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Potential Duck Health Challenges

Updated July 28, 2020

Unfortunately for the humans looking out for them, ducks don’t tend to show any signs that they’re sick until it can’t be hid any longer, usually resulting in much more intensive treatment than an early diagnosis would have alleviated. If you want to ensure early disease recognition, you’ll have to spend a lot of time with the flock, so slight changes and symptoms are more apparent to you. By conducting regular full body health examinations, you’ll be able to know what healthy looks and feels (and smells!) like, and when you should be concerned.

Check out our guide to duck health examinations to familiarize yourself with the signs that something may be amiss in a bird. 

Animal Healthcare Disclaimer

This is not an exhaustive list of everything that can happen to a duck, but can help you get a sense of what challenges a duck under your care may face in their lifetime. If you believe a duck is facing a health issue, always discuss with a qualified veterinarian as soon as possible. Reading about health issues does not qualify you to diagnose your residents!

Medication Check

Certain medications and antibiotics (some that are even recommended for chickens and other birds) are toxic, or even lethal to ducks. Make sure to double check any treatment with a veterinarian before giving it to a duck!

Issues By Afflicted Area

Abdomen: Abdominal Fluid Buildup, Colibacillosis, Cystic Oviduct, Egg-Peritonitis, Internal Laying, Keel SoresOsteomyelitis, Ovarian Cancer, Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush

Appetite/Drinking Changes: Aspergillosis, Avian Influenza, Coccidiosis, Colibacillosis, Crop Impaction, Duck Enteritis, Fowl Pox, Hardware Disease, Mycoplasma, Osteomyelitis, Ovarian Cancer, Respiratory Infections, Salmonellosis, Sour Crop (Candidiasis), Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush, Worms

Beak: Mycoplasma

Breast: Osteomyelitis

Breathing/Mouth: Aspergillosis, Avian Influenza, Botulism, Colibacillosis, Crop Impaction, Egg-Bound, Fowl Cholera, Fowl Pox, Heat Exhaustion, Newcastle Disease, Respiratory Infections, Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection, Sour Crop (Candidiasis), Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush, Worms

Crop: Crop Impaction, Sour Crop (Candidiasis), Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush

Droppings: Coccidiosis, Duck Enteritis, Fowl Cholera, Hardware Disease, Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection, Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush, Worms

Egg-Laying Changes Or Issues: Coccidiosis, Colibacillosis, Duck Enteritis, Egg-Bound, Egg-Peritonitis, Fowl Pox, Internal Laying, Newcastle Disease, Ovarian Cancer, Prolapse, Soft-Shelled Eggs, Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush, Worms

Energy/Movement: Arthritis, Aspergillosis, Avian Influenza, Botulism, Coccidiosis, Colibacillosis, Crop Impaction, Duck Enteritis, Egg-Bound, Egg-Peritonitis, Fowl Cholera, Fowl Pox, Hardware Disease, Heat ExhaustionKeel SoresLameness, Molting, Mycoplasma, Osteomyelitis, Respiratory Infections, Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection, Salmonellosis, Sour Crop (Candidiasis), Spraddle LegVent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush, Wry Neck

Eyes:  Duck Enteritis, Eye Infection, Mycoplasma, Newcastle Disease, Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection

Feathers: Feather Pecking And Other Bullying, Lice, Molting, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites,  Wet Feather

Feet And Toes: Arthritis, Bumblefoot, Lameness, Osteomyelitis, Scald, Wry Neck,

Head/Neck, Avian Influenza, Colibacillosis, Duck Enteritis, Fowl Cholera, Heat Exhaustion, Mycoplasma, Newcastle Disease, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Respiratory Infections, Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection, Worms, Wry Neck

Legs: Arthritis, Duck Virus hepatitis, Lameness, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Scald, Spraddle Leg, Wry Neck

Preen Gland: Lice, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Wet Feather

Skin: Keel SoresLice, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush

Social Changes: Avian Influenza, Duck Enteritis, Feather Pecking And Other BullyingKeel SoresMolting, Mycoplasma, Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush

Tail: Aspergillosis, Lice, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush

Vent: Egg-Bound, Lice, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Prolapse, Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush

Weight: Aspergillosis, Hardware Disease, Mycoplasma, Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection, Vent Gleet/Cloacitis/Thrush

Wings: Angel Wing, Duck Enteritis, Hardware Disease, Lice, Molting, Northern Fowl Mites, Red Mites, Wet Feather

Abdominal Fluid Buildup

Abdominal fluids might build up a duck’s abdomen for many reasons, including cancer, egg yolk peritonitis, tumors, liver disease, and heart problems. If you notice a buildup, get the duck evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. They can demonstrate how to drain the excess fluid and maintain the duck’s comfort while providing appropriate care and treatment. Back To Top

