- Aug 23, 2020
Awesome to read such a thoroughThanks a lot, it is something that needs to be mentioned to every duck owner given how common of a problem it is.
Thank you for this! Like most ducky mumma's i only want the best for my little beauties (4 gorgeous miniature silver appleyard) I only want the best for them. 3 of my girls are fiesty and push through to get what they want but my lil missy (i think she is the youngest/different hatch) is always at the back and i worry she doesnt get all that she needs, one of her legs turn in and sometimes shakes , when she wouldnt swim in the water she was almost on top of the water. I've increased the niacin and she now swims 'normally' the leg is still turned inwards but its not so pronounced.Niacin Deficiency in Waterfowl
This last few months we have been getting many new duck owners explaining their duck/'s are having problems getting around, most often this has been due to a deficiency in niacin, because of this, with the generous help of a few others, I created a thread that contains most of the valuable information needed when diagnosing, treating, and preventing your bird from becoming niacin deficient. Always fill free to ask questions, but please read the whole text thoroughly before asking some that may have been answered already in some of the text below.
What is Niacin?
Niacin, also known as (B3), or nicotinic acid, is an essential vitamin in poultry that plays a critical role in proper bone structure, growth, and overall health. Niacin along with eleven other vitamins are classified as water-soluble, which means they don't readily absorb into their tissues as fat-soluble vitamins do. Since water-soluble vitamins aren't stored in our bodies we tend to need more of these vitamins on a daily basis to stay healthy/happy, the same case is applied with our poultry, with a high emphasis on ducks in particular, since they can't absorb niacin as well as other fowl, such as chickens.
Symptoms of Niacin Deficiency in Ducks
Some early signs that your duck may be niacin deficient may include laying down frequently, reluctance to walk and do normal activities, weakness of the legs, retarded growth, slight bowedness of the legs, you often will see pigeon-toed feet where one or both of the bird's feet will point inwards, this makes it very hard to walk as it will trip over each foot each time it steps.
If left a few weeks untreated, symptoms will worsen, the bird may not be able to walk on its feet, and may use its wings or hocks/knees instead to get around properly, the Bowedness/Pigeon-Toed of the legs may become so bad the bird will sit by the feed/water most of the day due to the pain, the hocks may become swollen, perosis may occur, and eventually, symptoms may become irreversible and the bird may slowly waste away and die. If your duck is showing any of these symptoms it would be highly advised that you start treatment immediately before there is permanent damage to your duck.
The pictures below demonstrate the pigeon-toed like feet and bowing of the legs common with B3 deficient birds.
While there is no harm giving a generally healthy duck niacin, it should be the owner's responsibility to consider other common conditions/diseases so treatment can begin tailored to that specific condition. A full anamnesis of the duck should be done, as well as a complete physical examination , and the following questions should be asked, Is the niacin in the duck's diet adequate enough, take the time to look at the niacin content of the feed your using, or if needed contact the company. Did this happen overnight, with most ducks there should be a gradual decline in its state of health, overnight walking problems would point towards other problems. Is there any sign of Pododermatitis or Bumblefoot on the duck's feet, treatment for this may include soaking to loosen the core (if present), surgery to remove the "core", bandaging, and daily application of antibacterial ointment. What kind of substrate is being used, slippery bedding material like plastic, newspaper, or metal can cause splayed legs in young ducklings, treatment for this would include a more rough substrate, and a hobble to fix the legs back together.
Please read into a few of these common, but different conditions that may appear to be a niacin deficiency but are not.
If your duck is showing some of the symptoms I mentioned above (Specifically Pigeon Toed Feet or Bowedness of the legs), and you were mistakenly feeding them a feed low in niacin like most chick starters, you should begin treatment.
Treatment would include giving the bird a form of niacin, we have found that most vitamin B supplements used for cattle have worked well on ducks due to the high niacin content. As an alternative, you can buy human niacin capsules, and administer them via their water.
