Panting in Racing Pigeons – When Is It Normal and When Is It Not, Part 2

Panting and Disease

Young PigeonsIn studying the process of respiratory panting as a part of the disease process, we need to know that, compared to humans, a racing pigeons ability for the respiratory tract to heal after infection or injury is considerably reduced. While most panting in birds is a normal and necessary function, panting can also be a sign of a respiratory infection.

When a pigeon has a respiratory infection, the air sacs become inflamed. This inflammation impairs the evaporation of moisture from the air sac lining. This can impact the bird’s overall hydration, leading to dehydration or overheating.

With a respiratory infection, if too much moisture is lost, the bird becomes dehydrated. On the other hand, if the air sac inflammation inhibits the moisture evaporation, the bird becomes overheated. Either condition will lead to prolonged or protracted panting.

If the abnormal panting continues, there is inadequate oxygen to the bird’s tissues. This not only impairs racing, it also leads to muscle cramping. Panting in the presence of underlying disease has deleterious effects on the bird’s endurance. If you notice panting and reduced racing performance in your bird, look for other symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as watery, red eyes, swollen sinuses, nasal discharge and sneezing. Treat your bird as necessary.

Panting in Young Birds

In the post-weaning phase of the young bird, fanciers may notice panting and a reluctance to fly in the loft.  While these could be signs of a respiratory infection, there are other ‘normal’ factors that may result in panting.

One factor that may be at play is the fact that the weather is often hot at this time of year and the young bird simply lacks the physical fitness to handle the stress of the weather and flight.  In addition, moulting is usually occurring, which, again, can increase the effort needed for flying.

But, once again, if there are accompanying signs of a respiratory infection, get a veterinarian to perform a health check. Be aware that signs of a respiratory infection may be somewhat subtle. This is especially true in older youth because some natural immunity be present. The subtle signs you may observe is panting along with a slight decrease in flying in a team that had previously been flying the loft well. If you notice sneezing in your older youngsters, that is a pretty reliable sign of a low-grade sinus irritation.

What to Expect in the Health Check

When your veterinarian does the health check, he will do both a fecal smear and a crop flush. Examining the fecal smear microscopically, the vet is looking for signs of parasites, such as worms or coccidia. Parasites like these will reduce the energy of the young bird, compromising in the long-term, growth and development and, in the short-term, exercise tolerance. This low tolerance can cause the bird to pant.

The contents from the crop flush are examined for wet canker and heterophils, which will be present in inflammation. Heterophils are the white blood cells from the lining of the inflamed sinus and windpipe.

Treatment of Respiratory Infections in Young Pigeons

Should the vet discover a respiratory infection at this stage, it is often not treated. Respiratory infections are usually caused by chlamydia and mycoplasma. In order to encourage natural immunity to these organisms, the vet will choose to let the bird fight it off.  If the respiratory infection has progressed to the point of compromising the growth and development of the bird, the vet will usually opt to treat. Of course, any parasitic disease is treated.

Any treatment program that you do initiate should be one that supports and encourages a strong and natural immunity in the young bird. You will want this in place by the beginning of the racing season so the bird can withstand the high-level of stress and the exposure to multiple diseases.

Most definitely, provide good care at all times and maintain a dry and clean loft.  Always provide nutritional support and digestive health. An excellent resource you may want to include in your library is the “Flying Vet’s Pigeon Health and Management” by Dr. Colin Walker.

To summarize, panting in your young birds is usually the result of:

  • Moulting
  • Hot weather
  • Lack of physical fitness
  • Overweight

To verify this, handle your bird to determine if overweight, flabby muscles or moulting is present.  And try exercising your birds during the cooler part of the day to see if the panting is indeed heat related.

In the next part of this article series on panting, we will take a look at panting and aerobic exercise in the health and fit racing pigeon.

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