Domesticated ducks don’t just produce great eggs, they can also make great pets. In this article, we’ll detail our top tips and tricks for keeping indoor pet ducks — while keeping them happy and healthy.
Ducks as pets?
We’ve been flockmates with a group of Welsh Harlequin ducks for almost a decade now. Our life with these delightful creatures has turned us into full-fledged duck evangelists.
As we’ve written about elsewhere:
- we think ducks are a better alternative than chickens for most people in search of backyard poultry for egg production; and
- duck eggs taste better and are more nutritious than chicken eggs.
But what about the “pet” category? Can ducks actually make good pets? Yes!
After seeing our videos and photos of cuddly ducks and reading our article How to get your ducks to like you, we’ve had lots of people reach out asking us to provide more information about how to keep pet ducks. In particular: how do you keep ducks in your own house (not just in a backyard duck coop)?
Pretty much everyone knows how to keep cats and dogs as pets, but there aren’t many resources out there for new or intending pet duck *parents.
Since we’ve long had two of our ducks indoors with us every night (the others sleep outside) and those ducks also share a bed with us, we figured our years of experience make us one of the world’s top authorities on keeping happy, healthy pet ducks. (Ha!)
9 tips and tricks for keeping pet ducks indoors
Below are our top nine tips for other new or intending pet duck parents:
1. Please make sure your ducks have daily outdoor time (in a safe, non-toxic environment).
You might want your pet ducks to live indoors 24-7, but that’s not what’s best for your ducks.
Ducks LOVE foraging for insects, worms, and snails. They love exploring. They love taking a nap in the lawn with their friends in a nice sunbeam. They love snapping at sprinkler water.
In short, your pet ducks will be happiest if they have a good amount of outdoor time on a daily basis. And as with humans, happier ducks are healthier ducks.
Just be sure the outdoor environment your ducks have access to is safe from predators and doesn’t contain environmental risks such as:
- sharp objects
- thorny low-growing plants (to prevent duck flipper injury)
- pieces of scrap metal that they might swallow or old nails
- broken glass
- spots where oil, gasoline, or chemicals have been poured or dumped
- pesticide contamination (including lawn herbicides, rat bait, pesticides used by termite control companies, etc) – like all birds, ducks are especially sensitive to pesticide exposure.
Our ducks are an integral part of our edible organic urban landscape. They provide soil fertility and pest control in our gardens, and they produce the world’s most delicious eggs for their human caretakers (us).
They also happen to be the most adorable and hilarious pets we could ever ask for. (No offense to Bob the Cat, who’s pretty darn cute, too.)
2. Ducks need constant companionship, so don’t just have one duck.
Ducks are highly social creatures who need at least one other companion critter around at all times to feel safe, secure, and happy. Ideally, that other critter is another duck, but young ducklings can also imprint off of and bond to other animals (people, dogs, etc).
Assuming you plan to occasionally leave your house over the 10+ years of your pet duck’s life, you’ll need to keep this fact in mind, e.g. plan to get at least two ducks if you want pet ducks. Recommendation to prevent potential over-mating issues: either get two drakes (males) or two females. Don’t get one male and one female duck.
What if an emergency happens? One of your pet ducks dies and the one left behind doesn’t have another friend? A ground-level mirror is a good temporary stand-in to keep your duck happy (hey, there’s another really good-looking duck hidden in there!), but they’ll ultimately need another real, living companion.
3. Be mindful of these two oft overlooked health essentials for indoor pet ducks…
Two things that are important for the health of your indoor ducks that you might not think about are:
a. Access to grit for digestion
Ducks don’t exactly have good table manners or chew their food. In fact, Emily Post would be absolutely appalled by what ducks consider to be good etiquette: eat as quickly as possible, spill as much food and water as possible, and walk away from (or over) the dinner table leaving behind a trail of muck. While also pooping.
In fact, our ducks often seem disgusted by us when we have the nerve to clean up their messes. They look at us like “do you know how much trouble I went through to create that pile of liquid squalor — and you have the nerve to just come along and destroy it with a towel and vacuum?!”
Given that ducks aren’t high up on the food chain, these behaviors served them well in the wild: eat and run ASAP before a predator comes, then let the “chewing” happen later via their specialized digestive systems.
