Things That Are Toxic To Ducks

A muscovy duck standing under a flowering tree.

This resource has been updated as of September 13, 2021

It can be a challenge to ensure duck residents have healthy, happy lives after coming to a sanctuary, and there are many different aspects of care to consider each day. Unfortunately, toxic and poisonous hazards are sometimes overlooked in the hustle and bustle of operating a sanctuary. While minor exposure to many of these toxins are unlikely to cause serious problems, large amounts can cause severe health issues and sadly, even death. Many ducks may instinctively avoid toxic plants or avoid them because many are bitter to the taste. However, there are also some toxins that are highly dangerous even in small amounts and others that are quite palatable. In order to help ensure you never run into this problem, we have compiled this resource of common plants and other potentially toxic things that have been known to be a problem for ducks.

Ask About Activated Charcoal

While prevention is imperative when it comes to protecting your residents from toxins, in the event that they accidentally ingest something toxic, the administration of an activated charcoal product may help absorb the toxins. This is not a magic cure and may not be appropriate in all situations, but it can be helpful to have on hand. We suggest asking your veterinarian if there are specific products they recommend for the various species in your care so you can have them ready should you need them. In addition to seeking urgent medical care, if a resident ingests a toxin, ask your veterinarian if administration of activated charcoal is advised.

Plants That Are Toxic To Ducks

In this resource, we have compiled a list of a number of plants known to be toxic in some way to ducks. If you’d like a more detailed list and/or pictures of plants toxic to ducks and other species, check out The Open Sanctuary Project’s Global Toxic Plant Database and filter Species Afflicted by ducks in order to see a list of plants across the world that are toxic to ducks. Please note that, while extensive, this list may not contain every single plant toxic to ducks!

Plants That Are Toxic To Geese

Azaleas

 

  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Cardiac Irregularities
  • Weakness
  • Edema
  • Weakened Heart Rate
  • Seizures
  • Death

Bellyache Bush, Wild Cassava

  • Contact Dermatitis
  • Appetite Loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight Loss
  • Dehydration
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Elevated Heart Rate
  • Death

Bitter Almond

  • Weakness
  • Sudden Death

Bitter Root, Dogbane, Indian Hemp

  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Cardiac Arrhythmias
  • Increased Temperature And Pulse
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Cold Extremities
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Discolored Mucous Membranes

Black Bean Tree

  •  Depression
  • Weight Loss
  • Labored Breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Sudden Death
  • Frequent Urination

Black Henbane

  • Diarrhea
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Convulsions
  • Sudden Death

Black Locust

  • If geese ingest any bark, fallen branches, or young sprouts, they can become poisoned.
  • Symptoms generally present within 1-2 hours after consumption.
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Paralysis
  • Death
  • Diarrhea (Possibly Bloody)

Boxelder, Ash Leaf Maple

  • Weakness
  • Stiffness
  • Reluctance To Move
  • Red-Brown Urine
  • Rapid Respiratory Rate
  • Difficulty Breathing

Bracken Fern

  • If birds ingest large quantities of bracken fern it can inhibits absorption of essential B vitamins and result in vitamin B1 deficiency, which can be fatal.
  • Weight Loss
  • Progressive Incoordination
  • Tremors
  • Depression
  • Slow Heart Rate
  • Base-Wide Stance
  • Muscle Tremors

Cardinal Flower

  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Hyper-excitability
  • Increased Breathing Rate
  • Diarrhea
  • Salivation
  • Dilation Of Pupils
  • Convulsions
  • Death

Carolina Jessamine, Yellow Jessamine, Evening Trumpet Vine

  • Demineralization of Bones
  • Calcinosis
  • Nephrocalcinosis
  • Hypercalcemia

Animals acutely poisoned by Gelsemium species, neurologic signs predominate, and are characterized by:

  • progressive weakness
  • convulsions
  • respiratory failure
  • death

Castor Bean

  • Wry Neck
  • Sudden Death
  • Weakness

Cherry Trees

  • Ingesting just one cherry pit could be fatal.
  • Staggering
  • Falling Down
  • Death

Chinaberry

  • Diarrhea
  • Incoordination
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Death

Chokecherry

  • The toxicity increases if leaves are damaged or stressed from frost, storms, drought or seasonal wilting.
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Weakness
  • Hyper-salivation
  • Seizures
  • Sudden Death

Christmas Rose, Black Hellabore

  • Blistering Mucous Membranes In The Mouth
  • Irregular Heart Beat
  • Increased Respiratory Rate
  • Slow Irregular Pulse
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Weakness
  • Convulsions
  • Colic

Climbing Lily

  • Severe Diarrhea With Blood
  • Convulsions
  • Respiratory Distress
  • Throbocytopenia With Haemorrhages
  • Anemia
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Alopecia

