You may have heard the best defense is a good offense. Well, the best way to handle a sick duck is to try and keep it healthy. Providing plenty of fresh, dry feed (not allowing it to get soggy & moldy), giving them lots of clean water to drink & swim in, and keeping their house & yard clean and in good repair is the easiest way to have healthy, happy ducks.
But even healthy ducks will sometimes get sick, or an injury will require medical attention. A well-stocked first aid kit is something every responsible animal owner should have. What items might your duck friends need in an emergency? You will find many of the items that are helpful in a chicken first aid kit (click here to read about my chicken first aid kit) will also pull double duty for your ducks if you keep both types of poultry.
** REMINDER – I am not a veterinarian, just an animal owner & lover sharing my opinions and experiences. Any advice on caring for animals or diagnosing & treating medical conditions for animals is for informational purposes and should be evaluated by a trained veterinarian.**
The first thing you want to have handy is a hospital ward for isolating sick birds. If you can remove the duck from her flock at the first sign of illness, hopefully, you can prevent it from spreading. You’ll want to keep the sick bird at least 30-40 feet away from the flock. If you have space in your basement, garage, or shed that could be an ideal place to set up your hospital ward. Our hospital coop is a mini coop we built out of scrap lumber (click here to see how we built it), but an old dog crate would also work. Anywhere the bird is safe from predators, is somewhere you can keep an eye on her, and has ample fresh water & feed would work.
General First Aid Supplies
Caring for Missing Feathers
A common injury with female birds, especially in spring, is missing feathers along the back of her head. During mating, the drake will hold onto the female by the back of her neck/head. Sometimes a drake will have a favorite female and aggressive over-mating can cause a bald spot to form. Sometimes there are just too many drakes and not enough females. You should try to have 3-4 females for every one drake so he can evenly spread out his “affections”.
If the spot looks tender or is bleeding, you should either separate the affected female or separate the male until the female’s head has healed. If the skin is bleeding, you can spray the area with Vetericyn. An anti-bacterial spray, Vetericyn is used to clean wounds and treat infections. Vetericyn is safe for almost all animals so it is a really handy product to have on hand for any animal owner. If the wound is actively bleeding, also add some antibacterial ointment and apply a gauze pad and wrap the best you can.
Caring for Foot Wounds
The next most likely injury a duck will receive is to their floppy, webbed feet. Their feet might be perfect for paddling around a pond, but on land, they can be quite awkward. If you notice your duck is limping, pick her up and inspect the foot. She may have stepped on something or otherwise scratched it. This is another great reason to have Vetericyn on hand. If it is just a scratch, spray to clean it, pad the area with a gauze pad and wrap with Vetrap.
Vetrap is a self-adhering bandage used for animals. The great part is it sticks to itself, but not to fur & feathers so it doesn’t cause damage when you need to remove it. If the wound is deeper, you might want to add some antibiotic cream (like Neosporin without pain relief) to the gauze pad before wrapping it. Do not wrap too tightly, you don’t want to cut off circulation, just keep the wound clean!
Bumblefoot is a staph infection that can be found in both chickens and ducks. The infection begins as a cut on the foot, as the bird spends her day walking in dirt and poop the cut can get infected. Left untreated it can eventually lead to blood poisoning and death. I like to first try treating it by soaking the bird’s foot in warm water & Epsom Salt to loosen the “kernel” that forms around the infection. Often after a soak, you can wiggle the kernel free. After the kernel is removed, the area should be treated with Neosporin and covered with a gauze pad & Vetrap and changed daily. You should ALWAYS wear disposable gloves when dealing with bumblefoot infections, to prevent the infection from spreading to yourself, and to prevent transferring your germs to the bird.
If your duck is constantly hurting her foot or won’t keep the Vetrap on, they actually make duck boots for just such an occasion (click here for Party Fowl’s shop with custom booties for chickens & ducks)! Formed like duck feet, they are basically shoes for your duck to wear while her wound is healing.
Ducks need to have access to fresh, clean water at all times. The water is not just for drinking and swimming, but they also must have clean water deep enough for them to dip their whole head in so they can keep their mucous membranes moist (click here to read more about Foamy Eye Disease in Ducks). If your duck develops foamy eye or has other eye irritations, rinse her eyes twice a day with saline solution.
Respiratory problems can arise sometimes hand in hand with foamy eye, or sometimes just on their own, like we would catch a common cold. Separating the sick bird quickly will hopefully stop the spread. Give her immune system a boost by adding electrolytes to her water; Sav-A-Chick is a popular brand that is easy to find at most feed stores. Help her breathing by putting a few drops of Vet Rx under her wing before bed. As she tucks in to sleep the smell will help like a menthol rub will help clear up congestion when humans are sick.
Duck First Aid Check List
- disposable gloves
- non stick gauze pads
- a small dropper or syringe
- small scissors
- small nail clippers
- Duck Boots
- Neosporin without pain relief
- saline solution