Updated and republished on 3/11/2021.
Like all pets, your ducks will get sick, injured, or require medical care at some point in their lives. It’s important for duck parents to be prepared for these inevitabilities up front and have a baseline knowledge about what to expect.
Likewise, you may want to learn about how to diagnose and treat common duck ailments that are NOT life-threatening at home. For ease of use, this article is broken into the following sections:
- Top 5 ways to prevent duck injuries and illnesses;
- How to stock your ducks’ first aid kit;
- How to find the right vet for your ducks;
- How to save money on prescription medications (if your duck ever needs them);
- Other helpful resources and recommended reading.
Elsewhere on our website, we’ve covered three other important duck healthcare topics that are important for duck parents to know about:
- How to prevent or treat bumblefoot (or when to take your duck to the vet);
- How to prevent or treat egg binding (or when to take your duck to the vet);
- How to orally medicate ducks.
Part 1. Top 5 ways to prevent duck injuries and illnesses
Of course, the best treatment for virtually any duck health or medical condition 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 five best ways to prevent a duck from getting injured or acquiring an illness are:
1. Provide a healthy, balanced waterfowl-specific diet.
2. Aim for better health, not more eggs.
Directly related to diet, we’d encourage you to adopt our “duck philosophy”: produce the healthiest ducks possible, not the most eggs possible. 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 adequate swimming water.
Provide clean water for your ducks to swim in daily. Chickens take dust baths, ducks take water baths. Ducks’ water baths help with feather health, overall hygiene, and mite prevention.
Having a year round source of clean, moving water made a big difference in our ducks’ overall health and well-being. Depending on your resources, plan to at least have a large pail or kiddie pool for your ducks, that you change every 24-48 hours. If possible, consider building your own self-cleaning duck pond.
4. Maintain clean bedding.
Keep your duck coop bedding fresh and topped up (we use a deep litter method) so they’re not standing around in soggy bedding or their own waste. We use large flake pine shavings for our outdoor duck coop.
If we have to bring a duck indoors to sit on a nest or go broody, we use aspen shavings. Aspen is dust-free, so it’s much better for in-home applications.
5. Protect those delicate duck flippers!
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 like bumblefoot.
For larger areas (like a backyard), we recommend finely ground mulch (triple-ground) or shredded leaves. For smaller areas (like runs), large flake pine shavings would be our recommendation. Wet, poopy mud is going to attract parasites and anaerobic bacteria, eventually leading to health problems with your ducks.
Part 2. Stocking your duck first aid kit
Do you have a drawer or cabinet with bandaids, rubbing alcohol, pain medication, and other essentials that you may need in case you get sick or injured? Or a full [human] first aid kit?
Similarly, you’ll need to have medical necessities on-hand in the event your ducks get sick or injured, e.g. a duck first aid kit. The further you live from a pharmacy or avian vet, the more important this precaution likely is.
Below are some of the items we think you should consider including in your duck first aid kit. We include a tiered rating system based on how important we deem the item to be in a duck first aid kit:
- Essential = must-have;
- Important = we’d encourage you to have it on-hand if budget allows;
- Helpful = buy as/when needed.
For simplicity, items in our recommended duck first aid kit are also organized by category.
A. Duck probiotics, vitamins, & minerals
1. Oyster Shell
Essential year round
The only kind of oyster shell our picky ducks will eat is the Scratch and Peck Feeds brand. Oyster shell or other calcium supplements should be provided for egg laying birds. We also recommend leaving a bowl of oyster shell out for your ducks even when they’re not laying since they know when their bodies need calcium and will eat it accordingly. (Buy on Amazon)
2. Rooster Booster
Essential in summer
This is a powdered supplement made of minerals, electrolytes, and Lactobacillus (probiotic). On extremely hot summer days, this supplement is great to add to your ducks’ drinking water. It can also be good as a quick nutrient-rich drench should your birds need it. Rooster Booster is available online or at your local Feed & Seed or Tractor Supply store. (Buy on Amazon)
3. Vitamin B-Complex
It’s super important that you do NOT buy either the flush-free niacin (inositol hexanicotinate) or timed-release. You just want straight-up B Complex. Surprisingly, this is 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.
