Duck Dying Signs – Deal With Sick and Dying Ducks!

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If your duck has suddenly died, don’t blame yourself.

There are a lot of things that we don’t know about. Life is a learning cycle and that’s what I learned when I saw my friend’s duck dying. He remained in pain for weeks and I felt bad for my friend. So, I took out my phone and decided that I need to find out everything I can about duck illnesses and help any future parent go through them. Here is what I found.

Why do ducks suddenly die?

Ducks can die suddenly due to several reasons, including seizures, bacterial/parasitic infections, poisoning, poor diet, and sometimes due to incubation-related diseases (like heart failure).[1

For young ducks, hypothermia due to lack of proper heating can also be an additional factor.

Ducks can also die due to:

  • Heart failure
  • Choking
  • suffocation
  • Attack by predators
  • Eating toxins in food and water
  • drowning
  • Blood clotting
  • Seizures
  • intaking metallic/sharp objects
  • Heatstroke
  • disease out brake
  • etc


A caring duck parent learns everything to care for his baby. Keep reading on if you are that loving, caring parent.


Why do ducks die?

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Ducks usually don’t die suddenly but the most common reasons are nutritional deficiencies and parasitic/bacterial infections. Ducks who are properly cared for have more chances of surviving than not.

Diseases and other cause of death among ducks [2] :

  • Asper
  • Botulism
  • Choking
  • Mycoplasmosis or Chronic respiratory disease CRD
  • Cuts and wounds
  • Eye injuries/Foamy eyes
  • Duck plague
  • Eating feathers
  • Foot problems including infections and cracking
  • Frostbite
  • Esophagus impaction and Hardware disease
  • Lameness
  • Maggots
  • Niacin and other nutritional deficiencies
  • Oviduct eversion
  • Phallus prostration
  • Poisoning from medication
  • Poisoning from plants
  • Sinus infection
  • Spraddled legs
  • Sticky eyes
  • Wing disorders


What to do if ducks start dying suddenly?

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Besides the usual causes, ducks can be messy creatures and therefore can inhale a lot of bad food and toxins. The first thing to look if your ducks start dying is their feed.

In case you have such cases, immediately isolate the ducks and other waterfowls. 

Then completely thoroughly check the feed . If there is a problem, clean through and through and start from scratch.

Check if there can be toxin/aflatoxin [3] tests done on the feed.

Sometimes, duck parents avoid a vet visit as that could entail extra costs every time. But, sudden deaths are not normal and you should immediately run to a vet else things can get worse.

If there are no toxins, it could be a case of nutritional deficiency. A lot of duck feed lacks nutritional content and therefore these lovely quackers develop weak immune systems that in turn lead to diseases and sometimes death.

Start providing nutritional food (like these) as well as supplements if you can.

Remember, healthy birds are less likely to die of unknown causes than unhealthy ones.

What about ducklings dying?

For ducklings, first check if there is a proper heat source with not too high and not too low settings. Keep the heat lamp only in a part of the enclosure so the ducklings can choose when to get the heat according to their needs.

If they are sick, you can gently spoon feed/brush feed/syringe feed them egg or chicken soup. Avoid grain and bread though.

Also, remember that it is not your fault. Ducklings are tiny and weak in the beginning and it takes effort for them to survive.

It can be handy to catch the illness before it becomes serious. Here are some signs to notice.

Are there any duck illness signs?

There can be several signs of a sick duck:

  • Unwillingness to fly
  • Lethargy
  • Feeling cold and therefore huddling
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal poop
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ruffles in feathers
  • Lack of socialization with the flock
  • Lack of vocal usage
  • Coughing and gasping
  • Watery, squinty eyes
  • Discharges from eyes, nostrils, ears or any other parts
  • Swollen sinuses
  • Head pulled into the body
  • Drop in egg production

On the other hand, a healthy and happy duck has the following signs:

  • Clean bright eyes
  • Clean and soft skin
  • Able to walk properly
  • Highly vocal
  • Sexually active
  • Rapid movement on touch
  • Preening every day
  • Well-formed feet and shanks
  • Healthy plumage.


Let’s talk about other illnesses and their cause.


Why is my duck shaking its head?

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Head shaking in ducks could be due to eating dry and scratchy food. A balanced nutritional diet with some watery content is the best way to handle such situations.

