Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Delightfully Daffy

Get your ducks in a row if you want to add these charming quackers to your family.

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Sara Whitehurst originally planned on getting chickens as pets for her two children, as well as for eggs and to provide pest control in her yard, but a chat with a cousin who had recently acquired some persuaded her that ducks might be a better fit.

Yes, ducks! Chickens have been popular poultry pets for approximately 20 years, but now ducks are taking a quack at being companion birds, too.

“Ducks are great to have around on so many levels,” says avian veterinarian Brian Speer of The Medical Center for Birds in Oakley, California. He not only treats ducks in his practice but has them at home as well. “They are amazingly smart, fun to train, and some of the various breeds are simply fabulous. They are very popular companion backyard birds, and some do live inside the house, wearing their duck diapers.”

Whitehurst, who lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, acquired four female Indian Runner ducks from her local farm store. She describes them as charming and great egg layers. They also protect her garden by eating slugs and other unwanted bugs. (There’s a reason your grandma used the phrase “quicker than a duck on a June bug.”) They can be a little skittish with people, she says, but feeding them kale and other veggie treats by hand has ensured that the ducks are always happy to see her and her children.

Before you run out and get some ducks, be aware of some special considerations. They need water. You don’t need to have a pond or lake, though; a child’s swimming pool can provide them with the water they need to splash around in and clear their bills as they eat.

All that water can make for a big mess, though. Be prepared for daily cleanup of their pen and daily water changes.

Ducks can be destructive to your yard or garden. They may dig holes in the grass with their bills as they search for bugs or nibble on your plants. They can rapidly turn small puddles into large mudholes. At night, they need predator-proof housing to protect them from raccoons, mink and other varmints who might like a duck dinner.

Ducklings have special nutrition needs and require a diet with extra B vitamins. An easy way to provide this is to add brewer’s yeast to their feed every day.

Check to make sure you live in an area zoned for ducks. If not, your neighbors may complain about the noise and force you to rehome them, says Lorraine Aubert, director of Pacific Waterfowl Rescue. A common mistake she sees is people acquiring ducks on impulse and then thinking they can release their ducks “back to nature.”

“Domestic ducks do not have the instincts and skills their wild cousins do,” she says.

But if ducks are for you, you’ll learn quickly that they can be highly personable and enjoy cuddling if they’ve been raised with plenty of human contact.

“They will give their family plenty of laughs and enjoyment,” Aubert says. “They enjoy treats such as fruits and vegetables and will eat out of your hand. They can learn their name and will recognize your voice when you call for them.”

With sound husbandry and nutrition, their medical problems are comparatively few, Dr. Speer says. He typically sees reproductive problems in females, bumblefoot (an inflammatory condition of the weight-bearing aspects of the foot, which promotes bacterial infections), traumatic injuries from predator attacks, foreign body consumption (nails, wires, hardware) and sometimes Aspergillosis infections.

“We are so happy with our little brood, and would recommend ducks to anyone,” Whitehurst says. “They are hardy, don’t mind our Pacific Northwest rain, and are quite easy to care for.”

Q&A

What to do if

dog attacks

Q: We love dogs in our family, but I know that not every dog is friendly. What should I teach my child about how to respond if she encounters an aggressive dog?

A: Great question! That is important information for every child (and adult) to learn so they can stay safe. Being menaced or even attacked by a dog is frightening for anyone, but knowing in advance what to do can help her stay calm and act appropriately.

It’s instinctive to run or scream in the face of any dangerous animal, whether a bear, mountain lion or dog, but the best thing to do is to freeze in place, sideways to the dog, arms crossed over the body. Motion activates an animal’s chase instinct, and high-pitched screaming can make a child sound like prey.

Instead, tell her to stay still and avoid eye contact (it’s OK to watch the dog out of the corner of the eye, but never stare at him). Don’t say anything. The goal is for the animal to view your child as completely unthreatening. Then she can start to move slowly away -- ideally to a spot where she’s more protected, such as behind a wall, fence, door or other barrier. If that’s not possible, she should calmly ask a passerby to help.

If a dog does attack, your child should know how to protect the most vulnerable parts of the body. Have her practice crossing her arms across her body and lifting them to cover her throat and face if the dog lunges forward. If she’s pushed down with her back to the dog, she should curl up into a ball so her knees protect her belly, keep her head down, and cross her hands over the back of her neck to protect it. Learn more here: fearfreehappyhomes.com/dog-bites-6-ways-to-prevent-them. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Meds for cats

may help humans

-- A drug used to treat coronavirus infections in cats may eventually be used to treat COVID-19 in humans: Researchers showed the drug works against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in laboratory experiments, according to an article on Forbes.com by research scientist Victoria Forster. Research published in Nature Communications looked at two similar drugs called GC373 and GC376. Both work by inhibiting proteases, a type of enzyme widely found in several types of living things, including viruses and humans. The coronavirus infection in cats that the drugs have been effective at treating isn’t the same as COVID-19 in humans. In cats, this infection is often mild, but sometimes causes feline infectious peritonitis, which can be fatal. The researchers studied how the drugs bind to the SARS-CoV-2 protease and stop the virus from replicating, giving them confidence that the drug has a good chance of working in humans, too. The research team hopes it will be in human trials by the end of this year.

-- Who are the cutest dogs on Instagram? We found a few. Check out @milo_the_toller, possibly the most colorful of the #dogsofinstagram, not to mention a top dog treat chef; @finnandhiswig, chronicling the hair days of a Cumbrian sprocker (a springer/cocker cross); @dustinpup, an Australian duo who are a Jack Russell/pug cross and a corgi, living the good life in Sydney; @wat.ki, short for Watson and Kiko, who enjoy paddleboarding, music and camping; and @livingwilddogs, living their best life on the road, learning tricks and having adventures.

-- Meet the Bombay. This black cat with copper-colored eyes -- described as a “parlor panther” -- is congenial and intelligent. Bombays have a reputation for inventiveness and curiosity, taking well to leash training and enjoying a good game of fetch. They enjoy attention from their people and can be vocal.

-- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.