Diseases / List of Physical / Traumatic Diseases / Disease description:

Drowning (with special reference to Waterfowl and notes on Hedgehogs, Bears, Lagomorphs and Cranes)

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INFORMATION AVAILABLE

GENERAL INFORMATION

CLINICAL CHARACTERISTICS & PATHOLOGY

INVESTIGATION & DIAGNOSIS

TREATMENT & CONTROL

SUSCEPTIBILITY & TRANSMISSION

ENVIRONMENT & GEOGRAPHY

 

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General and References

Disease Summary

Inhalation and ingestion of water.

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Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • --

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Disease Type

 Physical / Traumatic

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Infectious/Non-Infectious Agent associated with the Disease

Inhalation and ingestion of water. Water in respiratory tract reduces gaseous exchange. Also osmotic effect, can result in haemolysis in fresh water, dehydration and pulmonary oedema in sea water (hypertonic) (B20.14.w11).

Infective "Taxa"

--

Non-infective agents

Physical agents

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References

Disease Author

Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
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Major References / Reviews

Code and Title List

B20.14.w11, B36.47.w47, B36.51.w51, B95, B97, B108
J1.22.w2
J2.12.w2
J7.S1.w5, J7.14.w3

Other References

Code and Title List

B13.46.w1, B37.x.w1, B30, B139
J1.23.w2
J7.4.w1, J7.43.w1, J7.43.w2
P10.28.w1
V.w5

Cranes:
B485.22.w22
J1.39.w6, P87.11.w8
W2.Nov2013.w3

Hedgehogs:
B255
.1.w1, B255.2.w2, B257.2.w3, B259.w9, D75, D79, D84, D87, D88, D90, W51.July2002.WEH2, W93.July2002.WEH3, W99.July2002.WEH1, W99.July2002.WEH2, V.w26

Bears:
J417
.20.w1, V.w91

Lagomorphs:
J3.150.w5, J40.8.w1, J47.9.w1

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Clinical Characteristics and Pathology

Detailed Clinical and Pathological Characteristics

General

Water in the respiratory tract.

Clinical Characteristics

  • Skin: Pelage or plumage is usually obviously wet. (B20.14.w11)
  • Respiratory:
    • Breathing may be difficult, with excessive respiratory effort, or may have ceased. 
    • Fluid sounds may be heard on auscultation.
    • Manipulation of the animal may result in excess water being passed out of the nose/mouth from the trachea or oesophagus. (B20.14.w11, V.w5)
WATERFOWL 
  • Found dead in water or on shore.
  • May be encrusted with salt, tangled in underwater obstructions (e.g. fishing nets, odd-shaped holes in banks below water level), covered with oil, or found after melting of ice.

(J1.22.w2, J1.23.w2, J7.14.w2, J7.S1.w5, P10.28.w1).

CRANES Found dead.
HEDGEHOG
  • Generally found dead in water bodies such as steep-sided garden ponds. (B255.1.w1, B259.w9)

Incubation

--

Mortality / Morbidity

Sporadic occurrence. There may be a significant effect on a local population in the event of, for example, a new pond being dug, or when a lake ices over and animals fall through the ice. (B20.14.w11)
WATERFOWL Sporadic occurrence.
CRANES
  • Crane chicks drown sometimes; this is a normal cause of death. [1997](P87.7.w2)
HEDGEHOG Sporadic. 

Pathology

Gross lesions:
  • May be few gross lesions.
  • Skin and hair/feathers: Wet, or if dried, matted. 
  • Respiratory: 
    • Water in the mouth or nasal cavities.
    • Excessive frothy fluid in the respiratory tract (including the air sacs in birds).
    • Lungs are usually distended and slightly congested.
    • Sub-pleural petechiae may be found.
  • Gastro-intestinal: Fluid may be found in the oesophagus and stomach.

