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Pet Pigeon’s Parasites

Animals kept as pets can be classified according to the type of premises or habitat they usually occupy. Dogs, Cats, and birds such as Canaries and Parakeets are kept as household pets. Other birds, such as Jays, Magpies, and members of the crow family, are kept in aviaries.

By Dr Abdullah G Arijo

Pigeons can be found in virtually every town and city around the world (Marques et al. 2007) and have been kept for use in competitive breeding, homing, and racing. Besides, they are also raised as pets, as they are very affectionate and loyal, and millions of enthusiasts have learned to love and appreciate them as companion birds.


Many religious groups, including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, feed pigeons for religious reasons. Many older Sikhs feed pigeons ceremoniously to honour the high priest and warrior Guru Gobind Singh who was a known friend of the pigeon (or rock dove). Some Sikhs feed pigeons because they believe that when they are reincarnated, they will never go hungry if they have fed pigeons in their previous life. The pigeon mates for life and can breed up to 8 times a year in optimum conditions, bringing two young into the world each time. The frequency of breeding is dictated by the abundance of food.  Pigeon eggs take 18/19 days to hatch with both parents incubating the eggs. Young dependent pigeons are commonly known as ‘squabs’.


The pigeon is kept as a pet and reared for food in several countries, it’s interaction with man and other domestic and wild birds, portends it as a potential carrier of zoonotic parasites. Pigeons are seen in any region of the world except for the North & South poles. Pigeons live side by side with humans and other animal species in nature and they are bred as a source of food as a hobby, symbol of peace and for experimental purposes (Harlin, 1994).


 Several health problems can affect pigeons, but parasite infections play a major role. They constitute a major source of infection and transmission of diseases (Marques et al. 2007) Pigeons are reported to be infested with a variety of ectoparasites including lice, mites, ticks, fleas, and flies, all of which can decrease host fitness (Moller et al.,2009).


  Ecto-parasites are organisms that live on the surface of animals upon which they depend for food, shelter and other basic needs to survive (Rechav and Nuttall, 2000) and inhibit the skin or outgrowth of the skin of the host for various periods (Hopla et al., 1994). The presence of external parasites on the host is termed as infestation. The association between arthropod ectoparasites and vertebrate hosts may take on a variety of forms. In some cases, the parasite may be dependent on the host, alternatively, the parasite may feed, or live only occasionally on the host, without being dependent on it. Despite a benefit of a close association with the host, there is a considerable variation in the amount of time spent on the host by various types of ectoparasites. Some ectoparasites such as many species of lice live in continuous association with their host throughout their life cycle and are, therefore, highly dependent on the host. The majority of ectoparasites, however, has only intermittent contact with their hosts and is free-living for the major portion of their life cycles. In some cases, ectoparasites, such as many species of mites, are highly host-specific; only one host species is exploited and, in some instances, the parasite can exist only on one defined area of the host. Other species can exploit a wider range of hosts (Wall and Shearer, 1997).


         The ectoparasites, ticks comprise a burning veterinary problem because they transmit disease, induce paralysis or toxicosis and cause physical damage (Razput et al., 2005). They are notorious vectors of pathogenic organisms, such as protozoa, rickettsia, bacteria, and viruses (Chul-Min et al., 2006). In neglected and untreated animals’ death could occur (Manuring et a., 1986).

           Lice are permanent ectoparasites; consequently, their control is much easier than control of other temporary ectoparasites (Khater et al, 2013.) Lice cause harm to animal’s health. Lice infested animals keep poor physical condition and develop an anemic appearance and discoloured greasy hair (Nelson, 1984). Lice infestation causes weight loss at the rate of about 711 gms per bird and decreases the egg yield at the rate of about 66 eggs per bird/year and lameness is associated with heavy lice infestation (Khan et al.2003). In extreme, but rare cases, abortion and death may result (Townsend, 2006). Louse free animals have been reported to be more profitable than infested animals due to increased rate of weight gain and more feed utilization (Kettle, 1974). In addition, lice infestation contributes to huge economic losses due to damage to the skin and hide in the form of light flecks and spots followed by secondary bacterial infection or scratching behavior and inflammation of the skin (Nafstad and Gronstol, 2001).


 Ecto-parasites are regarded as the basic causes of retardation in growth lowered vitality and poor conditions of the birds. They can affect bird health directly by causing irritation, discomfort, tissue damage, blood loss, toxicosis, allergies and dermatitis which in turn reduce the quality and quantity of meat and egg production (Ruff 1999). The most important cause of above mention damages is excessive preening which interrupts feeding, as the birds spend much of the time preening, rather than being involved in feeding and drinking (Clayton et al., 1999).

The frequency of disease transmission from birds to humans is very low; however, birds with compromised immune systems may act as the source of transmission of diseases to humans. Pigeons are a potential carrier of zoonotic parasites i.e. Cryptococcosis neoformans, Histoplasma capsulatum (Adang et al., 2008). They have a role in spreading some zoonotic diseases to human beings like Cryptococcosis, Histoplasmosis, Psittacosis, and as well as being a reservoir of many parasitic diseases to poultry like Coccidiosis, Cryptosporidiosis, (Piasecki, 2006).


Many of these diseases are transmitted by ingestion of food contaminated by faeces. Prevention of most of these diseases, therefore, simply involves proper hygiene and sanitation. Contact with pigeon droppings may create a small health risk. Particularly for diseases such as   Histoplasmosis, Cryptococcosis,  and  Psittacosis, which affect the respiratory and central nervous system of the victim (Pilny, 2007).


 The prevalence and intensity of parasitic infestations may be influenced by several epidemiological factors including host factors like age, sex and breed, and environmental factors as climatic conditions.  (Nadeem et al. 2007)


Recently, a study was conducted by my research team to determine ectoparasite infestation in Pet pigeons at Umerkot city. The study was carried out in fourteen different areas of Umerkot city. A total hundred 100 pet pigeons (51 Male & 49 Female) were examined physically at pigeon owner houses in Umerkot city and pigeons were found to be infested with two lice species i.e., Columbicola columbae & Menopon gallinae. The overall prevalence of the lice infestation was recorded as 80% (80/100).  The highest infestation rate was recorded in Old Mohalla and Kolhi Daro 100% (5/5) followed by Sanbhwani, Babar, Khosa Mohalla with the infection rate as 80% (5/4) and Chandiram Mohalla 80% (10/8), in Pathan Mohalla the infestation rate as 70% (10/7), in Machi and Lohar Mohalla the infestation rate was 60% (5/3) and in Sheikh Mohalla infestation rate was also 60% (10/6) respectively. Female pigeons were found more susceptible with the highest infestation rate of 85.71% (42 / 49) as compared to 74.50% in males. The severity of infestation was recorded as 60%, 28.75%, and 11.25% as low, medium, and high infestation respectively. Therefore, there is a need for the application of dusting powder to keep pigeons at bay from parasites


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