Do Pet Ducks Need Vaccinations: Health Concerns In Ducks

health concerns in ducks (1)

Most pets need vaccinations to stay healthy. Even chickens are susceptible to a variety of diseases and illnesses. Duck owners often wonder if ducks need any specific vaccinations because chickens, turkeys, and other fowl should be protected. 

Do ducks need vaccinations? Pet ducks do not need to be vaccinated or dewormed unless they are exposed to wild ducks, or kept in unclean conditions. Ducks are immune to most poultry diseases and will seldom catch any illness unless they are raised in a factory or mass production situation. 

A duck’s body temperature averages around 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Because their body temperature is higher than a chicken or turkey’s body temperature, they simply don’t get sick as often. 

Most illnesses that would make a chicken sick can’t survive on a duck. In addition, they spend a lot of their time in the water. 

As a result, ticks, mites, and other parasites that tend to bother chickens don’t usually survive long on a duck. They drown in the water or get washed away. 

Do Ducks Need To Be Dewormed? 

Ducks don’t generally need to be dewormed. In rare situations, a duck can get infested with worms. There are five types of worms that ducks can get infected with and most of these worms use earthworms as a carrier. Since ducks eat earthworms, it is possible for them to be infected. Another common cause is exposure to wild ducks and feces of wild ducks. 

Ducks that have access to swimming water are much less likely to have worm issues. It’s also vital that your ducks have access to clean water that is changed daily. The water will be muddy and dirty within minutes, but as long as it’s changed daily, your ducks won’t get ill from dirty water.

Another common cause of worms in ducks is when a lot of birds have been kept in the same area for many years.
Even if you raise ducks and keep a lot of ducks, it’s important to rotate your ducks on the land that you use. This allows the land to recover and helps to prevent worm issues in ducks. 

  1. Provide fresh drinking water daily to your ducks
  2. Swimming water helps to prevent parasites and worms in ducks 
  3. Give ducks plenty of land to use and avoid overcrowding
  4. Rotate ducks on land after several years of use to allow the land to revive and avoid over-contamination of worms and other parasites 
  5. Keep ducks isolated from wild ducks
  6. Isolate new ducks for 4-6 weeks before integrating them into your flock so you can make sure they are disease and illness free 

Although ducks rarely get worms, there are several species of worms that can infect ducks and make them sick, especially if any of the risk factors, such as overcrowding, are present. The five types of worms that can (but rarely) affect ducks are:

  • Tapeworm and fluke worm
  • Gapeworm (syngamus) makes ducks wheeze. This worm resides in the windpipe. In extreme cases, it can cause death through asphyxiation.
  • Roundworm (Ascaridea) lives in the gut of the duck. It comes out in droppings and will usually spread from wild bird droppings. 
  • Gizzard worm (Amidostomum) is more common in geese but can be found occasionally in ducks. 
  • Caecal worm (Heterakis) infects the caeca. The caecum is a pouch found in ducks in the junction of the gut. 

For most backyard duck owners, their pet ducks are not at risk of worms. However, parasites can usually be found in some quantity almost anywhere. As a result, it is possible for pet ducks to get worms. 

There are several things that usually indicate worms in ducks. An underweight duck can indicate worms residing in the gut and stomach. Coughing or wheezing in ducks are also an indicator of worms in the windpipe or throat. 

Treatment for Worms In Ducks 

There are several treatment options for ducks. Unfortunately, once they catch worms, it will be harder for your ducks to get rid of the worms naturally. Once they have worms, it’s important to treat the worms to avoid the spread of worms to other ducks and to limit the health effects of the worms on your ducks. 

Two main options exist for deworming your ducks. You can get a prescription dewormer from your vet or you can purchase a poultry dewormer. 

The most popular medicated dewormer is called Flubevet. In the United States, it has to be obtained through a vet. It is used for birds and kills internal parasites. 

To use it, Flubenvet is usually added to the duck food. 

Another option is to purchase poultry dewormer that can be found over-the-counter. My recommended dewormer can be purchased on Amazon and is called Durvet Strike III Poultry Dewormer.

