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Domestic 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: ducks must be able to have access to buckets and ponds in order 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 real 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: lack of appetite, limping, straining or generally slow behaviour - which means a bird is off-colour.
  • Worm the birds routinely twice a year. Or check if they carry parasitic worms by using Westgate Laboratories worm count kit for chickens, ducks and geese etc. External link image
  • Note that antibiotics in the UK can only be prescribed by a vet. Follow appropriate withdrawal times for antibiotics and any other treatments.


  • 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.


  • Symptoms: loss of muscular control of legs, wings and neck - hence the term limber-neck. 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.


  • Symptoms: red blood in the droppings; thin birds 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. They are more common in summer in hot, wet conditions.
  • Treatment: anticoccidial medication in the drinking water e.g. Harker's Coxoid, obtainable from your vet or Interhatch. Follow instructions about withdrawal times. The coccidiostat added to poultry (hen) grower pellets is not a suitable treatment. Avoid problems by growing young ducklings on clean ground, moving their protective coop on to a new patch each day. Coccidiosis is not a 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.


Inflammation and bleeding in the gut can be produced by bacteria or duck viral enteritis more info.

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.The bacterial disease is probably transmitted by the wild bird population. Discourage wild mallard from mingling with domestic ducks.
  • Treatment: bacterial enteritis is easily treated by using soluble antibiotic powders from the vet, in the drinking water (but you must catch this early.) No other water should be available. Move the birds on to clean ground a couple of days after treatment has commenced. Make sure the birds get eight days' treatment. Follow the instructions about dosage and withdrawal times.


  • Symptoms: hot leg, swollen ankle or swollen hock. .
  • Cause: bacterial infection.
  • Treatment: course of antibiotic injections from the vet.


  • 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 an 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. This is a rare affliction in Runners, but the maggots can eat the bird internally. If this is the case, the bird may have to be put down. Ivermectin can be applied to kill the maggots externally; applied to the duck’s skin, ivermectin is absorbed, and also kills internal parasites.


  • Symptoms: birds scratch a lot. The 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.
  • Treatment: use pesticides such as pyrethrum or ivermectin (see the web pages on Worms and Mites for the dosage of ivermectin which is a systemic treatment for pests). Always follow instructions about withdrawal times which come with these products. more info

Lead poisoning

  • Symptoms: lack of co-ordination, loss of weight.
  • Cause: lead shot from cartridges or 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 - Fowl Cholera

  • Symptoms: loss of appetite, increased thirst, watery (then green) droppings, loss of co-ordination.
  • 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.


  • Symptoms: Males - the penis is dropped externally from the body. Make sure the bird is kept clean - plenty of access to water, Sometimes the bird resolves the problem itself. More often, in Runner drakes (perhaps because of their upright posture), the penis cannot be retracted. The bird should be 'put down' if the problem persists; a general infection can develop.
  • Females - the lower part of the oviduct protrudes. This is caused by difficulty in passing an egg (often only seen when the flesh has dried and become dirty). Affected birds are usually best put down. Avoid this condition by feeding a good pelleted layers' diet, which has the correct proportions of calcium and phosphorus. A bird having difficulty in passing an egg should be kept warm at 20 - 30 degrees C and given a calcium supplement. This can be oral (Calcivet from The Bird Care Company) or by injection by a vet (calcium borogluconate, administered with oxytocin by a vet). more info

Respiratory Problems

  • Symptoms: the bird 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 in the case of a bacterial infection. Consult your vet. 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 Indian Runners, where it is rare.
  • Treatment: appropriate antibiotic injection from the vet. 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.

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.
  • Treatment: Feed growing birds a lower protein diet while they develop the primary feathers. Make sure they get exercise and are not kept in unnecessarily hot conditions. Change the breeding stock if the problem persists.

Worms - Parasitic

For further information on the use of veterinary medicines please contact your Vet or visit the website of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate External link image. NOAH is the trade association representing the UK animal health industry.

Page last updated: 9th October 2023