Egg binding refers to a common and potentially serious condition where a female bird is unable to pass an egg that may be stuck near the cloaca, or further inside the reproductive tract. Even though egg binding can occur in any female bird, it is most common in smaller birds such as lovebirds, cockatiels, budgies and finches.
The potential of an egg breaking inside the tract is high, which then can result in an infection or damage to internal tissue; and - if left untreated - death.
The bound egg may be gently massaged out; failing this it may become necessary for a vet to break the egg inside and remove it in parts. If broken, the oviduct should be cleaned of shell fragments and egg residue to avoid damage or infection.
Suspected causes for egg binding include:
- Low Calcium Levels or Hypocalcaemia Syndrome associated with low calcium levels in the blood. Supplementing the breeding hen with a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D is an important factor in preventing this problem
- You could provide a dish filled with crushed egg shell (from boiled eggs to kill any bacteria) and/or attach a calcium / mineral block to the cage.
- In areas where access to natural sunlight is limited (such as in the northern hemisphere during the winter months), full-spectrum lamps can be used to provide UVA and UVB rays.
- Please click here for natural food sources rich in Vitamin D
- Potentially discuss supplementation with your vet. Supplementation needs to be carefully screen ed and supervised by a vet since an excess of vitamin D (in the form of a supplement) causes kidney damage and retards growth.
- Relevant Article: Natural Calcium for Birds - Sources and Absorbability
- Malnutrition caused by seed-only or low-protein diets. Please click here for information on bird nutrition.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Often the case when birds are kept in enclosures / cages that are too small for them. The lack of exercise causes poorly developed muscles and obesity.
- At particular risk are sick and old birds.
- Pet birds can also develop this problem, as birds don't need a mate to lay eggs. (Obviously, solitary egg-laying females won't produce fertile eggs.)
Clinical Signs:Loss of appetite, depression, abdominal straining, and sitting fluffed on the bottom of the cage. Some hens may pass large wet droppings while others may not pass any droppings due to the egg's interfering with normal defecation.
If you suspect that your bird is egg-bound, she should be seen by a vet immediately. The veterinarian may be able to feel the egg in the bird's abdomen. An x-ray may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes medical treatment will enable the hen to pass her egg. Occasionally surgery is necessary.
Complications from being egg bound can be swelling, bleeding or prolapse of the oviduct.
If in doubt as to if the hen is egg bound or not, a few vet sites recommend separation, warmth, warm bath and calcium to all hens in lay that seem distressed.
This is a life-threatening condition and should be addressed by a qualified avian vet. Your vet may discuss:
- Calcium shots - immediate solution to help the egg shell harden allowing the hen to hopefully pass it
- Lupron shots to stop hens from going into breeding condition
- Spaying your hen as a permanent solution
The following are samples of actions that have resolved this problem for some birds (please note: not all hens can be saved, especially if it's critical by the time the problem was discovered and no vet is available or can be reached in time). Egg-bound hens go into profound cardiovascular collapse and may not be able to put in the effort to push the egg out without intervention.
- Suspected egg binding: Keep her in a warm area. Provide supportive care.
- Place the bird into a steamy room, such as bathroom with shower on until the bathroom mirrors and windows steam up. Desired temperature: 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit / Humidity: 60%. Place bird on wet towel. The warmth relaxes the hen so that the vent can dilate more allowing the egg to pass.
- A warm water bath can also be of great help (shallow water, of course, you don't want to drown the hen). This relaxes her muscles and often the hen will pass the egg into the water. Make the water as warm as you would like to take a long soak in.
- Massage the muscles in that area with olive oil. In many cases, this lead to a successful passing of the egg. Note: there is a risk associated with messaging this area. It could cause the egg inside to break - which is life-threatening. Be very careful! If in doubt, it's always best to have the vet take care of it ...
- Even if the cause is not hypocalcaemia in this hen’s case it will not hurt her to have more calcium.
- Applying a personal lubricant, such as KY jelly to her vent may also be helpful.
- To reduce swelling on her vent, some breeders reported success in applying Preparation H to her vent.
- Successful Passing of the Egg: Following passing of the egg keep the hen in a warm and quiet area separate from the others, until she is out of shock and back to eating and drinking well.
- Prevention: Provide bird with high-calorie, high-calcium food to help strengthen future eggs and prevent egg binding. Click here for information on bird nutrition.
- Also refer to Chronic Egg Laying
Avianweb Visitor Allen McRae, whose Cordon Blue Finch was egg-bound, followed some of the instructions above and wrote back:
"It worked! We're not sure which suggestion worked. My wife gave her some calcium as well as bath water, and when I went home for lunch she had passed the egg and looked 100% better. My wife gives them water to bathe in daily, so I'm not sure what exactly helped her pass the egg. It was lying in the water, the shell was cracked in half, with one side still containing the yolk."
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