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Head Injuries

Cranial Trauma

Head trauma is fairly common in ducks, occurring in multiple presentations and severity, from mild to life-threatening. Head injuries may be outwardly apparent by the presence of hemorrhaging, loss of tissue, and in many incidences, complete exposure of the brain. In other cases, the bird may not show any external evidence of a head injury, but will present with a wide range of temporary to permanent clinical signs of neurological impairment.


Blood at wound site
Bleeding from eyes, ears or mouth
Head tilting
Missing feathers


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs


MethodMethod Summary
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own duck "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Administer short-term corticosteroidsprednisolone, dexamethasone (2 mg/kg IM, once)
IV fluidsindicated if the bird is in shock, given at 1/2 to 2/3 of the normal volume to prevent overhydration and cerebral edema.

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Traumatic brain injury in a White-crowned pionus A 13-year-old female white-crowned pionus was examined because of seizures 22 months after it was treated for a traumatic brain injury (TBI) characterized by vision loss, hemiparesis, nystagmus, circling, and head tilt. Bloodwork performed during the initial seizure workup revealed hypercalcemia and hypercholesterolemia, which were attributed to vitellogenesis given the bird's previous egg-laying history and recent onset of reproductive behavior. Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain revealed diffuse right pallium atrophy with multifocal hydrocephalus ex vacuo, which were believed to be the result of the previous TBI. Findings were most consistent with post-traumatic seizures (PTS). Levetiracetam (100 mg/kg [45 mg/lb], PO, q 12 h) was initiated for PTS management. A 4.7-mg deslorelin implant was injected SC to suppress reproductive behavior. The bird was reexamined for presumed status epilepticus 5 times over 22 months. Seizure episodes coincided with onset of reproductive behavior. The levetiracetam dosage was increased (150 mg/kg [68 mg/lb], PO, q 8 h), and zonisamide (20 mg/kg [9.1 mg/lb], PO, q 12 h) was added to the treatment regimen. Additional deslorelin implants were administered every 2 to 6 months to suppress reproductive behavior. The owner was trained to administer midazolam intranasally or IM as needed at home. The treatment regimen helped control but did not eliminate seizure activity. The bird was euthanized 22 months after PTS diagnosis for reasons unrelated to the TBI or PTS. Long-term management of PTS in a pionus was achieved with levetiracetam and zonisamide administration. Ref


  • Handle crested head ducks gently and avoid putting any pressure on their heads.
  • Minimize potential for injury



Risk Factors

  • Mixing roosters and ducks together
  • Overcrowding
  • Abrupt temperature changes
  • Male ducks housed with females in the spring.