Call Ducks: Call Duck Association UK

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Waterfowl Diseases: Coping with duck ailments

Keep your ducks in a clean environment, and very little will go wrong.

  • Make sure that they have clean, dry bedding in a house with good ventilation.

  • Water should be clean and accessible (outdoors); Calls must be able to get in bowls and ponds to wash their eyes and feathers.

  • They should have the appropriate duck food, depending on the season. Do not  use hen layers pellets if you can get duck food. Pellets must also be in date (check this on the label) and not mouldy. Some moulds produce aflatoxins which are particularly harmful to ducks.

  • Fence out animals which will harm the birds, and remove any objects which can harm them - nails, string, glass, plastic etc.

  • Watch your birds each day for any signs of illness: limping, straining or generally slow behaviour -which means a bird is off-colour.

  • Antibiotics in the UK can only be prescribed by a vet. Follow appropriate withdrawal times when antibiotics, and other treatments are used (in the unlikely event that your Call ducks, or their eggs, are eaten). 

  • Worm the birds routinely twice a year. 

Aspergillosis
Symptoms: Laboured breathing, which can also be a symptom of pneumonia.
Cause: Spores from mouldy bedding, especially hay, which should be avoided. 
Treatment: Aspergillosis can be treated with fungicides - but these are expensive and unlikely to be successful. Avoid this disease by good management. Aflatoxin poisoning may show similar symptoms. In this case, the moulds that grow on cereal grains and oilseeds produce toxins which are very damaging for ducks. Store food in dry, cool conditions. Never use mouldy food.

Botulism
Symptoms: Loss of muscular control of legs, wings and neck - hence the term limberneck. Birds are unable to swallow.
Cause: Toxins produced by bacteria (Clostridia) in decaying animal and vegetable waste. The toxins cause the problem.
Treatment: Avoid problems by keeping ducks out of muddy/dirty areas, and stagnant pools, especially in hot weather. The bacteria multiply rapidly in warmer temperatures in anaerobic conditions (where oxygen is excluded). Give affected birds fresh drinking water. If necessary, introduce water into the mouth and throat with a syringe (no needle). A crop tube could be used with the advice of a vet. Add Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate, available from the High Street Chemist) to the water. This is an old remedy which is still used. Recommended amounts vary from 1 tablespoon in one cup of water to 1 ounce per 50 fluid oz ( two and a half  pints) of water.

Coccidiosis
Symptoms: Red blood in the droppings; birds thin because coccidia attack the lining of the gut and nutrients from food are not absorbed. Birds may be ill for some time- weeks, not days.
Cause: Ground dirty with droppings of birds which carry coccidia. Coccidia are protozoa and cannot therefore be eliminated  with antibiotic. More likely in summer in hot, wet conditions. 
Treatment: Anticoccidial in the drinking water, or as a drench, obtainable from your vet. The coccidiostat added to poultry (hen) grower pellets is not a treatment. Follow the prescribed withdrawal period stated on the product label in the unlikely event that these birds or eggs are eaten. Avoid problems by growing young ducklings on clean ground, moving their protective coop onto a new patch each day. Coccidiosis is not common disease with ducks, especially if you have clean water and feed wheat and pellets. Geese are more likely to get it from grazing on dirty grass. There is a single-dose treatment available from your vet. 

Egg binding: see web page Egg problems 

Enteritis
Inflammation and bleeding in the gut can be produced by bacteria or duck viral enteritis. DVE is rare, but will kill most affected birds. Prompt treatment with a vaccine obtainable from Holland, obtained through your vet, is the only solution.
Symptoms: If birds are listless and suffering from pinkish droppings in hot spells in summer, this is more likely to be a bacterial form of enteritis. Watch the wild birds. If blackbirds etc. are ill too, then your ducks do not have DVE.

Cause: The bacterial disease is probably transmitted by the wild bird population.
Treatment: Bacterial enteritis is easily treated by using soluble antibiotic powders in the drinking water, but you must catch this early. (Several types of soluble powder can be obtained through a vet.) No other water should be available.  Move the birds onto clean ground a couple of days after treatment has commenced. Make sure the birds get eight days treatment. These antibiotic powders can only be prescribed by a vet, and a suitable withdrawal time must be followed (not that Call ducks eggs, or Call ducks are generally eaten). The withdrawal time is stated on the product label.

Lameness
Symptoms: Hot leg. Swollen ankle or swollen hock. This is rare in Calls. 
Cause: Bacterial infection.

Treatment: Course of antibiotic injections prescribed by a vet. A suitable withdrawal time must be followed. (not that Call ducks eggs, or Call ducks are generally eaten). 

Maggots
Symptoms: Dirty vent. Maggot infestation may not be readily noticed.
Cause: Birds do not have enough water for keeping themselves clean, particularly at the vent, during hot weather in summer. Injured birds may also have flies' eggs deposited at the injury.

