How to Tell if a Duck is Dying?

Ducks are much hardier than chickens, but even so, they too can get sick and die. If you’re able to detect the symptoms in time, you may be able to save the life of a dying duck.

Whether you’re raising ducks on a farm or as a pet, they can suddenly get sick and die. If you can manage to hone in on the cause of the sickness and treat the underlying disease, you can heal a sick duck.

Ducks in the wild don’t have access to medicine and treatment, hence the mortality rate among ducklings specifically is quite high – as many as 50% to 90% of ducklings will die in their first month.

The situation is very different in ducklings raised in captivity – access to food, shelter, and medicine significantly improves their chances of survival even long into adulthood.

So, how can you tell if a duck is sick or dying? And what can you do to heal a sick or dying duck?

7 Signs of Dying Duck

Ducks that fall ill will showcase a variety of symptoms including loss of appetite, lethargy, isolation, and many others. Here’s an overview of the symptoms to watch out for:

– Lethargy

Ducks are active birds that love to eat, forage, and bathe. Sure, they do have some downtime, but when a normally active duck is suddenly lethargic and sluggish, something is definitely wrong.

If you notice that your duck is no longer active, has trouble moving, is no longer vocal, and no longer preening itself or feeding properly, you should make sure to contact a vet who can determine the underlying cause of the illness.

Lethargy can be a sign of a variety of diseases including poisoning, botulism, ingestion of metal objects (“hardware disease”), duck virus enteritis, aspergillosis can all cause lethargy, but a host of other symptoms as well.

Lethargy can also be caused simply by a loss of appetite, which can also cause the duck to become dehydrated.

– Loss of Appetite

Another sign of a sick or dying duck is loss of appetite. A duck that refuses to eat or drink will become dehydrated, will lose weight, and become lethargic.

Ducks with respiratory infections will usually lose their appetite first. Avian cholera can also cause loss of appetite and it’s associated with other symptoms such as mucous discharge from the mouth, labored breeding, and diarrhea.

If your duck is refusing to eat, it’s important to have the duck checked out by a vet who can identify the disease and administer treatment.

Blockages or obstruction can also cause loss of appetite in ducks. You can check the mouth and throat of the duck by opening its beak to see if there’s anything lodged into it.

Gently massaging the throat and giving water to your duck can help clear the obstruction. If nothing works, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

– Separating from Flock

Ducks will spend most of their time in a flock, which offers them protection from predators and other dangers. When a duck no longer seeks out the company of other ducks, it’s a sign that something is wrong.

Ducks can separate from the flock for benign reasons as well like during the breeding season. But otherwise, ducks are extremely gregarious during the rest of the year.

So, if a duck is no longer socializing with the flock and it’s seeking isolation or has trouble keeping up with the flock, it means that some illness may have befallen it.

Any number of diseases can cause a duck to separate from the flock. So, unless it’s during the breeding season, if you see duck ducks no longer socializing and become isolated, it’s best to call a vet.

– Lack of Activity

As I mentioned, ducks are active birds that feed, bathe, preen themselves, and socialize. They’re most active during the morning and late afternoon.

Lethargy, sluggishness, and an inability to move are signs that a duck is sick. Most often, lameness in ducks is caused by something as simple as niacin deficiency.

Niacin deficiency happens often when ducks are fed chicken feed, which has a lower niacin content.

Ducks need around 10 mg of niacin per day. Chickens need only about half this amount, so it’s understandable that a duck that’s been feeding on chicken feed will become deficient in niacin.

Lack of activity can be caused by many other diseases, so it’s important to watch out for other symptoms as well and involve the expertise of a veterinarian, if one or more of your ducks are exhibiting loss of activity.

– Diarrhea

Diarrhea is dangerous in ducks because it can quickly cause dehydration, especially in a duck that refuses to eat and drink.

Diarrhea in a duck can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, parasites, heat stress, pneumonia, toxic ingestion, failing organs, and even anxiety.

Acute diarrhea lasts around 4-7 days, chronic diarrhea lasts for more than two weeks, but most ducks will suffer from acute forms that are caused by viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections.

Treatment options include treating the underlying issue with either antibiotics or deworming medicine.

Other than these, feeding probiotics to your ducks and feeding them healthy duck foods can also help.

Make sure to give your ducks plenty of clean, fresh water. In summer, you should also make sure they have a shady area to hide from the heat and sun.

If one or more of your ducks is having runny or watery poops, make sure to check with your vet to identify the cause and administer treatment accordingly.

– Heavy Breathing

One of the most common diseases in ducks to cause heavy or labored breathing is aspergillosis, which occurs when a duck inhales the spores produced by the Aspergillus fungi. The fungi grows on damp feed or straw.

Other respiratory infections can also cause heavy breathing and panting. Respiratory infections are often fatal in ducks, especially in ducklings.

Sometimes administration of IV fluids and aerosolized medication can help, especially if the disease is caught early.

The best thing you can do is to vaccinate your ducks against respiratory illnesses. Vaccines can also prevent outbreaks, which can affect all types of poultry on your farm.

In the cause of respiratory avian illnesses, prevention is the best medicine.

Besides these illnesses, food blockages can also cause heavy breathing. In fact, food blockages are common in ducks.

Giving them water, gently massaging the throat or even using a thin tube or pencil to gently push down any stuck food can help. If none of these options seem to be helping, contact a vet immediately.

– Lack of Quaking

Ducks are chatty birds and can get quite noisy to the point of being annoying. Quaking is so much part of their way of being that when a duck stops quaking it means trouble.

Lack of quaking can be a sign of a respiratory illness, but other illnesses too can render ducks speechless, especially illnesses that generally make a duck lethargic and low energy.

As you can see, there are several signs indicating illness in ducks. Some illnesses are serious and life-threatening, so seeking out the help of a vet in time can save the life of your duck.

How to Heal a Dying Duck?

If you’ve identified an ill or dying duck, here are some of the things you can do to save their life:

1.  Isolate it from the rest of the flock

Take the duck in a stress-free, clean and warm environment. Isolating or quarantining sick ducks serves a double purpose.

First, it helps the recovery of the duck in a peaceful environment, away from predators and other stressors. Second, it prevents the spread of illness to other birds or poultry in your yard.

2.  Seek out the help of a vet

A veterinarian can identify the disease affecting your duck and give treatment accordingly. Treatment depends on the illness in cause – antibiotics, IV fluids, deworming medicine, probiotics, and so on.

Depending on the severity of the illness, a vet may decide that you need to put down your duck to save it from further pain.

3.  Give them water

While you’re waiting for a vet, it helps to give your duck some water, especially if your duck has not been eating or it’s dehydrated.

4.  Prevent rather than treat

Because poultry can suddenly get sick and die quickly, it’s important to do as much prevention as you can.

Prevention strategies include:

  • Vaccination.
  • Regular deworming.
  • Offering access to clean and fresh water 24/7.
  • Feeding them a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Keeping them in a clean and dry environment (regularly cleaning the coops and surroundings of ducks).
  • Watching out for early disease symptoms and isolating sick individuals to prevent further spread.

Simple preventative measures can go a long way in preventing ducks from getting sick. And even when sick, involving the expertise of a vet early on can help save the life of a dying duck.


If you want to increase the chances of a sick duck surviving and getting better, seek out treatment at the first signs of trouble. The longer you wait, the more serious the disease gets, and the slimmer the chances of your duck getting better.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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