Friday, June 22, 2012

Botulism Poisoning in Waterfowl

I have been accused of being too attentive to the animals entrusted to my care. I will admit that I am not one of those people that acquire animals just to corral them behind a fence and forget about them, letting them fend for themselves. You can learn a lot about animals if you take the time to observe them on a continuous basis. You can even learn their "language". For instance I know when there is something threatening in the yard by the noise my little 1 1/2 pound bantam rooster makes. Certain noises from him send me to the window or out the door to check.  It is the reason I have him. He may be small but he does all the rooster things that the big boys do including defending the girls.see story here I know when one of the hens has been cornered by one or both of the ganders after trespassing on their territory by the kind of racket the geese make. It is different from the other vocalizations they make and I have had to rescue more than one chicken who has had the misfortune of getting on their bad side. Ducks on the other hand don't have as many vocalizations as geese and chickens so I have to depend on knowing visually if something is amiss. This I have learned the hard way.

This year I decided to increased my duck flock so that I could meet the demand for duck eggs. After raising 9 ducklings and  finding homes for 4 drakes I have ended up with a total of 8 ducks. Three of them are my original girls that I got last year and the other five are new and about 3 months old. Starting about 10 days ago my young ducks started getting sick one at a time. The first time, I had stuck my head out the door to check up on everyone which always brings them running. One of my Rouen ducks was missing and he was never separated from the flock so I went looking. I found him floating on the pond barely able to move and just minutes from drowning. He was unable to lift his head out of the water and he was paddling feebly with one foot. I quickly grabbed a leaf rake and placing it under him pulled him to the edge of the pond where I could lift him out. (I was ready to go in after him if it had been necessary.)  Since I had already been through this last year  I was pretty sure I knew what was wrong with him. So into the house grabbing the "pet" towels as I went, I placed him on the kitchen island and started giving him Epsom salts water with an eye dropper. (2 Tbs. dissolved in a cup of water). You wont use all of it but this is a good amount to make. By early next morning he was recovered and ready to go out with his friends.

Now about this time you are probably wondering how I have so much time to baby sit my birds. I probably wouldn't have noticed this ducks absence if it hadn't been for an incident a few days earlier. A coyote had crept onto our property and after attempting to snatch one chicken and getting only a mouthful of feathers it successfully snagged another one on its way out. Lucy the WBG
Lucy,WBG (like Phd. for dogs)
(wanna be guardian) dog was in the house and barking like crazy and since it was one of those rare times that I decided to attempt taking a power nap it took me about 30 seconds to get up and see what she was going nuts about.  By the time I made it out the door all we found were two piles of two different colored feathers, a slightly injured and terrified chicken hiding in a bush and a dying flapping chicken at the edge of the woods where the coyote had dropped it. I didn't see the coyote but a predatory bird does not try to snatch two chickens at the same time. I am really glad Lucy wasn't outside.  I really didn't need her tangling with a wild dog. But then again maybe it wouldn't have happened if she had been there. So yes, when I found the duck I was being especially attentive to what was going on in my yard.

Botulism poisoning seems to be fast acting. Especially if you don't recognize the early signs. Often by the time you notice something is amiss it is too late to save them and if your duck or goose happens to be swimming when symptoms begin they will drown. The earlier you get to them the better your chances of saving them. That said here is a list of symptoms listed in order.

The bird starts moving slower and starts separating itself from the rest of the flock. You will question weather or not you are seeing something off in your bird.
They seem to not be able to see you when you approach them.
They will take a few steps then sit down.
They become unable to walk or walk like they are drunk.
When they sit you will notice their head starting to waver around like they are drunk. This gets much more pronounced as symptoms progress.
Eventually they are unable to raise their head progressing to laying flat with legs out behind.
Twitching and convulsing.
Inability to swallow.
Convulsing duck throws its head around. 

I have become quite expert at seeing the early symptoms because in the last week I have had 5 ducks affected and lost one. The last time I had two ducks showing symptoms at the same time and it is because I was working out in the yard that I noticed something just a little off. The sooner you get to them the faster they recover and it is much easier to get them to take the Epsom salts water. In fact they seem to actually want it and will drink out of a bowl if you find them at the very early stage. However you will need to direct their bills into the water because they don't seem to be able to see it. My last two ducks took two hours for the one that was only showing signs of blindness to 8 hours for the other one that
was beginning to stagger.

Paralyzed  flat duck

I have no idea what it is in my yard that is causing this but for now my ducks are going to stay locked up in their pasture with only an occasional supervised walk to go play in the pond. Botulism poisoning is usually caused by ingesting rotting or spoiled things such as dead animals or produce. I don't have either on my property but I have noticed an abundance of mushrooms and toadstools lately. Probably brought on by the rain we are having. The duck that got sick last year got sick at the same time almost to the day as these and it only seems to be the young ducks that are affected. Maybe they don't know enough to not eat the mushrooms. So far this week we have had no sick ducks for about 4 days and counting. Either they have learned not to eat the bad stuff or locking them in is keeping them safe. It is sad to watch them stand at the fence gazing longingly at the pond. Especially since the geese and the older ducks get to go play in it. I will let them out again when I feel comfortable doing so. I will also be watching them like a hawk.


Izzy said...

OMG, I've never heard of such a thing, thank you for sharing. Ever see this in chickens? I'm glad your ducks doing better. It's hard losing an animal especially when you're as dedicated to them as you are.

sista said...

No I haven't seen it in chickens but chickens eat different stuff. They pick at bugs and eat fresh greens. Ducks are daubers and root around in the mud and grass eating bugs and anything else that seems tasty. Geese can get it but it is more difficult because they graze on fresh grass mostly. Don't worry about the chickens. They have their own list of nasty diseases and the list is longer.

Jennifer said...

My understanding of botulism (from researching it for canning) is that it is an anaerobic bacteria, and it is actually the toxic byproduct from them that causes the poisoning. It makes me wonder if it isn't your pond. Water bodies go through different stages of aerobic or anaerobic being based on temperature. That, plus maybe a dead animal that drowned and sunk in your pond, could be the source. And the timing could be related to temperature. The spores are in the environment, so there is no way to eliminate them. I just got ducks this year, so am really glad to know about this. Thanks for posting.

sista said...

You are absolutely right. However the pond has been getting flushed many times over with the rain we are getting. There is nothing dead in the pond. I have looked in under around and through. I have locked them up, let them out for a limited time and in a limited area with me on their tails, and I have narrowed it down to one area. That area happens to be near the fence that is between our 4 acres and a housing development where the nearest neighbor likes to use lawn and pest chemicals. The only thing I can think of is that they are using slug bait which doesn't really kill slugs in this rain. Just makes them crawl off sick until the next round of rain rehydrates them but in the mean time they crawl within reach of my ducks. I have been keeping them away from that half of the property and so far so good. But I have no proof and can't find anything else it could be. Poison is poison though.

Leigh said...

I didn't know about this either, so this was a very informative post. We aren't inclined to get geese, but maybe ducks someday. So I need to be aware of these things.