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Basics of Keeping Waterfowl

  1. Calls: One Judge's Perspective Part 2
  2. So.. What About the Mallard?
  3. The Muscovy: Not Just Another Pretty Face
  4. One Judge's Perspective: Snowy Calls
  5. Standard Description for the Butterscotch Call
  6. Call Ducks: One Judge's Perspective
  7. Evaluating the Black East Indie in the Showroom
  8. A Brief History of the Call- from My Perspective
  9. New- Judging Black Ducks
  10. Book Review: British Waterfowl Standard
  11. Waterfowl and West Nile Virus- Updated
  12. New-What You Need to Know About Moulting in Waterfowl
  13. What Every 4Her Should Know About Getting Started in Waterfowl
  14. Judging Waterfowl in the U.K.
  15. Revised Waterfowl Housing Requirements
  16. The Chiloe Wigeon
  17. Calls and East Indies: What You Should Know Before You Buy
  18. Album of Exhibition Waterfowl
  19. Common Flaws in Popular Breeds of Exhibition Ducks
  20. Waterfowl Ailments and Treatments
  21. Raising Ducklings and Goslings Step-By-Step
  22. More Frequently Asked Questions About Keeping Waterfowl
  23. Book Review
  24. Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Started in Waterfowl
  25. Feeding Waterfowl
  26. The Importance of Oyster Shell and Grit for Waterfowl
  27. Conditioning Calls and East Indies for the Showroom

Waterfowl Ailments and Treatments

Compared to other forms of poultry, waterfowl are relatively free of health problems. When they do have a problem, however, it is frequently serious and often fatal if not treated promptly. Below is a rundown of common ailments and recommended treatments. Since antibiotics are constantly being replaced by more effective kinds, it is wise to ask your poultry supply vendor if there is a more effective treatment available after one has diagnosed the ailment. Remember that it is usually better to act quickly even if one is not positive about the nature of the problem. Do not be afraid to describe the symptoms to the poultry supply vendor and ask for his recommendations. Of course, your best resource would certainly be your local vet. A vet who is an avian specialist would be even more preferred.

Limberneck (Botulism)-
Caused by toxins in decaying animal or vegetable matter. Botulism can also be contracted when the birds feed on fly maggots which have fed on such material. Symptoms: body weakness, inability to walk and a progressive paralysis. Birds are frequently seen lying with their necks stretched out in front of them. Symptoms usually show up within a few hours after ingestion of the material. Usually fatal within 24 hours if not promptly treated. Pour one tablespoon of Epsom salts in a ½ cup of water and get as much down the bird's throat as possible (a plastic syringe with needle removed is a good tool). Botulism is most often a problem when dead birds are not disposed of quickly and properly.

Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD)-
A slow spreading bacterial infection which affects the lungs and bronchial tubes. It is difficult to treat because it is often difficult to get effective medication to the site of the infection. Symptoms: watery eyes, difficulty breathing, loss of weight, loss of normal feathers on breast and/or underside (leaving nothing but down in those areas). Infected birds never seem to put on weight no matter how well they are fed. Symptoms will come and go to an extent. Warm weather seems to stimulate "recovery" which is usually only temporary. Young bantam ducks are especially susceptible. Treatment for a minimum of 5-7 days with a state-of-the-art antibiotic such as Baytril is the best response. I have used an injectable antibiotic successfully but normally, I recommend destruction of infected birds due to the low cure rate and danger of infection to other flock members. See more on Baytril at the conclusion of this article. Fogging at least twice per day for 10 days with Oxine will help treat infected birds and keep the infection from spreading.

Enteritis-
A family of intestinal tract ailments always characterized by diarrhea. Best treatment is Neomycin powder for 5 days followed by probiotic treatment for seven days. Baytril is also effective. Treatment must begin quickly if the birds are to be saved. Enteritis can be contracted through fouled water sources. Eliminate puddles and fouled pools and mud and you eliminate Enteritis. This is a big killer of wild waterfowl.

Coccidiosis-
This is a disease which most people assume only troubles chickens but young waterfowl under stressful conditions can also be affected. Symptoms: ruffled feathers, droopy posture and lack of appetite are the most common. Treat with Amprol in the water for 3 days. Do not use Ren-o-sal or other arsenic based coccidiostats.

