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Why Is My Duck Shivering?

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You may find your ducks shaking after a swim to get water out of their plumage. You may also find them shaking when they are excited. But these are normal and harmless types of shaking or shivering.

Enter cold and other health issues, and you will find your ducks having harmful shivers.

Shivering (or tremors) can be a symptom of several different diseases in ducks.

Wild brown duck in winter

It’s important to understand many common possible causes so you can ensure your ducks get proper care. Let’s take a look at what some of these health issues look like and what you can do if your duck starts shivering.

Do Ducks Get Cold?

Ducks will not commonly get cold. Ducks are designed to resist cool temperatures with their own natural insulation. They have thick plumage, multiple layers of fat, and an oil gland called preen gland.

The plumage and the fat layers insulate the ducks and help regulate body temperature. The preen gland, on the other hand, produces oil that ensures the feathers stay waterproof and flexible.

In cases where their feathers remain wet, ducks can become cold or affected by extreme temperatures. Duck feathers may not dry properly if the preen gland becomes blocked, infected, or stops working. The production of the oil that keeps the feathers dry reduces, stops, or becomes excessive.

One sign that the preen gland may be malfunctioning is a change in the appearance of the duck’s feathers. They may appear misaligned, and if there’s an infection, you may notice a yellowish coloration around the tail region.

Excessive preening can also affect feather quality, placement, and oil levels. Ducks may preen uncontrollably if they are suffering from external parasites. This leaves the features in disarray and can make it harder for them to dry properly, leaving the features wet and the duck without proper insulation.

Besides blockages, ectoparasites, and infections, the preen gland may also not function well if the duck is not getting the right nutrients. Ducks need the correct amount of Vitamin E and Vitamin B for the preen gland to produce enough oil.

Wet feathers can also happen when ducks are moved from a place with insufficient water to a place with surplus water.

Wild ducks in winter on a snow background

6 Common Duck Health Issues That Cause Shivering

Besides shivering caused by cold temperature in extreme weather, shivering can be a sign that a duck is suffering from a viral or bacterial diseases. Here are some common health issues that cause shivering in ducks.

Duck Viral Hepatitis

Duck virual hepatitis is a disease that affects the liver causing hepatomegaly (enlarged liver). The disease is very contagious, and the symptoms appear very early.

Some signs you might see in a duck with viral hepatitis are tremors and rapid leg contractions. You may also notice a loss of appetite, diarrhea, nasal discharge, and bloodstained vents.

This disease can kill very quickly (within a few hours), so you should call a veterinarian immediately you suspect it.

Viral hepatitis can be especially lethal or ducklings less than a month old. You should separate affected ducklings from mature ducks to prevent transmission and reduce the chance of mortality.

Duck Plague (Virus Enteritis)

Duck plague is another disease that can be identified in a shivering duck. Duck plague, also called viral enteritis, is caused by the herpes virus.

Signs of duck plague include tremor, reduced egg production, ruffled plumage, nasal discharge, photophobia, and thirst. You should separate the infected ducks from healthy ducks as soon as the disease is detected and diagnosed.

There is no cure for duck plague, but healthy ducks can be vaccinated to prevent infection from spreading. Once the uninfected ducks have been vaccinated and given time to build immunity, you can bring them all back together.

You should also disinfect the duck house since the virus can survive in the environment and spread infection. Ducks that recover from their symptoms can still be contagious for up to a year after they recover, so be sure to keep up with cleaning, separating, and vaccinating your ducks.

Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection

Riemerella Anatipestifer infection is caused by a bacterium transmitted through inhalation and open foot wounds. This disease is also known as New Duck Disease or Infectious Serositis.

One of the symptoms of Riemerella Anatipestifer infection is trembling of the head and neck. This can often look like your duck is simply shivering.

The disease can affect the joints, respiratory system, oviduct, brain, and meninges. Other symptoms include nasal discharge, ocular discharge, weight loss, twisted neck, and sneezing.

If the disease is very serious, your duck may lay on its back while paddling its feet in the air. You should call a veterinarian if you suspect an infection. Riemerella Anatipestifer infection can be treated with antibiotics, and the rest of your ducks can be vaccinated.

Duck Pneumonia

Another disease that can cause your duck to shiver is Duck Pneumonia. Also known as Aspergillosis, this infection occurs when ducks inhale spores of the fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus, or other species of Aspergillus.

The sleeping duck on the half-frozen lake in winter

When in the lungs, the spores infiltrate the air sacs and cause the formation of plaques. Besides causing the ducks to shake, you’ll notice symptoms such as gasping, dehydration, loss of appetite, isolation, and lethargy.

The spores are usually formed on moldy beddings and moldy feed. Spore formation is even more intense when these materials become and stay wet.

When ducks are already struggling with one infection or have a chronic disease, they are more likely to get aspergillosis. It’s important for you to be cautious with care for ducks with an already compromised immune system to prevent further infection.

Aspergillosis is treated with antifungal medications. The treatment period can span many months, and in very serious cases, the infected birds are isolated from the uninfected ones.

You should also be wary while handling the infected ducks. Young, old, and immunocompromised humans can become infected when touching affected ducks.

The best way to prevent aspergillosis is to improve hygiene in the spaces the ducks live or forage. Improve ventilation, clean their housing, and ensure their living spaces are not humid or constantly wet.


If your duck eats or drinks near an infected dead animal or a contaminated pond, it might contract botulism. Botulism is caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which creates toxins that affect neurons and movement.

One of the most prominent symptoms of botulism in ducks is prominent tremor, which can seem like shivering at first. The disease can also cause breathing difficulties.

Botulism wastes no time in killing infected ducks. Within 24 to 48 hours, an infected duck can pass into a coma and die. Antitoxin treatments are available and effective, so if you act very quickly, a veterinarian may be able to save your infected duck.

Newcastle Disease

Newcastle disease is a viral infection that primarily affects the respiratory system. However, it can also impact the nervous system. While more common in chickens, Newcastle disease can affect ducks and other poultry.

When the respiratory system is affected, you’ll see signs such as sneezing, breathlessness, and nasal discharge. When the nervous system is affected, symptoms include tremors, paralysis, depression, and circling.

Vaccines are available to prevent the spread in ducks, but there is no treatment or cure for infected animals. Ducks with Newcastle disease can be given antibiotics to address secondary bacterial infections.

Mallard ducks on an iceberg on a cold winter day

What to Do If Your Duck Is Shaking Uncontrollably

If your duck is shaking uncontrollably in warm weather, it might be an infection. Isolate the trembling duck from other birds, and inform your veterinarian.

If you suspect that your duck is shaking due to wet feather, you can examine it yourself. Check the preen gland near the duck’s tail. If the preen gland has yellow skin around it or looks swollen, the duck could be shivering from wet feather. Call a veterinarian to check the gland for infection.

Besides calling a vet, you can bathe the duck to help clean and dry it properly. Place the duck in a bath containing lukewarm water, and clean the plumage with a very mild detergent or dishwashing soap. Be sure to dry the duck thoroughly. This will remove the excess oil and dirt from the duck’s feathers.

Keep the duck away from water for a while. You may only let it swim for very short periods, but you should dry it immediately.


Shivering is a non-specific sign in ducks. Your duck may shiver if it has wet feather. But it may also shiver if it has become infected with one of several lethal diseases. If your duck is shaking uncontrollably, you may save the animal and the rest of your ducks by isolating it and immediately calling a veterinarian.