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Potential Goose Health Challenges

Updated 2/9/2022

This resource is currently being reviewed by a member of our staff. As such, only the conditions that have already been reviewed and updated are available below, and we’ll be adding additional health issues as they are reviewed. Stay tuned- we’ll let you know via social media and our newsletter when updates are complete. If you’re not already signed up for our newsletter, you can sign up below! If you are looking for information about a specific health issue that is not listed below and are wondering when that information might be available, feel free to reach out

Unfortunately for the humans looking out for them, geese tend to hide signs of illness and injury until they are no longer able to do so. In order to catch and respond to health issues as early as possible, you’ll need to spend a lot of time observing and getting to know your residents so you are better able to catch less obvious signs of concern. By conducting regular full body health examinations, you’ll be able to know what healthy looks and feels (and smells!) like, and when you should be concerned. Check out our guide to goose health examinations to familiarize yourself with the signs that something may be amiss with a goose resident. For more information on health challenges that commonly affect goslings, check out our resource here.

Animal Healthcare Disclaimer

This is not an exhaustive list of everything that can happen to a goose, but can help you get a sense of what challenges a goose under your care may face in their lifetime. If you believe a goose is facing a health issue, always discuss with a qualified veterinarian as soon as possible. Reading about health issues does not qualify you to diagnose your residents!

Issues By Body System

Gastrointestinal: Fowl Cholera, Newcastle Disease,

Musculoskeletal: Arthritis, Bumblefoot

Neurological: Botulism, Newcastle Disease

Reproductive: Avian Influenza, Egg Binding (Egg-Bound), Egg Yolk Peritonitis/ Coelomitis, Newcastle Disease

Respiratory: Aspergillosis, Avian Influenza, Fowl Cholera, Newcastle Disease

Ears: Fowl Cholera

Arthritis

Geese can develop various mobility issues, including osteoarthritis (also called degenerative joint disease) and septic arthritis (also called infectious arthritis). 

Osteoarthritis– This type of arthritis is often associated with advanced age, though it can also occur in younger individuals as well, especially bigger breeds or individuals who are overweight. Signs of osteoarthritis include abnormal gait, bearing weight unevenly when standing, lameness, and reduced activity. You may be able to hear or feel crepitus (grating or crunching) in the hock (this can be more difficult to feel in the knee and hip). Geese with osteoarthritis may spend more time lying down. Preventative measures include ensuring residents are on a healthy diet (and at a healthy weight) and also ensuring residents have ample opportunities to swim. Treatment with analgesics and creating a living space that is easy for arthritic geese to navigate can help keep residents comfortable.

Septic Arthritis– Septic arthritis is inflammation of the joint(s) due to introduction of an infectious agent, which may result following septicemia or a localized infection of the joint. In some cases, the joint may be red, swollen, hot, and possibly open and oozing. However, in other cases, there may not be obvious outward signs of infection, such as heat or significant swelling, and the individual may look like they have a non-infectious mobility issue. Be sure to work closely with your veterinarian if a resident is showing signs of mobility issues and to discuss the possibility of septic arthritis. While your veterinarian may decide to tap the joint during their physical evaluation, this should not be attempted by anyone other than a veterinary professional- doing so could introduce bacteria into the joint and/or damage the internal structures of the joint, causing further issues. A veterinary diagnosis is imperative. Caregivers sometimes confuse clinical signs of gout with infection, and the two conditions require different treatments, so be sure to work closely with your veterinarian. Septic arthritis can be difficult to treat and typically requires prolonged systemic antibiotic treatment along with analgesics. Regional limb perfusion or the use of antibiotic-soaked gauze or impregnated beads may be recommended to deliver the antibiotics to the infected joint. Septic arthritis can cause permanent joint damage and predispose the individual to degenerative joint disease. Even following resolution of the infection, the individual may continue to have mobility issues and may require ongoing analgesics.

Sources:

Geriatric Diseases of Pet Birds | Merck Veterinary Manual

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Waterfowl Medicine | M. Scott Echols DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice) The Medical Center for Birds Oakley, CA (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Aspergillosis

