Andrew and I love animals but never in our wildest dreams did we think we would love ducks this much... We
know each of them by name, and they all have their own fun personalities. Watching our ducks play outside has
become therapy for us (it is a lot cheaper than actual therapy too haha). They come running for treats and a few will actually eat out of your hand, Roo being one of them. The ducks also bring in some money with their eggs that we sell to local restaurants. So when something happens to one of our ducks, it is very emotional. This past week or so has been one of those emotional roller coasters...
Roo, one of our many ducks, started showing signs of Avian Botulism. If you know what that is, then you know it is very hard to save them when they get it (Please note, we are in no way trained in diagnosing or treating animals, this is what we have learned over time owning ducks). Basically, Avian Botulism is a paralytic disease brought on by the Botulinum neurotoxin of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. In simpler terms, it is caused by toxic bacteria causing paralysis and death. Botulism occurs if they eat or drink anything containing botulism toxin. This can be found in things like soil, rotting vegetables, food, or carcasses. Also, anywhere that maggots live can typically cause this, and ducks love bugs so that is a problem. Here are some samples of things that cause this issue: Wet, decomposing feed, rotten food scrapes or fallen vegetables in your garden bed that attract maggots, dead animals (field mice... or other little things that can show up on farmland and go unnoticed), or even just vegetation that dies off and rots. It only takes a little bit of that toxin in a duck to kill them.
Some of the signs of Avian Botulism are:
Birds are found sitting or lying on the ground more than normal
Hunched over and unable to stand
Floppy and weak/cannot hold their heads up
Leg weakness or paralysis
So when Roo started showing the signs of this, we of course freaked out!
You have to understand something, Roo has a special place in our hearts from the second she was hatched. She was an egg from one of our original 9 ducks that we hatched in an incubator. So, we watched her whole process from being laid to being hatched. She had trouble breaking out of her shell in the incubator and we had to intervene to save her. However, when she was finally out of her shell, she started having issues standing up and walking. She also looked frail and like she would not make it through the night. We pulled out all of the stops for her and saved her life! She also had splayed legs so we corrected that issue too. She was so much smaller than the other ducks that were in her hatch batch (pictured below in the pool for reference). After saving her the first time around and her living for over a year, there is no way we would let her go without a fight the second time around too.
We are pretty sure Roo got the toxin from digging in our garden beds because she loves going in there and finding delicious treats (aka mega large worms). We didn't see some of the vegetables that had fallen on the ground rotten and were camouflaged by weeds. It wasn't until after Roo was sick that we decided to check every last inch of the property they are able to roam through. We know it wasn't from their feed or water because we change and clean those daily.
We have caught some ducks early enough to save them in the past, but at that time we didn't know it was most likely Avian Botulism. This was the first time we suspected it almost right away, which might be the reason we were able to save her by catching it early on. So, if you have a duck or bird showing any of the signs, start treating them ASAP! Roo's first signs were that she was laying down and slightly hunched in the neck. We knew that wasn't normal for her because she is a very active duck who has major FOMO (fear of missing out). So, right away we pulled her from the crew and put her in the sick ward.
We immediately gave her some Nutri-Drench mixed in her water. Thankfully she was still eating and drinking. If their necks go floppy sometimes it is too late to save them because they won't be able to eat or drink. Thankfully she was not to that level yet! We would put some mealworms in her water to encourage her to drink (because she never passes up a mealworm treat), and it worked like a charm. After the first day in the sick ward, it seemed as though she was getting better and we were feeling hopeful. However, at the end of the day we noticed her having issues balancing while standing, she finally got to the point that she laid down and did not want to stand. Slowly after that, her head became heavy and she would rest it on the ground causing her to look like she had a snapped neck... those are definitely not good signs... We were worried she would not make it through the night and it broke our hearts. She is a fighter though and we knew that, so we were going to do every last thing we could possibly think to do!
Day 2 of her illness: After researching the night away, we found some possible ideas that could help heal a duck with botulism. A few articles claimed if you mixed 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts with 1/2 a cup of water and get as much of it down the duck's throat (a needleless syringe you use to give oral medication works well) or, you can have them drink it if they are willing. It is said that it can counteract botulism, just beware it can act as a laxative to ducks when they drink it. Be sure that the Epsom salt is plain with no scents added. Thankfully we have that on hand in our ducks first aid kit because it helps with bumblefoot! I highly suggest if you have birds that are prone to bumblefoot, keep plenty of Epsom salt on hand.
Day 3: She was still wobbly when walking, but she was no longer having issues holding her head up. She would still rest frequently but was showing signs of progress. I put Durvet Vitamins & Electrolytes for poultry powder in her water on this day. I had to assist her in eating and drinking because she was still having issues standing without falling over.
Day 4: She was standing up on her own a bit more, and seemed to have a little more energy. We decided to give her some monitored pool time PT. She loved being back in the water, it also helped her regain strength because when she lost strength from standing in the pool for a bit or from attempting to preen, she could just fall and float. We added some of the Durvet Vitamins & Electrolytes for poultry powder to her pool water since she was drinking it a lot while swimming, giving us the opportunity to easily pump some vitamins into her. Her friends loved her pool time PT because it gave them the opportunity to come and hang out and say hi which we think helped lift her spirits. Ducks in solitude become lonely and some say that it has a negative impact on their recovery. So we like to give them as much facetime with others if possible (only if they aren't contagious from something).
Day 5: She was standing and walking a lot more, so we let her walk around outside with her duck friends while we supervised. She was able to keep up with them which was good. Sometimes she had to catch her balance, using her beak to push her back from falling forward. Her energy levels were up, she was eating/drinking and her full recovery was very promising by this day! We were not sure how long she would continue having some balance issues, but with how well she was progressing each day, we didn't expect the issues to last long. We decided it was time for her to be in the coop with her friends, but we had a fence between her and the others in the coop at night. Sometimes ducks can be mean to the smaller vulnerable ducks when they are weak. We also didn't want our male ducks to take advantage of her while she was still recovering.
Day 6: Roo was 97% looking better and back to her normal self! Since she wasn't showing any issues, we allowed her to go back to gen-pop with her crew and play! We would check on her frequently and she was doing swimmingly (pun intended) every time. We gave her one more night in the coop with a separation fence between her and the others and then the following night let her sleep together with the others.
After a stressful week of trying to save our precious Roo, we successfully were able to bring her out of the danger zone and she fights to see another day (hopefully many more). Unfortunately, while dealing with Roo's illness, we lost one of our elder runner ducks Raptor, to what we think was a stealth hawk or falcon who swooped in and stole her since there were no signs of struggle anywhere. She was one of our original 9 ducks that started our Halo Hills farm, so this was a painful loss. It also came at the worst time because that was during the beginning days of trying to save Roo. We thought we might lose two very special ducks to us all at the same time. Our ducks have become more than just ducks, they are our pets, our laughter, our entertainment, and our breadwinners!
Here are some of the items we used to help Roo recover from Avian Botulism:
Nutri-drench (Tractor Supply is where we got ours)
Durvet Vitamins & Electrolytes for poultry (Tractor Supply)
Regular Epsom Salts (Walgreens is where we got ours)
Medicine syringe (Amazon)
Hope this information helps if you ever find yourself in this situation with your birds!
Pictures of Roo during the recovery process