No one wants to go out to feed or let their ducks out of the coop in the morning and see one or multiple ducks with a limp. If this is the first time you’ve seen this, the sight can be alarming. However, ducks do have a remarkable capacity for healing and with the right diagnosis and treatment, they will likely be just fine.
Common Causes of Ducks Limping (The Short Explanation)
Otherwise healthy adult ducks most often begin limping due to a strained muscle. Rest and a place to swim may be all they need to recover. Ducklings, on the other hand, are most likely to limp if they have a nutrient deficiency from being given medicated or chicken food. Obvious injuries would be the next common cause for both groups.
My Duck is Limping (7 Possible Reasons Why)
Seeing any animal with a limp, particularly a pet or other animal under your care, can be alarming. However, most causes of a limp in ducks are nothing that a little rest won’t fix. Below you can learn when you should be most concerned and how to diagnose the most common causes of a lame or limping duck.
Foot injuries range from a small cut or thorn to chronic issues like abscesses and “bumblefoot”.
- Cuts – A cut on a duck’s foot, whether on the toe or web, should be cleaned and antibiotics applied if your duck is limping. If possible, it should be kept as clean and dry as possible for a day or so before the duck resumes its usual activities.
- Thorns – If you have raspberry canes or brambles near the duck pen, the ducks may be lured in by the promise of a sweet snack and come away with a few thorns in their webs. These are typically harmless and should work their way out on their own but can also be removed with tweezers if they are causing a noticeable limp.
- Sores/Abscess – Sores and abscesses are some of the more concerning things that could cause a duck to limp. These can develop when the bottom of the foot is abraded or cut and that wound gets infected. If this becomes a chronic condition, it may lead to “bumblefoot”, a condition where the infected sores have caused calluses so thick on the bottom of the foot that it cannot function properly and the duck will have difficulty walking and swimming for the rest of its life.
- Calluses – Ducks are meant to live on soft, smooth terrain and to be able to regularly soak their legs and feet in the water. If they are forced to live on concrete, rough gravel, or nothing but dry, coarse sand they will develop calluses. These calluses can cause a duck’s foot to stiffen, resulting in a noticeable limp. Ducks with calluses caused by these conditions are also the most likely to develop arthritis later on.
- Claw/Toenail Issues – Though uncommon, a duck may develop a cracked nail or lose a nail entirely. This can lead to a significant amount of bleeding and a duck that needs extra rest until the wound has healed and they are no longer weak from the lost blood.
Weakness and Difficulty Breathing
Due to the slightly bent-over way in which most ducks stand and even the upright posture of runner ducks, difficulty breathing or general weakness can cause them to slouch. This slouching can then lead to the development of a gait that looks a lot like a limp. This is the most likely reason you see your duck limping but with no visible injury.
Pulled or Strained Muscles
Ducks are active animals. Given enough space to explore, they will dig, swim, jump over and crawl under all kinds of obstacles in a day. This can cause pulled or strained muscles, especially if they have been cooped up lately due to bad weather or the cold.
If your duck is eating or drinking just fine and seems to “push through” the limp to keep up with its flock, and the flock is receptive to their presence, your duck likely has a strained muscle and nothing more. As long as they have no noticeable swelling or other foot and leg injuries, observation and rest are all they need.
A broken bone will cause a limp for any duck due to the pain. As long as the bone is still relatively straight and there is no major swelling, bruising, or any bleeding on the outside of the leg, your duck may be able to heal if encouraged to rest.
Setting a bone for a duck is difficult, but if the bone is sticking out of the leg, if the initial swelling won’t go away, or if a large bruise persists for more than a week, you should seek the opinion of a vet that treats ducks.
If a duck has eaten rotten food or meat, it could develop an internal bacterial infection. These infections will cause general weakness and a lack of movement and appetite. They are almost always accompanied by diarrhea.
Once the infection progresses for a few days, you may notice that your duck’s joints are swollen on both sides. When this happens, treatment must be given immediately (usually in the form of an antibiotic injection), or the duck may not survive much longer.
The bones and feathers of ducklings will not develop correctly if they are not fed the right things while they are growing. Often, when duckling food is not available, well-meaning people will feed ducklings food meant for chicks. This food does not contain the essential nutrients necessary for proper growth in ducklings, and medicated feeds meant for chicks can cause slow death in ducklings or a permanent twitch or limp as they grow up.
Switching to proper food or supplementing non-medicated chick crumbles with added B vitamins and small pieces of nutrient-dense greens can help solve this issue in most ducklings. However, some that have already developed a limp or twitch may still fail to thrive.
