Why Are My Ducks Legs Shaking? (Explained by our expert!)

I have been keeping and breeding ducks for almost 20 years, and over that time I have had my fair share of ups and downs. Ducks are fairly hardy birds and make a great choice for those wanting to move up from chicken keeping to the next level. Occasionally however ducks become unwell and it is important to recognize when there is a problem and treat the issue promptly.

Ducks do shake when they first step out of the water or when they become excited, but it is not normal for them to shake constantly. A duck that shakes all the time may be suffering from a nutrient deficiency in their diet, a problem with their preen gland, meaning their feathers are no longer waterproof, or they may have contracted a virus.

When ducks are shaking or shivering it may be a sign of an underlying condition so it is important to quickly identify the problem. Ducks that are suffering from one complication can quickly be over taken by another, more serious issues

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Do Ducks Feel The Cold?

Ducks have evolved to be able to cope with cold conditions. If you have ever seen ducks sitting on a pond when the weather is freezing cold, you may have wondered why they don’t just freeze. I know where we live the temperature plummets in the winter, but the ducks seem not to even notice.

Ducks are extremely well insulated with thick plumage, multiple layers of fat and natural oils that they excrete from their preen gland and coat over their bodies to make themselves waterproof.

Ducks have the ability to regulate their body temperature even when it is cold thanks to the insulation they get from both their fat layers and plumage.

Even when ducks dive down into the water in search of food, they come back up almost completely dry. This is thanks to the oil they excrete from their preen gland. Ducks can be seen regularly spreading this oil over their entire bodies.

As such, ducks do not feel the cold, even when they are sitting on a body of cold water.

If you ever notice your duck appears to be wet, it may be an indication it has an issue with its preen glands. Preen glands can become blocked or infected. This should be checked ASAP

A duck whose feathers are wet will definitely feel the cold and may well shiver through being cold.

When you look at one of your ducks, their feathers should appear neat, and tidy and all laying in more or less the same direction. If their feathers look messy, untidy, and stick out, it may be an indication they are having issues with their preen glands

Does Diet Affect Ducks Shaking?

Ducks that do not receive a well-balanced diet, especially young ducks, may well suffer from shaking legs. It is extremely important to ensure we feed ducks under 18 weeks old food which has been designed to address their nutritional need.

Ducks need an appropriate level of both Vitamin E and Vitamin B (both these vitamins are also essential for the production of oil in the ducks’ preen glands). Personally, even though my ducks have daily access to grass, I supplement my ducks’ normal food with ample greens to help them get a broad range of vitamins.

Niacin, which is also known as Vitamin B3, is crucial for all animals in the development of healthy bones. Interestingly, ducks require almost twice as much niacin in their diets as chickens do!

Niacin is important for young ducks in the early stages of development and helps bones developed properly and helps the duck’s body use carbs, fat and protein properly.

It has been well documented that ducks who have a deficiency of niacin in their diet may shake, sometimes uncontrollably.

Niacin can be added to a duck’s diet with the addition of extra greens (peas are high in niacin and a real favorite of my ducks) or by adding a simple feed supplement to their food every day. I have had good success with the Kelp Organic Chicken and Duck Feed Supplement which I usually just order from Amazon as they seem to have the best price (see more details on Amazon.com)



Do Ducks Shake Because They Are Unwell?

Whilst ducks are relatively hardy, there are a number of illnesses a duck can suffer from, and some of these diseases can cause a duck to shake and shiver.

Duck Plague (Virus Enteritis)

Shaking and tremoring is a classic symptom of duck plague, along with reduced egg production, green or yellow diarrhea, and sluggish behavior. Duck plague has a high mortality rate and unfortunately, there is currently no cure.

All domesticated ducks should be vaccinated against duck plague.

If one of your ducks is shaking due to duck plague, it should be isolated from the rest of your flock, and the duck house, along with any shared drinkers and feed should be thoroughly disinfected ASAP.

Sometimes ducks do recover from duck plague and go on to live a normal life, however, research has shown they can continue to carry the virus and can be infectious to other ducks for up to a year after recovering.

