E-Coli In Pigeons - August 25, 2000
J. F. HIGGINS, V.M.D.
VCA NORTHSIDE ANIMAL HOSPITAL BETHELEHEM, PA

Escherichia coli, better know as E. coli, is a bacterium that
commonly infects our pigeons. It is considered a normal
constituent of pigeon feces, but certain strains of E. coli
can be severely pathogenic. Whenever we recover E. coli from
organs other than the gastrointestinal tract (e.g. liver, spleen)
we can deduce that E. coli is causing clinical disease.

The symptoms of an E. coli infection can mimic symptoms seen
with other diseases (e.g. paratyphoid, PMV): weight loss, diarrhea,
dead in shell, joint abscesses, and even head tilt, etc. This
disease can affect both young birds and old birds, and is usually
associated with some form of stress such as racing, breeding,
overcrowding, etc. It is often found in conjunction with
adenovirus in young birds.

Diagnosis of E. coli infection if achieved by culture and
sensitivity. This is best done by an expreienced person who will
usually sacrifice one or two symptomatic birds; and, in a sterile
manner, sample suspicious organs (e.g. liver/spleen) with a
sterile swab. The contents of the swab are then streaked on a
culture plate allowing the bacteria to grow and be identified.
Antibiotic discs are embedded in the culture plate allowing for
clear identification of the best antibiotic to kill that
particular strain of the bacteria. We often find that E. coli
grown from a bird from Loft A can be treated Baytril, while E.
coli grown from a bird from Loft B is resistant to Baytril.

There are not commercially available E. coli vaccines; but,
Dr. Steve Weir, a pigeon veterinarian from Oklahoma, has had
some success with vaccines of his own deisgn. Most of the time,
prevention involves avoiding overcrowding, minimizing stress,
optimizing nutrition, and maintaining good basic loft hygiene.

Summary:

- E. coli is a normal inhabitant of the pigeon's GI tract.
- Symptoms are the same for other diseases.
- Diagnosis cannot be made on symptoms alone.
- Appropriate antibiotic therapy should be based on culture
sensitivity.
Do not believe ads that claim that certain drugs are E. coli drugs. They may not be.
- There are no commercially available vaccines.