard to reorientate their way of thinking. New fanciers look to these older established fliers for advice. Just yesterday I had a new flier ring me from Queensland; he had had his birds" droppings checked by a local "expert" fancier who was "pretty handy with a microscope". The "expert" had diagnosed a problem that was in fact impossible to diagnose by looking at the droppings and had also suggested an elaborate treatment protocol.

From a health and veterinary point of view, pigeon fanciers can be a vulnerable lot. Fanciers are bombarded with ads for supplements and medication. One only has to open pigeon magazines from Australia, Europe or the US to see a plethora of advertisements for various supplements, often promising drastic increases in performance. I have seen such ads take up a third of the magazines space. It can be tempting to buy. One product from “the vaults” that readily comes to mind is Colloidal Silver that was advertised in the Australian pigeon magazines for several years. Because it contained the heavy metal ,silver ,it was highly poisonous and was only taken off the market after authorities banned its further sale. Yet many fanciers used it and even today we have fanciers phoning the clinic wanting to buy some. The supply of products and prescription medications in some countries is poorly policed. Easy access to remedies and medication not backed-up by accurate veterinary advice promotes misuse and the development of erroneous beliefs that come to be accepted as fact. Fanciers need to be cautious and wary at times and need to critically review product advertisements.

Pigeons are naturally robust birds and provided the basics of good care and management and the instigation of basic health management protocols such as parasite control and vaccinations are in place it is often not necessary to continually treat. The control of infectious disease spread through race baskets from entering the home loft needs to be informed and correct. Over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to work, present seminars and simply relax sometimes, with pigeon fanciers in the UK, US, Malta, New Zealand, Turkey and South Africa, as well as Australia. Pigeon fanciers all around the world are essentially the same. They are fascinated by their birds, want to see them healthy and do well with them. I would like to think that at the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic that we can help fanciers with this.





Pigeon Salmonella Vaccine

Pigeon Salmonella Vaccine

Technical stuff:

A vaccine has been developed that confers immunity against Salmonella typhimurium in pigeons, Salmonella meleagridis in turkeys and Salmonella gallisepticum in chickens. The vaccine contains a live Salmonella variety that has been modified (by removing one of its enzyme pathways) so that it quickly dies after inoculation and cannot establish infection in the birds. Before the bacteria in the vaccine dies it produces an endotoxin. It is thought that the high level of immunity formed is due both to exposure to the bacteria and the endotoxin. This endotoxin release does however make a proportion of vaccinated birds a bit quiet and "fluffed up" on the day of vaccination.

Preparing the vaccine:

The vaccine comes in a 1000 dose vial. This needs to be kept frozen until use. The vaccine is dissolved into 100mls of water for injection. This is done by repeatedly rinsing the vial with sterile water (available through your vet ) using a needle and syringe until all of the vaccine is dissolved in the 100ml bottle of sterile water. The vaccine mixture must be used within 2 hours of preparation. Each pigeon is given 0.1ml of this mixture.

How to give the vaccine:

The vaccine can be given in 1 of 4 ways:

  1. 0.1ml injection under the skin at the back of the neck (in the same manner as the PMV vaccine)
  2. The vaccine can be mixed with the La Sota PMV vaccine. Add 2mls of Salmonella vaccine to 10mls of PMV vaccine and give each pigeon 0.6ml under the skin at the back of the neck.
  3. 0.1ml of vaccine can be given orally. The vaccine is equally well absorbed from the lining of the bowel as from an injection under the skin.
  4. The vaccine can be added to the drinking water at the rate of 10mls in 5 litres of water to vaccinate 100 pigeons. All of this water must be drunk within 2 hours for the vaccine to be effective. Because this is difficult to achieve this is regarded as a less optimal method.

Annual boosters are recommended.