This works best as a preventative measure but will help to drastically decrease worms in chickens and ducks. Since ducks are more immune from worms, it helps to eradicate worms in ducks more than to completely get rid of worms in chickens. 

Simply mix the dewormer with the duck food and mix it up. 

If you choose to deworm your ducks, they should generally be dewormed about every 6 months. 

Will Ducks Catch Illnesses From Sick Chickens? 

Many illnesses that plague chickens don’t bother ducks. That’s because chickens have a lower body temperature than ducks. Chickens’ average body temperature is around 104 degrees Fahrenheit. While that is higher than a person, it’s lower than a duck. 

An adult duck’s average body temperature is 107 degrees Fahrenheit. The extra 3-4 degrees higher than a chicken’s temperature is enough to kill most chicken diseases. It’s a lot like when people get a fever when ill. A fever is the body’s way to kill off many types of bacteria and illnesses. 

A duck’s higher temperature effectively keeps them immune from most diseases. 

In addition, ducks are simply hardier and generally healthier than most chickens. While there are a variety of diseases that chickens can catch, there are many fewer illnesses ducks can catch. 

Ducks are more likely to be injured than to get ill. 

But, in certain conditions, ducks can get sick. Young ducks are also much more prone to get ill if exposed to illness than an adult duck. 

Duck Diseases and Illnesses 

Although rare, in some parts of the world, and under certain conditions, ducks can get ill. Cornell University has extensively studied diseases in ducks and identified several illnesses that ducks can get and that are contagious to ducks. 

In most cases, unless your ducks are exposed to a lot of other ducks, they are unlikely to catch these diseases, but exposure can occur from wild or newly introduced ducks. 

Duck Virus Hepatitis 

Duck Virus Hepatitis is a highly contagious disease that usually affects ducklings that are less than one month old. Ducklings grow more resistance to the disease as they get older. Duck virus hepatitis is almost never seen in ducks after 4 weeks of age. 

Ducklings that are raised in large batches are most likely to catch this illness. Duck Virus Hepatitis spreads rapidly among young ducks and will quickly make them sick. It often causes as high as a 90% mortality rate among a flock of ducklings. 

One sign of the disease is that duckling will develop spasmodic contractions in their legs. They will get an arched back position. Once ducklings start arching their back, they usually die within an hour or two. 

If an autopsy is performed, the liver of the duckling will be enlarged. 

Breeders should keep various age groups of ducklings isolated from other ages of ducklings. If this disease shows up, breeders can also vaccinate ducklings against Duck Virus Hepatitis. Vaccinations can be obtained from a vet. 

  • Spasmodic contractions of the legs 
  • Arched back position
  • Enlarged liver

Duck Plague (Duck Virus Enteritis) 

Duck plague is a highly contagious, difficult, and very fatal disease of ducks. It is caused by the herpes virus. The medical name for Duck plague is Duck Viral Enteritis. Unlike other diseases, Duck Plague is usually found in adult ducks. 

Sometimes, it is found in young ducks. 

Signs of Duck Plague are sluggish birds with ruffled feathers. You may notice bleeding around the vent area. Infected ducks will often have green-yellow diarrhea and their poop may be blood-stained. 

Duck Viral Enteritis causes hemorrhages throughout a duck’s body. Dead ducks will often have bloody feathers and may show bloody nostrils. The bodies of dead ducks will also show hemorrhages throughout the body on the tissue. 

One of the most common places for bleeding in the membranes of the nostrils. The mucus lining and esophagus will also usually bleed from Duck Plague. 

Plus, the cloaca will also bleed. This is what causes the stool to be bloody. 

Flocks can be immunized against Duck Plague to prevent the spread of this disease. 

  • Sluggish birds with ruffled feathers
  • Hemorrhages throughout the body
  • Yellow-green diarrhea
  • Blood may be found in the stool
  • Bleeding from the nose may be observed

New Duck Disease (Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection, Pasteurella Anatipestifer, or Infectious Serositis)

This is a bacterial disease that causes high mortality in ducks. It is known by a variety of names including Pasteurella Anatipestifer Infection, New Duck Disease, and Infectious Serositis. 

