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My Ailesbury duck has warty feet

Hannah and her husband Paddy are the proprietors of Roundwood House, a 270-year-old Georgian mansion that they run as a guesthouse, with regular overnight visitors and wedding functions as part of their weekly routine.

There has always been poultry on the homestead, waddling, clucking and quacking in the cobbled yards around the house.

The small collection of ducks and hens may not produce many eggs, but visitors to the house enjoy their quirky characters.

Hannah bought Ailie along with three other ducks at Portlaoise Poultry Market three years ago. They were young birds, and she kept them in an enclosed herb garden for the first few months .

When they were big enough to look after themselves, they joined the other birds - Muscovy ducks and hens - and began to live free-range lives, roaming the land around Roundwood House.

Hannah always locks the birds safely in a shed at night: the fox is a continual threat during the hours of darkness.

A couple of months ago, Hannah noticed that Ailie was limping on her right leg. When she looked closer, she could see that the foot had a lumpy appearance on the underside.

At first she thought it might be a minor injury that would heal with time, but when it seemed to be getting worse rather than better, Hannah asked me to have a look.

It's common for ducks to have problems with their feet. They're virtually flightless birds when kept in farmyards, and they have large, heavy bodies, so their feet carry a lot of weight, putting them under pressure.

Ducks like to walk in wet, muddy areas with irregular surfaces, so it isn't surprising that their feet are sometimes damaged. When I examined Ailie's feet they seemed generally healthy, apart from the obvious cauliflower-like appearance of warty growths sprouting beneath her toes.

There are a number of causes of these type of growths in birds. I used a scalpel blade to take a skin scraping from her feet to check for a parasite known as the Scaley Leg Mite.

These mites are common, spreading easily between birds, and once they have been identified they can be easily treated.

I checked the skin scrape under a microscope, and I was disappointed when I couldn't find any mites: I had wanted to find a simple problem that I could cure.

Once mites had been ruled out, the other causes were more complicated and less easy to sort. Ideally, a full surgical biopsy could be taken: this could be sent to the laboratory to be processed and would provide a definitive diagnosis.

However, biopsy collection would require an anaesthetic, it would be expensive and it would be very unlikely to change the treatment and outcome for Ailie.

nutrition

It's likely that the lumpy growths are warts, which can happen spontaneously, but they can also be caused by viruses.

There's no quick cure for them: the best that can be done is for Ailie to be kept in a sheltered area with soft, dry bedding underfoot rather than the usual mud that ducks enjoy waddling around in.

In time, with good nutrition and a bit of luck, her immune system will eradicate the virus that is the most likely cause of the problem.

She now lives in a small yard with a couple of her feathered friends. Regular loads of fresh, dry straw keep their area clean and dry, and Hannah regularly checks Ailie's feet to ensure there are no sore areas where the warts are protruding. Ailie must now be the most pampered duck in Co Laois.

Owner: Hannah Flynn from Roundwood House, Co Laois

Animal: Ailie, a 2-year-old Ailesbury duck

Background: Ailie suffers from warts on her feet, causing her to be lame

l Ducks often suffer from problems affecting their feet

l Parasites like mites can be easily treated and cured

l Dry, soft bedding is helpful for all

foot problems in poultry


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