Angel Wing

Also known as “Slipped Wing”, Angel Wing is typically caused by an excess of calories or protein in a young duck’s diet (but can also possibly just be a genetic predisposition), Angel Wing manifests as a twisted wing joint resulting in their wing tip being unable to lie flat against their body. This problem can lead to lifelong disfiguration, but is much more detrimental in wild ducks since it will prevent them from being able to fly. High protein chicken food and bread are both large contributors to Angel Wing. A veterinarian must examine the bird and determine if the condition can be fixed by keeping the wing wrapped to their body. Never attempt to do this without working with a vet, as improper wrapping can have serious health consequences. Back To Top

Arthritis

Many ducks, especially those bred for their flesh, are prone to developing arthritis during the course of their lives. This can present itself far more early than one might expect of the ailment. You can help manage pain and inflammation using avian-safe NSAIDs or anecdotally, CBD oil, if legal in your area. Giving this duck a large swimming area is also an effective way to keep them off their ailing legs and feet. Talk to your veterinarian about a care strategy for arthritis, as it may be different for each individual duck. Back To Top

Aspergillosis

Aspergillosis is caused by a fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus which is endemic in our environment. Aspergillus spores form on moldy grains, straw, and wood shavings. Moldy seeds are a large vector of disease. More serious forms of the fungus can be found when grain is harvested wet (such as in the cold season); these forms are highly lethal in small amounts. Aspergillosis is typically an additional disease to a separate infection. A bird fighting an infection is vulnerable to additional ones. If a bird suffers from a long-term ailment, be aware of aspergillosis. It affects respiratory systems and tends to accumulate in the air sacs. Once infected, the fungus forms sticky and dense plaques, which are hard to remove. Telltale signs of aspergillosis include voice tone changes, voice loss, lethargy, decreased appetite, isolation, labored breathing, and later, tail bobbing. Don’t avoid any of these signals! The infection is fatal in ducklings and dire in adults. Antifungal drug treatment can be intense and lengthy, with even successful treatment potentially taking up to six months. Clean housing and ventilation keeps Aspergillosis at bay, as well as the use of avian-safe fungicide spray after deep living space cleans. Avoid wet housing conditions, and don’t allow an avian living space to get too warm and humid in the winter as Aspergillus spores can grow and be released from straw.  If a barn has to be warm for some reason, substitute straw with wood shavings and ensure that their living space does not get too dusty, moist, or moldy. Aspergillus has also been known to impact humans, particularly the very young, old, or those in intense healthcare treatment regimens. In extreme cases, birds may need to be permanently separated from others to prevent disease spreading to the rest of the flock. Back To Top

Avian Influenza (Or, “Bird Flu”)

Humans are most likely not going to get the bird flu because humans and birds have different receptors so cross-species mutations are incredibly rare. It can still be a very serious disease for ducks, though. Most strains are relatively benign (and always around us in the air), but a few are particularly dangerous. Some strains won’t present any symptoms in infected ducks. The strain that humans tend to worry about is H1N1, from Asia. If a duck has H1N1, you or your veterinarian are required to report it to your local governing body. Symptoms include trouble breathing, swollen neck or head, uncoordinated motion, and restricted eating combined with excessive drinking. If many birds die without explanation, there might be an influenza outbreak. Passing wild birds tend to be the biggest vectors of the disease, attracted to food and water. Keeping these sources out of easy access can help prevent attracting them (without preventing ventilation of feeding areas). Recovery and treatment of bird flu depends on the strain, so an expert opinion is necessary to evaluate the situation. Make sure to isolate an afflicted bird to prevent the disease from spreading to the flock! Back To Top

Infectious Bronchitis

Infectious Bronchitis in ducks presents itself as sneezing, coughing, and snoring. Later symptoms include secretions draining out of their nose and eyes and a cease in laying. Like the name suggests, Infectious Bronchitis is a very infectious viral disease that spreads through the air, so you need to very quickly isolate the infected duck to prevent further illness in the flock. Give them a warm, dry place to heal. There is a vaccine available for Infectious Bronchitis. Back To Top

Botulism

Botulism is typically spread when a duck eats food or water near infected dead meat or otherwise infected with the disease. It can also be contracted by a duck spending time in a stagnant, botulism-infected pond. Symptoms include progressive tremors. The longer they go untreated, the tremors will eventually become full body paralysis, eventually preventing them from breathing. Their feathers might fall out very easily as well. It is a rapid and deadly disease (ducks can succumb to it within 48 hours) and requires immediate treatment. You can treat it successfully with an antitoxin prescribed by your veterinarian. If a duck in your care dies from this disease, you must seal in all of the waterfowl in your care until you determine where the disease came from and remove the source. Back To Top