A few common brands found at most feed stores and online are Durvet High-Level B complex, Aspen VITA-JEC B Complex, Vitamin B Complex "Generic Brand", and Vitamin B Complex HP by Vet One Brand, the price is fairly low and ranges from ten to twenty dollars which will last for a couple of years.
When buying any niacin supplement it is important none of them are labeled as Flush Free, No Flush, Time released or extended-release, all would not benefit your duck in any way. They do not stay in the duck's system long enough to be absorbed.
How to administer
There are several ways to administer the vitamin B complex.
For novice duck keepers we recommend giving the complex over treats, this is a fairly safe approach to the administration of the complex as not much can go wrong. Ducks seem to enjoy peas, mealworms, watermelon, and lettuce the most. Simply, mix the complex into the treats. If the ducks don't take kindly to the taste, you can split the dosage up several times throughout the day so the taste isn't as potent in one sitting. For a list of safe treats for ducklings please read the bottom of this post.
If you're unable to get the ducklings to eat the treats, or they're in such bad shape you want a sure/fast way of administration, you may consider administering the complex orally.
Orally (PO), simply involves giving the medication directly into the duck's mouth. The tinier the syringe, the easier it is to administer with. I fill a 1ml syringe with the complex, grab the duck, I gently pinch the external corners of its mouth to get it open, and stick the syringe down the bird's right side, and slowly squeeze the plunger. NOTE, it is very easy to aspirate a duck when giving medication by mouth, especially ones that are on the younger side. So, please do your research and read this article thoroughly before administering it.
Administering Oral Fluids
Per "Metzer Farms", you can administer niacin capsules, via water, given at a ratio of 500mg per four gallons of drinking water. As with adding any supplement to their water, another clean water dish should be provided, in case the ducks refuse to drink the water.
The Complex can also be given (SQ) Subcutaneously, and (IM) Intramuscular. I'm not going to go into depth on how to administer these two ways since it can be harder to perform then the methods mentioned above, and more "scary" for new owners. If you want to learn more about these two methods of administration, please refer to the bottom of this post.
The dosage will vary accordingly to age, currently, we go:
- A few drops a day, for newly hatched ducklings
- 1/4ml, once a day, for ducklings 5-7 days old
- 1/2ml, once a day, for ducklings 7-14 days old
- 1.0ml, once a day for duck(lings) older than 14 days
- 25mg, once a day, for ducklings 5-7 days old
- 50mg, once a day, for ducklings 7-14 days old
- 100mg, once a day, for ducklings older than 14 days
This is once a day, although if you have a hard time getting the complex into the duckling/s you can split the dosage in half and give some in the morning and evening. This seems to work well with ducklings that are disgusted by the taste of the complex.
If you search "Can I overdose my duckling on niacin?" you'll likely end up finding several answers claiming, that you can't since niacin is water-soluble and isn't stored in the body like other vitamins, but just passes through without being stored into any tissue.
The problem with this claim is humans, and dogs can have serious side effects when given too much niacin, so why can't birds?
I decided to research this a bit more, and found this link which state's,
"Limited research indicated that nicotinic acid and nicotinamide are toxic at dietary intakes greater than about 350 mg per kg (160 mg per lb) of body weight per day (NRC, 1987). Clinical signs for niacin toxicosis in chicks include reduced egg production, growth retardation, short legs and coarse, dense feathering. High dietary levels of niacin (0.75% to 2.0%) fed to broilers were detrimental to dimensions and mechanical properties of bone (Johnson et al., 1992; 1995; Leeson and Summers, 2001). There was no change in the mineral content of the tibia, but bone strength decreased with increased susceptibility to fracture."
That said, it appears niacin can actually have reverse effects when birds are given too much, and can cause a weakened overall bone strength, as well as increased susceptibility to fracture.
Treatment should still proceed daily for a few weeks even after the birds aren't showing symptoms anymore. We also tend to recommend keeping them on Nutritional Yeast or niacin supplements until they are of eight/ten weeks of age or older as that's when there niacin needs drop around 30%.
Recovery time will vary with each individual, generally the younger the bird is the quicker the recovery time. With young ducklings, complete recovery can be seen within hours or days, with older birds a few weeks is common.