Cocklebur

  • Geese may develop acute or chronic toxicity as a result of consuming cockleburs.
  • In acute cases, death is usually due to liver failure and may occur within hours after onset of clinical signs.
  •  Birds that survive acute poisonings usually will develop signs of chronic liver disease.
  • Depression
  • Increased Respiratory Rate
  • Incoordination
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Reluctance To Move
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Death

Coffee Husk

  • Coffee Tree Husk should not be used as bedding or made available for geese to ingest.
  • Excitability
  • Restlessness
  • Involuntary Muscle Tremors
  • Chewing Movements
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Increased Respiratory Rate
  • Increased Heart Rate

Coffee Senna

  •  Ovaries may be adversely affected, resulting in yolk leaking and dysplasia of the inner layer of the membrane.
  •  Death

Corn Cockle

  • Repeated consumption can also cause illness.
  • Listless
  • Unkempt Appearance (Rough Feathering)
  • Diarrhea
  • Cheesy Material In Mouth
  • Oral Lesions
  • Decreased Respiratory Rate
  • Decreased Heart Rate

Cottonseed, Upland Cotton

  • Sudden Death
  • Weakness
  • Loss Of Appetite

Creeping Indigo

  • Depression
  • Appetite Loss
  • Incoordination
  • Recumbency
  • Death

Crotolaria, Rattlepod

  • Loss of appetite
  • Unthriftiness
  • Anemia
  • Sudden death is seen in acute cases.

Crown Vetch

  • Ingestion of any parts of the plant are toxic to birds.
  • If diagnosed early enough and the bird is provided prompt treatment with activated charcoal, and supportive care, they may survive.
  • Acute Onset
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Tachypnea
  • Progressive Nature
  • Incoordination
  • Tremors
  • Depression

Curly Dock

  • Listlessness
  • Dullness
  • Incoordination
  • Weakness
  • Coma
  • Excess Salivation
  • Tremors
  • Recumbency
  • Sudden Death

Deathcamas

  • Depression
  • Trembling
  • Incoordination
  • Respiratory Failure
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Death

Emerald Feather, Asparagus Fern

  • Fruit is highly attractive to birds
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Photosensitivity
  • Diarrhea

European Spindletree

  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness

Fiddleneck

  • Not normally consumed unless they have no alternatives.
  • Appetite Loss
  • Depression
  • Jaundice
  • Behavioral Changes
  • Frequent Yawning
  • Photosensitivity
  • Loss Of Condition
  • Head Pressing
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight Loss
  • Incoordination
  • Aimlessly Wandering
  • Awkward Gait

Fly Poison

  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Weakness
  • Lameness
  • Collapse
  • Death

Foxglove

  • Cardiac Arrhythmias
  • Behavioral Changes
  • Seizures
  • Sudden Death

Giant Hogweed, Wild Parsnip

  • Photosensitivity upon contact

Green Cestrum

  •  Ingestion of the plant can result in sudden death in acute cases and severe liver damage if the animal survives the acute toxic episode.
  • Recently sprayed wilting plants are more palatable than fresh healthy plants and potentially can cause more deaths.
  • Depression
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Incoordination
  • Stiffness
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Gooseberry

  • Listlessness
  • Wobbly or drunken gait
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme thirst, or refusal to drink
  • Putrid-smelling, watery diarrhea containing partially-digested leaves
  • Grinding jaw
  • Dropped wings
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Darkening of the legs (or comb)
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dehydration (skin does not return to position when pinched)
  • Head drooping toward the ground

Ground Mexican Poppy

  • Depression
  • Extreme Swelling Of The Legs In Particular
  • Death

Hairy Vetch

  • Labored Breathing
  • Convulsions
  • Excitability
  • Sudden Death

Heliotrope

  • Appetite Loss
  • Depression
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal Swelling
  • Nervousness
  • Hyper-excitability
  • Death
  • Photosensitivity
  • Incoordination

Holly

  • Diarrhea
  • Depression

Horse Chestnut

 

  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Coma
  • Seizures

Horsenettle

  • Not typically consumed unless food is scarce.
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Slow Breathing
  • Death

Jack In The Pulpit

  •  Painful irritation and blisters in the mouth and throat
  • Hyper-salivation
  • Difficulty Swallowing

Jimsonweed

  • Restlessness
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Frequent Urination
  • Twitching
  • Depression
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Respiratory Distress
  • Incoordination
  • Diarrhea
  • Lowered Body Temperature
  • Convulsions

Johnson Grass

  • Weakness
  • Sudden Death

Lambsquarters

  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Weak Heart Rate
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Death

Lantana

  • Depression
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Constipation
  • Frequent Urination
  • Jaundice
  • Inflamed Eyes
  • Ocular Discharge
  • Photosensitivity

Lily Of The Valley

  • Irregular or slow heartbeat
  • Behavioral changes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Coma
  • Death 

