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All About Diapering and House Fowl

I can't believe there are diapers for Ducks!

or Chickens, or Geese... This is my favorite explanation! It's so much fun to see the wonder on the faces of fowl lovers new to diapering. But just knowing there ARE diapers can leave you with a lot questions. Here you'll find everything you could ever want to know about diapering and house birds. Enjoy!

Why would anyone use a fowl diaper?

There are lots or reasons people find themselves in need of a fowl diaper. They are great for keeping your pet secure and your lap clean for vet visits, they take away the need to constantly clean your floors or line your lap for the occasional indoor visitor, some people even use them outside just to protect their patio from chicken poop during free ranging! But most people get into diapering for one of three reasons -

  1. Injured or sick bird - Keeping an injured bird in the house can help them recover away from extreme temperatures and nosy flockmates who might injure the bird further. It can make monitoring healing easier, and using a diaper can allow a bird to stretch their legs and get much needed exercise in a protected indoor space without sacrificing your carpet.
  2. Special Needs bird - It doesn't take long into chicken keeping to meet a special needs bird, although special needs birds can be ducks and geese too. Many chicks from hatcheries are found with crossed beaks, leg deformities, other physical ailments, and occasionally mental disabilities. These chicks often hold a special place in the heart of their owner after bonding through close care. Special needs birds who have been hand raised by a dedicated human often prefer human companionship to that of other fowl, and learn to rely on their human helper for simple tasks like eating and moving from place to place. Many of these special feathered friends become house pets when their humans can no longer bear to say goodbye to them out in the coop.
  3. House Birds - any fowl type can become a house pet with the right set up! Diapers are often a big part of a house fowl's life, while not any bird will be a suitable house pet, those who do get an extra leg of freedom from diapers! Being able to do all the things you love to do in the house with your pet becomes just a little bit easier when you don't have the constant fear of poop hanging over your snuggle sessions. There are many many different ways to live with a house bird, but most of them involve a diaper for anywhere from a quick hour of playtime to full time 24 hour diapering like a human toddler.
There are an infinite number of reasons someone may choose to diaper, but generally it all boils down to love of a specific bird. People grow to love their pets like children and diapers are just one more way to facilitate closeness and quality time spent together.

Can a Duck/Chicken/Goose be potty trained?

In most cases, no. While there are a few house birds out there who are rumored to use a puppy pad or a doggy door, this is extremely rare. Don't get the idea in your head that you are going to potty train your bird. Any of those lucky owners with potty trained birds will tell you that the bird decided to do that all on it's own, and it's still NEVER 100%. Birds can't be potty trained like a dog because it's believed they don't have conscious control of their vent sphincter. They may know when poop is coming, but if you've ever sat and watched your flock you've noticed them quickly stick their bum out and drop a poop just in time to go back to whatever they were doing. Not a pretty image, but I like to relate it to really bad diarrhea - when it hits, you're lucky to have a full 30 seconds to run to the toilet. There's a lot of rumor and speculation about this topic, but this is the most widely accepted explanation for why birds can't be potty trained like a dog.

How to put on/change the diaper

This can change depending on the type of diaper you have. Most models have a head/neck loop, straps along the back and belly, and a pouch of some kind to catch the poop. Putting the strap over the head first, bringing the diaper under the belly, and doing it up over the tail is generally the fastest and most comfortable way to dress a pet. For more specific information on our Sew Sammi diapers visit our diaper FAQ here.

How often does the diaper have to be changed?

This one varies depending on who you ask, but my firm belief is - as soon as it is soiled. For very young birds and many chickens, this can be as often as every 5 to 15 minutes. More commonly, adult house ducks and geese can go an hour or more between changes. Poop frequency is effected by access to food and water, as well as the type of food provided. While many diapers are designed to hold a good amount of poop, it is not advisable to leave any pet in a dirty diaper. Close contact with solids, liquids, and fumes can lead to sores, rashes, burns, and feather rot. An infection of any kind if left untreated can lead to death. This is especially true in any design using a waterproof barrier to prevent any liquid from leaking out. This includes waterproof lining in the diaper harness itself, using a human baby diaper as a liner, or using any feminine hygiene or like products to collect poop.

How long can I leave my pet diapered?

If an absorbent liner is properly used and changed as needed, diapers are designed to be comfortable for extended wear. Pets should be given a break from their diaper at least once a day to give them a chance to bathe and preen. Only you know your pet and can judge if they need a break. With extended wear it is very important to be diligent about diaper changes. Generally changing as soon as the diaper is soiled will keep your pet healthy and happy. If you notice any irritation around the vent, immediately discontinue use of any diaper until the area has healed.