Aspergillosis is a non-contagious fungal disease that typically manifests as respiratory illness in birds. While there are numerous species of Aspergillus that can cause aspergillosis, Aspergillus fumigatus, a ubiquitous soil fungus, is the most common cause in chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Aspergillosis is an opportunistic infection- while birds are constantly exposed to fungal spores, often without developing disease, immunosuppression (such as from stress, corticosteroid use, disease, or malnutrition) and being exposed to large numbers of aerosolized spores may result in disease. Poor ventilation, unsanitary conditions, wet bedding, moldy food, and warm, humid conditions increase the risk of aspergillosis. Therefore, you can help protect your residents by properly storing food, keeping living spaces clean and well ventilated, and ensuring spaces do not become warm and humid. Straw bedding can harbor mold and fungus, so wood shavings or other non-straw (and non-hay) bedding is a better option if aspergillosis is a concern. Aspergillosis typically causes acute signs in young birds (often called “brooder pneumonia”) and a more chronic condition in older birds. Signs of aspergillosis include open-mouth breathing, labored breathing, tail bobbing, gasping, and an elevated respiratory rate. Other signs include inappetence and lethargy. Be sure to contact your veterinarian if you suspect aspergillosis. Diagnosis can be challenging, so be sure to work with your veterinarian to see what diagnostics they recommend. Treatment is also challenging and often requires aggressive and prolonged antifungal treatment (such as itraconazole) as well as supportive care. In addition to treatment, be sure to take steps to reduce your residents’ exposure to spores by keeping living spaces dry, ensuring food and bedding are not wet or moldy, switching from straw to a safer bedding option, and improving ventilation.

Sources:

Aspergillosis | Niles Animal Hospital And Bird Medical Center

Mycotic Diseases of Pet Birds | Merck Veterinary Manual

Current Therapy In Avian Medicine And Surgery | Brian L. Speer

Diseases Of Poultry 13th Edition | David E. Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Avian Influenza (Or, “Bird Flu”)

The term “avian influenza” refers to any disease or infection in birds that is caused by Type A influenza viruses. Free-flying aquatic birds (such as migratory waterfowl and shorebirds) are the natural host of Type A influenza viruses, but these viruses can also affect domesticated farmed birds and other bird species. To read more about avian influenza (AI) check out our resource here.

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Botulism

Botulism is more common in waterfowl than other farmed bird species. It is caused by ingestion of neurotoxins produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. While this bacteria is found in the environment without causing issues, under certain conditions the bacteria multiplies and produces toxins. Common sources of these toxins are decaying vegetation and carcasses, as well as maggots feeding on decaying matter. Signs of botulism include progression from weakness to flaccid paralysis of legs, wings, neck, and eyelids. Botulism is sometimes called “limberneck” due to the neck paralysis associated with the disease. The feathers on the neck may also become loose and come out easily. The time between ingestion of the neurotoxin and onset of clinical signs, as well as the severity of those signs, is dependent on the amount of toxin ingested. High doses of toxin can result in clinical signs developing within hours, whereas clinical signs may take a few days to develop if lower doses are ingested. High levels of the toxin are lethal, resulting in respiratory paralysis. Treatment includes prompt administration of antitoxin and supportive care. If botulism is suspected, in addition to seeking urgent veterinary care, it is important to identify the source of the toxin and prevent residents from further access. Prevention includes keeping residents away from decaying foods and carcasses, ensuring they have ready access to fresh food and water, and keeping swimming water safe by aerating small bodies of water and regularly changing swimming water provided in pools or tubs. 

Sources:

Botulism In Poultry | Poultry Extension

Botulism In Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Waterfowl Medicine | M. Scott Echols DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice) The Medical Center for Birds Oakley, CA (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Bumblefoot

Bumblefoot can be caused by many different factors including environmental conditions (such as poor sanitation, rough or hard flooring, or not having water for swimming) or physical conditions (such as obesity or arthritis). Individuals who favor one foot over the other, due to pain or a mechanical leg issue, may develop bumblefoot on their “good” side. Because this foot has to bear more weight, the skin can become damaged over time. Without proper interventions, bumblefoot can progress from a minor issue to something far more severe.

Bumblefoot is typically categorized as mild, moderate, or severe, with severe cases involving infection in the bone (osteomyelitis). The following 1-5 grading system gives a good overview of the progression of this disease and how it affects the overall prognosis, but be aware that your veterinarian may use a different grading system to evaluate and talk about bumblefoot.

Grade 1– At this stage, only the outer skin is affected. It may be very smooth, and it may also be shiny and red, but there is no open wound or sign of infection. With proper interventions, prognosis at this stage is excellent.

Grade 2– At this stage, there is damage to the skin and there may be a scab, callous, or open wound, but the foot will not be obviously swollen. With proper interventions, prognosis at this stage is good.

Grade 3– At this stage, the disease process, and possibly infection, have progressed deeper into the tissues of the foot. The foot will be swollen and painful, and there may be discharge. Prognosis at this stage is good to guarded.

Grade 4– At this stage, the infection has progressed to involve deeper structures within the foot such as tendons and bone. Individuals with this stage of disease may develop tenosynovitis (inflammation of the tendon sheath), arthritis, and/ or osteomyelitis. Prognosis at this stage is guarded to poor.

Grade 5– At this stage, the condition is so severe that it results in debilitating deformity and loss of function. Prognosis at this stage is grave.

