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

One Response to What Causes a Duck to Limp and Go Lame?

  1. 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?

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