Longstalk Springparsley

  • Acute Photosensitivity
  • Redness And Swelling Of Unfeathered Areas
  • Loss Of Feathers In The Periorbital Area
  • Dried Serous Fluid On Comb And Edge Of Beak
  • Keratoconjunctivitis
  • Multiple Lesions On Feet And Legs
  • Tremors In The Legs
  • Limb And Beak Deformities

Lupine

  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Aimlessly Wandering
  • Muscle Twitching
  • Excessive Salivation
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Death

Meadow Saffron, Autumn Crocus

  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Shock
  • Respiratory Distress

Milkweed

  • Dullness
  • Depression
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Spasms
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Weakness
  • Inability To Stand Or Walk
  • Irregular Heart Rate
  • Uncoordinated Gait
  • Labored Breathing
  • High Body Temperature
  • Rapid And Weak Pulse
  • Coma

Mistletoe

 

  • Behavioral Changes
  • Diarrhea

Monkshood, Aconite

  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Cardiac Failure
  • Convulsions
  • Death

Mountain Laurel

  • Symptoms develop between 30 min to up to 6 hours following consumption.
  •  Symptoms
  • Appetite Loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Incoordination
  • Paralysis
  • Weak Heart Rate

Nardoo

  • Weight Loss
  • Lethargy
  • Incoordination
  • Tremors
  • Weak Pulse
  • Seizures
  • Death

Nightshade

  • Birds are attracted to the immature (green) berries and the leaves of nightshade plants.
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Loss Of Muscular Coordination
  • Convulsions
  • Sudden Depression
  • Death

Oak (Acorn) Tree

  • Signs of poisoning usually occur several days after ingestion.
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Regurgitating food
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Increased thirst 
  • Severe kidney and liver damage can result and be fatal if not treated promptly.

Patterson's Curse

  • Appetite Loss
  • Depression
  • Jaundice
  • Behavioral Changes
  • Photosensitivity
  • Loss Of Condition
  • Incoordination
  • Aimlessly Wandering
  • Death

Periwinkle

  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Death

Physic Nut

  • Symptoms begin to appear within 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Appetite Loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight Loss
  • Dehydration
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Elevated Heart Rate
  • Death

Poison Hemlock

  • Salivation
  • Weakness
  • Nervous Signs
  • Paralysis
  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced Growth
  • Hepatic Congestion
  • Enteritis

Pokeberry

  • Diarrhea (Possibly Bloody)
  • Anemia
  • Weakened Pulse
  • Lethargy
  • Convulsions

Ragwort

  • Lethargy
  • Aimlessly Wandering
  • Depression
  • Chronic Weight Loss
  • Photosensitization
  • Weakness
  • Listlessness
  • Jaundice
  • Diarrhea
  • Blindness
  • Circling

Ranger’s Button

  •  It is known to cause photosensitivity if brushed up against.

Rosary Pea

  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Elevated Heart Rate
  • Fever
  • Death

Rubbervine

  • Sleepiness
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Cardiac Arrhythmias
  • Cold Extremities
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Sudden Death

Sabi Star

  • Bradycardia
  • Cardiac Arrhythmias
  • Hyperkalemia
  • Colic
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Lethargy

Sacred Bamboo

  • Weakness
  • Incoordination
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Death

Sago Palm

  •  Gastrointestinal irritation, and in high doses, liver failure.
  •  Symptoms
  • Increased Thirst
  • Jaundice
  • Sudden Death

Scarlet Pimpernel

  • Plant is generally avoided unless there is no other food.
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Increased Water Intake
  • Coma
  • Death

Showy Rattlebox

  • Appetite Loss
  • Depression
  • Ruffled Feathers
  • Necroitic Enteritis
  • Easily Excitable
  • Blood In Feces
  • Nasal Discharge (Blood)
  • Weakness
  • Incoordination

Spanish Gold, Rattlebox Tree, Coffee Weed, Brazilian Glory Pea

  • Liver Failure
  • Weight Loss
  • Weakness
  • Listlessness
  • Incoordination
  • Jaundice
  • Aimlessly Wandering
  • Sudden Death

Spring Parsley

  • Redness And Swelling Of Unfeathered Areas Of Skin (Followed By Blistering And Scabs)
  • Loss Of Feathers In The Periorbital Area
  • Dried Serous Fluid On Comb And Edge Of Beak
  • Keratoconjunctivitis
  • Multiple Lesions On Feet And Legs
  • Leg And Feet Deformities
  • Beak Deformities
  • Reduced Eyesight

St John’s Wort

  • Photosensitivity
  • Listlessness
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Lameness
  • Diarrhea

Star Of Bethlehem

  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Weak Pulse
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Death

Sudan Grass

  • Stumbling
  • Paralysis
  • Ataxia
  • Ergot Toxicity

Summer Pheasant’s Eye

  • Lethargy
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Colic
  • Sleepiness
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Cardiac Arrhythmias
  • Muscle Tremors
  • Weak Peripheral Pulse
  • Ileus
  • Foul Odor
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Dark Mucus Membranes
  • Dehydration
  • Sudden Death