It is important to address bumblefoot early before it becomes actively infected and to prevent the introduction of bacteria by keeping the area clean and covered. However, it’s important to note that wrapping webbed feet must be done carefully, so as not to damage the delicate webbing. Depending on the underlying cause, when caught early, foot wraps and changes to the environment may be enough to prevent progression if there is no infection. However, if the primary cause is osteoarthritis in the opposite limb, it can be difficult to fully resolve bumblefoot and have the skin of the foot completely heal.

Be sure to work with a veterinarian if one of your residents has bumblefoot, especially if the affected foot is warmer than normal, painful, or swollen, or if it has discharge, an open wound, or a large scab. Your veterinarian can assess the foot to determine how severe the condition is (which may require x-rays), prescribe appropriate medications, and help create a treatment plan. Depending on the severity, treatment may include systemic antibiotics, analgesics, soaking the foot, various types of foot wraps, delivery of antibiotics directly to the affected area (for example, through the use of antibiotic-impregnated beads), and in some cases, surgical debridement (done by a licensed veterinarian with appropriate analgesics and anesthetics). Keep in mind that the individual’s good foot may be vulnerable to developing bumblefoot if they are especially painful and reluctant to bear weight on the affected foot. Be sure to keep a close eye on the other foot and protect it with a padded bandage as needed.

It is important to work with a veterinarian to determine which structures of the foot are affected, to establish an appropriate treatment plan, and if the treatment involves wound management or wrapping the foot, you must be shown how to do this properly. Left untreated, bumblefoot infections can have devastating consequences.

Sources:

Geriatric Diseases of Pet Birds | Merck Veterinary Manual

Pododermatitis In Birds And Small Mammals | Schoemaker and Van Zeeland

Bumblefoot Surgery And Management | Great Western Exotic Vets

A Multifaceted Approach to the Treatment of Bumblefoot in Raptors | J. David Remple (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Waterfowl Medicine | M. Scott Echols DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice) The Medical Center for Birds Oakley, CA (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Egg Binding (Egg-Bound)

A goose who is egg-bound has an egg stuck in her oviduct. Typical signs of egg binding include obvious straining, squatting, standing up oddly tall, open-mouthed breathing (from the pain and stress of pushing), and a lack of appetite, though sometimes the only sign something is wrong is that they are isolating themselves or not quite acting like themself. Egg-binding can lead to cloacal prolapse, a potentially fatal condition. Do not cut the bird to get the egg out, or break the egg. In some instances, holding the goose in a warm bath can help her to pass the egg.  However, this doesn’t always work, so watch the goose closely, and if she does not pass the egg while in the bath, or if her symptoms worsen at all, take her to the veterinarian as soon as possible- if left untreated, egg-binding can be fatal. If you suspect a goose is egg-bound but she is not showing any of the more serious symptoms described above, you can place her in an area with a safe heat source such as a heating pad or snuggle safe heat disc- always have a towel or other fabric between the bird and the heat source, make sure the space is set up so that the goose can move away from the heat source if needed, and also make sure that they are well enough to move themselves away from the heat if desired. Talk to your veterinarian about providing an oral vitamin and probiotic supplement made specifically for birds and adding additional oral calcium to their diet during this time. If, over the course of the next 24 hours, the goose has not passed an egg or if she becomes progressively painful, she should be examined by a veterinarian.

Source:

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Egg Yolk Peritonitis/ Coelomitis

Peritonitis is inflammation of the peritoneum (the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity). Egg Yolk Peritonitis (also called EYP or Egg Peritonitis) occurs when there is egg material present in a bird’s abdomen causing the inflammation. Egg material can enter the abdomen in various ways, either from being released from the ovary directly into the abdomen, by being expelled back out of the oviduct for some reason, or from a ruptured oviduct (often due to a severe oviductal impaction). Bacteria quickly grow in the resultant environment. Depending on the underlying cause of the inflammation/infection, it is not uncommon for the bird to make a full recovery with appropriate treatment, especially if there was not an underlying infectious process causing the issue. On a veterinarian’s recommendation, Egg Yolk Peritonitis can be treated with intervention (draining of abdominal fluid), antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and potentially Suprelorin implantation to give them time to recover, though prognosis is highly dependent on what caused the egg material to end up in their abdomen in the first place. If abdominal fluid is collected, it can be cultured to identify bacterial causes and to determine what drugs the bacteria are susceptible to. It’s a good idea to request a complete blood panel if egg yolk peritonitis is suspected.