Duck Pneumonia

Duck pneumonia is another disease that can cause ducks to shake uncontrollably. The most common cause of pneumonia in ducks is when they breathe in the fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus. This fungus is most likely to grow on dirty, moldy bedding within the duck house or wet, moldy feed.

Other symptoms of pneumonia in ducks include gasping, loss of appetite, isolation, dehydration, and lack of energy.

Pneumonia in ducks is a result of plaques forming in the air sacs within the lungs following the inhalation of the fungus spores.

Pneumonia in ducks is almost totally preventable through good hygiene practices including changing bedding regularly and cleaning feeders with a poultry safe disinfectant.

Caution should be exercised when dealing with ducks that are suffering from pneumonia, especially by those who are very young or old as the infection can be passed to humans from the ducks.

Botulism

Botulism is caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Ducks can become infected with botulism if they eat or drink either near a dead animal or from a water source that contains the disease.

A continuous tremor is one of the most common symptoms of botulism in ducks

Ducks infected with botulism may start off shaking, which then moves to a more serious tremor. Sadly, ducks with botulism often pass away within 48 hours of the disease taking hold of their system.

Ducks with botulism can be treated by a veterinarian, but the antitoxin has to be given quickly, so do not delay in seeking professional treatment.

Duck Viral Hepatitis

Duck Viral Hepatitis is another virus that shows itself in the early stage with rapid leg movements and tremors. Duck Viral Hepatitis is a disease that affects the liver and symptoms usually start to show very early on.

Other than shaking, ducks with Duck Viral Hepatitis suffer from a loss of appetite, nasal discharge, diarrhea, and bloodstaining around their vents.

Duck Viral Hepatitis is highly infectious and infected ducks should be immediately separated from the rest of the flock. Ducklings less than 4 weeks old are especially susceptible to this disease.

Sadly, Duck Viral Hepatitis can kill an infected duck very quickly, so if you plan to seek professional help, it should be sought as soon as possible.

Newcastle Disease

Newcastle Disease is a viral infection that is far more prominent in chickens but can also affect waterfowl, including ducks.

Newcastle Disease affects both the ducks’ respiratory system and their nervous system, which is why one of the main symptoms is a leg tremor. Other symptoms include nasal discharge, sneezing, and breathlessness as well as loss of appetite, sluggishness, and paralysis.

There is currently no cure for Newcastle Disease, although antibiotics are sometimes given to prevent secondary complications and infections. Whilst chickens are routinely vaccinated against Newcastle Disease, it is less common for ducks to be vaccinated.



What to Do With A Shaking Duck?

If one or more of your ducks are shaking, and the weather is cold and wet, take the ducks undercover are dry them off. Check their feathers for signs of lack of waterproofing oil. Check their beaks for signs of discharge from the nasal passages. Also, check their preen gland which is located near the tail for signs of infection or discharge.

If you find any signs of discharge, call your veterinarian and arrange to take your duck in for treatment.

If the weather is warm and dry, there is a greater chance your duck is suffering from something more serious and veterinary advice should be sought straight away.

My Final Thoughts on ‘Why Are My Ducks Legs Shaking?’

A duck shaking, shivering, or trembling for a prolonged period, especially during warm or dry weather is not normal, and treatment should be sought quickly. Ducks that are shaking should be isolated from the rest of the flock until the cause of the shaking has been identified.

Ensuring your ducks have a well-balanced diet, with access to lots of greenery will reduce the chances of any disease or infections taking hold of your ducks, as will making sure their homes are clean and their bedding is replaced on a regular basis.


Aaron Homewood

Aaron Homewood is HomesteadSavvy.com‘s poultry editor. Arron has spent over 20 years keeping, breeding, and showing different poultry breeds, including chickens, ducks, geese, and quail.​
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Article Sources

https://www.vet.cornell.edu/animal-health-diagnostic-center/programs/duck-research-lab/health-care

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botulism

https://www.msdvetmanual.com/poultry/duck-viral-hepatitis/duck-viral-hepatitis

https://www.msdvetmanual.com/poultry/newcastle-disease-and-other-paramyxovirus-infections/newcastle-disease-in-poultry

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virulent_Newcastle_disease