Sweet Pea

  • Lathyrism is a paralysis syndrome. Once signs develop however, they are irreversible, other then surgery might correct roaring.
  • Abnormal Gait

Tall Fescue

  • Reduced Growth Rate
  • Decreased Egg Production
  • Eggs Laid That Lack Shells

Tobacco

  • Stunting

Toyon, Christmas Holly, Christmas Berry

  • Labored Breathing
  • Incoordination
  • Muscle Tremors
  • Convulsions

Water Hemlock

  • Nervousness
  • Hyper-salivation
  • Tremors
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Grinding
  • Rapid Pulse
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Seizures
  • Death

Yew

  • Labored Breathing
  • Incoordination
  • Collapse
  • Cyanosis
  • Sudden Death

Other Potential Duck Toxins

Blue-Green Algae

Blue-green algae is often found in stagnant water when temperatures are high. This algae can be toxic to ducks if they ingest contaminated water. The type of toxin ingested will determine the symptoms. Ducks need only ingest but 1.2 oz (40 ml) of algae bloom to be fatal. In most cases of poisoning, ducks are usually found dead, due to the potency of the toxin. Symptoms include:

  • Hypersalivation
  • Regurgitation of algae
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Reduced responsiveness
  • Lethargy
  • Ataxia
  • Dilation of cutaneous vessels in webbed feet
  • Recumbency
  • Wing and leg paresis
  • Cyanosis
  • Excessive thirst
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Intermittent seizures
  • Sudden death 

Botulism

Botulism can be contracted if ducks eat or playing in contaminated soil, water, or decaying matter, spoiled feed, or by consuming maggots who harbor the toxins. Signs of botulism in ducks include:

  • Paralysis
  • Weakness
  • Muscle Tremors
  • Stumbling
  • Recumbency
  • Limp neck
  • Droopy Eyelids
  • Death

In order to prevent botulism, be sure to Inspect water sources for dying or dead animals and promptly dispose of any bodies properly then dump contaminated water and thoroughly clean the water container and refill with fresh water. Prevent residents from accessing stagnant bodies of water!

Cedar Wood

Cedarwood should be avoided in avian living spaces because it can cause respiratory issues. If you use wood shavings for bedding, make sure you are not buying cedar shavings. Aspen and pine are generally safer options, though there is conflicting information regarding the safety of pine.

Chick Starter (Medicated)

Ducklings should be given a waterfowl starter, if at all possible. Many chick starter foods contain medication to treat coccidia; this medication can be fatal to ducklings. It can also cause niacin deficiency, leading to a host of joint and leg problems for the duckling.

Copper

Sometimes, copper sulfate is used to treat crop mycosis or digestive issues in ducks. However, copper sulfate in a single dose of >1 g is fatal and should be used with care. Symptoms of copper toxicosis are listlessness and watery diarrhea. At a necropsy, burns, and erosions are found in the lining of the gizzard, along with a green mucous throughout the intestinal tract.

Hardware Disease

Hardware Disease refers to the injuries that can result from any animal resident eating something they shouldn’t, especially pieces of human-made hardware like nails, screws, and staples. Hardware disease can have devastating effects on any resident. Check out our resource on Hardware Disease prevention here. Ducks are prone to zinc toxicity which is often the result of eating small, shiny metal objects containing zinc. When ingested, a zinc object, such as a penny, is broken down in the gastrointestinal track, and zinc is released into the body. This can cause damage to red blood cells, the pancreas, and the gizzard. US pennies made after 1983 contain 98% zinc and a single one can be fatal to a duck if swallowed. Hardware that may also contain zinc includes, nails, bolts, plumbing nuts, nuts, washers, screws, staples, etc, as well as galvanized metal

Symptoms of zinc poisoning include:

  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Increased thirst
  • Seizures
  • Green to yellow droppings
  • Stiffness
  • Cyanosis
  • Incoordination
  • Posterior paresis/paralysis
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy 

Lead Toxicity

Lead was once used in paints and pesticides, and can also be found in natural environmental sources. Even if you have never used any products containing lead, it may still be present in old barn or fence paint, or in the soil. Places, where old machinery and leaded gas have been stored, may also have caused the contamination, as would old treated lumber and railroad ties. Ducks may ingest the lead in the environment through the consumption of paint flakes, plant material that has absorbed lead in the environment, and tainted surfaces.

Signs of lead poisoning in ducks are:

  • emaciation
  • depression
  • inappetence
  • thirst
  • weakness
  • greenish droppings commonly seen within 36 hours
  • As poisoning progresses, the wings may be extended downward. 
  • Young birds may die within 36 hours of ingestion. 

Having the soil tested at your sanctuary is an easy way to learn if the environment is safe for residents. You can check with a local environmental conservation service, or agricultural extension office to inquire about testing. It is usually a fairly quick and easy process. Prevent your residents from accessing buildings and fences with old paint.