We tube fed two of these capsules with some liquified Mazuri Maintenance feed to save a friend’s 20lb goose who had stopped eating, standing and walking. Within hours of his first meal with Vitamin B-complex he was standing again. (Buy on Amazon)
4. Nordic Naturals Pro Arctic Omega Liquid Fish Oil
Dosage as per our vet, EPA + DHA = 250 mg/day, so 1mL/day if you buy this one. We use this fish oil if we have a duck who needs help with feather health/oil production and waterproofing. We also use it for a duck who has been laying a bit too long and is starting to have egg issues (bumpy or soft shells).
This oil seems to give them a much-needed boost of healthy fatty acids until we can get them to stop laying (go broody). *Store in your fridge, not at room temperature. (Buy on Amazon)
Another excellent probiotic to use regularly, especially following a round of antibiotics. It’s also safe for dogs and cats. (Buy on Amazon)
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. (Buy on Amazon)
B. Products to help with Toxins/Contaminants
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. Since this product lasts virtually forever and can save a duck’s life, we’d recommend having it on the ready in your duck first aid kit from Day 1. (Buy on Amazon)
2. Activated Charcoal
Essential IF you don’t have Toxiban
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. (Buy on Amazon)
3. Milk thistle capsules
Our avian vet and a compounding pharmacist we know have seen amazing results from milk thistle supplements. In fact, they’ve seen severe liver damage completely reversed. (The silymarin compounds are what works magic.)
C. Wound Care
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 formulation is wonderful for eye injuries because it’s more of a gel and tends to run off less easily. (Buy Vetricyn hydrogel on Amazon)
The Vetricyn Wound Spray is a great all-purpose wound flush or area disinfectant (like you’d use hydrogen peroxide on a human). (Buy Vetriyn wound spray on Amazon)
*You only really need one or the other of the Vetricyn sprays – if we had to choose, we’d go with the hydrogel because it stays in place and doesn’t run.
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. (Buy on Amazon)
Wrap for injuries; great for holding on bandages, etc.. You can also find this locally at any Feed-and-Seed or Tractor Supply. (Buy on Amazon)
4. Non-stick gauze pads
A great non-stick gauze for injuries. You can also find these at any pharmacy or grocery store. (Buy on Amazon)
5. New Skin Liquid Bandage
This is one our avian vet told us about. She recommends using it for minor bumblefoot cases or foot pad injuries to protect and seal while the flipper heals. (Buy on Amazon)
6. Silvadene, aka Silver Sulfazadene
This one requires an Rx from a doctor or vet. It’s a topical silver cream that works wonders against bacterial and viral infections. We’ve also used Curad’s silver solution ointment , but prefer Silvadene.
7. Preparation H
Yep! That stuff. Our vet also recommends this topically to help with inflamed tissues. Interestingly, she finds that it helps with foot inflammation when treating bumblefoot. (Buy on Amazon)
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. (Buy on Amazon)
C. Antibiotics, NSAIDs & Medications
1. Children’s Benadryl, Diphenhydramine
Used in treating anxiety and nausea (i.e. if you have to transport your birds) and allergic reactions (if your duck eats a hornet, gets stung, and their tongue swells to the size of a hotdog – yes, we know from experience). *Very important: Do not use grape-flavored Children’s Benadryl. Our vet told us either the dye or the flavoring used in the grape is dangerous to fowl. (Buy on Amazon)
This one requires a vet Rx. Excellent non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) that helps control pain and inflammation. We’ve used it to assist with egg issues, pain & swelling due to injury, allergic reactions, etc.
3. Clavamox / human equivalent Augmentin or Amox-Clav
Requires an Rx from a 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. This is 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.
