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Egg Binding in Birds

General Informationegg_binding-1

"Most owners are surprised that a female bird that is not exposed to a male will lay eggs."

While most female birds have no problems laying eggs, occasionally they may encounter difficulty. When detected early, egg binding can usually be resolved easily. If a prolonged period of time has elapsed since attempts at egg laying began, the bird may become critically ill. Most owners are surprised that a female bird that is not exposed to a male will lay eggs. If owners keep in mind that human females ovulate regardless of the presence of a male, then it makes sense that a female bird can ovulate without a male present. The major difference is that the egg is microscopic in people, whereas in birds the egg is large, has a shell, and is expelled from the bird. Not all female birds will lay, but they are all capable of laying eggs.

 

What causes egg binding?

"Seeds are deficient in many vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, vitamins D & E and selenium."

Egg binding occurs when the female bird is unable to expel the egg from her body in a timely fashion. There are numerous factors why this may occur. Many birds are fed an improper diet by their owners, and eat nothing but seeds. Seeds are deficient in many vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, vitamins D & E and selenium. These vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper contraction of the muscles of the oviducts and uterus; improper muscle contractions can result in failure to pass the egg. Soft eggs and other egg deformities, from improper levels of dietary calcium, may also lead to problems. Obesity (from an all seed diet), lack of exercise, heredity, senility, 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 their pet is a female, and often do not suspect egg binding as a cause of their bird's illness. Predetermining the sex of your pet bird by a simple DNA blood test can aid your veterinarian in considering egg binding as a possible cause of your pet's illness.

A bird in lay will often pass 2-4 eggs 1-2 days apart.  Birds with egg binding may or may not have passed an egg more than 2 days ago, are usually depressed, fail to perch, often sit low on the perch or on the bottom of the cage, and may strain as if trying defecate or to lay an egg. Sometimes the egg will bulge in the area of the vent (where they defecate from) or may occasionally prolapse through the vent. If the egg is putting pressure on the nerves that control the legs, leg 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 is egg binding diagnosed?

During the physical examination your veterinarian may palpate (feel) the egg inside of the bird. Usually radiographs (X-rays) are needed to diagnose egg binding. Early diagnosis is important as small birds can die within a few hours of becoming egg bound.

 

How is egg binding treated?

egg_binding-2Treatment varies with how sick the bird is when presented to your 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 supportively for shock and then attempts are made to treat the egg binding. Mildly affected birds may respond to supplemental heat, re-hydration with injectable fluids, calcium, 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, it might be gently extracted. Eggs that do not pass with drug therapy require treatment that is more aggressive. A needle may need to be placed through the abdomen into the eggshell to aspirate the contents of the egg, causing the shell to collapse. Following this treatment, the empty shell will be pulled out if possible or will usually pass out of the bird within a few days. Failing this, surgery under general anesthetic may be performed to remove the egg or shell fragments.

"Critically ill birds are first treated for shock and then attempts are made to treat the egg binding."

 

Can egg binding be prevented?

Birds on a poor diet should have the diet changed, following specific dietary 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 some side effects. A hysterectomy can also be performed to prevent egg laying and egg binding.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Rick Axelson, DVM

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