Head shaking can also occur due to worms especially gapeworms. Besides these, the most common reason is that there is something stuck in the duck’s throat and it’s trying to dislodge it.

Ducks have a habit of eating anything from the ground and therefore this can lead to things getting stuck in their throats. Sometimes, bad cases of blockages can even lead to asphyxiation.

Hence, use a long tube or rubber side of a pencil and push slowly into their esophagus. Hopefully this will clear things out else visit a vet immediately.

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Ducklings are even worse offenders when it comes to blockages. Some younger ducklings may not even know why they need to drink water often while chewing food. This can lead to severe blockages and therefore constant head shaking. You can massage a bit and put their bills in water to teach them what to do.

Besides choking, seizures can also be a reason for the shaking. Providing a stress free environment and a constant dosage of poultry vitamins can help in solving the problem. If it continues, visit a vet immediately as there could be other reasons like viral infections or neural damage.

Sneezing can also look like head bobbing but it is fairly normal and non threatening. Ducklings often sneeze out pieces of bedding, feed etc that have crept into their noses. It’s their way of keeping things clean inside.

Sometimes duckling may show tell-tale signs of deficiencies (especially niacin) like walking back and shaking their heads often.

To cure that, you need to make sure they are getting proper feed. Turkey/Gamefowl starter kits with high amounts of protein, 25-28%, like this one, should serve the best. Add in some brewer’s yeast to add niacin in the mix.

Besides these, Make sure to add Poly Vi sol as starter kits usually lack various nutrients required by ducklings for proper growth. 

You can keep feeding this mixture for 2-4 weeks or till they recover.

Note: If you cannot find brewers yeast, provide them with some b3 niacin tablets(150mg/gallon water) or plain niacin(150mg/gallon water).

Seizures are caused by magnesium deficiency hence providing a specific magnesium sulfate supplement like Epsom salt can work wonders.


Why is my duck breathing heavily?

Ducks can breathe heavily due to food stuck in their throat/nostrils. Besides this, reportorial infections caused by bacteria/fungi can also be a reason.

A common bacterial infection like asper will quickly worsen the situation so if it is not accompanied by other signs then it’s just an obstruction.

You need to first check for food that’s stuck and if that’s not the reason, see whether this heavy breathing is accompanied by other illness signs like loss of appetite. If there is an infection, provide some pinches origami with their food. Besides these, allergies can also be a reason for rapid breathing.

Ducklings are notorious for food blockages. So don’t worry and gently massage their throats and provide water. If nothing works, seek a vets help immediately.

Some large varieties of ducks like the pekins do heavy breathing when they get excited but if it’s accompanied by loss of interest, loss of appetite, hesitation to mingling with others, and other common illness signs, take your duckling to a vet asap.

Where do ducks go when they die?

Ducks like most other birds will try to find a secluded place when they are too sick or near death. They feel vulnerable in open spaces in those times and hence they hide till either they die or become healthy.

Weak and ill ducks are often target of predators as they cannot defend themselves or run away. In case the bird dies there, several insects and ants are there to finish them off. That’s why it’s rare to find a dead bird in the wild.

How do you tell if a duck is stressed?

A stressed duck will do temper tantrums, sometimes will refuse to eat, will not let you pet her, etc.

Stress can be induced by several reasons including sickness, pain, new environment, changes in food and water, etc. But the most common reason among hens is broodiness.

Duck females aka hens, get stressed a lot when they become broody. It is expanded when you seclude them from the group. Secluding females just for brooding harms more than it helps.

Some common signs of broodiness include bad mood, nasty poop, and ruffling of feathers. Try to avoid touching a broody hen as they could pinch you hard. How hard? Read here.

Let the time pass and things should get back to normal.

For ducklings, most of the panting and stressing is due to excessive heat. Firstly, try to manage the temperature so that it’s not too hot. A shading can help a lot by providing them a place to be cool when they want to.

Water can also help in reducing stress among the ducklings. If you can add an electrolyte powder like this one, things can improve quickly.

Ducks who have lost their mates especially in a deadly incident with a predator can suffer from stress and PTSD. It will take some time to recover from such a trauma but the company of other birds helps. A big open environment, constant supply of water, and a digging area are also helpful.