Fancy pigeons:

Salmonella is carried within the bowel of many pigeons without causing disease. A trigger factor is often required (eg. overcrowding, low hygiene, concurrent disease, poor diet etc.) to cause disease. These trigger factors compromise the pigeons ability to fight infection which in turn enables the Salmonella to penetrate the bowel wall. Once through the bowel wall, Salmonella is carried in the blood stream to a number of target sites in particular the gonads, liver, joints and membranes around the brain. Damage to the gonads leads to infertility. A number of fancy breeds, notably Australian Show Pen Homers, Modenas, Kings and the performing flying breeds such as tipplers, tumblers and doneks have a genetic susceptibility to Salmonella. Young birds should be vaccinated at 6 weeks of age hopefully before the bacteria has had a chance to enter their system. Before vaccinating adult birds, particularly for the first time, it is a good idea to give a 10-14 days course of an antibiotic that is effective against Salmonella, such as "Sulfa AVS", and vaccinate the birds on the last day of treatment. Although it is not possible to eliminate Salmonella from all carriers this protocol gives us a good chance of clearing the infection from as many birds as possible. The birds can then be vaccinated before they become reinfected. The usual sources of infection are persistent asymptomatic carrier birds and a contaminated loft environment. Vaccinating young birds each year at 6 weeks of age before these birds become infected means that their gonads are less likely to be damaged by Salmonella during growth thus leading to a lift in fertility in the loft generally. The best time to give annual boosters is after the moult and show season and before breeding ie. July.

Racing pigeons:

Many racing pigeons carry Salmonella asymptomatically in their bowels. The stresses associated with racing can act as trigger factors enabling the bacteria to penetrate the bowel wall and spread throughout the body causing a range of symptoms that compromise race performance. In racing lofts with a Salmonella problem or in lofts where fanciers simply want to protect their birds, vaccinating once all birds are over 6 weeks of age and at least 6 weeks before racing commences is indicated. If the birds have completed their moult then giving a 10-14 days course of "Sulfa AVS" prior to vaccination (as outlined above) can be beneficial.

Obtaining the vaccine:

The vaccine needs to be kept frozen and so cannot be posted to fanciers. The vaccine can potentially however be obtained through any veterinary clinic throughout Australia. If your local veterinarian is unfamiliar with the vaccine, details can be obtained by contacting the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic. Regulatory details require that the vaccine can only be supplied following veterinary consultation.

Need more information:

Please feel free to contact us at the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic - (03) 9764 9000

PMV - A Summary

Dr Colin Walker & Associates (03) 9764 9000

By Dr. Colin Walker, B.Sc B.V.Sc M.A.C.V.S.(Avian Health)

Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic

03 9764 9000


PMV - A Summary - July 2014

By Dr. Colin Walker, B.Sc B.V.Sc M.A.C.V.S.(Avian Health)

Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic

03 9764 9000



PMV is a serious disease of pigeons that causes high mortality. There is no direct treatment and fanciers around the world protect their birds through vaccination. Until 2011 it was found in all countries where pigeons are kept except Australia and New Zealand. In the last week of August 2011 pigeons from 3 different lofts were diagnosed with PMV at the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic. In the same week PMV was diagnosed in a loft in Shepparton by the Victorian DPI. Up until this time PMV had not been diagnosed in Australia. Despite control measures PMV continued to be diagnosed in more and more Victorian lofts throughout 2011. By early 2012 over 70 Victorian lofts had been diagnosed with the disease. The virus had also been detected in more than 50 feral flocks. Several months into 2012 the disease was diagnosed in lofts in NSW and in 2013 the disease was also identified in Tasmania. Australian pigeon fanciers found themselves in a vulnerable situation because there was no known effective PMV vaccine in Australia available to them to protect their birds.


In order to resolve this problem, in early 2011, the CCEAD (Consultative Committee for Emergency Animal Disease) reviewed available literature and suggested that some of the vaccines available to protect chickens from PMV may, in fact, also confer immunity in pigeons. They suggested a number of protocols to trial these vaccines in pigeons. Vaccine trials based on these suggestions were funded by the Victorian Interfed committee and various interstate pigeon organisations, notably the ANPA and CCF, and implemented by the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic.


Early results became available within 6 months but it was not until 18 months that the full trial was completed and all results became available. The results showed that two 0.5ml injections of killed La Sota vaccine given 4-8 weeks apart confirmed good immunity in pigeons that lasted a full 12 months. Despite extensive testing no harmful effects of the vaccine could be demonstrated. In particular there was no effect on fertility. The only demonstrated side effect was that some birds developed a small local reaction at the vaccination site.


The current recommendation to Australian pigeon fanciers is that all birds be vaccinated twice in the first year of life and then receive annual boosters. Youngsters are usually vaccinated at 28 days of age and then four to eight weeks later. There may be an advantage in birds receiving a further vaccination four to six weeks before times of high exposure such as showing and the start of racing. Breeders receive annual boosters which are usually given in winter (after moulting in autumn and before pairing in spring).



