Viral Diseases in Pigeons: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

 Pigeons are one of the most popular birds in the world. They are found in many cities and towns. Pigeons and doves have surprisingly become favored companions as pets. These plump, short-legged birds are widely distributed both in the wild and as domesticated pets. Although they are hardy birds, they are also susceptible to several diseases that can cause serious health problems.

Viral Diseases in Pigeons: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment
Viral Diseases in Pigeons: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

 These diseases can manifest through various symptoms such as respiratory distress, and intestinal issues, and even prove fatal. As responsible pet owners, we must attend to their every requirement, including diagnosing and treating common illnesses they may contract. In this article, we will discuss the most common pigeon diseases and how to prevent and treat them.

Pigeon Viral Diseases:

  1. Canker
  2. Lice Infestation
  3. Flies Infestation
  4. Coccidia
  5. Worm Infestation
  6. Hexamitiasis
  7. Mite Infestation
  8. Chlamydiosis
  9. Respiratory Infections
  10. Mycoplasma

Pigeon Canker

 Canker is a respiratory ailment caused by a tiny protozoan and is easily transmissible among birds. Fortunately, it cannot persist outside of birds for an extended period. Pigeons can spread canker through shared water sources, bill-to-bill contact with other pigeons, and feeding young pigeons with crop milk, a semi-solid excretion rich in fat and protein.

 The protozoan responsible for canker often resides in a pigeon's digestive tract, such as the crop, throat, bile duct, cloaca, proventriculus, and other parts. Nodules from canker may also be present on a nestling pigeon's navel or in the bird's sinuses. The symptoms of canker vary based on its location, but as it commonly affects the throat, most pigeons display breathing difficulties due to tonsillar nodules. Other symptoms, in addition to the visible nodules and breathing difficulties, include diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, and oral or cloacal bleeding. If left untreated, the symptoms worsen and canker can prove fatal.

 Canker lesions appear similar to other infections, such as abscesses, but are limited to areas near or related to the digestive tract. Therefore, a lesion on the wing would not be indicative of a canker. The presence of the organism causing canker can also be detected through microscopic examination of the feces. Treatment for canker involves medication prescribed by a veterinarian and in some cases, surgical removal of the nodules may be necessary.

Worm Infestation

 Pigeons, like many other animals, can harbor various types of intestinal worms such as roundworms, tapeworms, and hairworms. These parasites can reside in the digestive tract of pigeons, causing diarrhea, weakness, increased vulnerability to other illnesses and decreased performance in racing pigeons. While sometimes you may spot the worms in their feces, their eggs are usually discovered through a microscopic examination of the droppings.

 Worms are a common problem for pigeons, which can acquire through the ingestion of infected insects or droppings from other birds. Regular screenings of pigeon droppings through microscopic exams are recommended to detect these parasites. Treatment involves medication that can be administered orally or added to the water, under the guidance of a veterinarian.


 Coccidia, like worms, is a type of protozoan that affects pigeons and other animals, causing symptoms such as diarrhea, poor nutrient absorption, weakness, lethargy, and weight loss. The disease is easily spread through infected droppings and is often present at low levels in many pigeon populations. Unless a pigeon shows signs of distress, a small amount of coccidia may not require treatment.

 Regular fecal exams by a veterinarian are crucial to detect coccidia, as it is a microscopic organism that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Though small amounts of coccidia are considered normal in pigeons, excessive amounts can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, nutrient loss, weakness, lethargy, and weight loss. If your pigeon exhibits these symptoms or has loose droppings, they should receive appropriate treatment with medication.


 Hexamita, found in the digestive tract of pigeons, is similar to the protozoan causing canker in pigeons. Although it is less serious for most pigeons than canker, treatment is recommended if a pigeon is diagnosed with Hexamita. The organism can be seen microscopically in feces and can resemble a canker. Overpopulation of Hexamita in a pigeon's intestine may cause symptoms such as vomiting, weight loss, and bloody diarrhea, but it usually goes unnoticed in healthy pigeons.

External Parasites in Pigeons: Lice, Mites, and Flies

 External parasites like lice, mites, and flies can cause inconvenience and harm to pet pigeons. These pests bite and irritate pigeons, and in serious cases, lead to blood loss or the spread of diseases. If you notice scaly skin on your pigeon's bare areas, holes in feathers, or an itchy bird, it may be a sign of external parasites. Treatment involves using medicated sprays, depending on the type of parasite.

Respiratory Infections in Pigeons

 Aside from canker, respiratory infections are a common concern for pigeon owners. These infections are easily spread and more likely to affect birds that are stressed, elderly, or young.

 Untreated respiratory infections in pigeons can lead to severe breathing difficulties, leading to reduced activity and poor performance in racing pigeons.  Symptoms include open-mouth breathing, increased effort while breathing, sitting in a fluffed-up position with eyes closed, and a lack of appetite, leading to death if left untreated.

 Many factors, including fungi, viruses, bacteria, and mites, can lead to respiratory infections in pigeons. These infections can affect the lungs, air sacs, sinuses, and other respiratory system components. Respiratory infections may cause discharge from the nares, within the mouth or choana, and produce sneezing and coughing sounds. To effectively eliminate the infection, aggressive treatment is required, including seeking veterinary attention, cleaning the environment, treating underlying parasites, identifying the cause, and administering medication.

Chlamydia in Pigeons

 Various strains of chlamydia exist in pigeons and some birds may remain asymptomatic. However, stress can trigger outbreaks of this virus in affected birds.

 While medications can help alleviate symptoms of chlamydia in infected pigeons, a cure for the virus is not possible. The primary concern is respiratory infections caused by the virus, so proper management of the bird's environment to avoid factors like dampness and fluctuating temperatures is crucial, along with symptom-based treatment.

Mycoplasma in Pigeons

 Mycoplasma infections can strike the respiratory tract of pigeons and cause symptoms similar to other respiratory ailments such as chlamydia. The affected pigeon may display signs like nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing, depending on the part of the respiratory tract that is infected.

 Stress is the main factor that triggers a mycoplasma infection in pigeons. To keep your bird healthy, it's important to provide a clean and stress-free environment.

Protecting Your Pigeons from Common Health Concerns: Prevention and Treatment

Maintaining Good Hygiene

 Good hygiene is the key to preventing the spread of disease in pigeons. Regular cleaning of the pigeon's living area, feeding and drinking utensils can help prevent the spread of diseases.

Proper Nutrition

 Proper nutrition is essential for maintaining the health of pigeons. Feeding them a balanced diet that includes grains, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables can help prevent diseases and improve their overall health.


 Vaccination is an effective way to prevent the spread of disease in pigeons. Regular vaccinations can help protect pigeons from Pigeon Paramyxovirus (PPMV-1) and other common diseases.

Prompt Treatment

 If a pigeon shows symptoms of any of the common diseases, prompt treatment is essential. Treatment options may include antibiotics, antifungal medications, or other treatments specific to the disease.


 Pigeons are fascinating and hardy birds, but they are also susceptible to several diseases that can cause serious health problems. By understanding common pigeon diseases and taking steps to prevent and treat them, you can help keep your pigeons healthy and happy.

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