Bumblefoot

A discolored area, a small lesion, or a scab on a duck’s foot could be the first sign of Bumblefoot. If it falls off, you might find thick yellow pus, bloody pus, serum-like pus, or whitish discharge. It can be caused by a variety of factors including foot problems, obesity, injury, extra foot pressure, lack of access to swimming, poor circulation, hard flooring, too much moisture in the living space, bad sanitation, and poor nutrition. Any time you find irritation, heat, or swelling on a bird’s foot, you need to be as proactive as possible in diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms of bumblefoot include changes in gait and trouble walking. Your veterinarian should sample the affected area and perform a sensitivity test in order to determine the right treatment. You must have an expert show you how to properly manage the infection and wrap a duck’s foot, as improper technique can cause severe health problems and damage webbing. They will likely need to keep their feet dry if wrapped. Treatment will vary depending on the type and severity of the infection. Untreated Bumblefoot can lead to keel sores (from being down), osteomyelitis, and sepsis which can be fatal. Back To Top

Coccidiosis

Ducks rescued out of commercial duck farming might be Coccidia carriers without being symptomatic, which can cause problems to their new flock or if they are struck with another disease. Signs to look out for include bloody droppings, thin and low appetite birds, sluggishness and fewer eggs laid, or sudden deaths in the flock. Coccidia can spread through dirty and wet bedding and contaminated clothing, shoes, and equipment. Good hygiene can prevent infection. Regular fecal testing can detect the disease. If detected, you can apply a deworming treatment of your veterinarian’s recommendation. Wormers can be purchased at farm supply stores in simple formulas that are added to a duck’s water, but you must ensure that they are waterfowl-safe first! Coccidia is not easy to eliminate, so you may need frequent treatments to get rid of it. Back To Top

Colibacillosis

This is a common duck infection caused by e.coli bacteria, sometimes following a respiratory infection such as Infectious Bronchitis. It can cause infections in a duck’s yolk sac, bacterial infection of the bloodstream, and reproductive ailments like peritonitis in laying ducks. Other symptoms include coughing, sneezing, poor growth, lack of appetite, and a swollen abdomen. There are different treatments available from your veterinarian depending on the infection and where it is located. It can be controlled by proper sanitation and additives to the duck’s food. Back To Top

Crop Impaction 

If a crop is not able to properly empty due to any degree of blockage, it will become impacted. Crop impactions can be caused by a variety of factors. In some cases, birds will ingest materials that are not digestible such as feathers, long blades of grass, straw, wood shavings, foreign objects, or kitty litter. Another cause is a crop impaction resulting from gorging on large quantities of food. In other cases, the crop is not able to properly empty due to damage or disease, and crop impactions can also be secondary to another disease. Be sure to work closely with your veterinarian to determine the cause and best course of action. In severe cases, a crop may need to be surgically emptied. In more mild cases, your veterinarian may prescribe drugs that improve crop motility or flushing and massaging of the crop (this must be demonstrated by a professional as flushing the crop incorrectly can result in aspiration and death). Back To Top

Cystic Oviduct

Cysts are ballooned sacs filled with clear watery fluid, ranging in size from a grain of rice up to a grapefruit. A large cyst can contain a pint of fluid. This can compress a duck’s vital organs and damage them. An expert can usually drain the cysts safely without surgery. Back To Top

Duck Enteritis

Also known as “Duck Plague”, this is a fatal herpes viral infection that is very contagious. Recovered birds are still capable of transmitting the disease for up to a year after initial infection (though they become immune themselves to it), and it can survive in the environment. Symptoms include a drop in egg-laying, aversion to light, nasal discharge, drooped wings, lethargy, ruffled feathers loss of body control, squinting or closed eyes, insatiable dehydration, greenish-yellow or bloodstained diarrhea, tremors, and penile prolapse in male ducks. Afflicted ducks should be immediately separated from other ducks. Unfortunately there isn’t an established treatment other than managing the symptoms, but there is a vaccine available. Back To Top

Duck Virus Hepatitis

A contagious duckling disease that is most risky under a month of age, Duck Virus Hepatitis has a rapid onset and can quickly move through a flock. Symptoms include rapid leg contractions and possibly death within an hour. In death, the duckling’s back will look arched backwards and they will have an enlarged liver. If you suspect your residents have this disease, call your veterinarian immediately. Keep younger ducklings (under a month old) separate from adult ducks (including wild waterfowl) to help prevent this disease. Back To Top