Worms-
Waterfowl are very susceptible to infestations of worms. They can host Round, Capillary and Gapeworms as well as nine different types of Tapeworms. Symptoms: failure to thrive and gain weight, birds limping, birds opening their mouths as if they cannot get enough air (Gapeworms). The best way to avoid the problem is to worm the entire flock twice a year with Levamisole in their water and then repeat the treatment again in ten days. The common earthworm is an intermediate host for Gapeworms and should not be something intentionally fed to waterfowl. Another effective treatment that also destroys any external parasites is Ivomec (it is an injectable swine wormer) given orally- three drops down the throat. Treatment with Ivomec should be repeated in three days. Ivomec will not be effective against Tape Worms. Use a product called Dronit for Tape Worms.

Lice/Mites-
Waterfowl with bathing water available are generally not troubled by heavy infestations of lice or mites but lice in particular can be found on them and they (lice) can damage the feathering on show birds. An infestation is much more likely if the waterfowl are kept on the same premises with chickens. Adams Flea Off or Ultra Shield sprays are a convenient and effective way to treat for lice or mites but must be used regularly to be effective. In fact, there are a number of sprays and powders, which will be effective with regular use; it boils down to one's personal preference.

Fungal Infections in the Lungs-
Bantam ducks seem to be vulnerable to this disease particularly during their first several months of life. This problem may be the cause of  some unexpected and unexplained deaths in young birds. Typical symptoms may be labored and noisy breathing but little more. Sudden death can follow. Proper and prompt treatment can save birds. Fogging infected birds in a carrier with Oxine mixed at 6 ½ ounces per gallon of water can kill the fungi in the trachea and lungs if the problem is caught early enough. Use a nebulizer to fog the birds in an enclosed area for two to five minutes per treatment. Birds inhaling the Oxine will often shake their heads. The treatment should take place twice per day for 14 days. If the bird does not show improvement within 5 days or shows signs of a secondary infection treat with Baytril as indicated below and accompany that treatment with doses of a probiotic. If a nebulizer is not available, one can use a spray bottle set on the finest spray but a spray bottle is not ideal. By the way, routine fogging of groups of young birds in the brooder house may prevent some cases of fungal infection of the lungs and is recommended on a weekly basis.

Baytril Treatment-
Baytril is a broad-spectrum antibiotic in injectable form often prescribed for use in dogs. It is relatively expensive but very effective for a broad range of problems. The specific strength recommended is 2.27% and the dosage is 2 10ths of a CC per pound of body weight. One half CC is often used for bantam ducks or chickens. Two injections per day for 5 days is the course of treatment. Do not quit treatment earlier than that even if the bird appears fully recovered. Oral administration of a probiotic should accompany the antibiotic treatment and should continue for at least three days after the antibiotics are finished. Probiotics replenish the good bacteria in the gut that are killed by the antibiotic. Treatment with probiotics should continue for 7 days after the antibiotics are finished. The injections should be given in the muscle of the breast or leg with the breast preferred.

General Do's and Don't's
It probably pays to keep some medications on hand for emergencies. I keep some Panalog ophthalmic ointment handy to treat "sticky eye" infections. As mentioned earlier, I also keep Aureomycin on hand to treat gut infections. One does not want to have to wait several days to receive a needed medication in the mail when time is of the essence. When giving injections to multiple birds, be careful not to spread infection by using the same needle without sterilizing it between uses. Rubbing alcohol or heavily diluted chlorine bleach will do a nice job as a disinfectant. Giving injections is something one must learn to do properly. When giving an injection in the breast or leg muscle (intramuscular), always pull the needle plunger back slightly once the needle has been inserted but before the antibiotic has been injected. If one has accidentally hit an artery, blood will flow quickly into the syringe. Withdraw the needle and try another location. If one injects some forms of antibiotic directly into an artery, one may be left with a dead bird in one's hand due to the shock. For information on waterfowl and West Nile Virus, see the separate article.

Originally published: 10-24-2006
Last updated: 03-07-2008