The common name for New Duck Disease changes, depending on what part of the world you live in. 

Symptoms of New Duck Disease include weight loss, arthritis, and death. Ducks may show listlessness and be lethargic. You may also notice an eye discharge in your ducks. Diarrhea is another common sign of New Duck Disease.  

Other symptoms include incoordination, twisted neck, or the frequent shaking of the head. 

If your ducks are found paddling on their backs, that is another sign of New Duck Disease. 

Dead ducks will show lesions on their air sacs, heart, liver, and meningitis. 

Infected ducks can usually be saved through a Penicillin treatment in their feed. 

  • Weight loss
  • Arthritis
  • Listlessness
  • Eye discharge
  • Diarrhea
  • Incoordination
  • Shaking head and twisted neck 

Avian Cholera or Fowl Cholera

This is a more common disease in domestic ducks. It’s caused by the bacteria Pasteurella Multocida and is commonly found in Asia. It’s usually only found when ducks have had poor sanitation. 

Dirty water, overcrowding, and filthy conditions usually lend the emergence of this illness. 

Infected ducks will usually have a decrease in appetite and mucous discharge from the mouth and nostrils. 

In addition, you might also notice diarrhea or labored breathing. 

If dead ducks are autopsied, lesions are usually found on the heart, mesentery and abdominal fat. Lesions may show up in the form of hemorrhages. The liver will also be enlarged and copper-colored. Small white spots may also show up on the liver. 

  • Decreased appetite
  • Unsanitary living conditions including standing water
  • Diarrhea
  • Labored breathing 
  • Mucus from the mouth and nostrils 

Sanitary conditions usually keep this illness away and prevent illnesses. If ducks are showing signs of this illness, antibiotics can be obtained from a vet that are added to the feed. 

Colibacillosis

Colibacillosis is an infection that affects chickens, ducks, and turkeys. It’s caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli. It reduces the hatching rates in ducks. It also infects the yolk sac. It causes blood poisoning in young ducks, usually under 7 weeks of age, are the most at risk for this infection, although ducks at 8 weeks of age can also get sick. 

Breeder ducks can get the bacteria and pass it onto the eggs. Commercial ducks that get sick usually get lesions similar to the Avian Cholera illness. 

Although Colibacillosis is common in wild ducks, it has not been researched extensively. 

One of the best ways to prevent this illness is to maintain good sanitation for your flock. Provide plenty of space per duck and avoid overcrowding. 

Ducks that get ill usually experience a decrease in appetite and weight loss. They may appear to be depressed and become lethargic.

If your ducks appear sick, it’s important to clean out the duck house and disinfect it to avoid spreading the illness. Isolate sick ducks from healthy ones and maintain a close eye on healthy ducks. 

Aspergillosis 

Aspergillus fumigatus is a common mold species that grows on damp straw or wet feed. When ducks inhale the mold spores, it can make them very sick. Although ducks aren’t as susceptible to moist air and respiratory ailments as chickens, mold does a lot of damage to ducks.

Chickens and turkeys will usually get sick first from the mold spores, but ducks will also get sick.  

Aspergillosis causes plaques in the lungs and air sacs. Their throats will get nodules. 

Ducks that are infected will gasp for air. They will become dehydrated and listless.  Ducks can get the chronic or acute form of the illness.
There are not very effective treatments for aspergillosis once ducks have caught it. The best thing is to make sure that your birds aren’t exposed to damp and moldy bedding, food, or other forms of mold. 

Toxins That Commonly Poison Ducks 

Ducks are susceptible to some kinds of toxins even more than chickens or turkeys. If you own ducks, be aware of these toxins and how to avoid them. In most cases, the backyard duck or farm duck isn’t usually exposed, but it can happen. 

Aflatoxin Poisoning

Fungus and mold that grows on grain is especially toxic for ducks. The grains that these toxins are especially barley, wheat, oats, and millet. 

