Friday, October 22, 2010

Busy night in the ER

About the time we were finishing up with tucking in the birds for the night, David came up the hill from the bog calling, "Doctor Vicki to ER, stat!" This can't be good, I thought. We already had a Khaki Campbell duck (possible poisoning) and a New Hampshire pullet (yes, another bobcat attack) in the living room. I was really tired, having had a rough night Wednesday with this annoying relapsing/remitting 'flu thing; I just wanted to make a hot drink and sit by the wood stove.

Well, I did get to sit by the wood stove, but sadly, without the hot drink. David came in and handed me a Blue Swedish duck, which he had found down by the edge of the bog barely able to walk. He set up a box for it (he's getting pretty quick at that), we settled the poor duck in it, and resigned ourselves to facing the question: What the heck is going on with these ducks?

Since the newest patient seems to be showing the same symptoms as the Khaki duck, which has been in the ER for about a week now, we definitely suspect some kind of poisoning. The Khaki, thankfully, is showing signs of recovery. We started with her by giving her Epsom salts dissolved in water as a laxative, hoping to flush out any remaining poison before it was absorbed by her system. Later that day, she was eating, and pooping, and seemed more alert, so we were encouraged. Her legs, however, were very weak and she wasn't able to stand up. We couldn't tell if she was suffering some sort of paralysis or if she was just weak.

We've been taking the Khaki outside just about every day for some physical therapy, fresh air and sunshine. We put her in a small watering tank with enough water in it so she could swim if she wanted to, but shallow enough that she could put her feet in the bottom and try to walk while being supported by her own buoyancy. She seems to like this a lot, and is slowly getting better. So, we plan to follow the same protocol with the Blue Swedish duck and hope for the best.

The question remains: What is going on here? The two most likely possibilities (from our non-expert point of view) are botulism or some kind of heavy metal poisoning. Ducks spend a lot of time dabbling in the mud and grass, and could easily pick up botulism from decomposing vegetation around the bog, or even lead poisoning if they swallowed some old birdshot or other ammo; we don't hunt but the bog is not far from our shooting range. It's also possible the ducks have been exposed to something carried by wild ducks. Most of the wild birds around here (we've identified 62 species of wild birds so far) are migratory, but there are still a few Mallards and Mergansers, at least one Kingfisher, and a pair of Great Blue Herons on our ponds.

Oh, and the New Hampshire pullet that was attacked by a bobcat: David found her huddled under a car, clearly in shock. Once we had cleaned her up, we found a large puncture wound on one shoulder. So far it doesn't seem to be infected, so we have her near the wood stove to keep warm and dry. She's eating and drinking now, so we're hopeful she will be OK. Incidentally, where does that "mad as a wet hen" thing come from? We've bathed plenty of chickens, getting them soaking wet, and not once have we had any fuss from them. Actually, they seem to like the warm water (and probably the attention, too). Now, if you said, "Mad as a wet Siamese cat on her way to be spayed," that I could believe!

Well, these birds are certainly keeping us busy, and we're learning a lot. If anyone has suggestions about what might be going on with the ducks, please, please let me know. We're a bit anxious at this point about where this is going to end. Even with birds that aren't pets, it's distressing to see them suffer, especially if we can find a way to prevent the problem. We definitely feel this as our responsibility, and the three birds in our living room are depending on us to do our best for them.

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