Can Ducks make you sick?

According to CDC, Ducks can make you sick[4]. That’s why handling the bird should be done with proper protection. Ducks can give you diseases like bird flu, influenza, and can infect you with bacteria like salmonella and E coli.

What diseases do ducks carry to humans?

Bird flu and Psittacosis are the most common diseases ducks can carry to humans. However, with proper protection and care, Infection from these can be avoided.

Bird flu can infect you through various discharges of ducks including poop and saliva. Sometimes it can infect when you touch your eyes or other open parts of your body after touching the infected bird.

Psittacosis is spread by the bacteria chlamydia and its most probable way of entering your body is through breathing in infected aerosols.

How to be safe while handling ducks:

  1. Avoid kissing your ducks, putting them too close to your mouth, and wash your hands thoroughly after taking care of the business.
  2. If you want to avoid washing hands, wear gloves.
  3. Wear masks around infected ducks and ducklings.
  4. Wear rubber boots around farm/out house ducks.
  5. Don’t let pets and children play near duck poop as they can bring bacteria in.

Ducks can infect other birds/chicken as well if they are suffering from avian flu. There have been outbreaks of avian flu among wild waterfowls in the past.

How can you tell if a duck is cold?

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Ducks when cold will have cold feet and fluffed feathers. They will try to limp or stumble as walking in chilling weather will be hard for them.

Apart from these, shivering is also a commonly occurring sign of cold in ducks.

The ducks will also try to sit and tuck their feet inside to keep them warm.

Another indication of ducks feeling cold is the amount of feed they eat. A lot more feed is required by ducks in extreme winters. Anything below 30-35F can be uncomfortable for ducks. Hence try to keep them in a greenhouse in those times.

Ducks are also uncomfortable with quick temperature changes ( like if temps went from 75F to 15F in just a few hours) so keep that in mind. The wild ones usually migrate to warmer places in these times but poultry ducks can cope up with things if they have someplace safe to hide with wind protection installed.

If you see signs of cold in your ducks, surround their coop/shelter with hay to keep it warm. You can also add a cheap heat lamp like this one to make things better. They also need water to swim and hence flowing water 24/7 is a must in winters as well.

As far as ducklings are concerned, make sure they are living in a warm place and are not in water much more than 10-15 mins as they could get hypothermia and drown. 

Further reading: Read more about drowning in ducks here.

You can also use hair dryers to warm them up if they are feeling too cold. But, keep your hand between the dryer and the ducklings to avoid burning them.

Is duck poop toxic to humans?

Duck poop can be dangerous to humans as it could contain bacteria like salmonella, E coli, and Campylobacter. Consumption of duck poop can cause botulism in minor cases and could result in  fatal diseases like Histoplasmosis and Candidiasis occasionally.

Swimming in duck poop has the same effects as eating it inadvertently. You can use guidelines issued by CDC here to clean the pool of duck poop before using it.

Chlorination can be used to treat pool water infested with duck poop but not all bacteria die with it. Crypto bacteria can survive for a few days within chlorinated water.

Pets should also be refrained by drinking pool water infested with bird/duck poop.

Read more: BTW you can read more about duck poops here.

What to do with a dead duck?

This is an ethical question for many.

You can either dispose of the dead duck or eat it. Eating an abnormally dead duck can result in botulism and sometimes long lasting illness. An autopsy can show you whether the duck died of natural causes or not and then you can make your decision.

Here are some instructions from the gov of Manitoba province, Canada on how to dispose of a dead duck.

In case you want to make a meal out of it. Here is a nice explanatory video

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Frequently asked questions

Q: Do ducks carry bird flu?

According to CDC [8], ducks  can carry bird flu. They can also infect other poultry with it while not having major symptoms themselves. That’s why ducks are harder to identify among bird flu victims.


How do I know if my duck is dying?

A dying duck will be lethargic, unmingling, stressed, and would not like anyone to touch her. There could be other signs such as hair loss, loss of appetite as well. 


How can I help a dying duck?

You can help a dying duck by either letting her die in a peaceful comforting place or letting her out of her misery. A stress free, predator free environment is best suited for a duck in his/her last days. 


A vet can give you further help is choosing whether to euthanize your duck or not.

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