Use of the La Sota vaccine in pigeons

Information sheet supplied to clients of the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic


You have been supplied with a 500ml bottle of inactivated La Sota vaccine. To protect pigeons against PMV, birds are given two doses of 0.5ml vaccine 4-8 weeks apart the first year they are vaccinated and then a single 0.5ml booster each year. Each dose is given by subcutaneous injection. The vaccination process is easier and more efficient if one person holds the pigeon while a second person administers the injection. The vaccine should be stored between 2 and 8C;i.e. in the fridge (not the freezer). The vaccine bottle can be re-used after it has been opened. The vaccine loses its effectiveness if it becomes warm for an extended period or is contaminated

with germs. Use an 18 gauge needle and a 10ml syringe to remove the vaccine in a sterile way from the bottle for transfer to a vaccination gun, another sterile bottle or to vaccinate the birds directly. The vaccine bottle should be returned to the refrigerator as soon as possible.


Vaccination technique

1. The pigeon should be restrained as shown in the photo. Extend the neck and fold several feathers at the base of the neck the ‘wrong’ way to expose a line of skin.

2. When using a needle and syringe most fanciers use a 3ml syringe and a 21G needle. Most fanciers however prefer to use a vaccination ‘gun’. Here a 21G needle should also be used. The vaccine will need to be transferred from the 500ml container across to a smaller container that is supplied with the gun. Once familiar with a vaccine gun, large numbers of birds can be vaccinated quickly and efficiently

3. Insert the end of the needle 2-5mm superficially under the skin and inject as shown in the photo. It is not uncommon to see a white flare develop under the skin as the vaccine is injected.

4. Remove the needle. A small amount of bleeding is not unusual.


PMV remains a persistent risk to fanciers living in NSW and Victoria. In the first six months of 2014 approximately 50 lofts were diagnosed with the disease in Victoria. In these lofts between 30 -100 % of birds died. With an economical, effective vaccine that is also safe being available fanciers are advised to vaccinate and protect their birds.






Dr Colin Walker & Associates (03) 9764 9000

Testing grain for fungal toxins – Summary 2014

By Dr. Colin Walker

Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic

Australia is considered to have an environment that is generally unconducive for the production of mycotoxins, as the climate is hot and dry. Any elevated levels of mycotoxins found are generally associated with increased rainfall during the growing season of the crop. A wet season like that f 2013/2014 in Australia, for example, saw high levels of many mycotoxins detected.
Each mycotoxin has a different level of what is considered safe, and is based on their toxicity, which in turn establishes minimum acceptable levels which diagnostic labs need to be able to detect. These levels are different for each mycotoxin, and sometimes differ depending on the sample being tested , for example grain or fruit etc. There are differing acceptable levels for commodities that are for human consumption, and those for animal consumption. In Australia there are no specific regulations relating to pigeons.
Most veterinarians on behalf of their clients, be they, individual fanciers, grain suppliers, or clubs or federations would suggest that testing labs run broad screens that cover all the major mycotoxins. In Australia the major mycotoxins are produced by the following genera of fungi; Fusarium spp. Aspergillus spp. Penicillium spp and Alternaria spp.
Amongst others Aspergillus species produce aflatoxins, Fusarium species produce trichthecenes and fumonisin toxins, while Penicillium species produce ochratoxins . Aflatoxins and Ochratoxin A are the most toxic of all the mycotoxins. Fortunately in Australia these are only occasionally detected, but of significance to fanciers ,when identified they are usually associated with peanuts (and grapes).
The rest of the mycotoxins are usually associated with cereal grains which of course is the main food of pigeons. The ability to not only detect a toxin but evaluate its level is vital for interpretation. For example, fumonisins are found in over 50% of tested maize samples but usually are only at levels that would cause problems in 2% of these. Your veterinarian can help you interpret the significance of results.
At the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic we advice fanciers who are concerned to have a sample of the grain blend that they intend using tested. If the test comes back all clear then a sufficient volume of that batch to last the entire season should be purchased. Once purchased this grain then needs to be stored in a cool ,low humidity area.
Grain testing should also be part of any thorough investigation into poor race performance or other health problems.

Dr Colin Walker & Associates (03) 9764 9000

Whats New?

