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7 Reasons Your Duck Is Limping (and how to help)

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It is no secret that backyard ducks can suffer from a number of foot-related issues. Not every foot problem in ducks is serious, but some can be extremely dangerous if left untreated.

To keep your ducks healthy, it is important to be aware of the common foot issues that might affect them. This will help you spot problems early and you will be able to help your ducks heal as quickly as possible. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.

Cracked or Dry Legs

Ducks will sometimes have excessively dry or cracked skin on their legs and feet.

This will look like their skin is flaking or peeling off in small pieces. The affected areas will not be raised, it will simply look like their skin is extremely dry.

closeup photo of duck feet


Cracked or dry legs on a duck can be caused by dehydration. A duck’s skin will lose moisture if it becomes dehydrated. It can also result from ducks not having a safe pool of water to wade in and get their legs wet when needed.  

How to Help

If you notice that your duck has peeling legs, have no fear. Provide water immediately to your duck to reverse the dehydration.

Make sure your duck has a constant clean water supply to prevent additional bouts of dehydration.

If your ducks do not have access to a pond, make sure they have a small pool or container of water in their enclosure for wading.

Scaly and Peeling Legs

Scaly, peeling legs are not the same as dry, cracked legs when it comes to ducks.

Scaly legs in ducks have noticeable raised areas. It looks like the skin is drying off and dying in chunks, but that is not the case.


Scaly and peeling legs is not caused by a lack of water.

The raised areas on ducks with scaly legs are the noticeable result of scaly leg mites that have burrowed into the duck’s legs.

How to Help

Do not try to peel off the dry scaly areas. Clean off the duck’s legs as best you can and begin a weekly dipping treatment immediately.

Consult a vet to develop an exact treatment plan for scaly leg mites.

The affected legs will need to be dipped into denatured alcohol, also called surgical spirits, and then covered in petroleum jelly for several weeks. (source)

red paws duck feet


Bumblefoot, medically known as pododermatitis, is an inflammation that occurs in ducks and other birds that live in captivity.

An infected foot will have a discoloration or open wound. The duck will limp, not wanting to bear weight on the afflicted foot.

As it progresses, the affected area will begin to swell and become more discolored.


Bumblefoot often occurs as a response to a duck’s environment and their health.

Bumblefoot is caused by excessive weight, malnutrition, unclean living areas, foot injuries, foot deformities, and parasitic overload.   

How to Help

Mild cases of bumblefoot in ducks can sometimes be treated at home, but a veterinarian should always be consulted.

A vet can determine whether the infection needs advanced medical intervention.
To promote recovery, the duck’s pen should be cleaned.

The duck’s affected foot should remain dry while bandaged to prevent further infection. (source)   

veterinarian with tablet checking duck -


A limping duck will favor one leg, walking awkwardly to reduce pain. They may even hold one foot up while standing still to reduce pressure.


Limping can be caused by foot issues including bumblefoot. An open wound, an impalement, or bruising can cause limping in ducks as well.

Unseen injuries like twisted ankles, ligaments or other internal injuries can lead to limping as well.

How to Help

Move the limping duck to a safe location, away from other ducks. Examine the affected leg and look for signs of injury including cuts, abrasions or impalements like nails, sticks or thorns.

Check for swelling, heat or other signs of infection. Consult a vet if you need assistance or are unable to remedy the problem.

duck standing on one leg with foot issue

Foot Injuries

Ducks will occasionally suffer from foot injuries that are often unavoidable.

Ducks can get cuts or deep wounds on their feet and foot pads. Ducks can also suffer from twisted ankles, torn ligaments or other unseen injuries.


Fighting, playing, or walking around can lead to an unexpected injury.

Ducks can get their legs caught in tight areas or cut on sharp edges. Sticks, rocks, and rough terrain can lead to wounds on feet as well.

How to Help

Cuts and other open wounds can be treated by cleaning the wound, applying antibiotics or other treatments, and covering with a bandage.

Keep the duck in a clean, dry area to promote healing and limit contact with bacteria.

Ducks with twisted ankles or tendon injuries can be treated by moving them to a safe location where excessive movement is limited.

Contact a veterinarian if your injured duck does not show signs of improvement or if the injury looks severe. (source)

closeup photo of duck feet


Ducks can develop sores, especially on the bottom of their feet. These sores can lead to infection or lameness and should be treated as soon as possible.


Sores on a duck’s feet are often causes by muddy and wet living environments.

Muddy and dirty bedding areas that contain large amounts of feces can cause a duck’s feet to crack and become irritated. Over time, this can develop into a painful sore.

How to Help

The affected duck should be moved to a dry, clean area as soon as possible. The sore spot should be cleaned, treated, and bandaged to prevent infection.

Check for swelling and heat, which are signs of a possible infection. Contact a vet if you think that the sore is infected.

It is important to also clean the area of the enclosure that may have contributed to the development of the sore.


A duck’s leg will swell when there is an injury or infection in or on the leg or foot. Swelling simply means that the size of the leg or foot increases.

Heat often radiates from the area as the body attempts to combat infection or heal the injury.


