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Avian Botulism

Limberneck, Western Duck Sickness, Duck Disease, Alkali Poisoning

Avian Botulism is a serious neurological disease caused by ingestion of a nerve toxin, produced by the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum. There are several different strains of C. botulinum, with each strain producing its own type of toxin---categorized as type A through E. Certain strains are more abundant in particular regions and cause infection to specific species of animals and humans. Waterfowl are most commonly affected by type C toxin, and on occasion types A and E.

Waterfowl, both domestic and wild, are at an increased risk of botulism, due to their dabbling habits in water and mud. C. botulinum is widespread in soil however requires certain environmental conditions to be met in order for it to produce toxins; these conditions include:
  • Warm temperature
  • An anaerobic environment (absence of oxygen)
  • A protein source

Clinical Signs of Botulism

Botulism acts by blocking nerve function and leads to respiratory and musculoskeletal paralysis. As the disease progresses, different levels of paralysis are observed in ducks. An early indication that a duck has been affected is its inability to fly or dive. The bird might also show attempts to move, using only it's wings. Birds are usually relatively easy to catch.
Clinical Signs of Botulism

How do Ducks Get Botulism?

Ducks can get botulism through eating or dabbling in contaminated soil, water, decaying matter, spoiled feed, or from eating maggots harboring C. botulinum toxins. Decaying animals or vegetation provide both a protein source as well as an anaerobic environment to C. botulinum. Botulism Type C spores exist along the bottoms of various water sources, which begin to thrive as oxygen levels drop and water temperatures rise.
Maggot Carcass Cycle
Fly larvae (maggots) that feed on this decaying material, and eaten by ducks, can also serve as a source of infection for ducks. Ducks need only to eat a handful of maggots to become poisoned by the toxins.


Limb neck (unable to hold head upright)
Using wings to move
Droopy eyelids


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Laboratory tests


MethodMethod Summary
Supportive careRelocate duck to a quiet, isolated area such as a dog kennel or cat carrier. Provide fresh water in a small container, however making sure it's not too large as birds can easily drown.
Call your veterinarianObtain and administer an antitoxin, toxoid vaccine for botulism
Activated charcoalAdministered orally at 1 g/kg of body weight, twice a day for the first 24 to 48 hours.
Tube feeding


  • Remove any dead organisms from the premises immediately.
  • If a dead animal is found in large waterers, change water immediately.
  • Don't allow birds access to long-standing stagnant pools of water or mud puddles, especially during hot weather conditions.


Risk Factors

  • Hot weather combined with strong rain showers
  • Exposure to decaying carcasses or vegetation
  • Feeding or dabbling in stagnant water puddles or slow moving water sources.
  • Letting ducks eat maggots, especially those that have just came from decaying vegetation or a decomposing body.