Salmonella in Racing Pigeons

Salmonella in Racing Pigeons

Salmonella are gram negative bacteria that infect pigeons, other birds and even animals or humans. There are about 2000 species. Free-ranging birds can be sub-clinical carriers and so they simply are a reservoir of Salmonella. It is known that also mice and rats (and even flies) may be vectors of Salmonella. Various Salmonella species vary with geographic location and the types of food consumed. Imported birds may serve to introduce different Salmonella species to the local birds and can cause a devastating outbreak. This is what experts say when they refer to Salmonella in general, but if we consider our pigeons and think about the one loft races or other situations when many pigeons from different lofts are put together, we understand that this doesn’t really apply to pigeons, maybe they are pretty immune to it. Paratyphoid in pigeons is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhimurium var. Copenhagen. It can not affect chickens for example, and chicken salmonela can’t affect pigeons. So, it is species specific. In 99% of cases pigeon paratyphoid comes from other pigeons (usually healthy looking, in a carrier state). No, rats and mice do not give pigoens salmonela like we often use to think, says Dr. Wim Peters.

TRANSMISSION:  Transmission is done primarily through the air. The bacteria is in the nasal and or ocular secretions, fecal material, and feather dust. Salmonella outside the body dries as a dusty substance. This dust contaminates the air that can be inhaled by another bird. Susceptibility and the amount of contamination determine whether or not the new bird becomes infected. Contaminated feed and water can infect the bird too. Transmission of the bacteria to an egg can occur. The embryo may die if bacteria levels become too high. I guess this is why we sometimes find those “black” eggs with a dead chick inside. Youngsters fading away, going light, not growing like they should ca be signs of an infection with Salmonella, Paratyphus. Some tests done at the end of a racing season revealed that 73% of the race baskets were infected – and fanciers do not send sick looking birds to races so all the infection comes from healthy looking pigeons.


The most common symptoms of Salmonella/Paratyphoid in pigeons:  1. Diarrhea;  2. Torticollis;  3. Infectious arthritis;  4. Subcutaneous abscesses;  5. Infertility;  6. Acute death;  7. Chronic death / wasting away.

More than one of these can occur together in one pigeon.

1. Diarrhea is seen in pigeons of all ages. The intestinal type of infection usually produces a loose watery, green, voluminous and bed smelling dropping. It is important to distinguish it from the paramyxo dropping which is a watery splash with very little solid feces in the middle (looking like a worm in a splash of water). The droppings from paramyxo do not have any white (urates) from the kidney as paramyxo affects the kidney. In the salmonella droppings the urates (white matter) are usually visible, often greenish – yellow. The bird becomes light weight and wastes away.

2. Torticollis (the cerebral type of infection) occurs when a Salmonella abscess forms in the brain. The balance of the bird is affected and it will turn its head just like in the nervous symptoms of paramyxo. This movement is very difficult to distinguish from paramyxo. However, this kind of infection is pretty rare, and appears when the infection gets to the brain or when the internal ear is affected.

3. Infectious arthritis is seen as a swelling in the shoulder joint of an affected wing or as lameness caused by an infected joint in the foot or leg. The “ankle” joint is a favourite location. Pigeons with an infected wing joint droop the wing and tremble from the pain. The wing can even touch the floor hanging. The articular infection type is the most common type in a chronic Salmonella disease.

4. Subcutaneous abscesses occur allover the body but usually below the eye as a small swelling containing hard, yellow and dry pus. Often that will be the only sign.

5. Infertility (partial or total) in hens and cocks can often be accompanied by chronic death / wasting away.

6. Acute deaths can occur at any age. Young pigeons on the nest can die but even adult birds looking healthy can die suddenly.

7. Chronic death usually follows a long period of poor eating, listlessness losing weight and wasting away.

The carrier state may be present in totally unexpected birds. In the carrier state, no symptoms are observable. This is the “hiden” LATENT type of infection and is usually found in adults that apparently are healthy. There’s no desire to fly, they might have reproduction problems and the chicks in the nest get sick and might die. These pigeons are vectors that can infect the other birds any time.

DIAGNOSIS:  The diagnosis for the carrier state can be made from a droppings culture collected over 5-6 days. While the droppings are being collected you should keep them refrigerated. Dead and clinically sick pigeons can be sacrificed and examined with a bacterial culture done on all the organs. A culture from the joint fluid in bird with a drooped wing will usually confirm a diagnosis of Salmonella. Dead youngsters on the nest and “black eggs” can also be cultured.

Salmonella in Racing Pigeons