How to help a bird with canker


Canker is an awful condition that affects most birds – but rehabbers are more likely to encounter it in pigeons and doves. Finches are susceptible but as the birds are smaller they tend to die before folk find them. A smaller throat will become blocked much more quickly. Raptors are also problemed with canker although it’s called frounce for some reason.


Canker is technically called trichomoniasis. A single celled micro-organism – a trichomonad – which thrives in the warm weather and is easily spread to others in drinking water or from fallen food from another bird’s mouth. The parasite reproduces and creates a lot of caseous necrotic matter that soon blocks the oesophagus preventing the bird from being able to eat - and so weakens to the point where a member of the public can pick it up and call a wildlife rehabber.



Click image to see trichomonads in action



I have tried many techniques and have read umpteen articles but I would like to share my experience as to what has proven to be most effective for me.


To cure the bird we must ensure it receives sufficient nutrition, water and medication. As we all know – canker blocks the oesophagus and so the initial treatment is to wrap the bird in a towel, pop it on my lap, held between legs with head-torch and high magnification reading glasses so I can see with perfect clarity what is in the mouth of the bird. It’s very good if I find seeds and grain on top of the canker as a self-feeding bird makes the coming days much easier, and they’re much more likely to survive. A bird with a severe blockage may well throw up tubed formula and so will respirate it through their glottis if it’s unable to escape back down through an insufficient opening. I avoid tubing formula unless the throat is reasonably clear and the bird is not eating for itself.



The tools and products I use are

Metronidazole is the antibiotic used to treat the condition. This is a 7 day course. The dosage online suggests 50mg per kg of bird, but I have found I needed to up the dosage for a few days before tapering down. I use 50mg once a day for 3 days, then halve that to 25mg for each of the remaining 4 days. This is for an adult size pigeon – I halve this for a dove.


F10 has been a breakthrough in my process. The 100:1 mix is strong enough to attack the organism and disinfects and cleanses the mouth and entire digestive tract along the way. Metronidazole works systemically and so relies on being able to get the product past the crop until it can be absorbed into the blood - but the F10 will kill and disrupt on contact. I use the F10 dilute instead of water. So – mix the metronidazole in this solution and if you tube formula food – mix with F10 also. Stop using the F10 internally when the antibiotics course has completed.

Cotton buds

Long pointed tweezers

A long slim syringe end – A cannula is perfect

Twisted pieces of toilet roll




So – once I can see inside the open mouth I use long pointed tweezers and remove all loose bits of food and other detritus. Be very careful and move slowly as such tweezers are sharp. Pay attention to the breathing of the bird as a severe blockage will put pressure on the trachea and so the added stress of the examination may prove too much. Gently gently – rub its head, say nice things and if it struggles, let it close its mouth, repeat the head rub and try again in a few moments. Once all the loose bits have been removed, pick up a cotton bud, pop the end into the F10 dilute, observe the glottis and see what you can move and rub away by gently probing. I sometimes find a central separation in the blockage as the parasites adhere to the throat lining and so eventually the necrotic tissue meets in the middle. If you find a gap - this can be manipulated with the cotton bud to be made larger. The necrotic matter will almost always be attached to the lining of the oesophagus, trachea and sometimes tongue and so be careful not to pull from the edges, but work centrally, If you notice a bleed – grab a dry cotton bud (or twisted tissue paper) to soak the blood and press it against the area to allow coagulation ensuring the glottis area remains free of liquid. The yellow necrotic matter is as the name suggests – dead – and so you can usually pick away centrally without causing collateral damage. The long-pointed tweezers can pick away at the top and lift small pieces away until you locate a way through. Switch between tweezers and cotton buds as appropriate always observing the state of the bird, stopping occasionally when it feels right to.


The trichomonads will be all over the mouth and throat and so wipe the F10 soaked cotton bud all over. Once you have a sufficient way through you can administer the metronidazole in the F10 dilute. A cannula on a syringe is excellent if the gap you have is small. So long as you can get the meds in, and the bird isn’t thin you can skip food for the first day. Once the metronidazole is in, syringe a few ml of F10 dilute and poke through the gap and administer this to just below the blockage so that it can touch as much of the oesophagus as it travels down. Again – pay attention that liquid doesn’t come up above the blockage. Good control with the head torch and a fixed stare at what you’re doing will prove successful. Put the bird back into its isolation container once you’ve removed enough – or the bird needs time to calm. Only give it food and water if the opening in the blockage is large enough to let seeds pass down otherwise it will cause a further blockage. In such situations I would syringe 2 or 3 ml of F10 dilute every few hours – and if it shown no sign of vomiting, consider mixing some critical care with the F10. Each time you give the bird something – wipe the mouth with a soaked cotton bud and see if anything further can be removed with the tweezers. Every day you’ll find more necrotic tissue comes away and after a few days the oesophagus wall will have begun repairing and so the canker will start to become separated. Do not rush the removal but agitate where it remains joined with the cotton bud. Gently twisting the bud between necrotic tissue and throat wall helps provoke separation.


Once you have a comfortable opening through the canker try putting small seeds and some water in with the bird. Monitor if it’s able to swallow – you might need to prod the food down with a cotton bud. If you’re worried that time has passed and it’s not taken food try mixing some formula food and tube that in but you must be careful to make sure it doesn’t come back up. Twisted tissues are great for poking down and quickly soaking up.



The images below show the bird on day1 - after the seeds and loose mess was removed so the canker can be seen before work begins. Then on day 3, 5, 9 and finally – 11days later. The 2 enormous pieces had eventually loosened enough to be lifted out thus giving the bird a clear throat. Sometimes the necrotic tissue breaks away in small pieces – sometimes huge lumps come away which is very satisfying. This bird remained with us for another 3 days until the final small bits had come away and the throat was perfect again.








Good luck – and if you find this useful please let us know. We would be delighted to know.