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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.


51 thoughts on “What Causes a Duck to Limp and Go Lame?

  1. ? Worried at dusk while driving to food shop-a duck surprised me at the road off the lake…I am unsure if I struck it! It was so dark, and last second seen it…so I stopped and went back to check on it…so it was running ok, and walking ok-however – I noticed the tail was low, it was then placed safely to the lake, where it ran to it, swam in it, and drank water-is it ok? ????????

    1. I couldn’t tell you for sure, but if they weren’t ok I don’t think they’d eat/drink, swim, and play. If he’s your duck just monitor and keep an eye on any changes.

  2. I’ve had two rescue ducks for three years. A month go, the Mallard, Matilda, was attacked by a Scrub Jay. She wretched her leg trying to get away. It felt like it was ‘out of socket’ somehow. We isolated her in her own pen and floated her in the pool 3 times a day. After two weeks, she was much improved and almost walking normally, so we put her back in with the other duck. Within two days, she was barely walking again. We’re repeating the same floating procedure, but there is no improvement. Other than being extremely lame, she seems happy. She eats normally, and she can swim (the injured leg paddles as usual). They have always gotten Rooster Booster and Niacin on a daily basis. I realize there is probably nothing more to be done, and we’re retired, so we have no problem caring for her. I’m wondering if there is anything else we can do for her. No avian vets here, so we’re on our own. Someone told me that Mallards are weak in the legs because they were never meant to be barnyard duck, which makes sense. The other duck, Martha, is a Pekin/Blue Swedish cross and very sturdy. Thank you 🙂

    1. It sounds like you’re doing everything right, we would suggest to continue the niacin rich treats.

  3. Same here, I’m not sure what it is, my parents refuse to help and one of them is now in a mental institution so that doesn’t help at all. I try to keep her slightly separated from the rest but I’m just a kid, I mean, I can’t go out and drive to get her to a vet, I’m only 15. I don’t know what to do. She’s been laying down a lot, lost her voice a bit and limps, and falls when she runs. She also falls when she walks. She just got over an infection for her eye. I have one theory that may be important to help, actually, I have 2. My first theory is mating, I have 1 male and 1 female and though I trained my drake not to breed 24/7, he does it occasionally. I also trained him not to be aggressive with her, and he isn’t, but that could be a reason possibly. Another reason could be that one of my more aggressive hens which has been locked up for 2 days in a hue doghouse for attacking her really bad, grabbed her by the neck, flipped her, and did something to her wing and foot. She then ran around in a circle panicking and quacking louder than ever before with her wings down to the ground and kept falling and getting back up.

  4. I have similar problem, my male runner is very slow, he keeps sitting with tail tucked in. If I made him walk he only walks a few mins then collapse on the floor with wings out. He also uses his wings like crutches when he is trying to sit down. I give him niacin but looks like the problem is something else

  5. I would definitely try it a few more days. We’re for sure needing some more niacin in the diet.

  6. I need some help. I have a 6 year old male peking duck. A couple of months ago we noticed that he was slowing down in his walking. Now for the last week he has lost the use of his legs. He still eats and drinks and pulls himself around with his beak and his wings. He is not thrilled being put into his pool and somehow pulls himself out. I have now as of yesterday started putting brewers yeast on his food but I am not sure if this is the problem. My cat doesn’t treat ducks and not sure what to do to help him out. Do you have any suggestions or words of advise? Please help

  7. I have 6 Pekin ducks that are about 13 weeks old, one had gone limp a few weeks ago and seemed to have gotten better after some good water therapy to relieve any pressure on her leg. Tonight I found her in mud by herself with her wings out to balance herself and thought she was stuck (she wasn’t) she tries to walk but only a few steps and lays down, I again made sure she got her water therapy and placed her in a kennel with soft bedding in hopes to rest her leg overnight and not stumble over her siblings. What else can I do for her? Please help, It breaks my heart to see her this way. Thank you

    1. Have you tried adding more niacin to her diet? You can start 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


  9. I have a pekin duck that has been acting lame
    Stumbles around with tail down and isolates from the rest of the flock and sits a lot.
    She’s eating and drinking and seems very bright and alert still.
    The drakes were pecking at his/her rear end.
    We’re not sure if he’s a he or she as she doesn’t have the tail feather but also doesn’t quack.
    Now I noticed bright green and black poop.
    We’ve isolated her in a hospital set up while we try to figure this out.

  10. My daughter has had what we think is a Pekin duck, and a mallard for about 5 weeks. About two weeks in, the Pekin started limping, tripping over it’s left foot. We noticed it was turned in some. We thought it was because of the small enclosure we had them in at the time. We now have a fairly large area they can roam, and let them out in the yard to roam. But the foot keeps getting worse. When it swims, it doesn’t use that foot. It tries to use it when it walks, but ends up stumbling and then laying down. It still moves around somewhat, but not much. There is nothing visibly wrong, like a sore or break. The legs look bow-legged and the one is just turned in. We aren’t sure what to do. My husband thinks it’s in pain and we should “do something” with it. My daughter is devastated at the thought. Help!