The most dangerous of these toxins is called aflatoxins. Aflatoxins can affect humans and other animals if ingested, but in small amounts won’t usually make people or larger animals sick. 

But, it can be deadly for ducks. 

The two types of molds that produce aflatoxins are Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Very small amounts of these molds can cause death in ducks. 

If you are farming grains and have a wet season or an especially wet fall, this poses a greater danger for your duck flock. 

Take care to keep grains away from ducks. 

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Oat
  • Rye 
  • Corn 

Botulism 

If ducks are exposed to stale water, stagnant ponds, or pools, they are at a greater risk of botulism. 

Anytime ducks are in an area that had decaying organic matter, they will be at risk of botulism. This includes being around dead animals or rotten water. Ponds that don’t have clean water coming in or going out are at a particular risk of this. 

Clostridium botulinum is an anaerobic bacterium that grows from the carcass of dead animals. This bacteria is very dangerous for ducks to eat or drink. 

Warm temperatures are more risky for ducks than colder temperatures. In the summer and warm months of the year, you should be more cautious. Make sure your ducks have clean water to drink from and swim in. 

Symptoms of botulism include limpness in the neck. It becomes paralyzed. That’s called limberneck. The legs and wings can also show paralysis. 

Sick ducks will usually go into a coma and die within 24-48 hours.  

Food Toxicities

In Texas, wild ducks have been reported to die in high numbers from eating castor beans. Castor beans contain ricin. Ricon has been known to be toxic to people and other animals. This type of poisoning hasn’t been studied in ducks. 

Another type of food poisoning that can affect ducks is rapeseed meal. Older varieties of rapeseed can contain erucic acid. Ducks are a lot more sensitive to erucic acid than chickens or turkeys and will get sick from exposure. 

Genetically improved rapeseed, also called Canola, have a lot lower level of this toxin. If you plan to feed your ducks any amount of rapeseed, test it with smaller amounts and increase the amount in a few ducks before feeding it to your entire flock. 

This can help to prevent widespread poisoning in your flock. 

Other Health Concerns For Ducks 

Angel Wing in Ducks 

Angel wing is a conditioning ducts where the wing starts to twist away from the body around where the flight feathers are found. Angel wing is caused by too much protein in a ducks diet. 

The light bones of the wing become twisted. 

Happily, angel wing is not a life-threatening condition and can be corrected. If you catch it early, it will be a lot easier to correct. Ducks that finish growing with angel wings are much harder to correct. 

Growing ducks are most at risk of developing angel wing. Watch most carefully for angel wing between the ages of 8 weeks and 12 weeks. 

Take immediate action at the slightest indication the the last portion of the wing is starting to grow upwards instead of near the body.

There are several things you can do to help correct angel wing, depending on the severity of it. First, lower the protein intake of your ducks. Young ducklings shouldn’t be fed the high-protein chick feed. Ducks should be fed no more than 20% protein. If you purchase chick feed for your ducks, just watch the protein levels to make sure you aren’t overfeeding your duck’s protein. 

You can also supplement their food with veggies, leafy greens, and other vegetation to lower their protein intake. 

Next, make sure that you provide your ducks with plenty of exercise. Ducks should have enough area to move around and not be confined. Exercise helps to fix angel wing. 

Lastly, if the condition is more severe, you can fasten a wing sling or a body wrap to help pull the wing closer to the body to help it to grow in the right position. 

Simply and gently wrap around the wing and the duck’s body with a medical wrap. This will help to hold the wing closer to the body as it grows. 

Bound Crop or Sour Crop

Bound crop occurs when food gets lodged in your duck’s crop. This can happen if your duck doesn’t have enough access to grit or if it consumes long grass. 

Generally, ducks should not be left to pasture on long grasses and it is harder for them to break it down and the grass can get lodged. 

Remember, ducks don’t have teeth so grit is the only way they break up their food and if the grass is too long, it can be too hard. 