Arthritis and Age-Related Strain
As ducks age, they may develop arthritis resulting in a limp. This is more likely to occur if your flock has been kept on ground that is too hard or rough and if they have not had as much access to a swimming area as they would naturally.
What to Do If You Find Your Ducks Limping
If you’re asking, “My duck is limping, what should I do?”, then this is the section for you. Below you can find a step-by-step checklist of questions to ask and things to consider before deciding what the cause of your duck’s limp is as well as guidance on when you should contact a vet, if possible.
Diagnose the Cause
- Observe Their Range of Motion – The first step to determining what is causing your duck to limp is to observe them. Notice how long they can stand, if they can stand, if they can swim, and if they fall forward or stumble when trying to walk. The more limited the range of motion, or the more they try to rest in place of their usual daily activities, the more severe the situation may be.
- Will Your Duck Eat and Drink? – Above all, the first specific thing you should get a sense of is your duck’s appetite. Animals of any kind that stop eating and drinking are generally in intense pain or very ill.
- Does Your Duck Have Diarrhea? Does Your Duck Vomit? – If your duck will eat and drink, your next step is to observe their digestion. If they have diarrhea or vomit several minutes after eating or drinking, your duck may have an infection of some kind.
- Can Your Duck Stand on Their Own? – If you have not seen your duck standing up in some time, try to lift them gently and set them on its feet. If they can stand without assistance, they are unlikely to have a broken leg. If they struggle or collapse almost immediately, they are more likely to have a break rather than just a strained muscle or minor foot injury.
- Does the Rest of the Flock Avoid Them? – Though not as common in ducks as with other livestock, sometimes a severely ill duck (one with an infection of some kind), will be pushed out of the flock or ignored.
- Are There Any Cuts, Bruises, or Sores? – Once you have checked for all of the above signs of serious illness, it’s time to check for physical issues. Start at the toes and check for any missing or cracked nails. Move on to do a thorough check of the duck’s webs, top, sides, and bottom. Any cuts should be treated with first-aid, bruises will need to be monitored, and sores should be evaluated and tended. And sores that are swollen or pus-filled should be tended to by a veterinarian, if possible. If not, pus should be drained and the wounds should be kept clean and dry until they close up.
- Are the Legs or Joints Swollen? – Move on to the ankle joint and up the leg to the hip joint. Palpate them gently to see if there is any swelling if you cannot tell visually. If your duck struggles when minor pressure is applied anywhere, pay special attention to that area. Swelling will either indicate a break, fracture, or infection. If the legs are both swollen and hot, you likely have a severe infection causing your duck to limp.
- Is There Likely to Be a Break? – As mentioned above, swelling likely indicates a break. This is especially true if the swelling is isolated to a single leg. A clean break or minor fracture is unlikely to need to be set or splinted, but the duck should be kept as calm and contained as possible for about 2 weeks. They should also be allowed to swim as this keeps them active and helps keep weight off of the break. If the leg is twisted or crooked, a veterinarian should be consulted.
- Is Your Duckling Getting the Right Nutrition? – Once more, it’s important to mention that if you have a duckling that is limping, rather than a fully-grown duck, you may have a nutritional problem on your hands. Make sure you are feeding your duckling the right food, meant for ducklings, or that you are supplementing with B vitamins meant for ducks. Adding forage once your ducklings are at least 8 weeks can also help them avoid nutrient deficiencies.
Temporarily Isolate Your Duck
If your ducks are limping, no matter the cause, you should isolate them from the rest of the flock. This isolation can be done with a temporary fence set up within their original pen and does not need to mean a full quarantine. Often a temporary fence made of poultry net will do. The point is to keep your injured duck or ducks calm, make treatment easier, and encourage rest.
Apply and First-Aid Required and Encourage Rest
Once your duck is comfortable, keep them calm and apply any first aid that you can. Once done, encourage them to rest. Always provide clean food and water, even if they are unlikely to want it.
Contact a Veterinarian Capable of Treating Ducks
If you have done all you can but your duck has a severe break, infection, or something that requires treatment beyond what you are capable of providing, a veterinarian that treats ducks should be contacted. If you are looking online, these veterinarians may refer to themselves as “livestock” veterinarians.
Alter the Environment to Decrease the Odds of Future Accidents
After your duck has been treated and once you know the cause of the problem, take a look at your duck’s environment. Is there anything you can change to keep yourself from having to ask, “My duck is limping, what should I do?” in the future?
For example, can you lower the height your duck needs to jump to get into their pool or provide small smooth stones they can use as steps? Can you soften the terrain or reduce how much mud is in the pen? Can you improve drainage to reduce the likelihood of infections? Any small improvement can make a big difference when it comes to your duck’s quality of life.