Although waterfowl are disease resistant, infectious diseases can and do take toll
on unlucky flocks. To keep your ducks and geese as disease free as possible, try
to limit their contact with wild birds that can carry viruses and bacteria from an
infected flock to yours. Another strategy to minimize disease is to keep your
birds’ water source, feed, and pens clean of droppings. If feeders or waterers
become soiled with feces, a good scrubbing with bleach water (1 teaspoon
bleach per gallon water) will help kill disease organisms. Allow the cleaned
equipment to dry before refilling with feed or water.
If you plan to pasture your flock, make sure there is enough ground for the birds.
Overstocking pens and pastures is an invitation for disease organisms in the
feces to grow and multiply. Rotating pastures using small paddocks will be
beneficial in two ways: Fecal material will get a chance to dry, and the action of
sunlight can neutralize many disease organisms. It also will give the pasture
plants a chance to grow back.
Here are some common diseases that can affect ducks and geese:
Avian influenza: This disease has caused much concern throughout the world.
Avian influenza affects both ducks and geese. The mild form causes such
symptoms as lethargy, trouble breathing, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Death
losses are rare from the mild form of avian influenza, but the more severe form
can cause death of the entire flock and is characterized by the above signs plus
facial swelling. There is no specific treatment for avian influenza aside from
good husbandry, and there is not a vaccination.
Prevention includes strict attention to rodent control, disinfection of boots and equipment, and control of
wild birds. Humans also have been affected by avian influenza. If your ducks or
geese have avian influenza, you need to report it to your state and local
authorities, as well as to the USDA. Ducks and geese are at increased risk of
contracting avian influenza and they need to be tested if you suspect they may
have the illness to keep them from spreading it.
Botulism: Ducks can be affected by botulism, otherwise known as limber neck.
The disease is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which grows in
the mud and vegetation in warm, stagnant water.
The duck ingests the bacteria, and it releases a toxin. The bird may be found dead, or it may be paralyzed but
conscious. Treatment is possible during the first 24 hours by force-feeding the
duck water and feed. The bird should be placed in a shaded, dry nest away from
predators while the toxin wears off.
Chlamydiosis: Ducks are susceptible to chlamydiosis, or parrot fever. Signs of
an infected duck include nose and eye discharges, sinus infections, reddened
eyes, diarrhea, weight loss, and loss of appetite. The disease is spread from
infected bird to healthy bird from discharges and feces. Wild birds can spread the
disease to domestic ducks. Chlamydiosis is also spread through contaminated
boots, clothing, and equipment. Once an infected duck recovers, it can still be a
carrier of the organism. Treatment is done using the antibiotic chlortetracycline.
Fowl cholera: This infectious disease is caused by the bacterium Pasteurella
multocida. Both ducks and geese can contract this disease, which strikes
suddenly and causes numerous deaths in the flock. Factors that can cause an
outbreak include overcrowded pens or ponds, spread of the disease from wild
birds, and cold and damp weather. Although sudden death is usually the first
sign of the disease, some birds will have convulsions, rapid breathing, become
listless, have nasal discharge, or have vents matted with droppings. Treatment
for those birds in the flock not ill from fowl cholera is an antibiotic in the water.
This treatment is done as a preventive measure. All sick birds should be removed
from the flock and treated elsewhere. Dead carcasses should be burned.
Fowlpox: This disease can cause disease in ducks of all ages. There are two
forms of fowlpox. The wet form causes canker sore-like lesions in the mouth and
throat. This can cause trouble breathing due to obstruction of these respiratory
passages. The dry form causes raised, bumpy growths on the legs. It can cause
problems with growth and egg production. Mosquitoes carry and spread this
disease. Spraying for mosquitoes can help control the spread. Vaccination is
suggested if fowlpox becomes a problem in your flock.
Infectious hepatitis: This disease affects young ducklings between 2 and 3
weeks old. A virus that is either ingested or inhaled by waterfowl causes this
disease. The sick duckling appears to be unable to gain its balance and will be
seen lying on its side with its head drawn back toward the tail. Their legs also
will make paddling motions. Most cases result in death within a day of signs.
Vaccinations are available for healthy ducklings in an infected flock. Mothers
can also be vaccinated two weeks before laying eggs to pass immunity on to the
Intestinal parasites: Different types of intestinal parasites can affect geese and
ducks. Coccidiosis, roundworms, flukes, and tapeworms are ingested by the
birds from the ground or feed contaminated with feces. Signs of infection are
varied and range from young geese with stunted growth, lethargic birds,
diarrhea, or death if the birds are heavily infected. If you suspect your flock has
intestinal parasites, take a sample of feces to your veterinarian to examine for
parasites. Once the parasite is identified, treatment is through medication in the
feed or water.
Salmonellosis: The bacterium salmonella, an organism that can affect a wide
variety of animals and humans, causes this disease. It can quickly become a
flock-wide problem due to its tendency to spread quickly. Signs of salmonellosis
include lethargy, diarrhea, swollen joints, and lameness. Identification of the
disease is only made through laboratory testing of feces from infected birds and
examining carcasses of dead or dying birds. A bird that survives salmonellosis
will remain infected for life, and it should be separated from the rest of the flock
to prevent spread of the disease