Egg-Bound

A duck who is egg bound has an egg stuck in her oviduct. Typical signs of egg binding include obvious straining, squatting, standing up oddly tall, open-mouthed breathing (from the pain and stress of pushing), and a lack of appetite, though sometimes the only sign something is wrong is that they are isolating themselves or not quite acting like themself. Egg-binding can lead to cloacal prolapse, a potentially fatal condition. Do not cut the bird to get the egg out, or break the egg. In some instances, holding the duck in a warm bath can help her to pass the egg.  However, this doesn’t always work, so watch the duck closely, and if she does not pass the egg while in the bath, or if her symptoms worsen at all, take her to the veterinarian as soon as possible- if left untreated, egg-binding can be fatal. If you suspect a duck is egg bound but she is not showing any of the more serious symptoms described above, you can place her in an area with a safe heat source such as a heating pad or snuggle safe heat disc- always have a towel or other fabric between the bird and the heat source, make sure the space is set up so that the duck can move away from the heat source if needed, and also make sure that they are well enough to move themselves away from the heat if desired. Talk to your veterinarian about providing an oral vitamin and probiotic supplement made specifically for birds and adding additional oral calcium to their diet during this time. If, over the course of the next 24 hours, the duck has not passed an egg or if she becomes progressively painful, she should be examined by a veterinarian. Back To Top

Egg Peritonitis

Egg Peritonitis (Or Egg Yolk Peritonitis) occurs when there is egg material present in a duck’s abdomen. Egg can enter the abdomen in various ways, either from being released from the ovary directly into the abdomen or by being expelled back out of the oviduct for some reason. Bacteria quickly grow in the resultant environment. On a veterinarian’s recommendation, Egg Peritonitis can be treated with intervention (abdomen draining), antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and potentially Suprelorin implantation to give them time to recover. Back To Top

Eye Infection

Also known as “Sticky Eye”, a duck can get an eye infection from getting debris caught in their eyes or getting scratched by a fellow flockmate. Symptoms include a closed or blinking eye, bubbles in the eye, redness, or excessive tearing. A veterinarian should evaluate any eye injuries immediately, as the reason and severity of the injury will dictate treatment.  Back To Top

Feather Pecking And Other Bullying

Feather pecking and other bullying can result from housing problems, disease, or simply being at the bottom of the pecking order. If you provide enough food, daytime space, and roosting spaces, the ducks will be less inclined to compete out of scarcity and less likely to turn to bullying. Ducks also risk feather pecking if injured. Make sure ducks have plenty of space and entertainment as well, and check their health frequently to avoid bullying or worse tragedy. Back To Top

Fowl Cholera

Fowl Cholera is a bacterial disease whose signs include green or yellow diarrhea, joint pain, mouth and nasal discharge, breathing struggles, and a darkened, swollen head. It can be contracted from wild animals or contaminated food or water. There is a vaccine for it, but unfortunately, it has no known treatment once infection strikes and a surviving duck will always be a carrier of the disease. Back To Top

Fowl Pox

Occurring in both wet and dry form, Fowl Pox is a slow-spreading disease that affects most birds. Wet Fowl Pox looks like plaques in the mouth and the bird’s upper respiratory tract. Dry Fowl Pox looks like wart-like skin lesions that turn into to thick scabs, which spread the disease. It can happen to any bird at any time, and due to a variety of ways that it spreads (including from rodents, mosquitos, and mite bites), it can rapidly affect everyone. Unfortunately, Dry Fowl Pox is easily mistaken for trauma from fighting and enters a flock undetected as a result. Depending on the strain, Fowl Pox can cause depression, reduced or no appetite, inability to eat, poor growth, and a reduction in egg production. The dry form can blind birds with its scabs. It isn’t always fatal, but it can be more serious and indeed deadly to older and weaker birds. You can vaccinate against fowl pox, but this carries a great risk as the vaccine can kill weaker or sick birds.  Back To Top

Hardware Disease

This refers to a type of poisoning when a duck eats something they shouldn’t, such as screws, bolts, wire, staples, metal, or coins. Symptoms may include lethargy, diarrhea, lower appetite and weight loss, seizures, vomiting, drooping wings, difficulty walking, and dehydration. If you suspect that a duck ate something they shouldn’t have, get them to a veterinarian immediately. Back To Top

Heat Exhaustion

When it’s hot out, be sure to monitor ducks closely for symptoms of heat exhaustion. Ensure that their living space is properly ventilated and cooled. Heat exhaustion looks like excessive panting, drooping, and collapse. The moment you suspect heat exhaustion, take the duck inside immediately, fan them, and mist them lightly with cool water. If the condition doesn’t improve, contact your veterinarian. Make sure to keep the duck quiet and calm and don’t handle them more than necessary as they recover. Back To Top

Internal Laying

Internal laying refers to the accumulation of eggs in a duck’s abdominal cavity. This happens when eggs change direction and are discharged internally instead of exiting out of the oviduct and being laid. This could be caused by a number of conditions, such as inflammation, infection, or cancer. Typically, internal yolk should be reabsorbed by a healthy hen, but shell membranes or hardened egg masses can quickly cause secondary problems, and repeated internal laying quickly compounds health risks. In severe cases, surgery may be required to save the bird’s life, though this intervention may be more damaging to their quality of life than the internal laying itself. You can potentially help a bird recovering from internal laying with implantationBack To Top

