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 B12 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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… ).
Below are some videos I took when we first encountered niacin deficiency in one of our 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 or it to happen again with this duckling and when a duck. Good luck!