How to keep your duck comfortable while recovering
It’s important during treatment for the birds to have soft clean bedding, and offered food/water often. Pain and discomfort in the legs of niacin deficient birds is quite common so letting them exercise and relive the weight off their legs may help significantly during treatment.
Birds that tend sit around most of the day aren't able to able to practice hygiene and are going to be more likely to end up with other problems like wet feather, bumblefoot, sticky eye, or external parasites, letting them in the water may help to prevent most of these problems for occurring. When doing water therapy, given that the duck's leg is most likely weak, they should be watched the whole time they are in the water to ensure they don't drown.
What's better Nutritional Yeast or Brewer's Yeast?
It won't be long until you come across literature stating Brewer's Yeast is a good niacin supplement, and it is, for the most part. I say "most part" because not all brewer yeast brands are made equal, I did some research and found several brewer's yeast brands that only contained 1.5mg of niacin per two tablespoons , and another that only contained around 10mg per two tablespoons . I think if you're going to use brewer's yeast, you should take a look at the label and look for the niacin content to ensure it's adequate enough, if it's not shown you should contact the company and ask.
I've started recommending nutritional yeast, and not brewers yeast, for several reasons, but here's a quick explanation of the difference between the two.
"Brewer's yeast is a by-product of the brewing beer. It's cultivated on malted barley, which adds some of the distinctive bitterness to brewer's yeast. Brewer's yeast can also be cultivated specifically for use as a supplement. This yeast is high in B-complex vitamins, protein, chromium, and selenium. A key nutritional difference between brewer's and nutritional yeast is brewer's yeast contains the trace mineral chromium but not vitamin B-12.
Nutritional yeast, on the other hand, is not a by-product, and it's usually grown on cane sugar or sugar beet molasses. Nutritional yeast has a mild, nutty flavor compared to brewer's yeast. This type of yeast is an excellent source of niacin, folic acid, zinc, thiamine, and selenium. It can also be fortified with vitamin B-12, an important nutrient for vegans who are more susceptible to B-12 deficiency."
So we now know a few things, nutritional yeast tends to taste better then brewers yeast, this is something important for ducks that don't like the taste of brewers yeast. In addition, Nutritional Yeast tends to favor B vitamins more than Brewer's yeast which favors trace elements instead. I looked into this claim, and looked at several nutritional yeast brands and all were quite high in niacin, having an average of 30mg of niacin per two tablespoons. Those two reasons are good enough for me to choose NY over BY.
Prevention is key to keep these problems from occurring, we have noticed that problems most commonly arise when the owner mistakingly thinks that ducks have the same niacin dietary needs as chick's, as cited in "Holdrreads Storey Guide" growing ducks require two to three times more niacin then growing chicks, too often ducklings are fed chicks starters low in niacin, and that is when problems most often occur.
Sadly, with heavyweight breeds like Pekins feeding them duck starter is still not enough, most duck starters contain 55mg of niacin per kilo of feed, and while that reaches the niacin requirement for most other medium to smaller wight breeds, Pekins and other heavyweight breeds should have at least 70mg of niacin per kilo, to achieve that goal, in addition to the duck starter/all poultry feed, a niacin supplement such as nutritional yeast, B complex, or a poultry vitamin should be added to their diet until at least ten weeks of age when the niacin content drops. For nutritional yeast, simply add one to two tablespoons per cup of feed, if the yeast has added garlic flavoring you may consider only one tablespoon per cup of feed as the taste may be too strong for ducks. Liquid B complex can be added over treats and feed as a preventative too, a few drops over feed/treats is usually sufficient. B complex tablets can also be used, one 500mg tablet can be added to eight/ten gallons of drinking water.
Administering Oral Fluids
Safe Treats for Waterfowl
Durvet High-Level B Complex
Aspen VITA-JEC B Complex
Vitamin B Complex Generic Brand
Vitamin B Complex HP by Vet One
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**As new information becomes available, I will continue to update this thread**