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Treating and Preventing Wet Feather in Ducks

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Preventing and treating wet feather in backyard ducks will help keep them in tip-top shape.

Wet feather is a condition that can afflict backyard ducks who are not properly cared for.

Most common in ducks not allowed regular access to a pool or other source of water to splash around in wet feather  can also be caused by a poor diet, a lack of essential vitamins or external parasites.

Most likely if you provide your ducks regular bath time and a good-quality diet, you won't encounter wet feather in your flock, but it's always good to be aware of the condition and how to treat it...just in case.

What is Wet Feather?

Every duck has a preen gland at base of tail which produces oil. Each time a duck has access to water in which to swim, he or she will preen their feathers both during the swim and after being in the water.

This preening stimulates the oil gland and distributes the oil onto the feathers, making them waterproof.

If the gland stops producing oil, or the duck doesn’t have access to water, the duck can’t clean off the dirt and mud from her feathers and maintain the oily coating - and normally waterproofed feathers get waterlogged and stay wet after the duck gets out of the water. 

If the outer feathers and even sometimes the down underneath the feathers stays wet, that can lead to the duck becoming chilled and unable to stay warm.

This often will lead to the duck avoiding water all together, which just makes the condition worse.  And if a duck gets their feathers muddy and can’t clean them, the mud will stop the oil from being effective.

This in turn can lead to parasites living in the feathers and over preening by the duck trying to clean itself. 

Pekin ducks are apparently most susceptible to wet feather, so if you raise Pekin ducks, it's very important to keep their pen as dry and mud-free as possible and be sure that they get the opportunity to splash around in water or swim often.

Treating and Preventing Wet Feather in Ducks

Preventing wet feather, or conditions that might lead to the condition, is important. Knowing what can cause wet feather is the first step in preventing it.

Causes of Wet Feather

As mentioned above, in addition to inadequate water for bathing, causes of wet feather can include overall poor health, a poor diet that doesn’t include enough vitamins, or a non-working or clogged preen gland.

The presence of lice or other parasites which can make a duck over-preen herself is also a contributing cause to wet feather, since parasites also lead to declining health in a duck, another trigger for wet feather. It becomes a vicious cycle at that point.

Treatment for Wet Feather

Treatment should entail bringing the affected duck indoors and washing her in water water and Dawn dish detergent, rinsing her well and then blow drying her on a warm setting before putting her back outside. 

This removes the old oil as well as any dirt or mud from the duck’s feathers and gives her a chance to start over.

If the duck has wet feather, she should be kept from swimming for a few days, but allowed access to a small tub of water so she can begin to splash a bit of water on her head and back to being the preening process. 

After a few days, short swims can be allowed again until you see that her waterproofing is back.

If you do have a duck suffering from wet feather, you will need to limit pool time, especially in the colder months, and be sure to dry her off whenever she gets wet.

Depending on the severity of the wet feather, if the above method doesn’t work, often you will need to wait until the duck molts and grows in new feathers, keeping the duck as clean and dry as possible for the duration.

Adding some Nutri-drench or black strap molasses to her feed can help her get proper vitamins and nutrients to help her along as well.

Excerpted from my new duck book Raising Happy Healthy Ducks....Naturally. (St. Lynn's Press, 2015) available here on Amazon or where ever books are sold.

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