Help Our Birdlife Survive Trichomoniasis

DR KAREN LOURENS of Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital, gives advice on how to prevent the spread of this disease and what to do with infected birdlife: “Trich predominately affects dove and pigeons in their upper respiratory tract. The severity of the disease depends on the virulence of the strain, the immune status of the bird, and whether the bird is debilitated by other disease.

It is prolific among these flock species because of the way they feed and is transmitted from mother to nestling as well as through contaminated drinking water. It is spread to raptors and other birds of prey such as owls because they predate on doves and pigeons. When the infection is at an advanced stage, you will be able to notice that doves and pigeons in the garden are fluffed up and behaving abnormally. The occurrence of trichomoniasis in suburbia is far higher than in rural areas because of the artificial feeding of birds by people in their gardens.


It has long been a call of ours for the public to stop feeding birds, especially seed eaters, during the abundant summer months to reduce the spread of disease. It is not necessary and creates abnormal behavior which increases the spread of trich.  For close to 20 years, we have noticed that every year that more trich cases are treated during the hot, wet summer months. This is not an outbreak but rather a natural increase due to conditions being favourable and allowing the protozoa to flourish. We do an epithelial swab on every dove and pigeon that is admitted to our hospital and examine this under a microscope.  We find that 80% test positive for the disease. We do not treat columbids because these prey species immune systems are compromised during periods of stress, allowing disease to repeatedly flare up again. These birds are humanely euthanised.

However, raptors (European honey buzzard, black sparrow hawk etc.) and spotted eagle owl generally respond positively to treatment, depending on how compromised the bird is.  We have been treating raptors in the same way for nearly 20 years. They do not re-infect because, being a predatory bird, their stress levels are different to that of a prey species and the way they feed their young is also much different to that of pigeons/doves.

Once again, we ask that the public stop feeding flock seedeaters during summer and to clean birdbaths on a daily basis, as these are another source of contamination. If you find any compromised birdlife, please bring them through to our wildlife hospital where we have the trained and experienced staff necessary to manage these cases successfully.”

Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital: 071 248 1514