  11. I really need help my ducks are pekin ducks and i have 4 if them and they are 6 weeks old and one of them started off by limping then not waking then not eating then her poo is bright green and now she doesn’t like to lift her head and I don’t know what to do at all I really need your help and this is my first pet ever I don’t want her to die and this happened in a course of two Days ?

    1. Hi Livia, can you give us a call at 417-532-4581 and we can discuss this further and advise you.

      1. Chelsey. Can I call u. My duck is getting completely lame and my son is heartbroken. It kills us to see her flop around. Please any advice

        1. You can call 417-532-4581 and speak with any of the reps, they’d be happy to help!

  12. I have a duck that’s always had leg problem, he’s about 8-9 weeks old. First niacin deficiency, then Bumblefoot. I was treating both of those and he seemed to be getting stronger but still not able to walk much then overnight he couldn’t walk at all. His hip seems out of place a little and his jock is swollen and he can’t bend his leg by himself. If I try to bend it I can only bend it about 2/3 of the way but not all the way bent as they normally would sit. Any ideas??

    1. It sounds like you’re doing everything we’d recommend. With the hip appearing to be out of place, it seems as if maybe his muscles have just deteriorated from all of the trauma to his legs. I’m sorry, but I’m just not sure what else to try at this point.

  13. Hi, so my eldest sister owns two ducks of different species and, recently, one of the ducks died while the other was wounded. The one that died was found with it’s legs sticking straight with a cocked neck, and i was wondering if something like post-mortam contraction would be possible if the duck would have died by the causes listed above. The duck had a noticeable growth defect, as it was older than the other one, and yet it still had it’s down feathers after the other had fully matured. The one who is still alive has something wrong with it’s right wing and left foot, and i was alos wanting to know if those could be early signs of niacin deficiency or not.

  14. I bought 2 baby ducks back on April 10, 2020. They were both fine for two weeks until one of them started to limp when walking. I realized it was a niacin deficiency and bought some niacin that I’ve been giving to her for the past two weeks. After the first few days she was unable to move any muscles,(turn her head to clean herself and walk), and she wasn’t feeding herself much unless I moved the food and water closer to her mouth. She has gotten noticable better within the past week and was able to walk and now when she does try to walk she trips on herself and just lay’s down. Shes is now able to move her neck more to clean herself but not for a long period of time. What can I do to make her better. I feel like the niacin isnt doing much. Ive checkeed her feet and nothing looks abnormal and am still giving her niacin but its been at least two weeks since I started the niacin treatment.

  15. I have a blue sweed duck that injured his leg. The duck use his leg at all. The leg just hangs to the side, helpless like. I put him in warm water & the duck didn’t care to try & swim. The leg doesn’t feel warm at the joints or broken. Nor doe it have Bumblefoot. My duckling is confined to its plastic container.

  16. Hi, i have a male runner about a yr. But for the past week he’s been unable to walk or even stand. He’s not got bumble foot. I’ve been given him epsom salt baths, niacin, extra vitamins and he’s been staying in resting I found mites and now treated for them he also has bright green im also going to worm him. He’s not eating a great deal. There aren’t any bird vets about. I don’t know what to do. He a still alert and I let him sit in the pen some of the day so he can see everyone else. ?

    1. Sounds like he may have an infection somewhere as bright green poo and lack of appetite indicates this. I had a female who had an internal infection with these symptoms and she needed at least two weeks of antibiotics and tube feeding and managed to recover from it. Try calling a vet for advice and they might offer a prescription for antibiotics. If they don’t help call a farm vet.

  17. My female duck is about 1 year and just one morning her leg only one is useless no
    breaks, no swelling she flops around there is no strength in it as if she only has one leg please she eats shes strong just lost use of leg we hold her but her flock gets to run around and she cant
    could it be a stroke…Heartbroken she has energy ..LOST please help me

    1. It sounds like an injury of some sort. I would look up ways to create a temporary splint and see if her strength improves.

    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.

  19. 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

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

    1. Terry, I have this same thing happening right now with a mallard we just purchased less than a week ago. The duckling was walking fine up until yesterday morning, then we noticed the same thing you describe. It’s as if that “ankle” joint is not working properly. What ever happened to your duckling?

    2. What did you end up doing? How is your duck? I have a Pekin doing the same exact thing.

      1. I had a duck that started limping (barely able to walk). I started feeding them frozen peas (thawed) and he was walk within a couple days. Good luck!

    3. As long as the niacin is in proper balance, try light massage down the leg and the foot gently stretching the webbing. (I did use a bit of Arnica gel = you may need to dilute a bit with some water or olive oil)

    4. I have 4 baby ducks that are around 5-6 weeks old one my ducks started limping. I have gotten the breyers for their food and giving them lettuce and sunflower seeds. But now she’s gotten to we’re she just lays there. If I move her to water and food she still eats. What can I do???? VERY WORRIED!

  22. 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?

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

  24. Dod u ever get a reply. I am having the same problem with my duck

  25. 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?

  26. My peking has a leg infection .wont take antibiotic by mouth .do you know a duck doc near by or what to do.

  27. 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.

  28. 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?

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