Updated June 18, 2020
Ducks living at sanctuaries have the opportunity to live long lives. The lifespan of sanctuary ducks typically ranges between 8-10 years, with some individuals living up to 15 years! Like all animals, ducks may need a little extra care to help them thrive in their old age.
As a duck ages, they may face more health challenges, so it’s especially important to be vigilant in monitoring their health through regular examinations and weigh-ins to effectively treat issues early on. Even common ailments like parasites may be harder to control in older birds and require early and effective treatment to maintain their quality of life. Mobility issues tend to be quite common in older ducks and reproductive issues are more common in certain breeds, so keep a close eye on older residents!
Special Food Recommendations For Older Ducks
It’s important to monitor an older ducks weight as they age to ensure that they aren’t under or overeating to a concerning extent, as both conditions can have health repercussions. Older ducks may have a harder time foraging or absorbing the proper mix of nutrients from their typical food and may benefit from additional supplementation. Alternatively, they may be gaining weight due to decreased activity. Some breeds, such as Pekins, are especially prone to obesity. If an duck resident seems to be gaining an unhealthy amount of weight, you might have to find another type of food that is lower in protein and fat. Generally, an older bird should have their protein intake limited to prevent Gout, a common and deadly disease.
Beyond these changes, continue to feed the duck well with a diverse diet of appropriate food, greens, vitamins and minerals, and the occasional healthy treat!
In the wintertime, some people recommend adding powdered cayenne pepper to an elderly duck’s food to help improve their circulation.
Indoor Living Space Recommendations For Older Ducks
Arthritis is quite common in older ducks, especially larger breeds such as Pekins, Moulards, and Muscovies, so they may benefit from certain changes to their living space to keep them comfortable. Ducks with mobility issues may pick up their feet less than they used to when walking. This can result in them becoming tangled in longer fibered straw bedding. At the same time, older ducks may require extra bedding material in order to prevent pressure sores if they are more prone to lying down than they used to be. Older residents may need to be housed on a thick layer of pine or aspen wood shavings rather than straw, as this should allow for a thick layer of bedding without it hindering their mobility.
Depending on the type of flooring the indoor living space has, the addition of textured rubber mats can offer both additional traction as well as additional cushion to sensitive feet and joints. You may need to eliminate any areas that require a duck to step up or step over anything. Even a slightly raised threshold in the living space’s entry could pose a trip hazard for an older duck with mobility issues. Offering a wide, gently sloped ramp with proper traction can help make navigating the space easier.
Outdoor Living Space Recommendations For Older Ducks
If an older duck is having a harder time thriving due to decreased mobility or increased bullying from the rest of the flock, it might be time to give them (and their closest companion) their own pasture and pond to spend time in. A smaller, flatter pasture with close access to food and water can give them the opportunity to get around easier and not have to compete with younger or more confrontational ducks for resources.
In some cases, residents with painful legs who struggle on land may find comfort in the water. Maker sure older residents have close access to a swimming area and that they are able to get in and out with ease. Steep grades can make it difficult for an older duck to exit the water, in which case you may need to add a ramp to make things easier.
Social Recommendations For Older Ducks
As ducks are flock-oriented animals, they tend to form strong bonds with some of their fellow ducks. As a result, socially isolated ducks are prone to depression. If you decide that it’s best to give an older duck their own special indoor or outdoor space, make sure to house them with one of their flock friends– their closest friend if possible! This can help them feel more at home and at peace with their new surroundings.
Foot Care For Older Ducks
Older ducks tend to be less active than their younger flockmates, and as a result, may need their toenails trimmed more often in order to keep them comfortable. Their foot webbing also tends to dry out as they age, and may be more prone to damage. Keep in mind that they also may be picking up their feet less, or even dragging their feet, so be on the lookout for any elements of the space that could cause injury to feet and delicate webbing and remove them from the space or modify them to make injury less likely.
Managing Arthritis In Older Ducks
Arthritis is one of the most common health concerns in older animals, especially larger ducks due to their size, but it can also manifest in smaller ducks. A duck might develop arthritis or joint inflammation in either or both of their legs or feet. Untreated, this could eventually manifest as debilitating chronic pain. You might have to treat an older duck with regular anti-inflammatory treatments or duck-approved NSAID pain relievers such as Meloxicam or Carprofen (never use a combination of NSAIDs). In more advanced cases, the addition of Gabapentin and/ or Tramadol can be beneficial. Some sanctuaries recommend using a Chondroprotective agent such as Adequan to help repair joint cartilage and soothe inflammation. Sanctuaries have also seen some success treating arthritis pains with more natural remedies such as Botswella (also known as Indian Frankincense) to successfully lower inflammation, as well as acupuncture, cayenne, turmeric, and anecdotally, CBD oil in conjunction with medication. Make extra sure that their environment is as arthritis-friendly as can be, minimizing steep grades and areas that force them to step up or over something (or installing elderly duck-appropriate ramps) and eliminate long walks to food or water if possible! Make sure to talk to your veterinarian to assess the individual and create a treatment plan for arthritis.
If a duck is in too much pain to move due to severe arthritis or injury in their leg, consider making them a soft fabric sling hammock with holes for their legs or fashioning or buying a cart or therapy chair to help them stand and to prevent them from developing pressure sores. They’ll be much more comfortable and safe that way- just be sure they have their food and water easily accessible, and be sure to closely monitor them to make sure they remain comfortable and safely positioned in the device. If the individual finds comfort in swimming, find ways to offer these opportunities as much as possible.
Unfortunately, arthritis tends to lead to bumblefoot due to changes in how they walk, so be extra vigilant in their foot care, and be sure to keep a close eye on their keel for any signs of irritation before they develop sores!
Rear End Care For Older Ducks
Older ducks sometimes have a more difficult time preening and cleaning due to decreased comfortable mobility. As a result, they may have messier rear ends than they used to. This can potentially lead to health challenges like infections and parasites. You can help out an older duck struggling with preening by giving them regular swimming sessions in a clean, cooler-temperature water environment like a bathtub (though never with soap, which can remove their natural waterproofing). You may have to adjust the water level because ducks are quite particular about the depth that they like to preen in. You can also help them dry afterwards with a non-heated blow dryer to help restore ample fluff to their feathers!