Keel Sores

If ducks are frequently laying down because of arthritis or foot infections, they may start to develop a potentially painful pressure sore on the keel bone under their breast. It is also possible for sores to develop from other injuries, but much less likely. If you notice a keel sore, the duck will need immediate treatment, most likely including an antibiotic, bandaging, and a pain reliever if necessary. You should also ensure that the duck has access to thicker bedding or padding in order to help them recover. Talk to your veterinarian if you are concerned about a potential keel sore and the exact treatment regimen. If left untreated, an infection could spread to their bone, which could be fatal. Back To Top

Lameness

Because domestic ducks cannot fly, their feet and legs are especially prone to extra injury. If a duck’s foot or leg is swollen or tender, they might limp or choose not to move at all. Make sure to check the duck without grabbing them by the leg, as they are extremely delicate. If the injury isn’t apparent, it may be a foot or leg infection or nerve injury and require veterinary care. Back To Top

Lice

Lice eat dead feathers and skin debris, but they still can irritate ducks since they live in the base of the feather (the follicle). They’re easy to treat but require constant vigilance to ensure that the duck isn’t infected. The vent tends to be the most common infection site. Lice-infested birds might have reddened skin near their vent. There might also be white sugar-looking particles around the feathers. Lice also looks like tiny, moving yellow or clear specks on a duck’s skin. You may even see the lice, which will require waterfowl-safe lice powder or cold ash from a wood fire. Clean swimming water access helps prevent lice. If infected, lice powders are available at farm supply stores. Waterfowl-safe flea spray or diatomaceous earth powder (also known as DE, available at garden stores) also works. If significantly infected, birds may require multiple treatments, and their living space may require treatment as well. Ducks are much less likely to get lice than chickens since they should have regular access to clean swimming water and their feathers are more densely packed. Be extremely cautious using spray pesticide such as Frontline around birds as it can cause death if they absorb too much. Back To Top

Molting

Ducks naturally lose and replace their feathers through a process called molting.  This process happens once or twice annually depending on the breed of the duck. Be aware that stress, illness, and other environmental factors can cause a duck to molt, regardless of the time of year. New feathers are called pin feathers. When they first come in, pin feathers resemble a porcupine quill. These new feathers can be very uncomfortable to ducks when they are coming in. Pin feathers also have a blood supply and will bleed if they are broken (pin feathers are sometimes called “blood feathers”). A broken pin feather can bleed quite a bit and should be addressed immediately. In addition to being an uncomfortable process, the creation of new feathers uses a lot of energy. Feathers are comprised mostly of protein, so feeding protein-rich treats or temporarily switching molting ducks to a higher protein food may be beneficial. Unlike chickens and turkeys who may have large bare patches or may appear rather ragged while molting, ducks typically continue to look fully feathered with smooth outer feathers. Keep in mind that not all feather loss is caused by molting- external parasites, bullying, obsessive preening, and being mounted by males can also cause feather loss. Back To Top

Mycoplasma 

Mycoplasma is a typical highly infectious disease that can cause severe respiratory problems in ducks. The disease requires weeks of antibiotics, but Mycoplasma is very difficult to completely eliminate and might resurface later. For this reason, if you suspect Mycoplasma, immediately get a veterinary opinion. Common signs include clear discharge from the nose and eyes, sneezing, puffy eyes, and a swollen head due to full sinuses. Ducks may also become lethargic, lack appetite, and seem depressed. If the bird has many symptoms, it means the disease has progressed to a dangerous infection. If caught early, antibiotics are effective, but they may need to be provided for the whole flock; all of the birds have likely been exposed to the pathogen. A bird can be infected while still in their egg, and it can also be spread in the air. It’s crucial to finish the antibiotic treatment even if the bird appears to have made a full recovery because Mycoplasma hides effectively and can resurface quickly. Back To Top

