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How Do You Know If A Duck Is In Pain?

blind duck is in pain -featured image

How do you know if a duck is in pain?

Truthfully, when I first introduced birds to our farm, I chose chickens as livestock animal number 1.

I wanted eggs to eat and eggs to sell.

For some time, I kept only chickens, that is, until I saw a neighbor’s fuzzy, goofy ducklings.

From then on, I realized ducks (even as babies) are hardy, intelligent, friendly, and easy to care for, making them the perfect addition to any homestead.

We keep Muscovies, a heavy, colorful bird that makes minimal sound, are great mamas, and rarely do they cause concern.

On a handful of occasions, a duck has been injured or ill.

In this article, we will discuss the telltale signs a duck is experiencing pain or discomfort, common illnesses or issues that can lead to pain, and best practice for identifying the problem early.

limping duck is in pain

How Do You Know if a Duck Is In Pain – Signs and Symptoms

Body Appearance When A Duck Is Hurt

The most typical sign your duck is in some form of discomfort is they appear puffed up and slightly oily.

Their headset changes slightly, usually appearing tucked into their bodies.

They sit low to the ground, sometimes in an unusual place.

For example, suppose the ducks usually gather under a shade tree, and you witness a duck in the middle of the field, alone, unmoving. This could be a sign something is wrong.

When approaching the duck, if in pain, they usually will not fly away or skirt your touch.

The duck’s eyes are typically hooded, dull, or closed completely.

As a parallel visual, imagine how a sick human would sit huddled in an oversized jacket, with the hood on, hunched over.

This can usually indicate an internal illness and does not always present physically on the outside.

Is Your Duck Limping?

A duck can exhibit pain if they have sustained a physical injury.

Any leg, foot, belly, or back injury can facilitate a prominent limp.

Most ducks have a waddly, distinct walk as they maneuver their large palmate (or feet) under stout, slow-moving bodies.

However, when you see a duck with a limp, this already wobbly walk will have an obviously different gate.

Breathing Issues In Waterfowl  

Regardless of the breed you keep, you will be familiar with their typical sounds.

The Muscovy, for example, makes a hissy, breathy sound when communicating.

It does not make the usual “quack” sound so strained; heavy breathing or abnormal sounds could indicate a respiratory issue in the duck.

Wing Pain In Ducks

The wings of a duck play a crucial part in many of a duck’s behaviors, and that doesn’t only include flying.

A duck uses its wings to attract the attention of other ducks (or people).

They also flap them to fend off a predator attack.

Ducks usually flap their wings after a dip in the pond to remove excess water from their wings.

If a duck cannot perform the fluttery, flapping action, it could be because they are experiencing pain or injury to the wing.

A droopy wing held at an odd angle is the most common sign there is an issue.

An apparent external wound would quickly solve the mystery, but wings can be damaged internally without showing outward signs.

A common concern among duck keepers is drooping and dragging feathers while juveniles grow their heavy adult feathers.

This doesn’t always mean there is an issue, and it may just be Daffy growing her flight feathers.

Sudden Egg Loss

Outside of the regular laying season-ending, a duck who abruptly stops laying eggs could indicate an internal issue.

Sometimes these issues resolve themselves with added nutrients, but they could indicate impending illness.

duck is in pain with injured nose

How Do You Know if a Duck is In Pain Due to Common Duck Ailments

A look at a few diseases or ailments and how the duck shows they hurt them.

For a complete list of common duck diseases, check out our extensive list of 15 Common Duck Diseases and How To Prevent Them.

The list includes a how-to guide on ensuring your duck doesn’t suffer these issues and how to help them if they do.

Hardware Disease, Ingestion of Toxins or Bacteria

Hardware Disease is not so much a randomly occurring disease as it is an accidental or purposeful ingestion of a small metal object leading to poisoning.

This can happen if your ducks often free-range and accidentally ingest bolts, screws, or rogue fence staples.

Free-ranging could also expose ducks to spilled vehicle fluid, oils, paints, etc.

Aspergillosis (obtained when a duck eats wet and moldy food) and botulism (a bacteria in dirty water) can cause a duck discomfort and pain.

Signs Of Internal Disruption

  • Huddled, puffed-up appearance
  • Unsteady walk
  • Inability to stand
  • Vomiting/ Feed aversion


Bumblefoot occurs when a staph infection creates a large bulbous, pus-filled mass on the palmate of a duck.

This can occur when a small abrasion on the foot becomes infected, causing a major limp or favoring of the foot.

Signs of Bumblefoot or Staph Infection

  • Limping
  • Dragging of the foot
  • Reduced movement

Egg Binding

A common, slightly more challenging-to-diagnose ailment is egg binding in female ducks.

This can occur when a duck cannot lay an egg, sometimes blocking the oviduct, which can affect the cloacal function leading to constipation and eventual death.

Signs A Duck Has a Retained Egg

  • Huddled, puffed-up appearance
  • Reduced movement
  • Dehydration/Feed aversion
  • A protruding lump on the rear of the duck
  • Mucous or damage apparent to the vent

Prolapsed Vent

Though uncommon, a prolapsed vent can occur after strenuous egg laying, where the oviduct is ejected from the duck’s body.

As horrendous as this sounds, it will often remedy itself in a few days.

Signs A Duck Has A Prolapsed Vent

  • Apparent internal tract outside of the body cavity at the vent

Prolapsed Penis

A male duck, unbeknownst to many, has a penis resembling a corkscrew.

After mating, the penis is retracted back into the body cavity.

Injury or damage to the penis outside the cavity can lead to prolapse.

This, too, should remedy itself in a few days.

Signs Of A Prolapsed Penis

  • Swollen, damaged, or dangling penis outside of the body cavity for a prolonged period

Wry Neck and Impacted Crop

A wry neck occurs most often in a young duckling and is often attributed to vitamin deficiency.

A duckling or duck cannot support their head correctly.

A wry neck can sometimes be confused or misinterpreted as an impacted crop.

An impacted crop occurs when a duck has ingested something foreign that causes the crop to become overly full and unable to empty overnight.

Signs of Wry Neck 

  • Drooping, floppy neck
  • Instability while walking
  • Trouble eating/drinking

Impacted Crop

  • Large, bulbous mass on the side of a chickens neck
  • Food aversion
  • Excessive drinking (though this may help pass the offending object)
  • Head shaking

How Do You Know if a Duck is In Pain? – Conclusion

As a keeper of Waterfowl, the hours spent tending to, caring for, feeding, and viewing your ducks are the most critical ways to spot any signs of pain, injury, or illness in your ducks before it becomes fatal.

You could solve a problem before it turns fatal or causes severe pain by pinpointing odd behavior and signs of distress.

READ NEXT: How to Care for a Sick Duck

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