Ask the Swan Specialist
Date: 23 June 2007
The ailments are too numerous to mention, but we will try to provide you with the most common ailments which you may readily see. It would also be beneficial to know where you are located because some ailments may not be as common as in certain other areas. In any case, here are some of the most frequent illnesses or injuries.
Botulism : Swans are bottom feeders which means they can pick up bacteria known as anaerobes (oxygen free microbes) which produce a neurotoxin (Botulinum) Botulism poisoning affects the neuromuscular system which controls swallowing and breathing. The first clue to this type of poisoning is that the swan cannot hold its head and neck erect (the reason that botulism is sometimes known as limberneck). The condition is usually fatal.
Cygnets should receive a vaccine against botulism beginning at 3 weeks of age and continuing every three weeks until 5 months of age. Adult swans are vaccinated once a year.
Lead Poisoning: Bottom feeding can also cause the swans to contract Lead Poisoning from ingesting lead shot or fishing weights (many years ago, lead weights were commonly used in fishing).
Fishing lines/hooks: Besides ingesting fishing weights, swans can also become entangled in fishing lines, swallow or be pierced by fishing hooks. It is for this reason that fishing in swan inhabited areas should be strongly discouraged. Daily inspection of the swans will help you observe any entanglement or impairment from fishing line, hooks, etc.
Predators such as bobcats, turtles, raccoons, alligators and humans can also produce many types of wounds. It is for this reason that all swans should be given a close inspection on a daily basis. If any wound is observed, veterinary medical care should be sought to prevent further infection or complications.
West Nile Virus and Encephalitis: West Nile Virus is a mosquito borne disease that can kill swans. If you are in an area laden with mosquitoes, a vaccination against the disease should be given once a year for adult swans. Waterfowl such as swans and other avian species can also contract Encephalitis from mosqitoes.
You can learn more about our research regarding the prevention of Botulism and West Nile Virus through vaccines as well as general swan keeping practices in our book, A Swan Keeper's Handbook: A Guide to the Care of Captive Swans, Krieger Publishing, Malabar, Florida. (We have provided a link for you if you are interested in the book).
Mold in swan food (cracked corn and layer pellets) can cause the birds to get sick. Ensure that feeders are checked on a regular basis especially after rain to remove any wet or clotted food.
Egg Sac Peritonitis: Baby swans (cygnets under 3-4 weeks of age) can be prone to Egg Sac Peritonitis in which the egg sac does not fully separate or disintegrate. This is an extremely hard ailment to diagnose and usually a rare occurence, but it can happen. If cygnets are dying for no apparent trauma or other cause, this would be an area for your veterinarian to investigate through a necropsy.
Bumblefoot is a condition that waterfowl, ducks, geese and swans can become affected by having to traverse very rough, rocky or gravel laden ground. The rough terrain causes small cuts resulting in an infection which may begin at the base of the foot and then progresses to a large hard knot on the bottom of the foot. Eventually, the foot will curve under.
Spraddle legs : Handling young swans can produce spraddle legs in which the bird's legs form outward. Prevention is DO NOT OVER HANDLE the cygnets or ensure that the cygnet's legs are directly under the bird as it sits in the palm of your hand.
Angel wing (also known as slipped wing), can be either genetic or dietary. Research has shown that if the condition becomes problematic and is caused by the diet, adding alfalfa to the swans' diet will help reduce the high protein content which is believed to be the cause.
Pink discoloration : We are also presently working with Dr. Leonel Mendoza, Michigan State University and Her Majesty's Swan Warden in England as well as various swan specialists throughout the U.K. We have been seeing an increased occurence of swans turning pink in color immediately prior to or during the molt. The discoloration is being caused by a bacteria.
If the pink discoloration appears, we are recommending the use of two Proctor & Gamble products. In the U.S., the product is known as Dawn and in the U.K. it is Fairy Liquid.
Basically, washing the birds in one of these products will remove the bacteria which is causing the discoloration. The birds should be placed in a shelter for a couple of days following the bathing so that their preen oil can be replenished by the oil gland. If you place the birds back into the water too soon, the birds can drown because the feathers are not water repellant or they cannot adequately warm themselves resulting in a possible respiratory infection.
Avian Flu (various forms-depending upon where the swans reside), Tuberculosis, Aspergillosis, Marek's disease, Newcastle Disease, Avian Pox, etc. , are diseases which waterfowl and other avian species can contract.
Again, the probability of getting any of these types of diseases totally depends upon the environment, climate and contact with other wild avian species. Your chances of seeing any or one of these diseases is relatively reduced in a captive setting where proper daily upkeep and veterinary medical care is provided.
Parasites: Swans can also get parasites such as nematodes, heartworms (from the lice found in feathers) to Giardia, which can make them lethargic, etc.
Rhinosporodiosis is another condition that we have been researching with Dr. Leonel Mendoza. The swans can contract an eye cyst produced by the protozoa Rhinosporodium seeberi . This cyst should be removed by an experienced veterinarian.
Various cancers can also be found in swans.
Yearly check-ups by an experienced avian veterinarian will usually prevent most of the above maladies. Yearly blood and fecal exams will let you and your veterinarian keep a watchful eye on the swans and will provide normal health baselines for comparison if something goes wrong.
We hope that this information is of benefit. As stated, this is an area of broad coverage and we can only address some of the more common maladies in this space. The Regal Swan.
Messages In This Thread
- Sickness -- Alex -- 23 June 2007
- Sickness - Various Swan Ailments -- The Regal Swan -- 23 June 2007