Can I leave my pet in a diaper unattended?

No. It is never a good idea to leave a pet in a diaper unattended. The diapers are designed to be snug against your pet's body. If they were to get their diaper caught on something they would not be able to get out of the diaper and could be injured or strangled.

Can diapers be worn overnight?

In some cases, yes. There are some birds who benefit from the use of an overnight diaper. Mainly chickens who roost with their owner at night. There are some ducks who sleep with their owners and may wear a diaper overnight, but such prolonged contact with the solids, liquids, and fumes is not healthy. Overnight diapering is a lot of work. It requires fastidious changing habits including a clean UNWORN diaper (not just a clean liner) just before falling asleep, immediate changing the minute the bird wakes up, and daily morning baths to keep to the vent area clean and healthy. Often overnight diapered birds take more than one bath a day. Wearing a diaper this often is very high risk for the bird. Sometimes special needs birds require this kind of 24/7 diapering, but their owners will attest to the huge undertaking this type of care is. It's no different than caring for an invalid human or a very young human baby.

What to use for Liners?

What you use INSIDE the diaper to catch the poop is the liner. What you can use for liners depends on what style of diaper you are using. Most other brands of diapers require you to use a piece or half of a human baby diaper. This is because the diaper is actually just a harness to hold the diaper in, you need to provide your own waterproof layer to stop the liquid from seeping through the diaper.

Sew Sammi diapers are a little different - our waterfowl diapers have their own waterproof layer. This means you can use ANY absorbent material to catch the poop and absorb the wetness. You can use toilet paper, paper towel, fabric scraps, or just about anything else you can think of! We don't recommend using the sticky part of anything with a sticky backing such as a menstrual pad or incontinence pad - the sticky side of these products can adhere quite strongly to the waterproof lining of the diaper and can make changing your liner quite difficult and messy - but the pads themselves can be quite useful if you can find them wide enough.

Safety Leashes/Elastic Harnesses - why not to use dog products

While ducks and geese can be similar in size to dogs, it's not a good idea to use dog harnesses or stiff dog leashes on your pet waterfowl. Ducks and geese, while often flightless, are still built like flight birds with lightweight bones. To breathe, they physically pull their lungs open to inhale by moving their ribs. If you restrict their rib movement with a stiff harness, they may not be able to breathe. Using your average dog leash or harness on your pet bird can cause harm to your pet's delicate frame and lungs from the sudden and abrupt stop when they reach the end of the leash. By using an elastic leash and harness any pull is gradually increased as the leash and harness stretch, protecting your bird from harm caused by sudden stops.

What to Feed a House Duck/Goose?

It's very important that house ducks and geese get proper nutrition. Many new house duck/goose owners feed their pets chicken feed. While this may be OK for outdoor ducks and geese, living indoors takes away their natural access to the grass, weeds, and insects that would supplement this type of diet. Chicken feed (for chicks or adult chickens) is NOT formulated to be a complete food for waterfowl. Any waterfowl "kibble" or pellet diet will need to supplemented with fresh veggies and fruits and/or fodder, and chicken feed will need to be additionally supplemented with Niacin. I highly recommend Mazuri Waterfowl feed. It is a little pricey, but when you are only feeding one or two ducks, it lasts quite a while. It can be found online here, but most feed stores if they don't already carry it can order it for you for less than you would pay ordering directly online. They have both a waterfowl maintenance feed for adult birds, as well as a baby feed for growing birds. It still needs to be supplemented with fresh foods for nutrients and fiber. A complete list of veggies and fruits for your ducks and geese can be found here. Another incredible source of nutrients and fiber is fodder - a homegrown sprout of your choosing that adds fiber and nutrients that your pet will LOVE, and you'll love what it does to their diaper clean up!

Housing - sleeping quarters, pens, indoor/outdoor

There are an infinite number of ways to house your pet. Most house birds use a custom combination of the options mentioned here. These options aren't listed in any particular order. One way is not necessarily overall better than any other way, but you'll find that certain options will work better for you. Don't get your heart set on any one way, because your pet may just decide that doesn't work for them! Do be prepared to try many different ways and customize them to suit your situation and your pet.

