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In a Bind ... a Frank Look at Egg Binding

by Jami Galindo

Bind, /bīnd/, noun. 1. a problematical situation. "She is in a bind that gets worse with every passing minute"

Let's take a good look at the meaning of this statement.

Egg binding is a very serious medical condition when a female (hen) is unable to pass a fully formed egg. The egg may be lodged near the cloaca or even higher. Egg binding is frequently common and a very serious situation that can result in a possible infection and/or damage to internal tissue or even death. A certified vet practitioner may be needed to gently manipulate the egg into a passable position, however, it may become necessary to collapse the egg in it's current position and debride. A layperson  should never try either of these procedures! If the egg is compromised the oviduct must be cleaned of shell fragments and egg residue to avoid damage or infection. 

Wild birds have a specific breeding season triggered by environmental events. Long warm sunny days and an abundance of accessible food alert hens that the time is perfect for nesting.  Companion birds can reproduce year round because the environmental cues that trigger breeding: long hours of "light," warm environment, abundance of food, the presence of a mate --bird or human-- and the presence of a nest site (intentional or otherwise) are consistent in the home environment. A normal, healthy hen will likely lay at some point, but the issue we are discussing is the possibility  that she cannot pass the egg. 

Hens store calcium in their bone until needed for shell production. Ovulation occurs in response to increasing levels of estrogen and luteinizing hormones. The  four segments of the oviduct are the:

  • infundibulum, where fertilization occurs 

  • magnum, where albumen is deposited

  • isthmus, where the inner and outer shell membrane is added

  • uterus  (shell gland), where calcification of the shell occurs

The entire period of egg formation takes approximately 24 hours. Most pet birds lay 2 to 4 eggs in a clutch, although indeterminate layers such as cockatiels and budgerigars can produce much larger clutches.

Dystocia: veterinary medicine, noun: a difficult birth, typically caused by a large or awkwardly positioned fetus (or egg), by smallness of the maternal pelvis or by failure of the uterus and cervix to contract and expand normally (in an avian this can be caused by a soft shell egg).

This can be a frequent occurrence in captive hens because some of these birds are chronic egg layers (9 or more eggs) and calcium deficiency is a factor (resulting in misshapen or soft-shelled eggs). Removing

the eggs (a common practice by breeders) will cause  a hen to produce a new egg to replace the missing one. This ultimately results in further calcium depletion and increasing the probability of egg binding. An egg should never be removed from a laying hen unless you're replacing it with a (Dummy egg). If she lays it, let her sit on it. She must complete the cycle, up to hatching or the point she realizes it is not a viable egg.

The causes of egg binding include vitamin A deficiency, oviductal disease or neoplasia, abdominal wall herniation, being a first-time layer, general nutritional inadequacy including obesity, behavioral factors, husbandry concerns and genetic factors.

In an article about Reproductive Diseases of Pet Birds, Dr. Sharman M. Hoppes, DVM, ABVP (Avian) of Texas A and M University discusses egg binding. Dr. Hoppes points out that egg-bound birds usually present as emergencies. These birds should first receive supportive care (i.e., rehydration, parenteral calcium, increased humidity, and warmth) before attempting extraction of the egg. Clinical signs of an egg bound bird include a bird sitting on the bottom of the cage, depression, closed eyes, bobbing tail, dyspnea (labored breathing) and the abdomen may be distended. An egg is not always palpable and diagnostic tests may need to wait until the bird is stable, but the tests include a CBC, plasma biochemical profile (including ionized and total calcium), and radiographs. These tests need to be done in stages for a critical patient.

If the egg is adherent to the uterine wall or unable to be passed (often due to swelling, adhesions, or collection of feces and urates), administration of drugs that cause uterine contractions and induce oviposition could theoretically lead to uterine rupture. If medical management fails, then sedation and manual extraction may be required. Surgical intervention (salpingohysterectomy) is warranted if the egg is severely adhered to the oviduct, multiple eggs are present, or the egg is ectopic. Prognosis for egg binding is fair to good if medical treatment or manual extraction of the egg is effective. In the case of chronic layers husbandry, nutritional, and behavioral issues need to be addressed. Read More.