By Dr. Colin Walker

Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic

Pigeons don’t get Salmonella from rodents

Up until recent years, standard knowledge throughout the veterinary and pigeon community was that paratyphoid in pigeons was caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhimurium. This species of Salmonella was regarded as a wide-spread organism in nature.
It was thought that the variety that infected pigeons also infected many other animals, particularly rodents. After all, the organism’s name “typhimurium” literally means typhoid of mice. It is now thought that this is unlikely. We still have a lot to learn, but our understanding of Salmonella infection in pigeons has changed over the past few years. Today’s technology enables us to type various strains of Salmonella very specifically.
The Salmonella strains that can cause clinical disease in pigeons can be identified right down to the phage type. It is thought that these phage types are likely to only cause disease in pigeons. This means that Salmonella strains found in other animals such as wild birds, chickens and other mammals including rodents don’t cause disease in pigeons.
It seems likely that Salmonella in pigeons is a pigeon to pigeon disease with the source of infection being asymptomatic carrier birds or their droppings. Non- infected birds can be exposed to asymptomatic carriers in the race basket or in the home loft if carriers are introduced by the fancier.
The actual type of Salmonella that infects pigeons has been identified as Salmonella enterica, subsp. enterica, serovar typhimurium, variant copenhagen, Anderson phage types DT2 and DT99. In one study, 10,000 cases of pigeons infected with Salmonella were investigated. All except 3 were infected with these phage types. It is possible to identify other species of Salmonella in pigeon droppings but these are regarded as transients that have been accidently ingested and not capable of causing disease.

New fertility drug available since mid 2012

Medications are now available to stimulate fertility in both old cocks and hens. A small gland at the base of the brain, called the pituitary, produces, amongst other things, a hormone called gonadotrophin. This stimulates ovulation (which leads to egg laying) in hens and sperm production in cocks. In birds, the pituitary produces this hormone primarily in response to increasing daylength but also increasing environmental temperature, which is one of the reasons why birds start to breed in Spring. With age, gonadotrophin production falls.
The use of a slow release gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GNRH) called Buserelin acetate has been shown to induce significant increase in testosterone concentration in male birds and an increase in egg production in hens. The drug works best in older cocks, which may have filled all eggs 3 years ago, perhaps four of six 2 years ago, and only one last year. These birds usually still have some testicular tissue capable of responding to gonadotrophins.
The longer birds have been sterile, the less likely they are to respond, and birds that have primary disease of the gonads, e.g. testicular cancer or an ovarian cyst, cannot respond. Two injections are given two weeks apart. These are best given at the beginning of Spring so that they can act together with the birds’ naturally produced gonadotrophin. Hens having injections are best left with their cock so that he is there to fill any eggs, if and when ovulation occurs. However, cocks are usually best kept away from the hens while having these injections because, being a sex hormone, the injections tend to give the cocks a high libido, leading to repeated mating and sometimes wasted poor-quality ejaculates.
It is usually best to put treated cocks with their hen after 3 - 4 weeks. The medication can take up to 6 weeks to work.

Teichman Gland

Recent work at the University of Melbourne has shed light on the roll of a gland in the crop wall of pigeons that helps supply the newly hatched chick with immunity straight from it’s parents. This gland is called the Teichman gland. When the crop enlarges to produce crop milk, this gland also enlarges. The gland produces immune cells and it is thought that these immune cells move from the Teichman gland into the crop milk, in the process giving freshly hatched chicks some passive immunity directly from their parents. What stimulates the gland is unclear but suggestions have included the altered hormone status that occurs when pigeons produce crop milk or the chick itself moving in the egg as it starts to hatch.

PMV – Commonly asked questions

What vaccine should I use?
Use the killed oil based LaSota vaccine which is given by injection. The vaccine trail conducted in Victoria showed that this vaccine stimulated the development of a much higher level of immunity than other vaccines available (in particular the live NDV4 vaccine given orally or in the water).

Is the vaccine safe?