  • Dedicated Ducky Room (or goose, or chicken) - Some people give their house pets their very own room or area in the house. This can be as big as the biggest room in your house, or as small as a closet. Many people make use of an empty basement/garage/storage closet/laundry room/or any other unused space. Rooms can be fancy - rubber flooring and baseboards, custom beds, large dining area, indoor kiddie pool, filled with toys and their own dedicated washer/dryer - or as simple and basic as a place for your pet to sleep safely - a soft bed and a washable blanket or pine chips on the floor.
  • Dog Crate, Pop-up Puppy Pen, Pack'n'Play, Baby Crib - these small areas are ideal for sleeping quarters and safe living spots for when you are away from the house. Any option with a door that your bird can walk in and out of can be used as a "nest" or casual living spot for them to use throughout the day. Fill the bottom with washable flooring (dog bed, blanket, fleece, rubber pad) and/or pine chips. Washable flooring needs to be changed daily, but more changes may be needed to prevent smell if your pet spends a lot of time there. Pine chips can be scooped once or twice daily (like a litter box) and changed/refilled weekly.
  • Metal Puppy Pens - these are a GREAT tool to create a custom shaped housing area and/or keep your ducky in or out of certain areas in your home. They can also be used to create a safe outdoor play area for your pet. Be sure not to leave your pet outdoors unattended unless they have a living area secure from predators.
  • Outdoor run - while many house ducks/geese live indoors full time, this isn't always for everyone. House ducks can still have outdoor living spaces. An outdoor living space needs to be secure from predators - this depends on where you live and what type of predators you have (I highly suggest building a run with a heavy duty roof) - have ample access to food and water, a place to get away from all types of weather be it rain, snow, or sunshine, and be certain to follow all the laws in your area.

Do I need a pool/pond/swimming water?

Waterfowl DO need water, but they DON'T need to swim in it. Waterfowl need access to water that is deep enough to dip their entire bill and some of their head into. They use the water to wash out their nostrils and eyes , and will use it to help them preen and wash themselves. Ideally, waterfowl should have access to water at all times, but when this is not possible, it is absolutely necessary to provide a deep bowl or pitcher of water during feeding, waterfowl should NEVER eat without access to deep enough drinking water.

While you don't need a pool for your ducky, regular baths are necessary to help them keep clean and parasite free. Most house ducks take daily baths, some may only bathe every other day. To bathe your duck or goose, you don't need to fill your bathtub, you only need a few inches of water, just enough for them to completely submerge their head. A kiddie pool or large bucket/tub of water can still be a fun recreational activity though, and your pet is sure to enjoy the occasional swimming opportunity!

Toys

Geese are extremely intelligent birds, and can become quite bored and depressed if they aren't kept entertained. While ducks aren't quite as intelligent, they too need to be given things to do. Geese may be more likely to play with toys, but ducks will be motivated if there's food involved with the toys. Many baby toys make for great entertainment! Things with big easy buttons with sound and light can be very entertaining. Things to tug and pull on, things that wiggle and make fun noises, and even teething toys can be given. Some dog and cat toys can be repurposed for ducks and geese too! They each have their own personalities and it make take some experimenting to find the types of toys your pet likes best. The most important thing is to be careful to pick things that can't be ingested or strangle your pet, or harm them in some other way.

Other Pet Accessories

Many of us like to take our feathered friends out and about with us. Most birds won't walk on a leash, so we have to be a little more creative to take them out and make sure that everyone is safe and having fun! Here are a few more fun out and about accessories that can make your life a little easier -

  • Car Seat - there are many doggie car seats on the market in a range of prices. Most ducks and geese like the comfort of the enclosed walls of the car seat to lean against while in a moving car. Some models are hung from the headrest and can be adjusted so your pet can even see out the window!
  • Pet Stroller - another widely available product, strollers can provide a great way to take your feathered friend out and about in safety and style! Zip your pet up to keep them safe from other pets you might encounter, or keep them from jumping out. Use a tie down clip to keep them in their spot while unzipped.
  • Cart Cover - created for babies, shopping car covers can offer a soft and washable place for pets to sit when out and about. Use them in a shopping cart, on a chair, or even in their car seat! Just be sure to find one designed for pets so there aren't any "leg holes" for them to fall through or get stuck in.
  • Pet Sling - the trend of "baby wearing" has of course spilled into the pet world! For some of us, our pets want to be as close to use as possible, and that can sure make your arms tired having to carry them around all the time! Try a pet sling to "wear" your bird on your hip while you walk around town (or even around the house!)