Newcastle Disease

This is a highly contagious viral disease that mostly affects chickens; ducks are susceptible as well, but much less so than chickens. The disease primarily presents as an acute respiratory disease. However, it can occasionally cause diarrhea or skin disorders. Infected birds will shed the virus in their respiratory discharges and feces. It can also be present in eggs that are laid by infected birds. Respiratory signs can include coughing, sneezing, gasping for air, audible and abnormal breathing sounds, and swelling of the tissues of the head and neck. There are different forms of this disease which affect different areas of the duck’s system. Nervous signs can occur following respiratory symptoms and may include depression, paralysis, tremors, and circling. Unfortunately, there is not a specific treatment for this viral disease, but antibiotics to help fight secondary bacterial infection are most commonly used. Vaccines are available for chickens, but are not typically recommended in a sanctuary setting because they will cause the bird to test positive for the disease. Virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) is a reportable disease. In addition to the concern regarding how this disease would affect your residents if they became infected, is the concern regarding how your residents could be affected by regional efforts to eradicate the disease. During the recent outbreak of vND in California, immediate efforts to contain the disease included quarantining affected areas and compulsory mass killings of birds regardless of whether or not they had actually been infected. After push back from the community, some exemptions were granted for birds who were not showing symptoms of disease so long as their human companion kept them indoors where they could not come into contact with other birds, agreed to regular vND testing, and agreed not to move them out of the area. These exemptions were made on a case-by-case basis, but the important point is that they became available because people advocated for birds who had not been infected to be spared. When faced with a decision that you are uncomfortable with, always reach out to other veterinarians or sanctuaries to figure out if there are other options that may be available, and always advocate for your residents. Back To Top

Northern Fowl Mites

Northern Fowl mites (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) are tiny black bugs (about the size of pepper). Ducks are less likely to be affected by mites than chickens because they have more densely packed feathers. Access to swimming areas also helps deter mite infestations.  Mite infestations tend to be more damaging to the skin than lice infestations. Northern Fowl mites can be spread through bird-to-bird contact or by other animals or inanimate objects that come into contact with affected birds. Severe infestations can cause anemia, and and if left untreated, this anemia can be fatal. Unlike Red Mites, Northern Fowl mites spend most of their time on the host, which can make infestations easier to identify. The duck’s living space will need to be treated alongside the ducks, but because they can exist in the environment for weeks without any food source, the residents should be treated and moved elsewhere. Ideally, the living space should be treated and then left empty for at least 6 weeks, and you should ensure birds are no longer infected before returning them to the newly cleaned living space.  Be extremely cautious using spray pesticide such as Frontline around birds as it can cause death if they absorb too much. Back To Top

Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection. This most commonly appears on the keel because only a thin layer of skin covers this bone. If a bird is weak due to another illness or has can’t easily raise itself off the ground, their keel is always abrasively touching the floor. This can damage their skin until sores develop, where infection can enter and spread to the bone. The skin might heal again over the keel, trapping the infection inside and making it difficult to diagnose. The duck will likely develop a fever, leading to lethargy, lowered appetite, and decreased water consumption. You might find visible sores or scars over the keel area, or possibly on their feet if it’s a secondary infection to Scald. It can also be contracted without any external damage. Bone infections are painful and can be hard to treat, with better outcomes resulting with early detection and treatment. Back To Top

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the most common source of unknown duck tumors. It’s associated with old age, which has meant that many veterinarians aren’t familiar with it. It often presents as accumulated abdominal fluid. As it spreads, intestines become constricted resulting in emaciation. Birds that are forced into egg overproduction are particularly susceptible. There is no apparent treatment, though there are drugs that your veterinarian can recommend such as Tamoxifen that can manage the disease for a time. To make afflicted ducks more comfortable, have an expert drain the fluids in their abdomens when necessary. Egg-laying ducks with ovarian cancer can be potentially given some time to heal without extra taxation on their body with implants.  Back To Top

Prolapse

In birds, eggs and droppings come out in the same place, but never at the same time. In order to lay an egg without fecal contamination, birds safely invert their oviduct to block out waste until they’ve laid their egg. If a bird has a calcium or vitamin deficiency, a muscle weakness, too much weight, eggs that are too large, soft-shelled eggs, an internal mass, or no time to recover from egg-laying, their oviduct may come out of their body, known as prolapse. It looks like a pink or red structure visible at their vent. This should always be treated as a serious health issue. If the bird strains too hard, they could disembowel themselves, and other birds may peck at it and cause serious injury. An expert can reinsert a less-severe prolapse with a sterile glove, but a more major prolapse may require surgery. If there is an egg in the prolapse, you should drain the egg using a needle before attempting to remove the shell. If the prolapsed oviduct is contaminated by droppings, damaged, doesn’t go back in, or if it grows bigger, you must take the bird to a veterinarian and they might require surgery. In cases like this with larger birds, do not lift the prolapsing bird, put the carrier around them and then carefully lift them out. Someone needs to keep the prolapse in place and keep the bird calm en-route to the medical center. In other cases, the prolapse might heal itself. Prolapse is very often a secondary issue, so even a self-healed prolapse sufferer should be taken into the veterinarian to determine why they prolapsed. Due to the nature of prolapses, it’s almost certain that recovering birds will require anti-inflammatory and antibiotic treatments. Male ducks sometimes suffer from a prolapsed penis. This can be treated through inflammation-reducing topical treatments, antibiotics, and surgery if necessary. Egg-laying ducks suffering from prolapse can potentially be given some time to heal without extra taxation on their body with implants.  Back To Top

