Niacin deficiency in ducks and ducklings happens a lot but can be easily dealt with, but you must recognise the signs. Let's delve here at PumpjackPiddlewick and discover how.

If you keep ducks or geese, whether pets or not, you will come across niacin deficiency. It particularly happens in ducklings/goslings, especially in their first week, but can happen any time, as well in adult ducks.

Niacin or vitamin B3 is a necessary vitamin for ducks. Ducklings need it to help them grow and for their brains and organs to form and work correctly. Without it, death is a certainty. Some duck feeds add extra or incorporate niacin in to their feed, but most don’t. Here in France, for example, I have never found niacin in any feeds. So you need to read the ingredients carefully. Personally, even if it were included, I would recommend getting some additional niacin to give them.

Where to Find

It’s a good idea to head to your local pharmacy or possibly a grocery store and buy some nutritional yeast, otherwise known as brewers or beer yeast. This is in fact niacin. DO NOT buy the fast acting one! Definitely not good for your ducks or ducklings.

I tend to buy it in powder form, whether loose in a bottle or in capsule format. It makes it easy to sprinkle over water or food. Having additional niacin on hand, especially in nesting season is a must.

What is Niacin Deficiency?

But what are the signs of niacin deficiency? The great thing is that the signs are easy to spot, and, if treated, generally possible to reverse, bringing your duckling or duck back to full health.

In a duckling it is very noticeable around the head area. Ducklings when they first hatch look slightly long of face. But very quickly they fill out as they fluff up and get these cute round heads. Not a duckling with niacin deficiency though. They will continue to have that elongated face look, like their cheeks are not filling in. Also their eyes will look sleepy, not round, possibly even have a sort of wet feather look around the eye. Healthy ducklings have very bright open round eyes.

And Then…

The next stage of niacin deficiency is they will start to lose their balance and/or become wobbly. Again, a healthy duck is like a little zippy machine, with lots of bursts of energy (when not sleeping). Running around and over everything. A niacin deficient duckling will tend to sit or stand still, slightly swaying. Like he doesn’t know where to go.

The deficiency then progresses to not being able to use the legs with ease. They will splay out in front of the duckling and it will look like it is resting on its elbows. This is getting to the acute stage. If you don’t treat by now, it becomes very very difficult to save them from death.

Niacin deficiency in a nutshell shuts down the internal organs of the duckling. The final stage is not being able to swallow or breathe. The duckling will hold its head up, beak pointed upward, trying to keep its throat and air passages working. But by this point it is probably too late and it will die.

What To Do?

So what to do if you recognise any of the above stages? Even the last one?

You will need your niacin powder and an oral syringe (something that can squirt water into the mouth of your duckling or duck). Mix in 50 ml or ¼ cup water a ½ teaspoon of niacin. Stir to dissolve somewhat. Using your syringe, suck up the niacin water. Carefully holding your duckling, try to feed it as much of the niacin water as possible.

Ducks don’t naturally open their beaks, like other baby birds, when offered something. You have to be quick and careful to get the liquid into their mouths. They will be thirsty, and once they taste a drop they may be more inclined to take what you are offering. Sometimes I find, after a few times doing this they recognise the syringe and understand it is helping them. They will try to be more cooperative then.

Keep Trying

If you are really struggling to get any liquid niacin in them, try putting it in a shallow wide bowl (a bowl about the size of your hand. Holding your duckling, dip its beak into the water. The natural inclination of the duckling will be to drink. It will do so and lift its head up to ease the water down its throat. You can repeat this, but fairly quickly the duckling will begin to struggle, usually before it has had enough.

Ultimately you need to get 2 to 3 teaspoon full or 15 ml equivalent in to your duckling. Remember without niacin, the duckling will die, so don’t worry about over doing. More is better than less. But you do need to space out the dosages. Repeat again in 15 minutes. And again after 15 minutes. Until you see some signs of recovery.

