Living with Wildlife Diseases

NDOW is committed to improving the health of Nevada’s wildlife. That includes outbreaks of diseases within our wildlife communities. Some of these communities may call your backyard home. Read below to learn more about how you can help your wildlife neighbors, your pets, and yourself stay healthy.

Report Sick or Dead Wildlife

If you find an animal in your backyard or neighborhood that you believe to be ill or has died due to an illness please report them to us. When you report please include as detailed a location as possible, the species, the number of animals, and any other information you think might be important.

Report by emailing: Nate Lahue at nate.lauhue@ndow.org or Chris Morris at crmorris@ndow.org 

Report by calling Reno Headquarters: 775-688-1500

Diseases in Waterfowl

Waterfowl tend to congregate in large numbers. This means disease outbreaks can be devastating sometimes leading to deaths of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of birds.

Botulism (Clostridium botulinum)

  • Botulism is a common cause of large die-offs in waterfowl. The toxin is produced by a bacterium found in the soil. Late summer and early fall when water temperatures are warm and water levels are low in standing water is when conditions are perfect for botulism.
  • Birds affected by botulism in the early stages will be able to swim, but not fly away. In later stages they may show a drooped neck. If caught early enough, sick birds can be treated and recover.

Duck Plague or Duck Viral Enteritis

  • Duck plague is caused by a herpes virus. It is spread through contaminated water and direct contact. Outbreaks occur in spring and early summer.
  • Birds affected by duck plague die quickly so a sign of an outbreak would be a large number of deceased birds.

To help limit the potential for disease outbreaks in waterfowl, do not feed them. Keep wild waterfowl out of your yard by using the techniques described here.

Diseases in Rabbits

Rabbits are a very common backyard visitor, and a very common pet. Disease between wild rabbits and pet rabbits can often spread back and forth.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease

  • Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus-2 (RHDV2) is a highly contagious disease affecting rabbits. This has been confirmed in wild desert cottontails in southern Nevada and domestic rabbits in northern Nevada.
  • Animals infected with HDV2 often die quickly so no obvious outward signs of illness are apparent. A sign of an outbreak would be finding several deceased rabbits.

To help keep your pet rabbits safe, keep your pet rabbit from coming into contact with wild rabbits, and keep all of your other pets away from any dead wild rabbits. If you have questions or concerns about your domestic rabbits, please contact your veterinarian. 

Diseases in Backyard Birds

There are several diseases that can affect backyard birds in Nevada, many are made worse by offering feed and water.

Trichomoniasis (Trichomonas gallinae)

  • Trichomoniasis is a disease that affects mourning doves and other wild birds such as raptors. Contaminated feed is a suspected source of transmission. Outbreaks are commonly seen in late winter and early spring.
  • Birds with Trichomoniasis are commonly found deceased at or near feeders and water sources.

Salmonellosis (Salmonella)

  • Salmonellosis is caused by the bacteria Salmonella. It is transmitted through droppings and saliva. Many species of songbirds are affected by Salmonella, but finches and siskins experience a very high rate of mortality. Outbreaks are common in late winter and early spring.
  • Affected birds are usually lethargic with fluffed up feathers and easy to approach. Mortality rate is very high with Salmonellosis.

To help reduce the spread of these diseases it is very important that if you choose to feed birds that you keep your feeders and bird baths clean and sanitized. If an outbreak is detected, take your feeder down as soon as possible. Keeping the areas around your bird feeders clean of decaying seed and feces will also help reduce the spread of these diseases. To learn more about living with songbirds go here.

Diseases in Reptiles and Amphibians

When thinking of wildlife diseases you may not first think of reptiles and amphibians, but just like our other backyard wildlife, these animals are susceptible to disease outbreaks.

Chytridiomycosis

  • Chytridiomycosis, chytrid, is a fungal disease that affects amphibians. This fungal infection has decimated amphibian populations around the world, and has a high incidence in the western U.S.
  • The disease is mostly waterborne, but can be transmitted through direct contact as well. Pet amphibians can also contract and spread chytrid.

Ranavirus

  • Ranaviruses are a group of viruses that can infect amphibians, turtles, and even fish. The disease can be transmitted through physical contact, movement of animals, or contaminated water.
  • In fish and reptiles ulcers may be seen around the mouth. The disease can also cause abnormal behavior and swimming and lethargy.

Mycoplasma

  • Mycoplasma is a bacterium that causes respiratory disease in several species. The species Mycoplasma testudines affects a variety of tortoise species in both wild and captive populations. The disease is widespread in the western Mojave Desert.
  • Signs of disease include nasal discharge, puffy eyes, and dullness to skin and scales.
  • Factors involved in the disease include immunosuppression and poor nutrition (often related to development and habitat degradation), drought, and introduction of captive desert tortoises into the wild.

To help reduce the spread of disease, NEVER release any captive reptiles and amphibians into the wild. Be sure to clean your boots, waders, and other equipment when moving between water sources, and leave wild reptiles and amphibians alone. 

If you find an animal that you think is injured or ill note the exact location, observe its behavior, and contact NDOW. NDOW staff can help determine if the animal is injured or ill. Do not attempt to feed, water, or unnecessarily handle the animal.

NDOW dispatch: 775-688-1331

Share Now