Pets like dogs or cats can be pretty picky about their food and water sources especially when it comes to cleanliness. But ducks are even less likely to stick with one source of feed or drink.
“They have an extremely sensitive sense of smell,” says Dr. Jennifer Korth, associate professor in poultry science at Texas A&M University. “If there is something wrong with their diet, they will eat anything.”
That means you need to make sure your pet duck gets its daily dose of vitamins and minerals while keeping bacteria and parasites away from its food and water. And that’s easier said than done.
“It’s not just about feeding them enough food,” she explains. “You have to understand what makes ducks sick so you know if you’ve given them enough nutrients or if you’ve exposed them to disease-causing organisms.” So what exactly do these birds look like? How many different kinds are out there? What diseases affect them? Keep reading to find out.
How Do Ducks Fit In Your Household?
Pet ducks aren’t usually kept inside. They can live with you outdoors or in a coop. If you choose the latter option, though, you’ll need to learn more about how to maintain a healthy environment.
For instance, ducks tend to congregate around ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes where they can easily defecate into the water supply. That’s why most people don’t want them living indoors where they could poop on everything from carpets and furniture to curtains and blinds.
To avoid this problem, experts recommend installing mesh covers over windows and adding a layer of gravel outside. You should also consider having a separate area set up for the ducks’ droppings, which can contain harmful bacteria and feces. This may require digging a small pit next to the pond where you can bury feces and urine without contaminating the rest of your yard.
But ducks aren’t always welcome guests in urban areas. Their loud quacking and flapping wings can cause havoc among neighbors who prefer quiet neighborhoods. So if you plan to keep them, you might have to think twice before moving into an apartment building.
And then there’s the matter of housing. It’s important to provide adequate shelter so your pet doesn’t get too hot or cold during the winter months. Some people use barns, tents, and chicken coops to house their ducks. Others buy commercial shelters that come complete with heaters and fans. You can even build your own home for ducks and chickens using wood, PVC pipe, and chicken wire.
A good rule of thumb to follow when selecting housing is to make sure it has plenty of room for all your birds (including humans) and provides protection from predators. Also, remember that ducks can fly, so you’ll probably need some kind of enclosure that lets them perch above ground level. When you decide to add ducks to your household, make sure you get a few things straight. Learn more about the different types of ducks below.
What Are the Different Types of Duck?
There are several species of domesticated ducks that differ in size, coloration, and behavior. The best way to identify a particular breed is by visiting a local farm store or online retailer. Ask employees about the history of each type of duck and whether any specific breeds were used to create them.
Here are examples of some popular varieties:
Mute Ducks – These are the classic white, brown, gray, green, and black ducks we see in movies and TV shows. They lay eggs year-round and are relatively low maintenance. Mute ducks grow between four and five pounds, stand 12 inches tall, and weigh 10 to 13 ounces.
Emperor/Cotton Tails – These are large, long-necked ducks with dark feathers. Emperor ducks are typically heavier, measuring three to six pounds and standing 24 inches tall. Cottontail ducks measure 18 inches tall and weigh eight to 14 pounds. Both types are popular show animals because of their graceful necks and tails.
Ostrich Ducks – This is the largest duck variety. Ostrich ducks are often confused with emperors or cottontails because they share similar coloring. However, they actually have shorter legs and wider bills. Like emperor ducks, ostrich ducks are heavy, weighing anywhere from nine to 20 pounds and standing 26 inches tall.
Fantail Ducks – These colorful little ducks are quite active. With their characteristic bobbing heads, Fantails are known to run up to people. Unlike other ducks, these guys can swim and dive underwater. They have vivid orange faces and red bills that turn bright yellow during mating season.
As previously mentioned, ducks are prone to contracting various illnesses, including avian influenza and salmonella infections. Read on to find out how to protect your ducks from sickness.
Duck Sickness and Disease Prevention Tips
Like their feathered friends, ducks suffer from a wide range of illnesses and conditions. Most of these originate from germs that enter through contaminated food and water. Birds can also become infected with viruses passed down from their parents via eggshells, feather tips, and saliva. Some of the most common ailments affecting ducks include:
Lice Infestation – Lice are tiny insects that suck blood from the base of the bird’s wing and neck feathers. Left untreated, louse infestations can spread quickly and result in severe damage to the plumage.
Ringworm Infection – Ringworm is caused by fungus spores called dermatophytes. It causes bald patches on the head, breast, back, and sometimes the feet. When left untreated, ringworm spreads inward toward the body causing internal organ damage and eventually death.
Avian Cholera – Similar to human cholera, avian cholera is another bacterial illness that affects ducks’ digestive systems. Symptoms include diarrhea, dehydration, ruffled feathers, and rapid weight loss.
Swollen Foot Syndrome – Swollen Foot Syndrome occurs when ducks walk on wet mud or sand. As such, it can lead to blisters under the toes and heel pads.
In addition to these physical conditions, ducks are susceptible to mental issues like depression and anxiety. To help prevent these from happening, check out our list of ways to cope with stress.
Because of their high-fat content, ducks can carry pests like mosquitoes and ticks. To reduce exposure, wash your hands after handling them and apply insect repellent containing DEET to your skin. For longer-term protection, wear light-colored clothing and tuck pants into socks.
Another thing to watch out for is improper sanitation. Dirty drinking water can harbor E. coli and Salmonella, which can infect your ducks. Cleaning the coop regularly removes fecal material and prevents flies from laying eggs. Make sure you discard all dead birds and remove manure promptly from the pen. Clean up duck waste with soap and warm water to kill bacteria. Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning. Don’t forget to wipe down surfaces your duck’s touch, like walls, floors, and pens.
Finally, don’t confuse your pets for wild ducks. Even domestic ducks can carry diseases that are transmitted by contact with contaminated water or animal carcasses.
Healthy Diet for Pet Duck
Your pet duck’s diet plays a big role in protecting it against sicknesses. Feeding a healthy diet is essential to maintaining a strong immune system.
“The first step is making sure the duck has access to freshwater every day,” says Dr. Korth. “If the water isn’t cleaned properly, it can harbor bacteria and parasites.”
Feeding your pet duck a healthy diet requires understanding the nutritional needs of the bird. In general, ducks thrive on grains, vegetables, and meat products, although some specialize in one or two foods.
Ducks are omnivores, meaning they consume both plant and animal matter. The amount varies depending on the breed and age of the bird. Young ducks eat mostly vegetable proteins like corn, wheat, and soybean meal while older ducks consume more animal protein like turkey, chicken, fish, and beef.
Just as children need milk, adults need protein. Protein helps regulate the growth and development of cells and tissues throughout the body. Because ducks are constantly growing, they need lots of it.
One study found that ducks can benefit from diets higher in calcium and phosphorus. Another suggests mixing one teaspoon of salt for every gallon of water. Salt helps control water quality and lowers the pH levels, which discourages algae growth.
The bottom line is that ducks should be treated differently than other pets. They require special attention and greater effort to keep them healthy. Fortunately, you can learn more about preventing and treating sickly ducks on the next page.
Although ducks are generally considered self-sufficient creatures, you might occasionally need to intervene. One example is when a duck becomes trapped in an unheated part of your house, usually near pipes or vents. Or maybe you have two ducks and only one is sick. In those cases, you can either isolate the ill duck and treat the remaining ones separately or put them together in one pen.