4. Ciproflaxacin Drops / Brand: Cipro and Ciloxin
Requires a vet Rx. A flouroquinolone antibiotic, used to treat nare infections caused by bacteria.
1. Neoprene duck shoes
Very helpful if you ever have to treat bumblefoot (or other foot injuries) in your ducks. Yes, there are online vendors who sell duck shoes! We’d recommend you have two duck shoes per duck, if at all possible.
*Recommendation: Search Etsy and look for sellers with the best online reviews.
2. Tube Feeding Supplies
Literally a life saver. Birds will often become anorexic when they’re ill. Without tube feeding it’s impossible to keep them hydrated and nourished. We’ve saved many fowl (both ours and our friends’) because we have tube feeding supplies and know how to tube feed ducks and geese.
Please do NOT try tube feeding a duck if you’ve never been shown how or don’t have someone giving instructions. DO NOT put it down the center hole that opens and closes (that’s the windpipe and the bird will drown). Instead, put it to the left or right of that hole. (Buy kit on Amazon)
3. 35mL Syringes
Extra tube feeding syringes. Our ducks take two, 30mL syringes (60mL total) of food, and you don’t want to have to stop mid-feed to syringe up more food. Buy extra syringes and have them ready to go. (Buy on Amazon)
4. 3 mL Syringes
We use these for things that require larger doses like antibiotics or benadryl. (Buy on Amazon)
5. 1 mL Syringes
Very useful for smaller dosed medications like Metacam. (Buy on Amazon)
Part 3: Finding the right vet for your duck
Finding the right vet for your duck may be harder than it sounds. For one, poultry/ birds are a relatively specialized area of veterinary education and many vets don’t have that much education or experience diagnosing or treating ducks.
That’s no fault of the veterinary sciences, it’s simply due to the fact that the demand for dog and cat “doctors” is far higher than it is for duck doctors.
How to find an avian vet for your duck
Nevertheless, you’ll want to try to find a vet with a specialization in Avian Practice. The easiest and fastest way to find such a person or practice is to do a quick search on the Association of Avian Veterinarians’ website. Under the dropdown navigation for “degrees,” select ABVP (Avian Practice) then enter your address.
If you can’t find a vet who specializes in Avian Practice near you, simply call your local vet(s) and inquire about their comfort and knowledge level in treating ducks.
We’re lucky to live close to relatively high population areas with lots of vets within a 30-60 minute drive. If you happen to live in the Upstate region of South Carolina, we highly recommend HealthPointe 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 first got ducks and were calling around to find someone who treats birds).
During our trips to see Dr. Hurlbert for both duck well visits/checkups and unwell visits, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about ducks. It’s also nice to have an avian vet willing to answer a thousand questions from very inquisitive duck parents each time you show up!
Part 4: How to save money on prescription medications (if your duck ever needs them)
Unfortunately, our feathered friends get sick from time to time. Unlike with humans, there are zero comprehensive insurance options available for birds. Yes, we’ve looked.
If you’ve ever had a beloved pet get chronically ill, you know that the expenses can add up quickly. The same thing may happen to you with a pet duck. If so, this section may help you navigate more serious healthcare issues.
When Svetlana, our most beloved duck ever, was diagnosed with Aspergillosis, not only was it completely terrifying, but the treatment plan lasted 2+ years and involved several expensive medications administered twice a day! (Antibiotic: Augmentin (Amoxicillin / Clavulonic Acid) and an antifungal: Sporanox suspension (Itraconazole) or Vfend (Vorconazole).)
While Augmentin is available as a generic, the dose we needed her Sporanox in was only available for children in suspension form, and wasn’t available as a generic. There is a generic adult-dosed pill, but there is no way to break it down to ensure even dosing for a duck.
Point being, all of her prescribed medications are also used to treat people so we were able to take advantage of a few resources that help us humans purchase our medications more affordably. Below are tips that helped us save a ton of money.