Sources:

Coelomitis in Birds | Brian Speer, DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice), DECZM (Avian) Medical Center for Birds, Oakley, CA, USA

Backyard Waterfowl Medicine | M. Scott Echols DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice) The Medical Center for Birds Oakley, CA (Non-Compassionate Source)

Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery: A Guide for Veterinary Practitioners (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Fowl Cholera

Caused by Pasteurella multocida, fowl cholera is a contagious bacterial disease that can affect both wild and domesticated bird species including ducks, geese, turkeys, and chickens. Fowl cholera typically occurs in late summer, fall, or winter, and can manifest as acute, chronic, or asymptomatic infection. Acute infection is often fatal, and unfortunately, signs of illness usually only manifest a few hours before death. Signs of acute fowl cholera include fever, inappetence, increased respiratory rate, puffy feathers, and oral mucous discharge. Cyanosis is typically seen at the end stages. Individuals will also have diarrhea, which starts out whitish and watery and later contains mucous and turns a greenish color. Individuals who survive an acute infection may remain chronically infected. P. multocida strains with low virulence may cause chronic infection without acute infection. Signs of chronic infection may include swelling of the sinuses, foot pads, along the keel, or in the joints of the wing or legs. If infection in the ear occurs, the individual may develop torticollis (wry neck). Respiratory infection may cause open-mouth breathing and tracheal rales. P. multocida can be introduced to a flock by an asymptomatic or chronically infected individual, but it’s also possible for wild birds to transmit this infection to sanctuary residents if they are able to come into contact with one another. While some mammalian farmed animal species can be carriers of P. multocida, according to Diseases of Poultry, 13th Edition, these organisms do not typically cause disease in farmed bird species, with the exception of P. multocida from pigs. Infected individuals spread the bacteria in discharge from the eyes, nares, or mouth, which then contaminates the environment as well as food and water sources. The bacteria can also be spread in feces of infected birds. Contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect a resident has fowl cholera. Diagnosis is confirmed with bacterial culture. Your veterinarian can recommend treatment, but successful treatment is dependent on how early and aggressively treatment is initiated and whether or not other infections are present. There are vaccines available, but these do not offer complete protection. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about whether or not vaccination is recommended and which vaccine is most appropriate. The bacteria can be killed by sunlight, heat, drying, and common disinfectants.

Sources:

Fowl Cholera | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Diseases Of Poultry 13th Edition | David E. Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Newcastle Disease

This is a highly contagious viral disease that is a worldwide problem and primarily presents as an acute respiratory disease. Severity of disease is based on many factors including the virulence of the virus. The World Organisation For Animal Health (OIE) describes three forms of the disease: lentogenic (or mild), mesogenic (or moderate), and velogenic (or very virulent). Lentogenic strains, while widespread, cause few disease outbreaks, according to the OIE, and are not reportable. Virulent Newcastle disease (vND, sometimes referred to as Exotic Newcastle disease) is a reportable disease. Infected birds will shed the virus in their respiratory discharges and feces. It can also be present in eggs that are laid by infected birds. Birds may become infected through direct contact with infected birds or by coming into contact with food, water, equipment, or other fomites contaminated with the virus. Clinical signs typically appear 2-12 days after exposure, with the average being 5 days following exposure. There are different forms of this disease which affect different areas of the bird’s body. Respiratory signs can include coughing, sneezing, gasping for air, and audible and abnormal breathing sounds. Very young birds as well as older birds with a weakened immune system are the most severely affected. Nervous signs may include depression, paralysis, tremors, and circling. In females who are actively laying, they may lay abnormal eggs, lay fewer eggs, or stop laying all together. Typical signs of vND include respiratory illness, watery green diarrhea, depression, and swelling of the tissues of the head and neck.

In addition to the concern regarding how vND would affect your residents if they became infected, is the concern regarding how your residents could be affected by regional efforts to eradicate the disease. During a recent outbreak of vND in California (2018-2020), immediate efforts to contain the disease included quarantining affected areas and compulsory mass killings of birds regardless of whether or not they had actually been infected. After push back from the community, some exemptions were granted for birds who were not showing symptoms of disease so long as their human companion kept them indoors where they could not come into contact with other birds, agreed to regular vND testing, and agreed not to move them out of the area. These exemptions were made on a case-by-case basis, but the important point is that they became available because people advocated for birds who had not been infected to be spared. When faced with a decision that you are uncomfortable with, always reach out to other veterinarians or sanctuaries to figure out if there are other options that may be available, and always advocate for your residents. We recommend you pay attention to vND outbreaks and have a plan in place to protect your residents should it be detected in your area. Vaccines are available for this disease, but are not typically recommended in a sanctuary and are not guaranteed to prevent infection.

Sources:

Newcastle Disease | World Organisation For Animal Health (Non-Compassionate Source)

Newcastle Disease in Poultry | Merck Veterinary Manual (Non-Compassionate Source)

Diseases Of Poultry 13th Edition | David E. Swayne (Non-Compassionate Source)

Virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) | USDA APHIS (Non-Compassionate Source)

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Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on February 9, 2022

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