Ducks

Duck Health Guide: First Aid Kit Items, Tips and Recommended Reading

Duck Health Guide: First Aid Kit Items, Tips and Recommended Reading  thumbnail


Got ducks? Great! As with any pet or production animal, there’s a good chance that your feathered family members will get sick or injured at some point. This article is intended to help you figure out what’s wrong, what to do next, and what items you should plan to have on hand as a responsible duck parent.

Two of our Welsh Harlequin ducks out for an evening forage in the garden.

Two of our Welsh Harlequin ducks out for an evening forage in the garden.

Top 5 Ways to Prevent Duck Injuries & Illnesses

Of course, the best treatment will always be prevention. It’s much easier to keep a biological organism healthy than it is to fix it once it becomes sick or injured. In our experience, the four best ways to prevent a duck from injury or illness are:

  1. Provide a good diet, which we’ve written about here;
  2. Directly related to diet, we’d encourage you to adopt our “duck philosophy”: produce the healthiest possible ducks, not the most possible eggs. Egg production takes an enormous amount of energy and nutrients out of a duck’s body, so if you want to have long-lived, happy, healthy ducks with low medical costs and death rates, focus first and foremost on your ducks’ health.
  3. Provide clean water for them to swim in daily (chickens take dust baths, ducks take water baths) to help with feather health, overall hygiene, and prevent mites;
  4. Keep their coop bedding fresh and topped up (we use a deep litter method);
  5. Provide a run/foraging area with clean, non-course surfaces. Ducks are clumsy walkers with big flippers, so rough granite, thick chopped mulch, rough concrete, etc will increase the likelihood of foot/ankle injuries and infections. We recommend finely ground mulch, shredded leaves, or straw as a covering over the ground in the areas where your ducks spend the most time (wet, poopy mud is going to attract parasites and anaerobic bacteria).
Ducks LOVE making a sloppy mess, and can quickly turn the areas where they spend the most time into a mud pit, if allowed to do so. We use finely ground mulch and leaves to keep their primary living areas from getting too messy.

Ducks LOVE making a sloppy mess, and can quickly turn the areas where they spend the most time into a mud pit, if allowed to do so. We use finely ground mulch and leaves to keep their primary living areas from getting too messy.

The Duck First Aid Kit: Treating Duck Health Issues

The importance of being prepared for animal injuries BEFORE you need to be became evident to us a few years back. Our cat, Oscar, sauntered into the den with a burst abscess on his back (yes, it was absolutely disgusting) and we not only had to hastily research what type of wound care is safe to use on cats, but we also had to run out to Walgreens in 5:30 rush hour traffic to get everything we needed. It was a mess. Since then we’ve always kept a basic animal-safe first aid kit on hand and it has served us well.

Items you should have in your ducks’ first aid kit or provide as dietary supplements: 