From and article written by Dr. Amy Crouch, BVSc (Hons) BSc (Hons), Brisbane Bird Vet, a bird was brought in for veterinary examination. The bird was very overweight, weak, depressed and had fluffed feathers. There were faeces stuck to her vent (external constipation). The feather quality was poor. There was abdominal distension, and an egg‐like structure could be palpated within her abdomen. She was in respiratory distress and exhibited a distinct tail bob. In addition to a radiograph, her feces were examined under the microscope. There were no problems detected. Blood tests were also performed, results showing a severe inflammation (a result of the egg binding) and  minor liver problems (due to a seed diet). Read LuLu's outcome here.

Occasionally female birds may encounter difficulty laying eggs. When detected early, the condition can usually be resolved easily, but if a prolonged period of time has elapsed since attempts at egg laying began, the bird may become critically ill.

A female bird will still lay eggs even if there is no male bird; the eggs will not be fertile.

What causes egg binding?

Egg binding occurs when the female bird is unable to expel the egg from her body.

There are a number of reasons why this may occur:

  • Many birds are improperly fed and eat nothing but seeds. Seeds are deficient in many vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, vitamin E and selenium. These vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper contraction of the muscles of the oviducts; improper muscle contractions can result in failure to pass the egg.

  • Egg deformities may also occur.

  • Obesity (from an all-seed diet), lack of exercise, heredity, and improper environment are other causes of egg binding.

Are certain birds prone to develop egg binding?

Yes. Budgerigars, canaries, cockatiels, finches, and lovebirds most frequently have problems related to egg laying, although any bird can become egg bound.

How can I tell if my bird is egg bound?

Many owners do not even know if the pet is a female, and often don't suspect egg binding as a cause of their pet's illness. Predetermining the sex of your pet bird by a simple blood test can aid the veterinarian in considering egg binding as a possible cause of your pet's illness.

Birds with egg binding are usually depressed, fail to perch, often sit on the bottom of the cage, and may strain as if trying to lay an egg. If the egg is putting pressure on the nerves that control the legs, paralysis may result. Since the signs associated with egg binding are also seen in sick birds with other causes of illness, diagnostic testing is essential in formulating a proper diagnosis.

How does the veterinarian diagnose egg binding?

The veterinarian may palpate (feel) the egg inside of the bird. Usually radiographs (X-rays) are needed to diagnose egg binding.

How is egg binding treated?

Treatment varies with how sick the bird is when presented to the veterinarian as well as the location of the egg and the length of time the bird has been egg bound. Critically ill birds are first treated for shock and then attempts are made to treat the egg binding.

Mildly affected birds may respond to supplemental heat, calcium, vitamin E, selenium, and vitamin D-3.

Other injectable drugs may help cause the oviduct to contract and expel the egg. If the egg is near the cloacal opening, the veterinarian may be able to gently extract it. Eggs that do not pass with drug therapy require more aggressive treatment. The veterinarian may need to place a needle through the abdomen into the egg shell and aspirate the contents of the egg, causing the shell to collapse. The shell will usually pass out of the bird within a few days. Failing this, surgery may be performed to remove the egg or shell fragments.

Can egg binding be prevented?

  • Birds on a poor diet should have the diet changed following instructions from your veterinarian.

  • Calcium, phosphorus, vitamin and mineral supplementation may be recommended.

  • Obesity should also be corrected.

  • Birds that are chronic egg layers might respond to hormonal drug therapy, although this can be associated with severe side effects.

  • A hysterectomy can also be performed to prevent egg laying and egg binding

There you have it, a frank look into the causes of egg binding. If you suspect you have an egg bound hen, vet immediately. If you have questions regarding the diet and husbandry that will help prevent this very serious issue, feel free to post your questions on our FB forum at Parrot Problem Solving 101.

Edited and adapted from the original effort of Sandra Witt


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