You can tell if your duck has bound crop by feeling the crop area and if it’s hard or looks swollen, it’s a sign of bound crop. Gently massage the crop area. Make sure your duck has plenty of water and grit. You can also give your duck a little vegetable oil to help break up the mass.

Long grass can cause bound crop (1) 

Continue for as many days as it takes for the crop to become softer. In extreme cases of bound crop, your duck may stop eating altogether. That is when bound crop becomes a more serious condition. 

  • Gently massage the duck’s crop
  • Provide plenty of water, grit, and if needed vegetable oil to help break up the lump
  • Avoid feeding your duck long grasses

Sour crop is when your duck’s crop gets a yeast infection or other bacterial infection in the crop area. 

Your duck’s breath will smell rancid and bad if that happens. There are several causes of sour crop including injury, worms, poor sanitation, moldy food, and a bound crop. 

A duck that’s developed sour crop should go without food for 12 hours. Water should still be provided. Massage the crop area every 4-5 hours to help loosen the food in the crop. 

As the crop loosens up, you can feed your duck some yogurt mixed with her pellets. This will give her a dose of probiotics to help fight the infection. 

Bumblefoot

Bumblefoot is most common in chickens but is fairly common in ducks. Heavier breeds of ducks are more at risk of bumblefoot. 

Bumblefoot is caused when the foot of a duck gets cut or torn and then gets infected. It causes a black scab on the underneath side of the foot. 

If you notice bumblefoot, treat the sore with an antibiotic cream to help get rid of the infection. If you notice that your duck’s foot is cut, treat it immediately. Don’t wait for an infection to occur. 

The skin around a duck’s foot is very thin and doesn’t heal quickly. I once had a duck get cut on their foot. Although we treated and was able to prevent infection, that duck still has a hole in the foot where the cut punctured the foot. 

You can help to prevent bumblefoot by keeping sharp rocks and other objects out of your duck’s area. 

Egg Binding

When a female duck can’t lay an egg, the egg becomes stuck inside her. This usually happens on the first egg, but can occur at other times.  

If you suspect egg binding, then act immediately. Bound egg can cause infection and other issues in your duck if not resolved. 

Usually putting your duck in a warm bath will be enough to help the egg come out. 

Apply vegetable oil around her vent area to help slide the egg out. 

Warm, moist conditions will usually help the egg to come out. 

If the egg is still stuck, seek the help of a vet to help you massage and remove the egg from inside your duck. 

Eye Infections

Eye infections in ducks can be fairly common, but are easily treated if treated soon. You can notice an eye infection by seeing the puss, mucus, or a cloudy discharge around the eye area. 

The eyes are connected to your duck’s nasal cavities so anytime the nasal area gets infected, it will usually affect the eyes. 

Eye infections can be caused by several reasons. THe two most common reasons are:

  1. Lack of water ducks can submerge their bills in while eating 
  2. Mating side effects

When ducks eat, they need to be able to submerge their bills in the water. This helps them to clear our their nasal cavities and keep it free from infection. 

If ducks don’t have access to this “deeper” water, they will easily get infected. A single day without sufficient water can be enough to cause nasal infections that manifest as eye infections 

Another cause of eye infections is mating. When the male duck mates the female duck, it grabs the back of her neck with his beak. 

That’s close to where her sinuses are located. 

Again, sufficient water to rinse this helps to clear it up fairly quickly. 

Conclusion

Health issues in your ducks can be scary, but don’t have to be. Ducks really are more hearty and healthy than chickens and many other kinds of poultry. It’s most important to provide plenty of space and a clean living environment to your ducks. If that’s done, then most issues will be avoided most of the time. 

Resources

Cornell University

Merck Vet Manual of Duck Vaccinations

ScienceDirect Study of Duck Diets

Study on Angel Wing

Effects of Protein Diets in Pekin Ducks

Annemaria Duran

Hi, I’m Annemaria Duran. I moved out to the country 6 years ago, mainly so I could have more land. I love all aspects of country living. First, we got chickens, then ducks. Now we have sheep, goats, and rabbits. I'm always learning and love sharing it!

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