Racing pigeons are bred from domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica) and trained to return home (‘race’) from a start point, which may be many miles distant, flying at speeds of 50-60 miles per hour Consequently, the birds arrive exhausted, often carrying infections picked up from pigeons released at the same time. These infections can be transmitted to other birds in their lofts and hence the mortality of young birds from infections can be greater than 30 %, even with experienced owners who maintain good levels of hygiene. The level of stress amongst racing pigeons is also high, both from racing itself and from the carriage conditions to the release points before the race. This results in microbiome changes and bowel dysfunction with loose, watery or green droppings.
When racing pigeons were kept on ‘Avinectar’ (‘Equinectar’ reformulated for avians), the birds were much more successful in racing and were more resistant to viral and bacterial infections. ‘Avinectar’ also improved the gut microbiome, so that the droppings were semi-solid rather than liquid. Our analysis, using SIFT/MS (selected ion-flow tube/mass spectrometry) to measure volatile metabolites (VOCs), showed that there was a reduction in toxic compounds such as formaldehyde and an increase in butyric acid, an energy source which improves gut health. This overall picture is similar to our findings with horses.