    (B20.14.w11)

Histopathological lesions:

  • Respiratory:
    • Inhaled fluid may be found to contain diatoms and other aquatic organisms.(B20.14.w11)
    • There may be inflammatory responses in the lungs. (B20.14.w11)
WATERFOWL
  • Feathers wet, or matted if dried out; may be oiled.
  • Water in buccal/nasal cavities. Water in trachea, lungs and air-sacs. Lungs reddened.
  • Aquatic organisms may be found on microscopic examination of inhaled fluids.

(J1.22.w2, J1.23.w2, J7.14.w2, B20.14.w11, P10.28.w1).

CRANES
  • In Grus americana - Whooping crane considered to have been struck by lightning during a severe thunderstorm, saline fluid was found in the lungs and airsacs, suggesting death by aspiration of sea water and drowning while stunned due to lightning strike. (P87.11.w8)
HEDGEHOGS --

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Human Health Considerations

Humans may be at risk of drowning while attempting to rescue wild or domestic animals in or near water. Care should be taken not to risk human life while rescuing animals. (D133.2.w2, D133.3.w3)

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Susceptibility / Transmission

General information on Susceptibility / Transmission

  • Many animal species can swim well. 
  • Particular hazards which may result in drowning include newly-constructed ponds and ditches with steep sides (particularly hazardous to small species), and iced-over lakes in which the risk of falling through the ice is greater for larger, heavier animals.
  • Drowning may also occur in aquatic animals associated with oiling or other contamination which removes the waterproofing and buoyancy qualities of the plumage or fur.
  • There are age and sex differences in mortality due to drowning, for various reasons.
    • Juvenile aquatic birds are more likely to drown than are adults.
    • Female wandering albatrosses are more likely to drown than are males, because the two sexes take different migration routes and those of the females takes them over tuna fishing grounds where they take hooked bait and drown.
  • Key factors in survival following submersion in water include duration of submersion, water temperature and speed of resuscitation..
    • In general young animals are more tolerant of submersion than are adults of the same species;
    • In general aquatic species are more tolerant of submersion than are terrestrial species;
    • Ectothermic species tend to be more tolerant of submension than are endothermic species;
    • Mammals may have the diving reflex triggered on entry into cold water, which may permit survival after prolonged submersion, due to changes such as bradycardia and shunting of oxygenated blood to the heart and brain. 

(B20.14.w11)

WATERFOWL
  • Juveniles appear more susceptible than adults to drowning due to various hazards such as bad weather conditions or becoming caught underwater.
  • Ducks may be particularly prone to getting their heads stuck in underwater crevices.
  • Diving ducks may become caught under ice.
  • Downies which become wet may drown quite quickly. In particular, downies being hand- or broody- reared may drown in the first few days of life if given unsupervised access to water. Fully-feathered juveniles, if they have been raised without full access to water, may become waterlogged and drown when first introduced to a pond. This may also be a problem with adult diving ducks and seaducks (e.g. scaup Aythya spp., scoters Melanitta spp, goldeneyes Bucephala spp.) which have been kept off water for several days.
  • Female ducks, particularly mallard Anas platyrhynchos may be drowned by excessive mating, especially by groups of males.
  • Oiled birds, or birds externally contaminated with detergents may drown after losing waterproofing, insulation and buoyancy. Drowning secondary to hypothermia occurs faster in colder waters.

(J2.12.w2, J7.14.w3, B20.14.w11, B30, B37.x.w1, B94, B95, B97, B108, P10.28.w1).

