The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Whether you keep a duck as a pet or on a farm as livestock or for any other reason, one thing you’re bound to rub up against is that ducks can be pretty strange. Everything from their corkscrew genitalia and “unique” mating behaviors to the way ducklings follow their mother to the fact they have a third eyelid (yes, really) is just, well, odd.
But perhaps the most puzzling and potentially worrying duck oddity for owners is their propensity to shiver. What is behind this, and what does that mean for your feathered friend?
It’s important to state from the outset that shivering is non-case-specific with ducks. As with so many aspects of duck ownership, there are several potential answers, all of which have their odd points.
What it Is Not
Before we get into potential causes of the shivering and what you might be able to do about it, let’s first eliminate some things that aren’t likely to be the problem.
Your first thought might be that your ducks are cold, or have caught a cold. After all, that’s something that causes us to shiver.
Intuitive as that thinking may be, however, that’s simply not how it works here. Ducks do not catch “colds” as we understand them, and ducks actually getting “cold” is likewise unlikely.
That’s because the insulation provided by ducks’ thick plumage and multiple layers of fat are designed to resist cold temperatures. In addition, they have a specialized oil gland called a preen gland that also helps keep them from getting too cold.
Both of these also help ensure that ducks’ plumage stays flexible and waterproof. This helps ensure that ducks don’t feel soaked when gliding along on a body of water, thus keeping them from getting cold or shivering as a result.
If your duck is starting to shiver and its plumage is dirty, you might try cleaning it in lukewarm water with mild soap or detergent.
That said, you should still try and keep your ducks away from water so as to keep them from feeling even colder.
1 – Preen Gland Problems
Of course, this already points to a couple of potential ways ducks can feel cold – namely if there’s something wrong with either their preen gland or their feathers.
If the latter remain cold or soaked for whatever reason, ducks can suffer.
The same holds true if their preen gland becomes infected, blocked, or otherwise stops working.
One sign that this may be occurring is if your ducks’ feathers start to change color, particularly if you notice yellowish discoloration, and especially around the tail area.
Excessive preening (which may also be a sign of external parasites) and a lack of proper nutrients are also reasons why your duck’s preen glands may stop working.
The end result of any or all of these causes of preen gland problems are ducks being unable to dry off properly, thus leading them to become cold and potentially shiver.
2 – Bacterial Issues and Viral Hepatitis
In addition to those aforementioned external parasites, there are other types of infections that can cause a duck to start to grow cold and shiver as a result.
Bacterial infections are a big potential issue here. These are obviously too various to cover in a single category, but in broad stokes, bacterial infections that mess with a duck’s biochemistry or organs can affect its preen glands and, thus, cause it to shiver.
Viral hepatitis in ducks, meanwhile, manifests with the liver becoming enlarged, a condition that is sometimes referred to as hepatomegaly. To make matters worse, this condition can become very contagious, so if you have ducks exhibiting signs of this, you need to quarantine them away from the others as soon as possible.
Symptoms of this condition appear soon after its onset.
These symptoms can include everything from tremors and shivers to rapid leg contractions.
In addition, you may notice your duck starting to lose its appetite and eat less, although this condition is hardly exclusive to viral hepatitis. Unfortunately, your duck can also exhibit a wide range of other horrible symptoms that can accompany this, including nasal discharge, bloodstained vents, and diarrhea.
These are not all conditions that are exclusive to duck hepatitis, so you need to watch to see how many of these symptoms happen in conjunction with each other. The more all of these symptoms take place at the same time, the more it’s a sign that your duck may have this condition.
Unfortunately, if your duck is suffering from hepatitis, you need to act extremely fast. Not only can this condition prove fatal, but it can kill your duck in just a few hours. You should thus contact a vet ASAP.
This is especially true if your duckling is a month old or less. If you spot them shivering and displaying any of the other aforementioned symptoms, you should again quarantine them and call a vet immediately.
3 – Virus Enteritis (aka “Duck Plague”)
Another potential cause of shivering in your ducks is virus enteritis. Sometimes referred to as “duck plague,” it is actually a form of the herpes virus and, once again, is diagnosed not just by your duck shivering but the presence of other symptoms.
In addition to nasal discharge, as is present in hepatitis as well, ducks with this condition may also experience reduced egg production and nasal discharge. What’s more, while we sometimes refer to annoying people as “ruffling their feathers,” significantly and consistently ruffled plumage is a potential sign of duck plague.
In addition, they may experience photophobia as well as thirst. Once again, you’ll want to separate any ducks that exhibit these symptoms along with shivering as soon as possible.
The bad news is that there is no cure for virus enteritis in ducks. The good news is that healthy ducks can be vaccinated against it, and once this has been done, the safe and healthy ducks can be reunited.