Swelling and infection can result from open wounds and foreign objects that transport bacteria within a duck’s leg or foot.

It can also occur with no indication of a wound or entry point. Subsequently, a staphylococcus infection can take hold within a duck’s leg deep within the sheaths of the tendon.

Swelling can also result from twisted ligaments and other injuries.

How to Help

Swelling anywhere on a duck’s leg is not a good sign and the duck may need antibiotics or other medication.

Move the duck to a safe, dry location and try to cool their swollen leg if it is radiating heat.

Check for injuries or foreign objects in the leg that may be causing the issue.

Consult a vet as soon as possible and get a treatment plan together before the swelling gets worse. (source)

duck standing on one leg with one foot injured

Three Common Issues in Duckling Feet

Spraddle Leg (Splay Leg)

Spraddle leg, often referred to as splay leg, is a deformity that most often occurs in ducklings.

Ducklings suffering from spraddle leg will be unable to stand on their feet. Their legs will splay, or spread out, underneath their body.


Spraddle leg can be genetic or the result of unknown issues that occurred during egg incubation.

Most commonly, splay leg is caused or exacerbated by raising hatchlings on untextured surfaces that don’t provide traction.

How to Help

The treatment for spraddle leg is to encourage the legs to become stronger by using various therapy methods.

Hobble therapy involves tethering the legs together, however, the duckling’s progress must be monitored constantly to prevent further injury.

A foam block can also be modified to hold a duckling’s legs at the correct distance apart. A veterinarian can help you decide on the best therapy method for your duckling. (source)

Twisted Ankle

Ducklings can sometimes experience twisted ankles or ligaments in their legs. Twisted ligaments and other internal issues may not be as noticeable as other common foot injuries.

You may notice a duck limping or walking on a swollen leg. They may even become lame, or unable to walk at all.


Sometimes they are stepped on by bigger ducks or other ducklings. Ducklings can get their legs caught up on things easier than adult ducks.

How to Help

Move the duckling away from the rest of the group to prevent further injury. Provide easy access to food and water for drinking.

Consult a vet if you see swelling or if the limping does not resolve quickly. A vet can diagnosis more serious issues and help prevent possible infection.

Hip Malfunction

Ducklings can suffer from hip issues that cause them to walk unnaturally from birth.

They can bear weight on their legs, but they have a noticeable limp or slow gait that is not natural.

This issue will affect a duckling’s feet negatively and hinder their ability to walk properly.  


Normally, a hip issue in a duckling is a genetic or incubation issue that the duckling has at the time of hatching.

It can also be the result of an injury due to overcrowding, being stepped on, or being attacked by an adult duck.

How to Help

You can try to massage the affected hip to encourage movement and loosen up tight muscles.

It may correct itself without other intervention. Contact your vet if it is causing a diminished quality of life for your duckling or if it appears to be in any pain.

Final Thoughts

Ducks and ducklings commonly suffer from foot issues at some point in their lives. The trick is to spot the issue early, take the right steps to encourage healing, and do what you can to prevent further issues. Always contact a veterinarian to decide on the best treatment for your duck’s foot issues.


Wednesday 1st of February 2023

To be clear I meant ignore the comments telling you to take the duck to a vet for xrays for a sprained ankle. Other than this and the user comments, this page is very helpful. Thank you.


Wednesday 1st of February 2023

Don't listen to this leftist Greeny garbage. This frequently happens in the wild & they don't go pecking at a vet's door. Within a month they heal naturally. I use Elastoplast non-elastic tape you normally wrap sprained ankles with. I leave it on the duck for 2-3 days and within around 5 days they're fine again. I have one bird who's still limping for a few weeks so I'll re-strap it for longer. I just came on to see if it's the ankle or the knee? It looks like the ankle and I can see no web link saying knee injuries are common so I'll just strap the ankle. Telling people to take a duck to the vet may mean a death sentence to the bird because it's cheaper to eat it. Give sensible advice not politically correct nonsense (which commonly comes from the USA) which does more harm than good. Ensure other ducks/chickens are not attacking the duck with the strapped ankle.


Saturday 11th of February 2023

@Mark, How is someone caring for their animals "leftist," "Greeny" [sic], or "politically correct nonsense?" If you don't want to take your animals to the vet, then don't. No one cares, and no one asked your opinion whether their treatment of their animals is correct.

Grace Sartori

Monday 18th of April 2022

We have a duck that has a serious limp and only swims with the one foot? We don’t have a local vet to take her to any suggestions.

April Lee

Monday 18th of April 2022

Unfortunately this is something that needs a veterinarian to diagnose if you want to be able to treat your duck. The vet will likely want to know when you noticed it, how long its been like that, and then proceed to diagnostics like a physical exam and maybe even x-rays. I have seen wild geese with a limp that seem to get along just fine so long as food is plentiful but, again, only a vet can advise cause and suggest treatment.

Pamela Register

Monday 27th of September 2021

My duck lumps then lyes down for a long period of time her knee is hot and swollen more than the other leg


Saturday 12th of June 2021

My duck is limping badly and I see nothing wrong except toenails have never been clipped The duck is 1 1/2 years old could this be the problem ?