CRANES
  • In a study of radio-equipped Grus canadensis - Sandhill crane chicks at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, USA, at least one of 21 chicks died of drowning; the transmitter may have been partially responsible. (P87.1988.w1)
  • Crane chicks drown sometimes; this is a normal cause of death: drowned crane colts had been found on the reserve previously. [1997](P87.7.w2)
  • In seventeen Grus americana - Whooping cranes penned at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, which died during a strong thunderstorm, death appeared to be by drowning (saline fluid was found in the lungs and airsacs) while stunned due to lightning strike. (P87.11.w8)
HEDGEHOGS
  • Hedgehogs swim well but may drown in e.g. garden ponds if the sides of the pond are vertical or steep and there is no ramp or gently sloping area to assist them in exiting the water. (B255.1.w1, B259.w9)
BEARS
  • Adult bears swim well but young cubs given access to deep water may drown. (J417.20.w1)
  • Drowning of an Ursus maritimus - Polar bear in a zoo occurred when the bear became trapped under ice in its pool during unusually severe winter weather (prolonged freezing temperatures and a blizzard). (V.w91)
LAGOMORPHS
  • Burrowing rabbits are susceptible to drowning if their burrows flood. (J3.150.w5, J47.9.w1)

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Disease has been reported in either the wild or in captivity in:

[N.B. Miscellaneous / Traumatic Diseases tend to be under-reported and the majority are likely to affect all waterfowl species, given exposure to the related disease agents/factors.]
  • White-faced whistling duck Dendrocygna viduata adult, swan goose Anser cygnoides juvenile, scoter Melanitta spp. juvenile (J7.4.w1)
  • Common Pochard Aythya ferina (J7.14.w2)
  • Spotted Whistling Duck Dendrocygna guttata, Chilean Pintail Anas georgica spinicauda, Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera, Common Shoveler Anas clypeata, Australian White-eye (Hardhead) Aythya australis, Fulvous whistling Duck Dendrocygna bicolor, Salvadori’s Duck Anas waigiuensis, European Green-winged teal Anas crecca crecca, Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (J7.14.w3).
  • Cygnet (species not given) in a collection in the UK (J7.43.w1).
  • Swan(s) (J7.43.w2).
  • Diving ducks (B36.47.w47).
  • Ducks (B37.x.w1).
  • Common teal Anas crecca ducks by mating drakes, if too many kept in an enclosure (B40).
  • Canada geese Branta canadensis, lesser snow goose Anser caerulescens caerulescens, probably Ross's goose Anser rossii, terminal water aspiration associated with salt encrustation (J1.23.w2).
  • Tundra swan Cygnus columbianus in the USA, associated with strong surf (J1.22.w2, J7.S1.w5).
  • Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (J7.14.w3)
  • New Zealand scaup Aythya novaeseelandiae, during mating (B139).

Cranes:

  • In a study of radio-equipped Grus canadensis - Sandhill crane chicks at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, USA, at least one of 21 chicks died of drowning; the transmitter may have been partially responsible. (P87.1988.w1)
  • In a study of radio-equipped sandhill crane colts at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, USA, 7/142 died by drowning. It was considered possible that some of these deaths may have been due to disturbance resulting in premature departure of the cranes from the nest platform. It was also noted that drowning was a normal cause of death of crane chicks; drowned crane colts had been found on the reserve previously. [1997](P87.7.w2)
  • In one trial capturing wild Grus canadensis - Sandhill cranes with alpha-chloralose (Alphachloralose Sedation of Cranes), 17 of 71 drugged cranes waded into a lake and drowned. (J40.37.w3)
  • A wild Grus canadensis - Sandhill crane died when, following sedation with oral alpha chloralose, she flew into an irrigation ditch. (J1.39.w6)
  • One crane (species not specified) was recorded as dying by drowning at San Diego Zoo/San Diego Wild Animal Park. (B485.22.w22)
  • Seventeen Grus americana - Whooping cranes penned at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, died during a strong thunderstorm. Death appeared to be by drowning (saline fluid was found in the lungs and airsacs) while stunned due to lightning strike. (P87.11.w8)
  • Wild Grus paradisea - Blue crane chicks drown in water troughs. (W2.Nov2013.w3)

Hedgehogs:

  • Hedgehogs have been found drowned in a small, vertical-sided garden pond with the water surface two inches (5cm) below the rim. (B255.1.w1)
  • Hedgehogs may be found drowned in garden ponds with steep plastic sides, or in outdoor swimming pools. (B259.w9)