Treatment: pick the maggots off the affected area. Use ointment, then fly spray. Check the birds each day for several days - any fly eggs already on the bird will still hatch.

Mites
Symptoms: Birds scratch a lot. Northern mite lives on the bird and sucks its blood.
Cause: Mites are caught from other birds at bird shows, and from new birds you may have introduced. It is possible that they can also be caught from wild birds.
Lice, which are insects, also live on the birds. These live on bits of feather, and are grey in colour instead of red. More info on these parasites in CDA Publication 10 (Dec 2003).
Treatment: use pesticides such as pyrethrum, or Ivermectin from the vet. Observe the withdrawal time stated on the product. (See the web pages on wet feather and worming for the dosage of Ivermectin which is a systemic treatment for pests).

Lead poisoning
Symptoms: Lack of coordination, loss of weight .
Cause: Lead shot from cartridges of air gun pellet.

Treatment: Make sure the source of lead cannot be accessed. Provide grit for the birds so that they do not pick up bits of lead for the gizzard. 

Pasteurella
Symptoms: Loss of appetite, increased thirst, watery then green droppings. Loss of coordination. 
Cause: Bacteria in the environment.
Treatment: Prompt treatment with antibiotic from the vet may save larger birds. Smaller birds usually succumb. Eliminate carriers, such as rats.

Prolapse
Symptoms: Males - the penis is dropped externally from the body. Females - the lower part of the oviduct protrudes. See the web page on Egg Problems.

Respiratory problems
Symptoms: The birds sits hunched up, and bobs its tail up and down to assist in breathing.
Cause: Bacterial infection, especially in spells of intensely wet weather. Bear in mind that the symptoms of Aspergillosis are similar, but this will not respond to antibiotic treatment. 
Treatment: A long course of antibiotic from the vet, in the case of a bacterial infection. Birds' lungs are complicated, because of adaptations for flight. So an infection is difficult to resolve.

Sinus Problems
Symptoms: Weeping nostrils and puffed up cheeks. 
Cause : Bacteria in the environment infect the sinuses. More prevalent in Calls than in other breeds of ducks. 
Treatment :Appropriate antibiotic injection obtainable from the vet;  Baytril is often prescribed by a vet , but another more effective antibiotic may be available.  Treatment should be immediate to be effective. If left, the cheeks harden and the bird cannot be cured. The sinuses can be flushed with antibiotic by a vet.  As stated above, follow the appropriate withdrawal time advised on the product label. 

Slipped wing
Symptoms: The primary feathers of the wings in young birds turn outwards. They may also just drop. 
Cause: The ducklings are fed a diet too high in protein and grow too fast. The blood in the quills is too heavy for the wings to support correctly. This rarely happens in Calls. If Calls do have wing problems it is likely to be hereditary.

Treatment: Feed growing birds a lower protein diet while they develop the primary feathers. Change the breeding stock to stop this problem developing.

Wet Feather
Symptoms: The duck looks dam and dirty. The down starts to become water-logged. 
Cause:
The commonest cause of wet feather is keeping ducks in poor conditions where the feathers get muddy. Once they have absorbed soil particles, condition is rapidly lost, and the birds find it very difficult to ‘oil up’ again, even if they have clean water.  Continuously wet conditions also exacerbate the problem. Affected birds simply cannot dry out, and cannot re-condition their feathers by preening. 
Treatment:  A partial solution is to shelter the birds in excessively wet weather. They then have the opportunity to dry out. Allow then to swim on days when there is the possibility of them drying out - and keep the birds free of mud if possible. The growth of new feathers next season often cures the problem.

Worms: see web page


Only veterinary medicines authorised for use by the Veterinary Medicine Directorate (VMD) may be administered to animals (including birds) in the UK.  Each medicine is authorised for administration to a specific species for the treatment of named conditions.  If no suitable authorised medicine exists to treat the condition your birds are suffering from, your veterinary surgeon may prescribe a product for use “off label” under what is known as the prescribing cascade.  Any other form of off-label use of a veterinary medicine is an offence under the Medicines (Restrictions on the Administration of Veterinary Medicinal Products) Regulations 1994. If there is no suitable UK authorised veterinary medicine, your Vet may apply to import a medicine from overseas.  This is the only way a medicine may legally be imported into the UK. When a veterinary medicine is administered, a withdrawal period must be observed before the animal or animal products may enter the food chain.  For authorised medicines this will be indicated on the product label.  If a product is used off-label a minimum period of 7 days since last administration must be observed for eggs. For further information on the use of veterinary medicines please contact your Vet or visit the website of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate www.vmd.gov.uk who are the regulatory authority for veterinary medicines in the UK.


 

                                                                      Secretary: Kate Elkington,
                                    The Old Bakehouse, Ashperton, Ledbury, Herefordshire, HR8 2SA

                                                                Tel 01531 670658 or 07968829306