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SFWC Continues to See High Number of Botulism Cases in Birds

SFWC’s wildlife hospital has seen a record number of birds suffering from botulism, but thanks to our expert staff these birds have all been given a second chance at life

  • A duck patient being treated for botulism in our wildlife hospital. SFWC

You’ve probably heard of botulism, and know it’s a dangerous toxin, but did you know that it can affect wildlife? At the South Florida Wildlife Center hospital we’re acutely aware of this as we continue to see a steady stream of ducks and other wild birds suffering from the effects of this neurotoxin, which is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.

While other species of wildlife can suffer from this often fatal disease, the majority of patients treated at SFWC are avian species. Since May, our veterinary staff has administered treatment for 139 cases of botulism in birds, bringing the total to 213 for the year so far.

Birds contract this disease from ingesting the stagnant water found in ponds, lakes and marshes that are contaminated with the bacterium and toxin. Due to the heavy rainfall in South Florida, the risk of a bird ingesting this water is high.

A bird infected with botulism will become unable to walk or blink what is known as the “third eyelid,” a translucent membrane that moistens and protects the eye. If left untreated it can cause paralysis of the bird’s respiratory system as well as other parts of the body and eventual death.

The good news is that this disease is treatable if caught. At our wildlife hospital we will administer one or more doses of activated charcoal to bind the toxins in the stomach. In addition, fluids are provided to hydrate the bird, and their eyes are gently kept lubricated until they are able to blink on their own.

So what can you do to prevent a bird from contracting this deadly disease? Here are a few tips:

  • Keep standing water from becoming stagnant – even pools with fountains could leave sitting water at the edges.
  • Remove dead animals and decomposing vegetation from ponds, lakes, and any other wet areas.
  • And if you find an immobile or weak bird, move him or her to a cool area out of the heat and contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. If you are in the South Florida area, call 1-866-SOS-WILD (1-866-767-9453).

With South Florida’s rainy season expected to last until October, we anticipate many more botulism patients coming through our doors. Please consider making a donation to South Florida Wildlife Center to ensure we can continue to care for the wildlife of South Florida 365 days a year.

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