You might have noticed that ducks don’t have teeth (they do have specialized mouth parts that help them grip, filter, and swallow food). Instead, their food is “chewed” in their ventriculus/gizzard with the aid of grit and small rocks that outdoor ducks’ regularly eat while foraging.
Long story short: if your pet ducks are not able to forage outdoors in soil, you need to make sure they have access to grit so they can properly digest their food. No, oyster shell (commonly used as a supplement for egg laying ducks) is NOT a viable substitute for grit, since it breaks down too quickly relative to rock.
Years back, we had a sick duck inside for a month one winter and noticed her constantly trying to eat the small rocks in the base of our fireplace. Once we gave her access to a bowl of grit, she lost interest in our fireplace.
b. Access to adequate sunlight
Ducks need sunlight exposure in order to be healthy and happy.
How much sunlight does a duck need? It depends…
- Egg laying ducks – In Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, Dave Holderread notes that ducks are even more sensitive to sunlight levels than chickens are, adding: “we have found 12 hours of daylight is sufficient” in egg laying ducks.
- Drakes or non-egg laying females – If you have drakes or you have female ducks who aren’t laying eggs, their light requirements are greatly reduced. It’s impossible to say exactly how much sunlight they need at all ages under all scenarios, but our best educated guess is that a minimum of six hours average daily sunlight would be a good bottom end estimate.
So, if at all possible, make sure your pet ducks have some combination of the following scenarios:
- daily outdoor time in a safe, secure, sunny spot;
- unfettered access to natural sunlight coming in through a sunny, south-facing window inside your home; or
- access to a quality artificial lighting device.
4. You’ll probably want to diaper your indoor duck.
Ducks poop more than any other animal on earth. (We don’t know if that’s actually true, but it sure seems like it.) If you plan to have indoor ducks, you’ll need to plan for this reality accordingly…
No, you can not potty train a duck. Instead, you’ll want to either:
- carefully consider which areas of your home you want your ducks to have access to; or
- diaper your ducks.
Since the two ducks we bring indoors are very much a part of our family, we diaper them. That way, they can be lap ducks, cuddle on the couch during movie night, sleep in bed with us, etc.. It also means we minimize the amount of time we spend cleaning up after our ducks.
Want to learn how to diaper ducks? We’ve got a whole article + instructional video showing you exactly how to diaper your ducks!
Our duck diapering schedule for our nighttime indoor ducks is as follows:
- diaper as soon as they come inside;
- bath right before bed, let them dry, then re-diaper before going to bed;
- remove diaper in morning when putting them back outside.
- *In the winter, when our ducks come inside much earlier, we usually do one additional diaper change before bed as well. The Tyrant’s general rule is to re-diaper the ducks every 4 hours, except overnight when we’re sleeping and the ducks don’t have access to food.
5. Get a duck-friendly indoor duck food & watering station to reduce mess.
As mentioned previously, ducks are not exactly the Emily Posts of the animal world. If you leave their food and water bowls out in the open, it’s only a matter of time before said food and water is covering a 10′ radius around the area (including your walls) and both bowls are tipped over. Because that’s what ducks find beautiful and think is best in life.
However, you can control your ducks’ desire to make your home duck-worthy. One way to do this is by using a Neater Feeder to house their food and water dishes. This means:
- no bowl tipping;
- 95% of spilled water is contained and goes into the chamber below the dish, which you can easily empty;
- minimal cleanup and no more crying yourself to sleep at night wondering why and how you fell in love with feathered house pigs.
*Bonus tip: put a rubber spill tray (here’s the one we use) under the Neater Feeder and a non-slip, absorbent bath mat (or towel) in front of it to eliminate virtually all mess and make cleanup a breeze.
Our two nighttime indoor ducks have access to their neater feeder all evening. At night, we put their Neater Feeder on a small table (with towel on top) next to the bed, but only give them water + fresh greens at night, no food. This reduces the volume of content in their overnight diapers, helping prevent diaper “overflows.”
Unless there’s something unusual going on, your partly-indoor ducks have the same nutritional requirements as fully-outdoor ducks. For detailed duck nutrition requirements (including ducklings, adult ducks, laying ducks, and drakes), read our article about duck food/nutrition.
6. Your indoor ducks will need to swim & bathe.
As you might have heard, ducks like water. That’s why they look like bowling pins walking around on paddles. Land creatures, they are not.
