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Causes and Susceptible Species

Trichomoniasis is caused by the flagellate protozoan Trichomonas gallinae. It is the most common disease in mourning doves, occasionally causing mortality over sizeable geographic areas. Other dove species are variably susceptible. It is thought that T. gallinae came to North America with Rock (Common) Pigeons accompanying European settlers. Trichomoniasis is occasionally diagnosed in raptors that consume infected doves. Falconers have historically referred to this disease in their birds as frounce.

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Transmission

T. gallinae is a parasite of the upper digestive tract, most commonly the mouth and upper esophagus. Virulent (severe) strains produce cheesy necrotic lesions that may block passage of food and impair breathing. Sick doves appear depressed and oral lesions may show externally as bulges beneath the head.

Trichomoniasis is tentatively diagnosed from the lesions. Observation of the live flagellated protozoan in saliva or lesion scrapings confirms this diagnosis. Very fresh specimens are required for detection of live protozoa. New testing with PCR (polymerase chain reaction) can detect DNA of the trichomonads in frozen or degraded samples.

Adult doves may transmit the parasite directly to their young via crop milk. Doves produce a milk-like substance in their crops which they feed to their young. Transmission via food and water contaminated by sick birds may be important.

Threats to Other Species or Humans

Trichomoniasis is by far the most important disease of mourning doves. T. gallinae poses no threat to human health.

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