Tip 1: Use pharmacy discount cards.
GoodRx saved us so much money.
Just download the app, type in the medication name, and show the scan card to your pharmacist. These work great if the drug you need is out-of-patent, meaning it has a generic equivalent.
For instance, the retail price for the antibiotic we needed for Svetlana was ~$250, but we were able to get it for $73. We ultimately ended up finding a way to get our Augmentin (Amox-Clav) much cheaper (<$30), which brings us to tip #2…
Tip 2: Make friends with your pharmacy staff & don’t be afraid to ask if they know of any discount programs.
We’d often go pick up Svetlana’s drugs in the evening when the pharmacy at Walgreens was less busy.
Most of the time we’d bring her with us, so our pharmacy staff was able to get to know her. She always wore a diaper, so we were never concerned about “messes” – please don’t take an undiapered duck anywhere, let alone somewhere with sick people.
Any time we’d get her Augmentin (or any other Rx) filled they’d do a quick search through various programs and promos to make sure we were getting the best price possible. We were able to get an <$30 price because of a new program (at the time) that had been sending out literature to pharmacies and our pharmacist made a note on our account for the next time we came in.
Side note: It’s surprising to us how few people noticed that we were walking around Walgreens carrying a duck. The observant ones who did were always tickled. One woman thought she was going crazy and did a few double takes until Susan finally said, “You aren’t imagining things, this is a real duck.”
Tip 3: Call around to a few compounding pharmacies.
The compounding pharmacy we used had a veterinary pharmacist on staff who worked with the Charleston Aquarium. She was extremely helpful and was able to put together Svetlana’s Sporanox Rx (Itraconazole) for a few hundred dollars cheaper than a standard pharmacy.
We ended up not using them long-term because she’d been taking the suspension form for a while and it wasn’t recommended that we switch to pills (that’s all the compounding pharmacy could put together in a highly bioavailable form).
Tip 4: Try Costco.
Costco is sometimes much cheaper than any other pharmacy, and you don’t have to be a member to buy a prescription from them.
For instance, our vet wanted to try Vorconazole. Walgreens was charging $300; Costco offered the same medication for $45. When we were calling around to check prices, we asked the pharmacy tech to repeat herself, then verified at least two more times before getting off the phone because it was so much cheaper than anywhere else we found.
Using the four tips above can save you a lot of money if you have a sick or injured pet duck who needs medication. We were able to get 3-4 months worth of meds for about what we paid for 1 single month when Svetlana was first diagnosed.
Part 5. Other helpful resources and recommended reading
For diagnosing duck illnesses and injuries:
Majestic Waterfowl’s Diagnostic Chart: If your birds are ill, start here. Very helpful in narrowing down illnesses based on symptoms.
Poultry Podiatry: Really good link on dealing with feet and leg issues. Everything from penicillin injections to dealing with splayed legs to housing issues.
Other health issues:
We mentioned other duck healthcare articles we’ve written at the top of this article, but it bears repeating:
- How to prevent or treat bumblefoot (or when to take your duck to the vet);
- How to prevent or treat egg binding (or when to take your duck to the vet);
- How to orally medicate ducks.
A wonderful book written by the founder/president of Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary that you NEED to buy if you plan to get pet ducks: The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook.
Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks: Written by duck conservation expert, Dave Holderread, this is a great book if you’re looking to raise your birds for production purposes and helpful for the small flock owner as well.
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 sometimes what you 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 (emotionally and otherwise) to throw darts, so we prefer information from our avian vet and/or veterinary textbooks.
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 ducks and help with diagnoses. We own both of these books in the kindle format and 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 duck health guide helpful! If you have any questions about your feathered family members, please ask them in the comments section below!
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- Duck winter care tips
- 10 summer care tips for your backyard ducks
- How to build a long-lasting, predator-proof duck coop & run
- Backyard duck molting: what, when, and why it happens
- 17 tips to keep your ducks safe from predators