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Frostbite

Birds, including ducks, are just as susceptible to frostbite as mammals. Frostbite is a localized tissue injury caused by the cooling and thawing of tissues---usually the unfeathered areas such as their legs and feet. Muscovy ducks are susceptible along their faces. Ducks living in colder regions are more at risk of developing frostbite, however, ducks in warmer regions who are left unprotected during periods of cold weather are also at risk.

During the early stages of frostbite, the affected area may feel cold to the touch and/or show mild redness. As the severity increases, as does the degree of inflammation (redness, swelling and pain), often spreading from the toes into the webs of feet. Advanced stages of frostbite appears as shriveled, blackened tissue. Once tissue damage due to frostbite occurs, there is no way to stop it, and will eventually lead to loss of the affected tissue.

Symptoms

Proprioceptive deficit
Decreased use of affected limb
Edema (Swelling)
Blackened discoloration of tissue
Shriveled (mummified) appearance
Inability to stand or walk

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam

Support/Treatment

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MethodMethod Summary
Provide warmthIf tissue is still frozen when discovered, rapidly rewarm in a warm (body temperature) water bath.
Do not apply any direct heat (such as that produced by a heat lamp or hair dryer).
Do not rub or message affected areas.
Do not rewarm the tissue and then put the duck back outside in the cold. Thawing and refreezing of skin tissue will cause even more damage.
Supportive careOnce the affected skin is warmed up, place the duck in a quiet, comfortable recovery area that provides them with supplemental heat, possible fluid therapy, pain medication, and treatment of secondary infections.
PentoxifyllineGiven orally at a dosage of 15 mg/kg q8-12h for 2-6 weeks may be helpful.
Topical aloe veraHas been shown to significantly improve tissue survival, both alone and in combination with oral pentoxifylline.

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Frostbite in a Parrot An approximately 5-year-old female grey-headed parrot was evaluated after exposure to outdoor temperatures below —20°C (—4°F) for approximately 22 hours. Severe frostbite affecting multiple digits, as well as dehydration and a depressed attitude, were diagnosed. Treatment included oral antibiotics, antifungals, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), pentoxifylline, and topical aloe vera. Surgical amputation of the affected toes was not performed. Mild to moderate pododermatitis over the intertarsal joints developed because of a shift in weight bearing after the loss of most digits. Within 5 months after initial presentation, all frost-damaged toes had self-amputated, and the bird was able to function independently with no limitations in mobility. Ref

Prevention

References

Blogs

Risk Factors

  • Not providing ducks with adequate shelter and protection from cold
  • Temperatures below freezing
  • Exposure to snow
  • Relocation to a colder climate
  • Previous injury
  • Use of anesthetics
  • Wind/drafts

Case Stories

Seasonality

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