Reversing the Symptoms

You should notice as you give treatment that the symptoms will reverse in the order they came on. So able to and want to drink, then eat. (Give protein at this stage – tiny pieces of plain cooked chicken or burger, for example, are a very good and high dose of protein. Unlike seeds, particularly at a very young age, it is softer and easier to eat.) Then leg use comes back online, being able to stand on its own and finally you will notice it will round out in the head. And anticipate a growth spurt.

A lack of niacin definitely slows down the growth of a duckling (or gosling). It’s another sign you may need to up the intake, if a duckling doesn’t seem to be growing as fast as it should. (They almost double in size each day normally.) With additional niacin, this is the slowest area to respond, but response will happen and suddenly you will see the duckling get bigger overnight.

Limping Adult Ducks

As for niacin deficiency in adult ducks or geese, this shows up usually first as limping. If you notice your duck limping, first check for bumblefoot (I link to a how to recognise bumblefoot here). Bumblefoot is when the duck gets a sliver or something in its flipper that becomes infected. It looks a bit like a black wart or blackhead.

No sign of bumble foot, then look to niaicin deficiency next. Especially if the duck in question has suffered this deficiency before. Once they have had this issue they are more prone than others to succumbing again and will always need more niacin given to them then your regular flock. Normally, a ½ teaspoon of niacin powder sprinkled on their food or water every other day will generally do the trick. Niacin is great for the whole flock, not just a potentially deficient duck.

But if you notice your duck limping then up the niacin to a teaspoon on both water and food. If they share their food/water with many others, be certain they are getting to the food and water. Or better yet separate them for a little while so you can be certain they are getting the extra needed vitamin.

The limp should go away within 3 to 4 days, if not sooner, depending on how quickly you responded. If they are still limping badly after day two, and it is not bumble foot, look at other possibilities (over eager mating males, muscle strain, dislocation… ).

Visual Aids

Below are some videos I took when I first encountered niacin deficiency in one of my ducklings. The imagery will give you visual clues of what to look for. The first one is after the second dose given (each video is after each 15 minute dose thereafter), so the duckling is not able to stand, but able to drink on its own. The water has niacin in it to make her and my life a little easier. But I still had to feed via the syringe or dipping the beak a couple times after.

Should you encounter niacin deficiency in your duckling, remember act fast, give niacin and do so repeatedly until on the road to recovery. And be prepared for it to happen again with this duckling and when a duck. Good luck!

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  1. What an informative read. My pekin duck had a niacin deficiency as a duckling, and now at 1 year, has developed a limp. I was treating her for bumblefoot (and will continue to do so) as she has a small bump scab. Upon closer inspection, the leg without the bumblefoot is the one she is babying. I don’t know if a niacin deficiency is the answer this time, but your post gave me some hope and inspiration for new further methods of treatment. Thank you and all the best.

    1. Thank you Jane!
      Lovely to read that we have given you hope.
      There is so little information out there, especially regarding older ducks. Consequently we too are learning all the time, and now always consider and treat for this deficiency (especially in our prone ducks) as well as other issues. Would love to hear how your duck gets on. All the best.

      1. Thank you for your response and well wishes. After a few days of a niacin rich diet, prognosis did not change. After exhausting other treatments, I started her on an antibiotic injection today. I am treating her for a bacterial infection in the joint (perhaps as a result/in conjunction with the bumblefoot that has since healed). Regardless, again, I appreciate your informative reminder to look for supplemental deficiencies first. Niacin will always be ready in the medicine cabinet. Take care!

        1. Thank you Jane. Our well wishes go out to you and our very sincere hope that the antibiotic injection works.

  2. I have a disabled, crested
    duck who is 5 years old. He can’t stand because his feet are mishapen and his neck is curled when upright. His neck control seems to improve when I give him Niacin. I am wondering how the naicin does this and how else I can help him.

    1. Hello Joan. Your duck sounds amazing and very lucky to have you. I once had a disabled chicken who couldn’t walk. She was the most amazing girl. So cuddly and friendly.