  • Probiotics, Vitamins & Minerals
  • Rooster Booster: Minerals, electrolytes and Lactobacillus. On extremely hot summer days, this is great to add to their drinking water. Also can be good as a quick nutrient-rich drench should your birds need it. This is the least expensive of the three probiotics listed. We usually favor the Probios or Rezealant Living.
  • ProBios: Another excellent probiotic to use regularly, especially following a round of antibiotics. Safe for dogs & cats.
  • Rezealant Living Premium Feast: This is a fantastic probiotic that humans can take too. We’ve used it in the past when we’ve had to tube feed (just 1/4-1/2 tsp) and when we’ve dealt with weird nutrition issues. Packed full of lots of organic produce and good belly (crop?) bugs it’s also a product we enjoy ourselves in smoothies. We started using it based on the recommendation in Kimberly Link’s Pet Duck book as being great for birds undergoing a long course of antibiotics. It keeps for a while in the fridge; we’ll use one tub in a year between us and the birds.
  • Nutridrench: This is a rapid, rich nutritional supplement. We’ll use it if we have a sick bird and they need a quick vitamin pick-me-up, as you would take a botanical health tonic or elderberry syrup if you feel a cold coming on. We’ve found much smaller containers at our local Tractor Supply.
  • Vitamin B-Complex: It’s super important that you don’t buy either the flush-free niacin (inositol hexanicotinate) or timed release. You just want straight-up B Complex. Surprisingly, this a pretty difficult thing to find, so we highly recommend you buy it now and keep it on hand for if you ever need it. Tube feeding two of these capsules with some Mazuri Maintenance saved a friend’s 20lb goose who had stopped eating, standing and walking. Within hours of his first “meal” he was standing again.
  • Things to help with Toxins
  • Toxiban: Toxiban is a kaolin clay and activated charcoal-based suspension intended for use as an adsorbent of orally ingested toxicants. It is highly effective in treating accidental animal poisonings. Read more about it here.
  • Activated Charcoal: A little less expensive than Toxiban and easy to add to their drinking water. Also great for the human first-aid kit when you’re nursing an upset stomach (or hangover).
  • Milk thistle: Our avian vet has seen amazing results from milk thistle supplements. In fact, she’s seen severe liver damage completely reversed (the silymarin compounds are what works magic). Milk thistle capsules | Alcohol-free milk thistle tinctures (NEVER give a duck alcohol)
  • Wound Care
  • Vetricyn: A great product that isn’t limited to fowl injuries; it can be used on dogs, cats, etc… It’s safe for use in eyes and it won’t make them sick if they lick or accidentally eat it. The hydrogel (linked above) is wonderful for eye injuries because it’s more of a gel and tends to run off less easily. The Wound Spray is a great all-purpose wound flush or area disinfectant (like you’d use hydrogen peroxide on a human). We keep both of these on hand.
  • Polysporin: We’d been using this before we realized it was animal-safe. Also note, do not use Neosporin or any triple antibiotic ointments containing “pain relief” medicine on your birds.
  • Silvadene (Silver Sulfazadene)  requires an RX from a doctor or vet : Topical silver cream that works wonders against bacterial and viral infections. We’ve also used Curad’s silver solution ointment , but prefer Silvadene.
  • VetWrap: Wrap for injuries; great for holding on bandages, etc.. You can also find this locally at any feed n’ seed or Tractor Supply.
  • VetRX: A botanically-based product that offers effective relief from respiratory disease, crd, croup, scaly leg mites, and favus eye worm. It’s not a treatment for respiratory problems per-se, but can help make your ducks more comfortable in much the same way that breathing vicks vape-o-rub makes you comfortable if you have a cold. We just rub a few dabs on their bill.
  • Metacam (meloxicam)  requires an RX from a vet : Excellent anti-inflammatory. Helps with egg issues, swelling due to injury, allergic reactions, etc…
  • Clavamox (human equivalent: Augmentin or Amox-Clav)  requires an RX from a doctor or vet : A broad spectrum antibiotic, a combination of amoxicillin and clavulanic Acid, used for infections caused by bacteria. First line antibiotic used to treat Pasteurella, the bacteria in animal (mostly cat) bite wounds that can kill birds. We put this here because it’s a common antibiotic that people have in their medicine cabinets and it’s good to know that it does have an important animal use. Before you give your birds any antibiotic you should always check with your vet.
We grow our own milk thistle, which produces beautiful flowers in the spring. The seeds mature inside the spiky pods, and that's what is used to make milk thistle pills/supplements. We grind them into a tea to drink, and also give the tea to our ducks to drink. (Pills and tinctures are far more concentrated.)

We grow our own milk thistle, which produces beautiful flowers in the spring. The seeds mature inside the spiky pods, and that’s what is used to make milk thistle pills/supplements. We grind them into a tea to drink, and also give the tea to our ducks to drink. (Pills and tinctures are far more concentrated.)

Where to Get Duck Diapers & Shoes

If you have a sick or injured duck that requires indoor “house rest,” or if you just want to ocassionally bring your favorite bird inside for movie night, duck diapers come in handy. Duck “shoes” are really helfpful in dealing with bumblefoot or foot injuries, and they’re part of our first aid kit.

  • Party Fowl – Open Toe Duck Shoe: We’ve found that it is far easier to spray the affected flipper area with Vetricyn and put a shoe on, than it is to wrestle a bird onto it’s back for five minutes while you wrap it’s little flipper in vet tape (a non-adhesive bandage that you wrap the foot with that sticks to itself).
  • Party Fowl Duck Diapers: Nettie at Party Fowl makes extremely high quality items that stand up to all the abuse our ducks throw at them.
  • Sew Sammi: While we’ve only used PartyFowl for diapers and shoes, sometimes Nettie (the store’s owner) has a backlog. Sew Sammi comes highly recommended and we’d definitely use her for diapers if we couldn’t use PartyFowl.

Jackson modeling her bespoke pinstripe diaper from atop an even more bespoke Jackfruit.

Svetlana at the vet. She can’t even bear to look at us – she loves her vet, but hates having to go into her office to be poked and prodded.

Avian & Poultry Vets

We highly recommend using an avian/poultry vet if at all possible. If you happen to live in the Upstate region of South Carolina, we love HealthPoint Veterinary Clinic in Duncan, SC.  Dr. Hurlbert has ducks of her own, so you know your birds are being treated by someone who knows waterfowl well. She also comes highly recommended amongst wildlife rehabbers and other area vets (as we found out when we were calling around trying to find someone who treats birds).