Bears

  • An Ursus maritimus - Polar bear in a zoo drowned when the bear became trapped under ice in its pool during unusually severe winter weather (prolonged freezing temperatures and a blizzard). (V.w91)

Lagomorphs

  • Two juvenile Sylvilagus floridanus - Eastern cottontail were found in a lily pond close to their nest and were presumed to have drowned. (J40.8.w1)
  • Three radiotagged adult Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit in a population in Spain died in burrows flooded during heavy rain; over the whole study period flooding caused the death of 1.5% of the tagged adults. (J3.150.w5)
  • Drowning and exposure to damp in flooded burrows was a major cause of death of kits during observations of rabbits restricted to a large enclosure. (J47.9.w1)

Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken). Host species with further information available are listed below:

 Host Species List

WATERFOWL

CRANES

MAMMALS

[N.B. Miscellaneous / Traumatic Diseases tend to be under-reported and the majority are likely to affect all species, given exposure to the related disease agents/factors.]

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Disease has been specifically reported in Free-ranging populations of:

  • Canada geese Branta canadensis, lesser snow goose Anser caerulescens caerulescens, probably Ross's goose Anser rossii, terminal water aspiration associated with salt encrustation (J1.23.w2).
  • Tundra swan Cygnus columbianus in the USA, associated with strong surf (J1.22.w2, J7.S1.w5).
  • Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (J7.14.w3)

Cranes:

  • In a study of radio-equipped Grus canadensis - Sandhill crane chicks at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, USA, at least one of 21 chicks died of drowning; the transmitter may have been partially responsible. (P87.1988.w1)
  • In a study of radio-equipped sandhill crane colts at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, USA, 7/142 died by drowning. It was considered possible that some of these deaths may have been due to disturbance resulting in premature departure of the cranes from the nest platform. It was also noted that drowning was a normal cause of death of crane chicks; drowned crane colts had been found on the reserve previously. [1997](P87.7.w2)
  • In one trial capturing wild Grus canadensis - Sandhill cranes with alpha-chloralose (Alphachloralose Sedation of Cranes), 17 of 71 drugged cranes waded into a lake and drowned. (J40.37.w3)
  • A wild Grus canadensis - Sandhill crane died when, following sedation with oral alpha chloralose, she flew into an irrigation ditch. (J1.39.w6)
  • Wild Grus paradisea - Blue crane chicks drown in water troughs. (W2.Nov2013.w3)

Hedgehogs:

  • Hedgehogs have been found drowned in a small, vertical-sided garden pond with the water surface two inches (5cm) below the rim. (B255.1.w1)
  • Hedgehogs may be found drowned in garden ponds with steep plastic sides, or in outdoor swimming pools. (B259.w9)

Lagomorphs

Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken). Host species with further information available are listed below:

 Host Species List

WATERFOWL

CRANES

MAMMALS

[N.B. Miscellaneous / Traumatic Diseases tend to be under-reported and the majority are likely to affect all waterfowl species, given exposure to the related disease agents/factors.]

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Environment/Geography

General Information on Environmental Factors/Events and Seasonality

  • Ice and salt encrustation of aquatic birds such as waterfowl are likely to be seen in the autumn and winter as temperatures fall.
  • Drowning of waterfowl and other aquatic birds may be associated with severe weather conditions, such as storms and heavy surf.
  • Drowning is also also associated with loss of waterproofing of the plumage or pelage (fur) of (particularly aquatic) birds and mammals, for example due to oil contamination.
  • Drowning following falling through ice is associated with environmental factors producing ice cover , but of insufficient thickness to hold the weight of the animal on its surface.

