Signs of Intestinal Blockage in Pet Ducks

This entry is based on personal experience. Always consult your veterinarian when you suspect your pet is ill.

After losing my sweet boy Clyde to a burst intestine this week, I have gained insight regarding what to watch for in cases like his where intestinal blockage leads to intestinal rupture.

Clyde's first symptoms were lethargy, hunched back, lack of appetite.

The second to last day of Clyde's life--notice the hunched posture.
Clyde's normal posture. (He is half mallard/half Indian runner.)

Observe your duck closely for a hunched up look. It's best to keep your duck isolated from the others, if you have others, and/or in the house inside a crate, because it is easy to confuse your duck's fecal matter with that of another duck, or to think he/she is pooping when he/she's not. Examine any fecal matter your duck is passing.

Clyde's fecal matter was white--uric acid--and did not contain any solid food like the normal duck stool produced when eating normal amounts of crumble or grass.

Some of Clyde's poop contained small bits of greens. Tiny bits. When he pooped it looked like this:

Notice that it's all fluid except for a small, thin drop.

Think of the intestines as the passageway that they are. What if there's an obstruction? It could be a rock, plastic, string, metal, or even organic material as was Clyde's case. If there is an obstruction, chances are not much, if any, digested matter can pass through the bowels and be evacuated. If it is evacuated it is reasonable that it would be "squeezed" into tiny bits like that shown above. Also note the white uric acid drop to the left in the photo. When I first brought him inside, Clyde was producing a lot of this white fluid.

Excessive thirst. At first, when I brought him inside, Clyde kept "licking his lips" so-to-speak. He'd move his bill as if his mouth was dry. I checked inside his mouth for sores and in his throat for obstruction.

I gave Clyde electrolytes. I took him to the vet for an x-ray and the vet thought his gonads were a mass. (This vet was not aware of the gonads increasing so much in size during the breeding season.)

Finally, in an attempt to get his appetite up, I bought some mealworms. I'd had several people suggest I tube feed him, but I felt it was against my better judgment based on what I was seeing. I had a fear that I would be pushing something on him that would make him more uncomfortable. Luckily, I didn't tube feed or he would have suffered horrendously in this case.

Clyde ate crickets and mealworms. Then he felt better and became talkative and social with my hen CoCo, who was inside to rest her bum hip. He wanted to go outside and called out to the flock and they answered boisterously.

So he had a little energy, but he wasn't 100%. There was no discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth.

In hindsight I remember Clyde's body being hunched the first day I noted he seemed "not himself" and a slight bending or pushing motion he was making with his rear/tail area.

Clyde wanted to feel better. I could tell it was something not as serious as it had to be (had it been caught early on). I would have expected different behavior from parasites, intestinal virus/bacteria, cancer, or other disease. Clyde's feathers were healthy. He was trying to eat, but something was causing discomfort.

If your duck has the following symptoms, don't force feed or encourage eating until you've seen a veterinarian and had either an ultrasound or exploratory surgery if all other causes are ruled out:

*Hunched appearance (not ruffled feathers--that is different)
*White uric acid or clear water diarrhea
*Poop that is skinny like spaghetti noodles or in tiny pieces like it squeezed through a smaller-than-normal intestine
*Perking up at mealworms, etc.
*Excessive thirst
*Lip smacking, swallowing as if something caught in throat--the same way a person does when they have dry mouth--not gulping or anything like that--just acting like the mouth is dry
*Moodiness--nudging flock members away with bill or biting you or other birds when they approach
*Not eating regular foodstuff, but wanting to eat, especially if mealworms or crickets are presented
*Sometimes drinking, but not swallowing--just letting the fluid run back out of the bill and into the water dish
*Mimicking the action of eating, but not really eating--dipping bill in crumble and then dipping bill in water, but not really swallowing (the desire to eat, but the inability to eat due to being full from the obstruction)
*Weight loss (compare photos from the same time the previous year, if you have them. If not, monitor your duck's weight.)


*Give mineral oil to attempt to lubricate and loosen the object
*Give electrolytes and vitamin water (available at the feed or pet store)
*Do not feed, except in tiny amounts like a cricket or two
*Have a blood test to rule out metal poisoning and parasites
*Let your duck sit in a warm tub
*Request an ultrasound

Once the intestines have burst there isn't anything that can be done--at least that's what I was told. The harmful intestinal juices leak into the body cavity and cause infection. If your duck's intestines have burst you may hear him/her repeating a small grunting sound, especially if you feel the soft belly area between the legs. This is where the discomfort will probably be. Get to the vet as soon as possible. If the intestines have burst or there is a case of peritonitis, the feces will have a strong, infection-like, and fetid odor.

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