Consult a veterinarian immediately if you suspect a duck has ingested lead or is beginning to show symptoms of lead poisoning.

Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are a toxin produced by molds (fungi) that are harmful to many animals, including ducks. Mycotoxins, specifically aflatoxins can affect ducks through contaminated food or bedding. Moist, warm environments make a perfect recipe for mold reproduction. Aspergillus and Penicillium can produce aflatoxins and can be a particular concern for birds.

Symptoms include:

  • inappetence
  • ataxia
  • convulsions
  • opisthotonos
  • depression
  • death

Prevention is key in avoiding serious health issues. Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to help ensure resident ducks do not suffer the ill effects of mycotoxin poisoning:

  • Be sure to keep food, grain, and hay storage areas clean, dry, and cool
  • Try to keep food storage areas protected from mice and rats and other wildlife, as they can chew holes in food bags, increasing the likelihood of grain being exposed to damp conditions
  • Always feed the oldest sources of food first. Try to use up open food bags within a few weeks after opening in the winter and in even less time in the summer
  • Clean any storage bins or cans thoroughly to remove old grain that may get stuck in cracks and crevices
  • Check with your food manufacturer or supplier to see if they regularly test for the presence of mycotoxins in grains before mixing food. If they do not, avoid using them and find another supplier

If you are concerned about the possibility of mycotoxin contamination, have your food stores tested. This could be especially important if you have a duck that shows initial signs of mycotoxin exposure.

Pesticides, Herbicides, And Rodenticides

It may not come as a surprise that herbicides and rodenticides can cause toxicosis in ducks if ingested. If ducks ingest plants or insects that have been sprayed with phenoxy acid herbicides, they can become ill or even die. For this reason, it is imperative that ducks are not given treated plants or are allowed access to pastures that have been treated with herbicides.

While rats and mice can pose challenges for sanctuaries, it is important to respect them and use compassionate mitigation practices. In addition to the compassion and consideration mice and rats deserve, many rodenticides are anticoagulants that act by preventing the blood from clotting and ducks may find and attempt to eat the poisoned body of a mouse or rat and become poisoned themselves if poison is used. There are many new and innovative ways to address rodent populations that are more effective and compassionate.

Early treatment is critical. If you suspect a duck may have ingested any of the poisons above, contact your veterinarian immediately. Blood tests may confirm poisoning.

Polytetrafluoroethylene Toxicosis (Teflon Flu, Polymer Fume Fever)

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is found in many household items but those that are intended to be heated are the main source of toxicity. At high temperatures, items containing PTFE can put out highly toxic fumes, resulting in toxicity or even death. Make sure any heat sources you use in resident living spaces, such as a radiant heater or heat lamp, are free of PTFE. We advise against the use of glass bulb heat lamps due to their associated fire risk, but another reason to steer clear is that some are coated in PTFE. Other sources of concern include some hairdryers, heating pads, irons and ironing board covers, computer wires, and non-stick cookware. While polytetrafluoroethylene toxicosis is a concern for any avian resident, be especially vigilant if you share your home with an avian companion, since there are many household items that could contain PTFE.

Snakebites

Venomous snakebites are not common, but when they occur, should be treated seriously and immediately. If you notice a snakebite, look for others. Snake venom varies by species, and the severity of a bite can also be influenced by the size, age, and the number of bites. Most venoms can impair blood clotting and damage the heart, while some others contain neurotoxins. Signs of snakebite may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling at the bite site
  • One or more puncture wounds
  • Sloughing of tissues near the bite site
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Impaired ability for their blood to clot
  • Shock
  • Collapse
  • Paralysis
  • Death

Seek veterinary care immediately if a duck is bitten by a venomous snake. Do NOT try to suck the venom out or place a tourniquet. Keep the duck calm while seeking immediate veterinary care. Depending on the severity of the bit, treatments may include antivenin, pain medications, fluid therapy, wound treatment, tetanus vaccination, and antibiotics. Check out our Compassionate Wildlife Practices At Your Animal Sanctuary for some tips on how to dissuade snakes from your property.

Wood Stains And Paints

Some wood stains and paints can be toxic to residents. Ducks may try to peck at painted or stained surfaces and can become ill if the stain or paint is toxic. When painting or staining fencing or the exteriors of buildings, look for products that are specially made for barns and fencing and listed as animal or “livestock” friendly. If you choose to paint the interior of an enclosure, we suggest you opt for a zero VOC paint- some are even labeled “pet friendly.” Birds are very sensitive to fumes and should be kept away from freshly painted or stained areas until you are absolutely certain there are no residual fumes.

