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Disease patterns

Ducks, we are told "exhibit greater resistance to most diseases and parasites than do most domestic fowl" (1). Because of this, few drugs have been approved for ducks, so antibiotics are not routinely given (2). According to the FSIS, if a drug is given it is done through the feed (3). Feed medications are given to control the common diseases of ducks: colibacillosis, fowl cholera, salmonellosis, and necrotic enteritis (4).


The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, part of North Carolina State University College of Agriculture & Life Science (5), list the following as descriptions of these diseases:

Colibacillosis - A common duck disease caused by the bacterium Escherichia coli. E. Coli can cause embryonic and duckling mortality by infecting the yolk sac. Most common is the infection of the digestive track and air sacs. Infected ducklings appear droopy and listless and exhibit diarrhea and ocular discharge.

Fowl cholera - Contagious disease of domestic ducks and other birds, which is caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida. Sick ducklings refuse feed and exhibit diarrhea and mucus discharge from the mount. Mortality may be as high as 50%.

Salmonellosis - Another common duck disease caused by a variety of serotypes of salmonella. Infected ducks are listless, dehydrated, exhibit diarrhea, and show signs of incoordination and head tremors. Mortality is about 10%.

Necrotic enteritis - Common infectious disease of breeder ducks for which the exact cause is unknown. Infected ducks are weak and unable to stand; and their digestive tracts are swollen and filled with blood stained fluids. Mortality is high: approximately 40%.

Medicated feeds

According to the Food and Drug Administration, only the following drugs have been approved for use in duck feed (6).

Albamix Feed Medication is used to control infectious serositis and fowl cholera caused by Pasteurella anatipestifer and P. multocida, which are susceptible to novobiocin - the product's main ingredient. It is not used for laying ducks.

Aureomycin Type A Medicated Article is used for the control and treatment of fowl cholera caused by Pasteurella multocida, which are susceptible to chlortetracycline - the product's main ingredient. It is not used with ducks producing eggs for human consumption.

Chlorachel 10, Chlorachel 20, and Chlorachel 35 are used for the control and treatment of fowl cholera caused by Pasteurella multocida, which are susceptible to chlortetracycline - the product's main ingredient.

Protomone Thyroactive Casein is used to increase the rate of weight gain and improved feathering in growing ducks.

Global diseases

World Poultry Misset (7) provides a list of poultry diseases which can occur anywhere in the world. Those affecting ducks are in addition to those described above and include the following:

Adenovirus - Associated with many diseases including respiratory disease and viral arthritis.

Amyloidosis - Associated with infected lesions on the feet and amongst adults in heavier strains of commercial ducks.

Ascites - More often associated with chickens, it made its first appearance in birds kept at high altitudes. It is mostly caused by increased oxygen demand resulting from too-rapid growth in combination with restricted blood flow through the small capillaries in lungs of birds selected for 'meatiness' (8).

Avian influenza - Believed to be spread by close contact. Results in respiratory distress and depression.

Avian malaria - Similar to the human form of the disease.

Avian salmonellosis

Avian staphylococcus - Associated with a wide variety of diseases, including arthritis and tenosynovitis.

Bacterial synovitis - An infection of the joints, tendons and surrounding tissues resulting in lameness.

Fowl Pest (Newcastle disease) - Ducks show few signs of infection even with virulent strains of fowl cholera but the disease can spread via ventilation apertures into the environment. Vaccines are of little effectiveness in overcrowded conditions where management is poor and may even produce the disease.

Keratoconjunctivitis (Ammonia blindness). It is caused by ammonia in concentrations of 170 ppm or more (9). Poorly managed, damp litter in badly ventilated housing can be instrumental in triggering this extremely painful disease, which can result in hemorrhages of the conjunctiva and corneal ulcers. Damp litter is a major problem in duck units (as litter is not cleaned out frequently enough) and some U.S. producers tackle it by allowing only nipple drinkers or by keeping ducks on wire flooring.

Yolk sac infection (Omphalitis). Often the result of poor conditions in hatcheries, it can cause 100 percent mortality in the worst outbreaks by infecting most organs.

Perosis (Slipped tendon) - a leg deformity in ducklings, causing lameness.

Tibial dyschondroplasia. A skeletal deformity associated with rapid growth and mineral imbalances.

Cloacitis (Vent gleet). An infection of the cloaca in breeding ducks and drakes - occurs particularly "under dirty conditions of husbandry" (10). Scarring can damage the vent, making egg laying and even defecating impossible.

Visceral gout. Caused by renal failure, it results in swelling and ulceration of the joints.

Starve out. This results when young or injured birds fail to recognize or reach food and water points.

Rickets. A nutritional disorder caused by lack of certain minerals, vitamins and trace elements.

Diseases of intensification

Birds have always suffered from a range of diseases and wild birds are implicated in the spread of some disease. However, many of the conditions above listed are the result of intensive farming methods.

The increasing popularity of duck meat both here and abroad will inevitably cause an escalation in the incidence of these diseases, guaranteeing large-scale suffering among the duck population. It will also further accelerate the reckless overuse of antibiotics which is already a potential human health problem.

Though killed while still young, the modern duckling will have had time to endure much pain and discomfort before reaching the slaughterhouse. It is likely that their entire life, no matter how short, will be one of acute stress and perhaps disease and severe pain.

References (part five)

1. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University, College of Agricultural & Life Science, Poultry Science Facts, Feeding Ducks, 4/90, 10/2/98. www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/techinfo/4Fact02.htm.
2. United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Consumer Education and Information, July 1996. www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/duckgooos.htm.
3. Ibid
4. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University, College of Agricultural & Life Science, Poultry Science Facts, Feeding Ducks, 4/90, 10/2/98. www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/techinfo/4Fact02.htm.
5. Ibid
6. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Approved Animal Drug Products, Online Database System, March 2000.
7. World Poultry Misset (No. 7, Vol. 13, 1997)
8. Poultry Diseases, Ed. F.T.W. Jordan, Bailliere Tindall, 1990, p39.
9. Cook, JKA et al., Diseases of Ducks, Poultry Diseases, 1996
10. Ibid


Report Contents

Part One

Size of the U.S. industry
Types of ducks
Intensive confinement
Bill trimming (debeaking)
Viva! ends duck debeaking in Britain
Wire flooring
Slatted floors
Food and drink
Water denied
Behavioral patterns
References (part one)


Breeding ducks

Amount of living space
Sexual patterns
Forced molting
Duck eggs
Parent stock
References (part two)


The Government and ducks

The legal position
References (part three)



Electrical stunning
Stunner failings
Boiled alive
References (part four)


Disease patterns

Medicated feeds
Global diseases
Diseases of intensification
References (part five)


Duck suppliers

Maple Leaf Farms
Grimaud Farms
Metzer Farms
Culver Duck
Some of the Major supermarkets stocking duck meat
References (part six)


Global resources

References (part seven)