(B20.14.w11, B36.47.w47, B36.51.w51, P10.28.w1)

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Regions / Countries where the Infectious Agent or Disease has been recorded

[May occur worldwide]

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Regions / Countries where the Infectious Agent or Disease has been recorded in Free-ranging populations

[May occur worldwide]

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General Investigation / Diagnosis

General Information on Investigation / Diagnosis

  • The affected animal may have been found within a pond, lake, swimming pool or other water-holding body.
  • Wet hair or feathers (if these have dried, then they are likely to be matted).
  • Presence of water in the mouth or nasal cavity.
  • Respiratory signs following water inhalation; fluid sounds associated with the respiratory system.
  • Excess water may be passed out of the trachea and/or oesophagus if the animal is manipulated.
  • At post mortem examination excess frothy fluid in the respiratory tract (including in the air sacs of birds). Lungs usually distended, slightly congested and sometimes with sub-pleural petechial haemorrhages. 
  • Aquatic organisms such as diatoms may be detected within the inhaled fluid. 

(B20.14.w11, V.w5)

WATERFOWL
  • History, feathers wet, or matted if dried out, water in respiratory tract at post mortem examination.
  • Other signs of excessive mating activity, such as feather-picking and bruising, may be evident in birds drowned during mating.

(B20.14.w11, V.w5)

Related Techniques
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Similar Diseases (Differential Diagnosis)

WATERFOWL
  • For birds found in sea or on shore: trauma (pounding into shore by surf).
  • N.B. Drowning may be seen as the terminal event in diseases such as Avian Botulism when birds become unable to keep their head out of water.
CRANES
  • When seventeen Grus americana - Whooping cranes penned at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, died during a strong thunderstorm, it was necessary to determine whether they died from Electrocution (lightning strike) or drowning. Death appeared to be by drowning (saline fluid was found in the lungs and airsacs) while stunned due to lightning strike. (P87.11.w8)

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Treatment and Control

Specific Medical Treatment

--
Related Techniques --
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General Nursing and Surgical Techniques

  • Hold upside down to drain water from respiratory tract. 
  • Stimulate by rubbing and apply artificial respiration; intubate and administered oxygen if available. 
    • Continue artificial respiration or supply of oxygen until spontaneous breathing resumes.
  • Intravenous sodium bicarbonate may be useful to counter acidosis. 
  • Keep warm. Consider whether treatment is required for hypothermia (See: Chilling - Hypothermia).
  • Give prophylactic antibiotics to reduce the risk of pulmonary infection.

(B20.14.w11)

Related Techniques
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Preventative Measures

Vaccination --
Prophylactic Treatment --
Related Techniques
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Environmental and Population Control Measures

General Environment Changes, Cleaning and Disinfection

WATERFOWL 

  • For captive waterfowl, ensure ponds have sides with shallow slopes allowing easy exit from the water, particularly if small ducklings will be using the pond, or diving ducks which do not walk well.
  • Use e.g. running water to keep ponds from icing over in cold weather.
  • If downies are raised with constant access to bathing water (preferred particularly for seaducks and stifftails), care in construction and monitoring is required. An alternative which may be used for dabbling ducks and geese is to raise with access only to a shallow water dish, with pebbles in the bottom initially. In this case it will be necessary to introduce the birds to water gradually (only shallow water initially) to allow waterproofing to develop, and be watchful and ready to intervene when they are first given access to deeper water.

(B13.46.w1, B94, B95, B97, V.w5).

HEDGEHOGS
  • Build ponds with at least one side sloping gently to allow easy exit from the water.
  • Ensure steep-sided ponds and other structures which may hold water have a ramp allowing animals which fall in to climb out and/or large submerged bricks or stones onto which animals may step, providing a firm surface from which to climb out of the water
  • Cover ponds with a well-fitting plastic mesh cover to prevent animals falling into the water.
  • Provide outdoor swimming pools with a float (wooden or polystyrene) onto which animals may climb.
  • If possible cover outdoor pools at night.
  • See: Garden Management for Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) - Ponds / Lakes / Watercourse / Swimming Pools

(B255.2.w2, B257.2.w3, D75, D79, D84, D87, D88, D90, W51.July2002.WEH2, W93.July2002.WEH3 W99.July2002.WEH1, W99.July2002.WEH2, V.w26)

Population Control Measures --
Isolation, Quarantine and Screening --
Related Techniques
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