Red Mites

Red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae, also called Red Roost Mites) are nocturnal bloodsuckers who can cause anemia and death. They can also cause stress due to their irritating presence. Though red mites can affect ducks, they rarely do since ducks tend to be more active than chickens and turkeys overnight. Red mites are very difficult to eliminate from living spaces. If your duck residents are affected by red mites, both the ducks and their entire living spaces need treatment for red mites. The mites tend to hide under furniture and on wood in the daytime. Because they can exist in the environment for months without any food source, the residents should be treated and moved elsewhere if possible. The living space will need to be treated with a duck-safe product and, ideally, then left empty for as long as possible, and you should ensure birds are no longer infected before returning them to the newly cleaned living space. Be extremely cautious using spray pesticide such as Frontline around birds as it can cause death if they absorb too much. Back To Top

Respiratory Infections

Ducks usually display respiratory infections with nasal discharge, swollen sinuses, lethargy or low energy, and a loss of appetite. There are different courses of treatment depending on the infection, so it’s important to contact your veterinarian to receive a proper diagnosis. Back To Top

Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection

Also known as “infectious serositis” or “New Duck disease”, this is a bacterial infection that can be either inhaled or enter through foot cuts. It can cause a variety of serious issues, from joint lameness, to meningitis and brain infections. It also causes blood poisoning and respiratory issues. Symptoms include sneezing, thick, gluey nasal discharge, coughing, weight loss, listlessness, eye discharge, a twisted neck, inexplicable trembling of their head and neck, loss of body control, and green diarrhea. It can also damage the oviduct, which can lead to dangerous internal laying conditions that may require implantation to treat. In severe cases, you may find the duck on their back, paddling their legs in the air. If you suspect an RA infection, contact a veterinarian as the extent of infection will influence which treatments are used. A vaccination is available for this disease. Back To Top

Salmonellosis

The bacteria Salmonella is in most bird intestines, but at a much higher rate in ducks. Usually this is not problematic to ducks, but it can infect humans if they eat food with contaminated hands. To avoid salmonellosis, ensure good hand hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly in warm soapy water after touching ducks, their eggs or their bedding. If the ducks suffer from salmonellosis, they can be successfully treated with antibiotics recommended by your veterinarian, but it can take months before they are free of the infection. Back To Top

Scald

Scald is the name of the condition when a duck’s leg or feet skin turns a reddish raw color and becomes painful. This is entirely a housing sanitation problem. Wet bedding and flooring causes ammonia in their droppings to burn through their skin. Scald is very painful and requires treatment, but it’s easily prevented by cleaning living spaces regularly and providing plenty of space. Good ventilation is also very important as ammonia off gases toxic vapors that injure lungs! Back To Top

Soft-Shelled Eggs

Egg-laying ducks need a balanced nutritional diet to lay eggs without damaging their health. Poor nutrition can cause soft-shelled and malformed eggs, which can cause cloaca prolapse and egg-binding. Egg production demands a lot of calcium, and commercial egg-laying ducks tend to be deficient in calcium. The eggshell is developed last, and consists mostly of calcium carbonate, absorbed through diet and taken from their bones, so appropriate amounts of calcium are essential to a duck’s health, especially if they overproduce eggs. If you feed a duck’s eggs and shells back to them, they can replenish some of the lost calcium. Be aware that soft-shelled eggs could also be a symptom of an oviduct issue. Back To Top

Sour Crop (Candidiasis)

Sour crop is caused by an overgrowth of candida.  This can be caused by a variety of factors including antibiotic or corticosteroid use, unsanitary drinking water, or stress, but can also be secondary to another condition such as a crop impaction.  Ducks with sour crop will have fluid-filled crops that are slow to empty. You may also notice a sour smell on their breath. Treatment typically includes the use of an antifungal medication- your veterinarian will be able to recommend an appropriate treatment. It’s important to also identify if the sour crop is secondary to another issue so that the underlying cause can be addressed as well.  If intubation is recommended to remove the liquid or administer medication, you must be trained by an expert before attempting this technique as it could potentially kill the bird. Back To Top

Spraddle Leg

Spraddle Leg can be caused by an issue during incubation or hatching, or by housing ducks on a slippery floor. If a duckling cannot get proper traction on the floor, their legs will slide to one side, preventing them from developing their leg muscles. Because duckling like to bathe and play in water and their waste is mostly composed of water, they can make quite a mess that can result in slippery surfaces if this isn’t planned for in advance. Rubber drawer or cabinet mats can help ensure ducklings have enough traction. If one of your residents is showing signs of spraddle leg, be sure to have them evaluated as soon as possible. While splinting, hobbling, or physical therapy exercises may be recommended, without knowing exactly what is going on (typically through diagnostic imaging) you may implement interventions that cause more harm than good. Additionally, improper splinting or hobbling can make the primary issue worse or result in secondary issues, so you must be shown how to do this properly. Back To Top