For optimal feather health (and overall health and happiness) ducks need regular access to enough water to swim, splash, and clean in. We have a dedicated indoor bathtub for our indoor ducks that requires quite a bit of extra cleaning. Another option (which we’ve also used) is to have a large stainless steel or galvanized tub right outside your house.
Either way, we’d recommend an absolute minimum of two swims per day for your pet ducks.
7. Provide a safe overnight sleeping area for your indoor ducks.
Again, given their relatively low position on the food chain, ducks have some very peculiar sleeping habits…
First, they’re very light sleepers. Chickens are basically out cold from sundown to sun-up. Ducks take lots of little naps throughout the night, but move around, drink, eat, etc throughout the night as well.
They can also close one eye and put half their brain to sleep, while keeping the other eye and the other half of their brain awake. (Yes, seriously.)
Do your pet ducks need an indoor perch? Not unless they’re Muscovies or other members of the tree duck clade. However, almost all domesticated ducks are ground-sleeping ducks that don’t need a perch.
Our Welsh Harlequin ducks nap on-and-off throughout the day (usually in groups under a bush since this arrangement provides additional protection). At night, our indoor ducks take longer naps on our bed.
Unless they’re laying eggs or broody, ducks don’t require a nest. Any spot will do, so long as they are (and feel) safe and secure – not in your laundry room next to the loud washing machine and cat door. Also, ducks generally like routines, so don’t change their overnight sleeping spot unless you have to.
If you do have an egg-laying or broody indoor pet duck, you might consider putting them in an enclosed cat/dog carrier at night with bedding in the bottom (pine or aspen shavings). Obviously, under this scenario, your ducks would not be diapered.
8. You might have to do duck flipper toenail maintenance.
Like a lot of critters (humans included) ducks have toenails.
Ducks have feet only a parent could love or find beautiful. They look like mutant lizard feet. Due to our duck obsession (or sickness), we find duck feet oddly adorable.
Outdoor ducks put enough natural wear and tear on their toenails to keep their nails ground down to a relatively small size. Indoor ducks walking exclusively on carpet, tile, and/or hardwoods will NOT wear down their toenails.
This means: a) if you have exclusively indoor ducks (which we don’t recommend), or b) if your ducks don’t get enough outdoor time to grind down their own toenails, you’ll need to clip their toenails yourself.
Our two partly indoor ducks spend enough time outside that we’ve never had to clip their toenails. However, if your pet ducks have long or curled toenails that need clipping, Open Sanctuary has a good article about how to safely trim your ducks’ toenails without injuring them.
9. Have a good vacuum (not optional). Have a good air purifier (optional).
We’ve already mentioned the Neater Feeder as a way to reduce food and water splash from your indoor/pet ducks. What else should you expect when you have pet ducks? Any other duck cleaning tips?
Most ducks molt twice per year.
“Molting” means certain old feathers fall out and are replaced by new feathers. Ducks are very grumpy during this time period, partly because they’re instinctively more frightful since they’d be unable to fly away from danger if they were wild ducks, and partly because being touched on spots where new feathers are coming in is painful to them.
If your pet indoor duck is molting, you’re in for quite a mess. Your house will soon look like 10 people got into a deadly pillow fight. (On that note, please don’t get down pillows.)
This means lots of sweeping and/or vacuuming. If you don’t already have a good vacuum designed for cleaning up after animals, you’ll probably want to get one. The good news is that duck feathers are great for compost or garden fertilizer!
What about indoor air quality with indoor ducks?
When they’re molting, ducks can create quite a lot of indoor air particles.
Years back, The Tyrant did some digging to find the best indoor HEPA air purifier on the market that wouldn’t break the bank. We’ve been using a Rabbit Air purifier ever since and it does a remarkably good job.
You certainly don’t have to get an air purifier if you have pet ducks indoors, but if you have breathing issues or allergies, it can be a big help.
We hope this article helps you be an excellent parent to your pet ducks — or take excellent care of a sick or injured duck who has special needs!
Do you have other questions or concerns about raising pet ducks? Let us know in the comments!
Also, be sure to check out the video/Google Web Story version of this pet duck article!
Related duck articles that will quack you up:
- How to diaper a duck (with video!)
- How to get your ducks to like you
- 17 tips to keep your ducks safe from predators