Foods That Can Be Toxic To Ducks

Consider These Variables You may see food on this list that you have fed to your residents without any apparent issue. That may be because some foods are toxic in higher amounts while others are toxic in small amounts or whether they are being consistently offered the food over a period of time. It can also depend on the individual. We all have sensitivities to different things. Just as there are dogs who have eaten chocolate and don’t show clinical or subclinical signs of poisoning, there are many dogs that weren’t so lucky. The amount that may cause one duck to become ill (or even die) may be different for another duck. Different breeds or species of birds can also affect their sensitivity to a toxin. In addition to these considerations, certain plants, fruits, vegetables, and other foods listed below may contain varying amounts of the toxin. The toxicity in some fruits and vegetables may even depend on their ripeness, the amount of sun exposure, the temperature, and more! Below we have put together a list of foods that are known to contain some toxin that is potentially harmful to ducks. It is our hope that providing this information will help you provide the best care possible to your residents. When possible, we have researched scientific papers to provide solid sources and tried to give more details. However, it is not an exhaustive list and is not meant to replace veterinary advice.

If You Have The Slightest Doubt…
Just because something might not be listed here as a toxic food or substance for ducks, please do not take that to mean it’s safe to give them! Even normally non-toxic produce can cause health issues if given in large amounts. Check our Daily Diet, Supplement, & Treats For Ducks resource and see if it’s listed as a safe treat for duck residents. If you aren’t positive that it will be safe for ducks, it’s best to avoid feeding it to them in order to be as safe as possible!

The following is a list of foods that can be toxic to ducks. While we were able to find some sources directly referring to ducks, the following list also uses sources on birds in general, as well as sources that refer more specifically to chickens, or more generally to “poultry”.

