A duck’s oil gland is located at the base of the tail and they use the oil to keep their feathers well groomed and waterproof. Next time your ducks are preening, watch for them putting their heads at the top of the tail and spreading the oil all over their bodies.
Occasionally a duck’s oil gland will become blocked and stop working properly. Usually you’ll notice that your bird isn’t looking quite as well groomed as it usually does or they may struggle to stay dry in wet weather.
When you part the feathers you should be able to see or feel a decent amount of oil – if there is little to no oil or obvious swelling then your duck probably has a blocked oil gland.
So, what do you do about it?
Firstly, don’t panic, there are plenty of home remedies you can try before you need to call the vet:
This is the least invasive remedy and has been used successfully by many duck keepers including our own Marketing and Communications Manager, Alice, when her duck India had a blocked oil gland.
Bring the duck in somewhere warm and quiet then apply a hot (not too hot though) compress two or three times a day.
Depending on how badly blocked the oil gland is you might need to do this for a few days before the gland starts working normally again.
Are they stressed?
Stress and bullying is one of the most common causes of a blocked oil gland so take a minute to watch your ducks and see whether the effected bird is being picked on.
If this is the case then try hot compressing and remove them to their own coop. you’ll want to make sure they can still see other ducks and if you can put a quiet friend in with them so much the better.
Sometimes adding wheat to their diet can encourage their oil gland to start working again and producing a sufficient amount of oil.
This is the time to really look at your duck’s diet and check they’re getting all the vitamins and minerals that they need to stay healthy. If you think their diet can be improved, do it.
Time for the vet
Infection can cause the oil gland to become blocked so you’ll need to visit your vet for a prescription of antibiotics. This should clear the infection up within 7-14 days – further investigations may be needed if the oil gland doesn’t start working.
A Vitamin A deficiency can also cause blocked oil glands so discuss this with your vet and add a good quality supplement to your ducks diet.
Impacted and ruptured oil glands
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes more complicated than a blocked oil gland and your vet may suggest lancing the gland as well as a course of antibiotics.
A ruptured oil gland will need to be surgically removed as soon as possible, followed by antibiotics. After the gland has been removed your duck’s feathers will no longer repel water so you may need to consider alternative housing.