      A lack of niacin affects motor skills. This may explain why your duck responds well to niacin.

      One of the typical first signs of a deficiency is a limp. My pet duck Gabby was born or at least developed niacin deficiency as a day old duckling. I have to keep a close eye on him and make sure he gets his niacin as he is prone to this deficiency, has been all his life. It’s possible your duck is the same. Always worth making sure ducks get niacin in their food. It’s surprising how little duck feed has in it, if any at all. Here in France the duck food does not have additional niacin in it so I have to add it myself. Yes, Niacin is vitamin B3. The key, if you have add it yourself, is not to get fast acting (for humans).

      You mentioned that your duck is a crested duck. Do you mean it has the Pompom on top of its head? The crested breed is known for having ambulatory issues. The crest genes can cause a fat body within the skull. Depending on the fat body’s size and relative position to the brain, it can impede a duck’s ability to ambulate. Many crested ducks experience a “tottering” walking pattern and, if knocked over, are unable to get up. Other issues caused by the fat body may include seizures and neurological problems.

      If you haven’t discovered Tiddles, on Instagram, as yet, I would suggest you check him out. He is a disabled duck, not crested, who has ambulatory and head raising issues. This is not an area I know well, so you might garner more knowledge from Tiddles posts, and ask more questions there.

      It sounds like you are doing the best for your duck. And that ultimately is all we can do. They are such fragile creatures, yet so resilient. And the fact that your duck has someone to love and care for him is super special. I think you are wonderful.

  3. I’m so glad I found this page. This is my first time dealing with this. My duckling is growing but getting more and more splay legged and his joints are swollen. I’ve added niacin to his water and am hoping it helps. If not, I’ll give it directly. He’s still walking and eating, but shows all the other symptoms you mentioned. He is a pretty large duckling, so his legs make it hard for him to walk. I’m hoping this works!! Thanks for the info.

    1. Thank you for reading and I hope your duckling makes a full recovery!
      If he is eating, this is a good sign.
      Splayed leg could also be a sign of ‘spraddle leg’, which can happen in ducklings and is generally correctible. If the duckling doesn’t improve with the Niacin quickly, check out this information on splayed legs, which includes how to correct it:

      1. Thanks so much for this! I’be had ducks before but have never run into this condition. I’m thankful for any input!!

  4. I’ve been giving niacin in the drinking water for 2 days, and I haven’t seen any drastic improvement yet. Am I expecting too much too soon or should I try another way of administering it, like a syringe? Any info would be so appreciated!

    1. Hi April, ducks react to being given Niacin quickly. Usually you would see an improvement within an hour, sometimes even 15 minutes. So I suspect it is not niacin deficiency if there is little improvement. Given the little improvement, it seems more like splayed leg. The link in my other comment should help with this.

      Do continue to give niacin as a supplement. I tend to give 1 capsule a day in their drinking water. Or you can add it to their feed.
      Sometimes it is so frustrating how little information and help there is out there. I am hopeful you will sort this.

      1. Thanks for the info!

  5. My 4 month old muscovey duck has been dragging her foot and barely able to walk. It’s not Bumblefoot. I do think it could be a niacin deficiency. I started her on the supplement about 36 hours ago and haven’t really seen much improvement. She seems to be very lethargic too. Any suggestions? I’m so worried about her.

    1. Hi Gwen
      Thanks for reaching out.
      Check the supplement. Is it pure niacin / B3? Or a mixture? And make sure it is not fast acting.
      How often are you giving her the niacin? If it was just the one dose, you need to give more. I use capsules, where I can add the contents to a small bowl of water. I give to my duck the water to drink every 15 minutes until I see improvement.
      If it is pure niacin, and she is not responding, then the likelihood is it is not niaicin deficiency. Ducks respond fairly rapidly to it. But it also depends how long she has been having issues. If longer than a day, it may take longer for the niacin to help.
      What do her eyes look like? Normal? Sleepy?
      Hope this helps. It’s always hard when our ducks are poorly.
      Kind regards

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