Vent Gleet (Or, Cloacitis Or Thrush)

Vent Gleet is a fungal infection (of the Candida Albicans strain) in a duck’s digestive and reproductive systems. The vent tends to demonstrate first signs of infection. A duck’s vent might have a whitish discharge that may smell like fermenting yeast, their vent and back feathers can be coated with poop and yeast discharge or general crustiness. Vent Gleet can also be responsible for sour crop, loose stool, decreased egg-laying, depression, fluctuations in appetite, weight loss, white patches or lesions in the duck’s mouth, and a bloated abdomen. Their skin near their vent can be red and irritated. It is not typically contagious to other flockmates. The infection usually comes from eating moldy or spoiled food (especially corn), contaminated water, generally unsanitary conditions, sour crop, gut flora imbalance (especially after taking oral antibiotics), and mating with an infected duck. Treatment includes bathing the duck, a Nystatin prescription, Antifungal cream, garlic (one clove per gallon of water supply). While treating, avoid feeding too much watery food such as watermelon. You can prevent by adding 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with its mother each gallon of drinking water (only plastic water containers as metal can corrode). Talk to a veterinarian or expert before modifying a duck’s nutrition or supplementation. Keep a clean environment and avoid moldy food. Antibiotics are not effective. Back To Top

Wet Feather

Wet Feather is a condition where a duck’s preen gland stops working. It is caused when ducks do not get regular swimming water access, are in poor health, or are stuck in unsanitary living conditions. As the preen gland keeps duck feathers oiled and waterproofed, this means that they cannot remain dry in rain or water, which increases the risk of drowning or hypothermia. Afflicted ducks can be given a bath in a detergent such as Dawn, followed by a generous rinse and a blow-dry. Give the duck a smaller tub of water to splash in for a few days before seeing if their waterproofing is restoring or not. Very bad cases of wet feather might not be cured until the duck molts and gets new feathers. Back To Top

Wry Neck

Wry Neck, an unnatural twisting of the neck, can be a result of trauma, toxins, a vitamin deficiency, or an issue during incubation and typically affects ducklings more often than mature ducks. This twisting can range from minor to severe. If one of your duckling residents is showing signs of wry neck, be sure to consult with your veterinarian immediately in order to determine the cause and best treatment options. In some cases vitamin supplementation may be necessary. In severe cases, individuals may have difficulty walking, eating, and drinking. Be sure to provide supportive care as necessary to ensure they are able to get the nutrients they need and make sure their current living arrangement is safe for them. Back To Top

Worms

There are a variety of both roundworms and tapeworms that impact ducks, residing in the intestines, stomach, and windpipe (Gapeworms). In a windpipe infection, the bird might also suffer from respiratory illness or a change in appetite in either direction.  If they have a heavy Gapeworm infection, they must be treated very mindfully because if many worms die in their trachea, it can stop their breathing. Wild waterfowl can spread worms to domestic waterfowl, so if there are wild visitors to your sanctuary’s ducks, ensure that you are performing regular fecal examinations. Windpipe infections are especially serious. Gizzard worms can quickly spread throughout a flock and must be immediately treated. Infected ducks lose weight over time and may become anemic if it’s a large enough infection. A highly infected duck may stay off their legs often, cough without explanation, shake their head, or have blood in their stool. Worms also cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies in ducks. This may impact their egg-laying ability and the thickness of their eggshells. Brittle shells can lead to egg peritonitis, which can be deadly. Your veterinarian will be able to give the best treatment advice for your flock depending on the exact infection. You should be aware that some deworming water treatments are fatal to waterfowl. You should schedule regular fecal examinations for all of the birds in your care (every 3 to 6 months) to ensure that they are not infected. Treatments depend on the type of worm. Deworm ducks at least twice a year or on your veterinarian’s recommended timeline to help avoid these problems. Back To Top

SOURCES:

Duck And Goose Care | Farm Sanctuary

Common Chicken Problems & Diseases | Darwin Vets

How To Diagnose & Treat Duck Health Issues | Caring Pets

Duck Health Care | Cornell University

Mites Of Poultry | Merck Manual

Molting | The Majestic Monthly Issue 14

Vent Gleet Prevention And Treatment | Tilly’s Nest (Non-Compassionate Source)

Common Chicken Diseases | Morning Chores (Non-Compassionate Source)

Common Duck Diseases | Countryside Daily (Non-Compassionate Source)

Common Health Concerns | Backyard Duck (Non-Compassionate Source)

How To Fix Angel Wing | Backyard Chickens (Non-Compassionate Source)

The Ultimate Guide To Red Mite | Poultry Keeper (Non-Compassionate Source)

Newcastle Disease Info | California Department Of Food And Agriculture (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on September 16, 2020

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