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If you are not local and need to find a certified avian vet, use Avian Vet Finder

The flock out foraging in the spring.

The flock out foraging in the spring.

Other Helpful Links & Resources

 health: diagnostics 

  • Majestic Waterfowl’s Diagnostic Chart: If your birds are ill, start here. Very helpful in narrowing down illnesses based on symptoms. There is also a wonderful book written by the founder/president of Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary that you NEED to buy if you plan to get pet ducks. You can find it here on amazon.

 health: legs & feet 

 health: eggs & vent

  signs & symptoms of egg binding:
Egg Binding - signs & symptoms
  1. rapid or labored breathing
  2. lethargic
  3. pelvic area will feel like a hard mass, or you can actually feel the egg that is bound
  4. swelling
  5. constipation
  6. fluffed up feathers
  7. straining/tail-pumping
  8. feces contain egg yolk could mean egg perionitis

This is a very uncomfortable and sometimes painful condition for birds. If you notice your hen experiencing signs/symptoms of egg binding, please consider seeking medical attention. Our vet bill ran almost $300, which is very reasonable considering we had her tube fed, x-rayed, an extensive blood panel done and were given 2 medications + oral calcium. If you can’t afford a vet visit, you may be able to find a sympathetic vet who will give you something to help deal with the inflammation and pain without requiring a visit.

 health: babies 

There are few, if any, creatures in the world that are cuter than ducklings.

There are few, if any, creatures in the world that are cuter than ducklings.

 health: digestive system 

 health: general 

Recommended Reading:

Kindle links (where available) are provided in addition to book links. A lot of times it’s easier to use a kindle when you’re searching for a symptom or a specific topic that may not be included in the index.

Download Kindle for iPad, Computer, etc… Amazon.com - Read eBooks using the FREE Kindle Reading App on Most Devices

 Books 

Just as a momma duck is responsible for her ducklings, you're responsible for being good duck parents to your whole flock. That requires a lot of learning. If you don't want to take time to learn, please don't become a duck parent, because their lives depend on you.

Just as a momma duck is responsible for her ducklings, you’re responsible for being good duck parents to your whole flock. That requires a lot of learning. If you don’t want to take time to learn, please don’t become a duck parent, because their lives depend on you.

 Veterinary Textbooks 

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I really like to understand what’s happening to my girls when they are sick, how the illness will progress and what to expect as they get better. I also like to have an idea of general treatment protocol. The internet is a great place to find tons of info, but all you usually find are halfway educated guesses and the suggested treatments are often not supported by veterinary science. We have too much invested in our small flock to throw darts, so we use a vet and I read a lot of veterinary textbooks. I’d imagine texts like these could also be helpful if you live in a rural area where there are no avian vets but there are general vets that are willing to see your birds & help with diagnoses. We own both of these books in the kindle format and I do recommend them.

  • Backyard Poultry Surgery & Medicine: A wonderful textbook written for small animal vets, but has proven very useful for us in understanding illnesses in our own flock. Highly recommend. kindle edition
  • Clinical Veterinary Advisor: Birds & Exotic Pets: From the amazon listing – Concise summaries of hundreds of common medical problems help you consider differential diagnoses, recommend diagnostic tests, interpret results mindful of unique species differences, utilize important concepts of species-specific husbandry and nutrition, prescribe treatments, and provide follow-up care. kindle edition

We hope you found this article helpful! If you have any questions about your feathered family members, please ask them in the comments section below!

KIGI,

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 Tyrant Farm’s Other Duck Articles 

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  • Candice

    Thank you for this great information. I have two Indian runner ducks that were attacked by a dog yesterday. My sweet Spooks didn’t make it and Doodles is recovering with bite injuries. I gave her a bath in the tub, watered down peroxide and washed out the punctures and put Polysporin on her poor wounds. She and I snuggled on the couch all afternoon (duck diapers would have been nice) and put her to bed with fresh straw last night. She is doing ok this morning. Laid an egg. But I am glad to have read your post and my mind is eased knowing that what I used is safe for her.

    • https://www.growjourney.com Aaron von Frank

      Oh no! We are so sorry to hear this, Candice. Truly heartbreaking. Hopefully, the dog’s owner is going to do something to repay you for your loss and ensure the dog never escapes again. We have our ducks surrounded by a 6′ tall chain link fence during the day and put them in a fortified coop at night, but we’re still anxious that a large dog or other predator might one day be able to get to them when we’re not around. Hope Doodles makes a full recovery and you’re able to find her a new flock mate or two at some point in the future.