Pigeon health

   probiotics – what often?

I'm wondering if flooding or disturbing the natural gut and intestinal environment with probiotics on a regular basis isn't doing as much harm to the birds just like giving them regular antibiotics?
Probiotics are products that contain useful intestinal bacteria (enterococci, lactobacilli) in a form capable of proliferation. Administered orally, these beneficial germs reach the intestinal system and begin to proliferate, rejuvenating the normal flora, that have for whatever reason declined.
The useful bacteria in the intestines perform essential tasks for the health of the host system:
  • they assist digestion and utilization of nutrients by breaking them up with their own enzymes
  • they produce useful substances, including vitamins B and K
  • they restrain pathogenic bacteria
The latter function is extremely important and necessary, as it primarily affects salmonella and coli bacteria.
There are two ways in which intestinal bacteria have their protective effect. Firstly, through their metabolism they produce a slightly acidic environment around themselves, which is not favourable for the proliferation of salmonella and coli bacteria. Secondly, simply the quantity of adequately proliferated intestinal bacteria represents a mechanical barrier for pathogens – they cover the wall of the intestine and its villi with a number of layers, and so they make it harder for the salmonella and coli bacteria, already attenuated by the acidic environment, to reach or enter the intestinal wall.
Probiotics should not be used more than necessary, either. Firstly, there is no point in administering them too often; secondly, these products usually contain vitamins, the overdose of which can lead to illness. Nevertheless, unlike antibiotics, it is useful to give them on a regular basis throughout the year, once or twice a week. (In addition to this, their use is advised for 4-5 days following courses of antibiotics and other bactericidal products, or under stress.)

Large numbers of useful intestinal bacteria reside in the intestinal systems of healthy pigeons, and a constantly released into the outside world. They or their metabolic products make up a significant proportion of faeces, roughly 30-40% (!). They reproduce in the intestines on a continuous basis, and yet their stocks need to be refreshed regularly. Firstly, we destroy them with various products, particularly antibiotics, though their numbers are also reduced by certain natural herbal extracts (e.g. oregano oil, garlic). Secondly, all closed populations become old with time, and are helped by being refreshed from outside. This is no different for residents of the intestines. As their generation span is about half an hour, i.e. a fraction of the human one, refreshing the stock once or twice a week with probiotics does not seem excessive. Thirdly, the composition of the intestinal bacteria population changes when feed is changed; for example, if we swap some of the peas given thus far for carrots, different strains will proliferate at the expense of others. On such occasions external assistance is welcome, giving the strains that will be dominant the earliest opportunity to proliferate.
Naturally the choice of probiotic is not insignificant. High-quality factory-made products contain strains specifically for pigeons, which not only proliferate in the intestines but remain there persistently. In addition, we can sometimes use natural yogurt and/or kefir. These dairy products contain a wide variety of strains, some of which settle inside the pigeons, some of which are quickly released. The latter are not wasted, however, for as long as they are in the intestines, they help digestion and produce useful substances; once destroyed, the host can make use of part of their body material. Not to mention the fact that they are much more resistant to certain antibiotics than factory-made products are.

It is worth refreshing intestinal flora regularly, once or twice a week, but not continuously. It is best to vary factory-made preparations and occasionally use natural yogurt or kefir (or their living flora), thereby providing an opportunity for constant yet varied renewal of the intestinal flora.
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