In addition, you should take care to disinfect the environment in which you keep your ducks so as to ensure that the infection does not spread. If you have ducks that remain infected but survive and recover from their symptoms, they may still have the disease and can remain contagious for up to a year, so continue to keep them isolated.
4 – Duck Pneumonia and Respiratory Infections
Both of these are potential causes of shivering in ducks, and both arise from your duck inhaling something which in turn causes them to develop respiratory issues. These can be spores of a fungi, specifically Aspergillus fumigatus, or similar things.
When inhaled, these spores infest the air sacs of their lungs, causing plaque to form, which in turn causes your ducks to shiver and shudder as they gasp for air. In addition to this, ducks suffering from forms of pneumonia can suffer from dehydration, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
The spores that are the root of this problem are often found in moldy areas, particularly moldy feed and moldy bedding. Mold is more likely to form and more likely to be intense when these things are and remain damp.
To prevent this, therefore, you’ll want to make sure that you do everything you can to promote good hygiene in the place where you keep your ducks.
This is also a condition that is more likely to arise in ducks when they are already suffering from another condition and their systems are already weakened. This is, thus, one more reason why you should isolate ducks that are suffering from shivering and other symptoms, so as to protect them from other ducks and the transmission of more diseases to them as much as the other way around.
In the case of Aspergillosis, this condition can be treated via antifungal infections. Treatments can last several months.
What’s more, ducks infected with these conditions can potentially be risky for young, old, or immunocompromised humans to handle, so you’ll need to be careful with them.
5 – Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection
Also known as Infectious Serositis or New Duck Disease, this is another type of bacterial infection that can be contracted via inhalation or open wounds in your duck’s feet. It is specifically identifiable by ducks appearing to shiver in the head and neck area.
In fact, this is less shivering from the cold and more of a tremor that is caused by the disease wreaking havoc on your duck’s joints, brain, meninges, oviduct, and respiratory system.
Other symptoms include ocular and nasal discharge, weight loss, sneezing, and a twisted neck.
More distressing still, if the condition is serious, your duck may wind up flat on its back with its feet waving or paddling futilely in the air. This condition can be treated with antibiotics, and if one of your ducks catches this condition, you should vaccinate the rest of your ducks against it to ensure they do not get it as well.
6 – Newcastle Disease
While it is more commonly found in ducks, this is a form of viral infection that can also affect ducks. It typically affects your duck’s respiratory system, but it can also affect its nervous system.
In addition to the shivering, you may notice your ducks suffering from nasal discharge and breathlessness. If their nervous system is infected, the shivering may appear more like tremors and trembling, and they may also experience circling, depression, and paralysis.
You will want to have your ducks vaccinated ahead of time because there is no treatment or cure for Newcastle Disease once it has been contracted. However, infected ducks can still be given antibiotics to help manage the symptoms.
7 – Botulism
Caused by Clostridium botulinum, this condition can often be contracted if your duck drinks or eats near a dead animal or a pond that has been infected with this bacteria. It can severely affect your ducks’ nervous system, and ducks that have been affected can quickly fall into a coma.
This is, thus, another example where the shivering ducks experience is likely to be more like violent tremors. They may also experience difficulty breathing.
Botulism is a quick killer in ducks, with it often proving fatal within 24 to 48 hours. As such, if you are going to save your duck, you’re going to have to act extremely fast.
Thankfully, antitoxins are both widely available and very effective, so if you contact your veterinarian immediately and are lucky enough to have caught the infection early, you may be able to save your duck.
8 – Mating Preferences
While the other potential reasons for shivering listed on this list range from mildly to moderately to extremely serious, there is no reason to fear from this cause of shivering in ducks at all. Ducks can sometimes shiver as a result of mating.
Male ducks will sometimes shake their wings and tails, which may appear like shivering. However, if you see them doing this and there is a female around, there’s a good chance that they are simply shaking so as to try and catch her eye.
Shaking like this is one way male ducks attempt to flirt with females. Shaking from head to tale is an indication to the female duck that they would like to mate.
If the female is interested, she typically nods her head in acceptance of the proposal.
There are many potential reasons why a duck may shiver. Sometimes this is down to a mild sickness, sometimes it’s something quite serious, and sometimes it may just be a sign that your duck is interested in mating.
You’ll thus need to pay close attention to the other symptoms being displayed by your duck so as to help you ascertain which is the case and what you should do.
If your duck is “shivering” but there is a female nearby, you should probably let them get on with their business.
Being more aware of the different causes of shivering in ducks can help ensure that no matter what the cause may be, you can provide your ducks with whatever help they may need.