  • Avocados: Avocados should be avoided. Skin, leaves, and pits are particularly dangerous, containing high amounts of the toxin persin, but feeding the fruit has potential risk as well and should be avoided altogether to be safe and prevent poisoning. Symptoms of persin poisoning include weakness, trouble perching, ruffled feathers, and respiratory distress. If not caught early, it could be fatal. If you notice someone has been eating an avocado (especially the skin, leaves, or pit), get them to the vet ASAP. Don’t wait for clinical signs, as it is often too late once they start appearing. The vet may recommend or perform a crop lavage and administer activated charcoal to bind with the toxin, preventing it from being absorbed into the body.
  • Citrus Fruits: If fed in large amounts or frequent small amounts over time, citrus fruits can interfere with calcium absorption. It may also cause gastric symptoms in ducks due to the amount of acid. With so many other treats to offer, steering clear of citrus is likely best. If you decide to offer them a bit of citrus (many don’t care for it), don’t feed residents citrus frequently and don’t feed much. Removing any seeds is a good idea as well.
  • Coffee or Tea: Though there are some studies that show coffee pulp meal can be fed and have some benefits, it has gone through a special process that reduces caffeine. Caffeine has been studied to see if it can be used to medicate under certain circumstances after undergoing different processes and at specific amounts, but coffee, coffee grounds, beans, and anything with coffee should be avoided. Caffeine has been shown to cause lung and heart-related deaths and should be avoided altogether.
  • Chocolate: Chocolate contains the toxin theobromine (and caffeine) and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and death. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. However, all chocolate contains the toxin and should be avoided.
  • Alcohol: This may seem obvious, but do not give your duck residents any form of alcohol. Signs may include incoordination, disorientation, lethargy, symptoms of organ damage, and death.
  • Salt: While ducks do need some salt in their diet, this should be provided in their commercial food. Don’t give ducks any additional edibles containing much salt (Sodium Chloride). Excess salt in their diet can lead to salt poisoning, causing abdominal swelling from fluid, excessive drinking, and excessive urination, among other things. You may notice their bedding or ground covering is wetter and they have watery droppings. They may become uncoordinated, experience respiratory distress, tremors, and spasming. Salt poisoning can be fatal. If you suspect salt poisoning, remove food or other sources of salt and call your veterinarian ASAP.
  • Green Potatoes: Green potatoes, particularly the skins and “eyes”, contain solanine (as do any green bits from peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, which are in the same family), which can be poisonous to ducks. Solanine is part of a natural defense against insects and fungus, but acts as a neurotoxin in ducks and can cause serious illness and even death in high enough amounts. Symptoms include diarrhea, respiratory issues, convulsions, and paralysis. The most solanine is found just under the skin, so potato peels are best avoided entirely. Potatoes that have been in the sun will have increased solanine. Avoiding potatoes altogether will ensure no one is accidentally poisoned by a green potato. Solanine is heat stable, meaning just boiling won’t necessarily reduce the solanine, though it has been posited that the toxin leeches into the water from the potato, which would reduce the amount in the actual potato.
  • Green Tomato: Green tomatoes, as well as any part of the tomato plant, also contains solanine and shouldn’t be fed to duck residents.
  • Eggplant And Pepper Leaves: and green parts of the plant also contain the toxin solanine and are best avoided.
  • Raw Or Uncooked Dried Beans: These contains phytohemagglutinin (among other things). This is a toxin that affects a number of species in addition to ducks, including humans. In ducks, eating just a few raw or dried uncooked beans could cause poisoning. Red kidney beans contain the most of this toxin out of all the beans, but others contain the toxin as well and should never be fed to chickens. Studies have shown that raw kidney bean meal causes intestinal and liver changes and pancreas issues, among other health issues, and could result in death in high enough doses. Avoid any raw beans and dry beans, and be sure any beans have been well-cooked, for their sake AND yours. (Slow cookers are not hot enough to break down the toxin.) Canned beans often contain a significant amount of sodium and should be washed thoroughly, though different beans contain different amounts of this and other substances that could be toxic to ducks in certain amounts. Steering clear entirely might be the way to go.
  • Onions: Onions contain thiosulphate, which can affect red blood cells and cause hemolytic anemia in birds, and can cause irregularly sized red blood cells in large quantities. This goes for powders, juice, raw, and cooked onions. They have been shown to cause stomach upset, weakness, tachycardia, lethargy, collapse, and even death in chickens and swelling and necrosis of the liver and enlargement and swelling of the spleen, damage to the kidneys, and death in geese who were freely fed green onions.
  • Tobacco: Tobacco contains nicotine and should never be fed to a duck resident. They should never be around smoke from tobacco products. Ingestion of tobacco can cause terrible symptoms and even death. Signs of nicotine poisoning include hyperexcitability, diarrhea, seizures, and vomiting. If subjected to tobacco smoke, they can develop respiratory disease, eye diseases, skin conditions, and even malformation of the heart, beak, and kidneys. (Cannabis smoke, while not containing nicotine can still cause vomiting and depression in birds and should be avoided.)
  • Nuts: Nuts can be a choking hazard or cause a crop impaction if they are too big. There is also the risk of aflatoxins, which ducks are particularly susceptible to, and nuts are high in fat which could lead to excess weight gain in large amounts.
    • Unshelled Nuts: Nutshells may contain toxic substances (aflatoxins from improper storage or age) or cause digestive problems if bits of shell are consumed (like walnut shells). Symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning are feather picking, purple legs and feet, lameness, loss of appetite, reduced growth, and abnormal vocalizations. Convulsions, incoordination, and spasming of muscles (straining back of the neck and head) may also occur before death.
    • Raw Nuts: While sweet almonds may contain a small amount of cyanide, bitter almonds are highly toxic, containing relatively large amounts of cyanide. The nuts you find at the store are generally sweet almonds that have been processed. However, for those living in areas where almond trees abound be sure you know the difference and keep residents far away. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include heart issues, GI distress, weakness, seizures, stumbling, respiratory changes, and death.
  • Old Peanuts: Older, damp peanuts may become moldy and contain aflatoxins. It is important to err on the side of caution if you aren’t sure about the peanuts you have.
  • Mango Peels: While there isn’t a lot of information available, it is known that the skin of mangos contain urushiol, a chemical also contained in poison ivy. It can act as a skin irritant or cause stomach upset in humans and other species. Just food for thought.
  • Rhubarb Leaves: Don’t give your duck residents rhubarb leaves, particularly in large quantities, which contains oxalate crystals, a toxin. In birds, ingesting rhubarb leaves can result in swelling of the mucous membranes in the mouth, lethargy, depression, frequent drinking and excessive urination, diarrhea, dehydration, loss of control over body, weight loss and lameness. These are signs of renal damage. They also contain anthraquinones which can have a laxative effect. There are varying amounts of the toxins in the plant depending on different factors.
  • Spinach: Spinach also contains oxalate like rhubarb and can interfere with calcium absorption and contribute to egg-binding. Small amounts occasionally may be fine. Discuss with your veterinarian before offering to residents.
  • Visibly Moldy Or Rotten Foods: Rotten or moldy foods can contain mycotoxins. These can cause a host of health issues and even death. If ingested, you may notice ulcers in their mouth or crusty surfaces inside their mouth. A common type of mycotoxin, aflotoxins, are cause by aspergillus fungi. Ducks are especially susceptible to aflatoxins. Symptoms from aspergillus toxicosis include lethargy, increased thirst, depression, respiratory distress, gasping, lesions in the lungs, nodules on the lungs, gizzard, liver, and other internal organs and tissues, weakness, inappetence, stunted growth, and increased susceptibility to disease. This is just one of many types of mycotoxins that can hurt your duck residents.
  • Foods With Pesticides Or Herbicides: Most vegetables and fruits are sprayed with these chemicals, which are certainly a source of concern when feeding your residents treats. Organic produce is safe from these chemicals, but for those foods that have been sprayed, it is important to peel or scrub with a produce wash to remove any chance of ingestion.
  • Fruit Pits/Seeds: Fruits with pits/stones and some with seeds are often fine to offer to your duck residents as treats, so long as the pits and seeds have been removed. The pits and seeds contain cyanide, a deadly toxin. Apple seeds, and stones/pits in apricot, cherry, peach, pear, and plums contain the toxin. Ingestion of these, especially cracked and broken bits of these seeds and pits, can cause heart issues, GI distress, weakness, seizures, stumbling and respiratory changes, and end in death.
  • Processed Human Food: Processed foods, especially those that are greasy, salty, or sweet, should be avoided. These foods are not healthy for ducks. Our junk food is also junk food for them. Too much salt, sugar, or fat can cause health problems. That doesn’t even get into all the chemicals and additives that many processed foods contain.
  • Iceberg Lettuce: While not toxic, it has little nutritional value and can cause diarrhea if too much is ingested.

