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Editorial Information

Helen Errington BVMS Cert SHP MRCVS, St David’s Game Bird Services

Published 2017

Pheasant Ataxia



Pheasant ataxia is caused by an unknown virus, and is a relatively new phenomenon that has only been described in the last couple of decades. It is a sporadic condition, which is now rare and causes incoordination and ataxia in pheasant poults from seven weeks of age onwards. Affected birds show neurological signs, starting with leg weakness which can lead to paralysis and recumbence. Usually, only a few birds are affected, but for those unfortunate birds there is no treatment. Due to the nervous signs, Newcastle Disease (which is one of the two notifiable diseases in gamebirds) should be ruled out.


Pheasants show varying degrees of ataxia and uncoordinated movement. In severe cases, birds can't get up although often their heads will remain upright and the bird will be alert. Early signs are unbalanced birds with their wings spread out in an attempt to remain upright.

Pheasant Ataxia F1

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Pheasant Ataxia F2

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Pheasant Ataxia F3

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Pheasant Ataxia F4

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Post mortem findings are unremarkable for Pheasant Ataxia. No significant bacteria are isolated consistently from brain tissue and no lesions are usually recorded in peripheral neural tissue. Lesions are rare in other tissues.


Diagnosis of Pheasant Ataxia is by post mortem and histopathology. When examined down the microscope there is inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The part of the brain most commonly affected is the cerebellum and this controls balance.


There is no treatment available nor are there preventative methods for control of Pheasant Ataxia and affected birds should be culled humanely on welfare grounds.

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