What Causes a Duck to Limp and Go Lame?

What Causes a Duck to Limp and Go Lame?

A duck’s legs and feet are made for flying and swimming, not walking. Ducks have structurally weak legs, and the most common affliction of ducks is lameness. A duck may start to limp and eventually go lame for any number of reasons.




Ducklings brooded on wire can get a tiny hock caught in the hardware cloth. The restricted hock joint then swells, and unless the duckling is timely worked free it will be lame. The solution here is to brood ducks on a solid floor.

A duck’s legs can easily be injured if you grab the duck by a leg or legs instead of clamping your hands around its body. Injury may also occur if a duck gets its leg caught, for instance in a fence, and pulls hard to free its leg. Patrol your duck yard for potential sources of injury.

Lameness may also result from a glass sliver, a thorn, or a sharp stick lodged in the footpad, resulting in inflammation and infection. Treatment involves washing the affected foot, removing the offending object (as you would remove a splinter from yourself), and cleaning the area with a bactericide such as Vetericyn Poultry Care.


A duck kept on dry, hard-packed ground can develop an abscess on the bottom of a food pad that eventually hardens into a callus. This condition, known as bumblefoot, may involve one or both feet. It most often affects the heavier duck breeds.

Treatment involves washing the affected foot, cleaning it with a bactericide, pressing any pus out of the abscess, and removing the hard core, if one is present. Provide the recovering duck with clean litter or fresh grass and clean swimming water.

To prevent this problem, keep feed and watering areas clean, or frequently move the feed and watering stations. Also cover hard surfaces — such as concrete, gravel, or hard-packed soil — with clean litter. To keep ducks from trampling and killing the vegetation in their yard, divide the yard into several separate areas. Rotate the ducks periodically to rest each area and give vegetation time to rejuvenate.

Niacin Deficiency

By far the most common cause of lameness in ducks is niacin deficiency, which occurs when ducklings are fed rations intended for chickens. Chicks have the ability to convert the amino acid tryptophan in their starter ration into niacin. Ducks lack that ability.

But finding a niacin-rich commercial starter ration formulated specifically for ducklings can be challenging. Alternatives are game bird starter and turkey starter, both of which typically contain more niacin than chick starter.

If you must feed chick starter to ducklings, the easiest way to fortify it is by adding niacin in the form of livestock grade brewer’s yeast, mixed with starter at the rate of 3 pounds brewer’s yeast per 25 pounds of starter.

Niacin is another name for vitamin B3, which is required for proper bone growth. It naturally occurs in animals, fish, and some vegetables. Ducks in the wild get plenty of niacin by eating such things as worms, insects, and small fish. Ducks confined to a small backyard often lack opportunities to forage for niacin-rich treats.

In ducks, early signs of niacin deficiency are failure to grow and thrive, and reluctance to walk. Eventually the legs bow and the hocks swell, until the duck becomes completely and irreversibly lame.

Periodically letting confined ducks into a garden would make them happy by giving them the opportunity to forage for worms and other tasty delicacies. Other foods they enjoy that are relatively high in niacin include green peas, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin or squash seeds. Ensuring sufficient niacin in your ducks’ diet will keep them healthy and active.

And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.

Gail Damerow is editor and principal author of Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals.


Written by Gail Damerow

15 Responses to What Causes a Duck to Limp and Go Lame?

  1. My sons have 2 Buff ducks that are almost 4 months old. Recently we noticed one of them limping. We checked her foot for injuries or infections but couldn’t find any. We’ve been soaking her bad leg in epsom salt bath for 3 days now, but she has not improved. She stands on one leg most of the time, or lays down on the ground with the bad leg tucked in but off the ground. She is still eating and drinking. What would you suggest we should do?

    • I also have the same problem.She’s even laying and very much worried for her. I just keep asking myself what went wrong and what could be the possible best solution to her limping nature each time she start laying😅

    • If one of your ducks a Drake It could be trying to mate too much causing the female to be exhausted, it may also result in her losing her voice, make sure to check for that and if you have a drake then this may be the case.

  2. I have one duck that is somewhat bowllegged and turns up lame frequently. I have nursed her out of the last 2 episodes. It seems more serious this time. The affected leg is swollen and hot to touch even having been kenneled for almost a week. I just had surgery and have another on the calendar for November.
    I’m beginning to wonder if I can take adequate care of them. I would like to find a better arrangement than I have. Do you allow folks to post animal free to good home? I have 4 female Perkins and a pair of Rouens that are a year old.

  3. What about one foot that begins to curl up in a small duckling? (just purchased from Tractor Supply…) Not both feet… no abscess as in bumblefoot?

    • usually they will grow into it. But it’s totally normal for any ducks or chickens to have a curled foot, he or she will get better naturally.

  4. My duck startes limping and I suspected it was bumblefoot. But when i checked, she didn’t have it. What else could it be?

  5. My duck has some sort of walking problem. When she walks her tail goes in all different directions and she ends up falling after a few steps. Does anyone have any idea what it can be?

  6. We have a pekin duck who has gone lame. We have been giving her niacin for 3 days but have seen no improvement. Where the leg joint meets at her feet it looks as though they don’t bend and she doesn’t spread her webbing of her feet apart. Has anyone seen this before and if so what are your suggestions? She eats and drinks fine and the other sisters aren’t mean to her at all even though we felt she needed to be separated, which we did but they still are within quacking range of one another. We’re beginning to think she may not walk even though she was able to before.

  7. I recently had a Welsh Harlequin that got a virus that caused the bones in her foot dissolve. It came on and progressed very quickly (days) Sadly, I had to put her down. Take your duck to the vet if you can.

  8. I found a wild duck he can’t move his legs very much and drags them behind he won’t stand and flaps his wings to drag himself across the ground any idea what could be wrong and how do I fix it

    I feed the turkeys, woodpeckers, doves, etc. behind my patio (on a golf course, and there is a decent vernal pool here that forms for weeks when it rains); and about 4 to 6 wild male mallards have “set up shop” here, helping themselves to the bird seed I put out… well, I noticed one of them limping (and the others at first would follow him – I think he is an old duck, probably had been “the leader”, but is now getting lamer and lamer, and now mainly just sits near the end of my low patio fence, and only one other “odd duck” stays nearby the lame one). I hope he gets better… he can come into my patio if he wants; he likely will by tomorrow.

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