Duck with suspected lead poisoning

My own animals at home need veterinary help from time to time, and this week, it has been the turn of my Indian Runner drake, known as “Mister”.

Mister lives with his “wife”, called “Missus”, and the two of them have been with us for the past three years. Every summer, they produce a batch of ducklings, and the lives of our “Indian Runner family” have become part of our annual calendar. In recent months, Mister seemed to be gradually losing his vision, and when he started to hold his head backwards in an odd position, it was obvious that he needed help.


I took him into the practice, and we started off with x-rays and blood samples. Lead poisoning seemed the most likely cause, and in the x-ray, I could see small radiodense particles that could be caused by lead. Ducks often gabble around at pond bottoms and in soil, picking up tiny bits of lead from bygone days, and these accumulate in their stomach. When the blood level of lead reaches a certain point, they start to show signs of poisoning, including blindness and incoordination.

Bloods samples confirm the diagnosis, but they can take up to a week to come back, and Mister needed help at once.


I gave him a general anaesthetic, and pumped out his stomach.It turned out that the tiny particles in this stomach were not bits of lead after all – they were just small pieces of gravel.In due course, the blood results came back – and Mister’s lead levels were normal.


SO Mister is suffering from other strange neurological disease – most likely a viral infection, or possibly something sinister like a brain tumour. He is being nursed at home, kept in a box in front of the Aga in the kitchen, and being hand fed four times daily. He seems to be making some progress, but it looks like it will be a while till he is up and about properly again.


Missus is not very happy out in the duck pen without him – she even abandoned sitting on her eggs in his absence, so these have joined Mister in the kitchen, being incubated at the back of the Aga.

At the moment, we are not sure where this is going………. we are hoping for the best, and he is making some progress, but it is early days. I will add a PS to this in due course to let you know what happens.

7th July 2008

Sorry folks, I do not have a happy ending to Mister’s story. He had been living in a box beside the Aga in our kitchen for two weeks. He was bright, alert, and eating a little (but still being tube fed three times daily). He had made progress at first, but he had stopped getting better, and his condition had reached a stage of stability that was not good enough for him to enjoy life as an independent animal. He could not stand up and walk. It looked as if the disease had run its active course, and he had been left with central nervous damage that would never improve.

So a couple of days ago, I made the difficult decision to euthanase him. An Indian Runner needs to have a good sense of balance, and good walking skills, because they are such upright, active birds. It had become clear to me that he was never going to make a recovery to the stage where he could live a normal life again. He died peacefully, and we buried him in our garden, beside the other pets who have come and gone from our lives in the past decade.

His “wife”, Missus, is lonely without him, so we plan to find a new friend for her later in the summer. Mister was a real character, we miss him, but we do know that we did the best that could be done for him, and we let him go only when we knew there was no hope.

Thanks for your support, those who sent me emails.

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