By Lori Goodman

Considering owning a duck or giving one as a gift?

There's no denying that baby ducklings are irresistible for the first 2 weeks. They quickly lose their "cute and fuzzy look" as they prepare to get their first feathers. For the next 4 weeks they eat, poop, cheep and sleep. The mess, the work, the noise and the smell can be overwhelming to most people. Ducklings outgrow their cage or box at about 2-3 weeks of age and their care becomes increasingly difficult for the inexperienced exotic pet owner. This is when most are taken to shelters or dumped into local waterways.

A duckling for Easter? By summer you will have a full grown duck

Ducks require a commitment for many years. They can live 10 to 15 years, sometimes longer. Once a duck "imprints" on humans, releasing them into the wild, for example a local pond, waterway, golf course... is a death sentence.

A duck is not a novelty or a toy you can set aside when you're done playing with it

Ducks sold in pet stores, domestic ducks, are not physically or instinctively equipped to live in the wild. Domestic ducks have been bred in captivity on farms for hundreds of years. Because they are bred mostly as a food source, they have unusually heavy bodies, weak legs and when introduced to any human environment they become prone to injury.

Unlike their wild duck cousins most breeds of domestic ducks are flightless and cannot fly to escape danger. They cannot migrate when naturally existing food sources seasonally disappear. They don't have the natural instincts required to live on wild food sources and will endanger themselves, crossing busy streets to find humans who will give them food. And the ones that survive will probably find a human to feed them, creating another problem.

Well-meaning human interference, especially feeding creates multiple problems for the domestic "dumped" ducks and wild ducks alike. Most people simply do not understand the implications of feeding wildlife. Too often they feed ducks bread and crackers causing severe malnutrition and other health problems. "People food" can shorten a duck's lifespan by more than 90%! Food that humans leave for ducks that doesn't get eaten also attracts animals and insects that carry contagious disease. The health risks are enormous for the ducks and for the people who are feeding them, especially children.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that ducks - especially typical pet store "Easter ducks" are often bred in over-crowded conditions that can lead to salmonella and other serious health risks to humans. If you are intent on bringing a duck home as a pet, be sure you fully understand that a duck is an exotic pet. You will be responsible for its care for up to 15 years, including almost guaranteed veterinary expenses that can run into thousands of dollars as with any exotic. Ducks especially tend to have a number of common problems, such as fort and leg injuries, difficult (and expensive) to diagnose illnesses, respiratory problems.

Duck dumping creates complicated problems for wild ducks and their natural habitat, often leading to mass euthanization of entire waterfowl populations.

• Who will be responsible for the 2-3 hours of daily care?
• Do you know the proper diet a duck needs to stay healthy?
• Who will you take your duck to when he's sick or injured?
• Who will pay the expensive veterinary bills?
• Are you willing to care for your duck for 10 years?
• What kind of shelter will you provide?
• Did you know a duckling is fully grown in 30 days?
• Are you aware that a pet duck cannot fend for himself in the wild?
• Are you aware of the illnesses and diseases ducks get and transmit? How to prevent them?
• Are ducks legal where you live?
How much do you really know about ducks?

Ducks are not a suitable pet for a child. Taking care of ducks requires time, effort and comittment. Unless you can provide excellent supervision, keep ducks and kids apart.

If you have an existing pet, think very carefully about introducing a duck. There are exceptions to the rule, but the rule is that dogs and cats instinctively see a duck as dinner, not a companion. A dog that plays well with a duck for years can attack your duck at any time. Your neighbor's pets, wild raccoons, rats, and other predators can pose a safety threat to your duck.

If you work long hours or travel a duck is not a good pet for you. Ducks need attention, and they will quack to get it - often in the middle of the night, disturbing your neighbors. It's not easy to find a "ducksitter" and boarding them is far more difficult than finding accommodations for a dog or cat. Keeping a duck caged is unhumane.

A duck is an "exotic" pet. That means your average cat and dog vet will not be able to help you in an emergency. Finding a reputable exotic vet is difficult. If you can't afford to pay expensive vet bills, a duck is not the pet for you.

Some people think a duck would be a "cool pet" to own, especially teenagers or parents of small children who think a duckling would be a cute gift for Easter. Stop and think. A duck is not a novelty or a toy you can set aside when you're done playing with it. You cannot dump a domesticated duck into a wild environment and expect it to survive long. It upsets the natural balance of the lake or pond. You might be thinking: "What's one duck going to harm?" Try thousands of ducks, each and every year that people dispose of after they begin to get difficult to care for. These ducks breed with domestics like themselves and wild ducks alike. The problems caused by duck dumping often end with euthanization. (capture and kill). Do not contribute to this growing problem. Get a duck ONLY if you are willing to make a 10-15 year committment to care for the animal properly or not a recommended plan but better than release is to set up in advance a place to bring your duck if it doesn't work out, such as a no-kill farm.

When cared for properly, ducks make wonderful pets.

More information on Easter Ducks:

CDC: Why parents should think twice before giving baby birds for Easter
Prevent Easter Cruelty to Animals
Abandoned domestic ducks and geese left to fend for themselves
Real Animals Don't Make Appropriate Easter Gifts
CDC: Salmonella hadar Associated with Pet Ducklings

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