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Mycoplasma columbinum isolated from a racing pigeon (Columba livia) with arthritis.

Abstract. A juvenile racing pigeon (Columba livia) was presented with drooping of the wing and inability to fly. On physical examination, the right shoulder joint was swollen. The pigeon was euthanatized and submitted for necropsy. An excessive amount of fibrin was present in the canalis triosseus with severe arthritis of the affected shoulder joint. A pure growth of Mycoplasma-like colonies was obtained on microbiological culture of the shoulder joint. A 16S ribosomal RNA gene-specific polymerase chain reaction assay was performed on the isolate and revealed 100% similarity with Mycoplasma columbinum. Although infectious arthritis in homing pigeons is primarily associated with paratyphoid and Streptococcus gallolyticus infection, clinical practitioners should consider the potential role of Mycoplasma columbinum in arthritis in pigeons.

Key words: infectious arthritis, Mycoplasma columbinum, avian, racing pigeons, Columba livia

Clinical Report

During the summer of 2012, a racing pigeon (Columba livia) was presented at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Belgium, with drooping of the right wing and inability to fly. The pigeon's owner noticed sudden onset of wing drooping in the 7-month-old, male pigeon. The pigeon belonged to a flock comprising approximately 80 young birds, all bred in 2012. The birds were reared in a pigeon loft and were fed with mixed grains. The flock had been immunized against avian paramyxovirus type I. According to the owner, none of the other birds showed obvious clinical signs. Physical examination of the affected pigeon revealed good body condition and no other physical abnormalities. The affected pigeon had not received therapeutic treatment before presentation.

A 5-day pooled fecal sample was collected from the flock for Salmonella isolation and parasitologic examination. No Salmonella species were detected on brilliant green agar (Oxoid Ltd, Hampshire, United Kingdom), even after enrichment in tetrathionate broth. No endoparasites were detected after flotation of a fecal sample in saturated salt solution.

The bird was euthanatized and presented for postmortem examination. At necropsy, an excessive amount of fibrin was present in the canalis triosseus with severe arthritis of the right shoulder joint. This lesion was the cause of the drooping of the wing and the pigeon's inability to fly. No anomalies were observed in any of the other joints. Other findings at necropsy were unremarkable.

For bacteriologic examination, samples were obtained from the liver and the right shoulder joint. Cultures were incubated on Columbia agar with 5% sheep blood (Oxoid Deutschland GmbH, Wesel, Germany) and colistin nalidixic agar with 5% sheep blood (Oxoid Deutschland GmbH) at 37[degrees]C in a 5% C[O.sub.2]-enriched atmosphere. No Salmonella species were detected after plating the samples on brilliant green agar after enrichment in tetrathionate broth. A pure culture of colonies with typical Mycoplasma-like morphology was obtained on Columbia agar with 5% sheep blood at the fifth day of incubation from the sample obtained from the right shoulder joint. A single colony was purified on modified pleuropneumonia-like organism agar (Difco, Becton Dickinson France SAS, Le Pont de Claix, France) for molecular identification. No bacterial growth was observed on the culture media inoculated with the liver sample after 5 days of incubation.

To identify the Mycoplasma species, al 6S ribosomal RNA gene-specific polymerase chain reaction was used, as previously described by Kiss et al. (1) Sequences were compared with those maintained in the GenBank database through BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, USA) and revealed 100% similarity with Mycoplasma columbinum.


This clinical report describes a case of arthritis of the shoulder joint associated with M columbinum infection in a racing pigeon. Veterinarians are being consulted to diagnose and treat diseases that limit performance of homing pigeons in high-stake races and intense competition. Bacterial infections causing musculoskeletal and chronic respiratory disease are frequently implicated in poor racing performance. (2) Although the most common causes of bacterial arthritis in pigeons are Salmonella serovar Typhimurium and Streptococcus gallolyticus, identifying a specific etiological agent of arthritis fails in many cases. (2-4)

Since its first description in 1978, (5) M columbinum has been isolated from pigeons in Nigeria, Great Britain, China, and Japan. (6,7) Isolation of M columbinum from the oropharynx, air sac, lungs, and trachea has been documented in healthy pigeons as well as pigeons with respiratory disease. (5,6,8) Definitive evidence for a primary pathogenic role of M columbinum in pigeons, however, is lacking. (6,9-12)

The diagnostic approach in pigeons presenting with signs of infectious arthritis is primarily directed toward paratyphoid or infection with S gallolyticus. (2-4) As documented in this case, M columbinum infection may be associated with osteoarthritis of the shoulder joint and demonstrates that clinical veterinarians should consider the potential role of this agent in arthritis in pigeons. Further research, however, is needed to elucidate the exact role of M columbinum in the development of arthritis in pigeons.


(1.) Kiss I, Matiz K, Kaszanyitzky E, et al. Detection and identification of avian mycoplasmas by polymerase chain reaction and restriction fragment length polymorphism assay. Vet Microbiol. 1997; 58(1):23-30.

(2.) Rupiper DJ. Diseases that affect race performance of homing pigeons, part II: bacterial, fungal, and parasitic diseases. J Avian Med Surg. 1998; 12(3): 138-148.

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(4.) van der Toom F, Lumeij JT. Streptococcus gallolyticus infections in racing pigeons, a review [article in Dutch]. Tijdschr Diergeneeskd. 2001; 126(3):66-71.

(5.) Shimizu T, Ern H, Nagatomo H. Isolation and characterization of Mycoplasma columbinum and Mycoplasma columborale, two new species from pigeons. Int J Syst Bacteriol. 1978; 28(4):538-546.

(6.) Keymer IF, Leach RH, Clarke RA, et al. Isolation of Mycoplasma spp. from racing pigeons (Columba livid). Avian Pathol. 1984; 13(1):65-74.

(7.) Molokwu JU, Adegboye DS. Mycoplasma columborale and Mycoplasma columbinum from pigeons: a first report of their isolation in Nigeria. Rev Sci Tech. 1988; 7(3):635-638.

(8.) Nagatomo H, Kato H, Shimizu T, Katayama B. Isolation of mycoplasmas from fantail pigeons. J Vet Med Sci. 1997; 59(6):461-462.

(9.) Esposito JF. Respiratory medicine in pigeons. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract. 2000;3(2):395-402, v-vi.

(10.) Loria GR, Tamburello A, Liga F, et al. Isolation of mycoplasmas from pigeons suffering eye lesions and respiratory disease. Vet Rec. 2005; 157(21):664-665.

(11.) MacOwan KJ, Jones HG, Randal CJ, Jordan FT. Mycoplasma columborale in a respiratory condition of pigeons and experimental air sacculitis of chickens. Vet Rec. 1981; 109(25-26):562.

(12.) Pettersson B, Tully JG, Bolske G, Johansson KE. Re-evaluation of the classical Mycoplasma lipophilum cluster (Weisburg et al. 1989) and description of two new clusters in the hominis group based on 16S rDNA sequences. Int J Syst Evol Microbiol. 2001; 51 (12):633-643.

Tom Hellebuyck, DVM, PhD, An Garmyn, DVM, PhD, Lien De Cooman, DYM, Filip Boyen, DVM, PhD, Frank Pasmans, DVM, PhD, and An Martel, DVM, PhD

From the Department of Pathology, Bacteriology and Poultry Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Salisburylaan 133, B-9820 Merelbeke. Belgium.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Clinical Reports
Author:Hellebuyck, Tom; Garmyn, An; De Cooman, Lien; Boyen, Filip; Pasmans, Frank; Martel, An
Publication:Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery
Article Type:Clinical report
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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