In the Victorian trial the vaccine was shown to be very safe. It is important however that the vaccine is given correctly. The majority of problems result from operator error, leading to vaccine being injected too deeply and damaging underlying structures. Ideally, the vaccine should be injected just under the skin in the midline. Injecting the vaccine into a blood vessel (such as the jugular veins or carotid arteries) or the vagus nerve can cause instant death, while injecting the vaccine into an air sac can lead to air bubbling through the resultant hole and accumulating as a large air blister under the skin. Injecting the spine can lead to paralysis, while injecting the windpipe can lead to acute respiratory distress and sometimes, death. Injecting the crop can perforate the crop, causing a crop wall abscess to form and the vaccine dose to be ineffective.
Having said all that, with care, most operators develop a technique that works well for them. The tip of the injecting needle is placed just below the skin and when the vaccine is injected, it can often be seen as a white ‘flare’ immediately beneath the skin. In experienced hands, PMV vaccination is regarded as a safe procedure.


Where should I vaccinate?

The best place is just under the skin at the base of the neck. Injecting on the inside of the leg has been suggested. The vaccine however is not as well distributed in the body from the site and is more likely to irritate the pigeon.

Is the vaccine effective?

The vaccine is very effective. The Victorian vaccine trail showed that 80% of birds were protected from clinical disease 4 weeks after 1 vaccination. Four weeks after the second inoculation (given 4-8 weeks later), 100% of the birds were immune.

When should I inoculate?

All birds should receive two vaccinations 4-8 weeks apart the first year they are vaccinated and then single annual boosters. There is no significant difference in the level of immunity formed whether the second vaccination is given 4 or 8 weeks later. In the Victorian vaccine trial 10% of vaccinated birds immunity had dropped below the level required to protect them after 12 months. This is why annual boosters are required. Vaccinating adults annually at the end of breeding (Feb-Apr) and well before showing and racing works best for most fanciers. New birds should be immediately vaccinated if their vaccination status is unclear.

What about vaccinating youngsters?

In the Victorian trial the level of immunity in youngsters ranging in age from 7-55 days bred from vaccinated parents was measured. The majority of chicks received sufficient immunity passively from their parents to protect them from PMV for the first few weeks of life. Youngsters should be given their first vaccination at 28-30 days as they are being weaned and their second shot 4-8 weeks later. In youngsters that have received alot of immunity passively from their parents this can interfere with them forming their own immunity to their first vaccination. This is why it may be wise to give the race or show team a third vaccination just before the start of racing or the show season when disease exposure is likely to be at it’s highest.

Is there any reason not to vaccinate?

Frankly, no. The vaccine is safe, effective (and cheap). With PMV continuing to be regularly diagnosed (4 cases at the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic in August 2013) there is no reason not to vaccinate your birds.

New vaccine for Mycoplasma (Air sac) disease

Pigeons are infected with Mycoplasma (the organism that causes air sac disease) at a young age usually from their parents or other birds in the loft. The Mycoplasma colonise the respiratory tract. Once infected the pigeon is infected for life. No drug can eliminate Mycoplasma. When a pigeon comes under stress, if the level of immunity that they have formed during development is not strong enough to protect them, then the Mycoplasma will flare up and cause inflammation of the respiratory tract including the air sacs. Medications are usually given during this time to control the flare up and restore health. The new vaccine is a live modified, non-disease causing strain of Mycoplasma that preferentially colonises the respiratory tract excluding colonisation by harmful disease causing Mycoplasma strains. A similar vaccine is already available in chickens.
The vaccine is likely to be prepared as a drop that will be placed in the nestlings eye or nose. Vaccine use should dramatically reduce the amount of medication required to control respiratory infection in racing and show lofts.

New Avian Labs QUICK test

In the past accurate diagnosis of some diseases such as Salmonella and PMV took several days and was quite costly. A new range of tests have become available over the last 12 months. This new test is a simple test with a long name. It is a sandwich lateral flow immunochromatographic assay test. This test checks for antigen i.e. part of the disease causing organism. Samples such as saliva or droppings are collected.
Extraction fluids are added to the sample in a test vial. The resultant supernatant is dropped onto a test paper. If antigens are present this reacts with antibodies in the test paper and a coloured line appears. A second control line also appears as a check to ensure that the test has been done correctly. A QUICK test takes only about 10 minutes to do, is very accurate and they are rapidly gaining in popularity.
QUICK tests are available to test for Chlamydia, Salmonella, PMV and Adeno virus. Because the test result is quickly available, this enables prompt and accurate treatment. The test is relatively economical making it also possible to test a team regularly through the season. Tests for canker and Circovirus are in the ‘pipeline’.
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