Most of the time ducks will avoid things that aren’t good for them, but if food is scarce, or it is included in with other things they normally eat, they can’t always be trusted to steer clear. 

While this list isn’t exhaustive, it can certainly help you keep resident ducks safe, healthy, and happy!

SOURCES:

Is There Lead In Your Pasture? | Of Horse

Animal Friendly Barn And Fence Paint For Horse Stalls | Stuff For Petz

Guide To Poisonous Plants | Colorado State University 

Poisonings in Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual 

Teflon Poisoning| Poultry DVM

Cedar Chips and Pine Shavings As Bedding | The Spruce Pets

Cage Safety | Beauty Of Birds

Blue Green Algae Poisoning | Poultry DMV 

Toxic Plants A-Z | PoultryDMV 

Solanine | Science Direct

Avocado | Poultry DVM

Salt Intoxication | Poultry DVM

Toxins | Avian Medicine Chapter 37

10 Everyday Items That Are Toxic To Birds | Exotic Veterinary Center For Birds And Exotics

Pet Bird Toxicity And Related Environmental Concerns | Veterinary Clinics Of North America: Exotic Animal Practice

Foods You Should Never Feed Your Pet Bird | Gaia Veterinary Centre

What’s Poisonous To Birds And Pocket Pets | Pet Poison Helpline

Renal Disease In Birds (Proceedings) | DVM 360

Pathology Of Aspergilosis In Ducks And Its Clinical Management | Journal Of Entomology And Zoology Studies (Non-Compassionate Source)

A Case Of Aspergillosis In Commercial Domestic Ducks | Korean Journal Of Veterinary Service (Non-Compassionate Source)

Avian Toxicology | Veterinary Toxicology Chapter 53 (Non-Compassionate Source)

AFLATOXINS : Occurrence And Health Risks | Cornell University (Non-Compassionate Source)

Effect Of Feeding Green Onions (Allium Ascalonicum) To White Chinese Geese (Threskiornis Spinicollis)| Journal Of Veterinary Diagnostic Invest (Non-Compassionate Source)

Food Poisoning And Mould Toxins In Poultry | Bird Health (Non-Compassionate Source)

Toxicity And Related Physiological Activity Of Phenolic Substances Of Plant Origin | Journal Of Agricultural Food (Non-Compassionate Source)

Poisonous And Injurious Plants of The U.S. Virgin Islands | Google Books Plant Lectins | Cornell: Department Of Animal Science (Non-Compassionate Source)

Effects Of Phenolic-Rich Onion (Allium cepa L.) Extract On The Growth Performance, Behavior, Intestinal Histology, Amino Acid Digestibility, Antioxidant Activity, And The Immune Status Of Broiler Chickens | Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine (Non-Compassionate Source)

Performance And Histological Responses Of Internal Organs Of Broiler Chickens Fed Raw, Dehulled, And Aqueous And Dry-Heated Kidney Bean Meals | Poultry Science (Non-Compassionate Source)

Plant Lectins | Cornell: Department Of Animal Science (Non-Compassionate Source)

Poisonings In Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)  

Solanine Poisoning And Chickens | Student Presentation At Purdue University (Non-Compassionate Source)  

Blister Beetles | North Carolina State University Extension Service (Non-Compassionate Source)  

Plants That Are Poisonous to Chickens | Gardening With Free-Range Chickens For Dummies (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Protect You Horses And Livestock From Toxic Plants | Washington State Department Of Agriculture (Non-Compassionate Source)

Avocado Toxicosis In Animals | The Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

The Effects Of Dietary Supplementation Of Citrus Sinensis (Sweet Orange) Peel Extract On Production And Quality Parameters Of Broiler Chicken  | Journal Of Applied Animal Research (Non-Compassionate Source)

Effects Of Organic Acids Or Natural Plant Extracts Added To Diets For Turkeys On Growth Performance, Gastrointestinal Tract Metabolism And Carcass Characteristics | Journal Of Animal And Feed Sciences (Non-Compassionate Source)

Anthelmintic Effects Of Citrus Peels Ethanolic Extracts Against Ascaridia Galli | Veterinary Parasitology (Non-Compassionate Source)

Impacts Of Caffeine On Resistant Chicken’s Performance And Cardiovascular Gene Expression | Journal Of Animal Physiology And Nutrition (Non-Compassionate Source)

Postmortem Survey of Disease Conditions in Backyard Poultry | Journal Of Exotic Pet Medicine (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 October 12, 2021

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