Egg binding or egg bound is the name given to difficulty in laying eggs and especially to the inability of a bird to press the egg out of the oviduct and the vent. The possibility of egg binding has to be considered if a female acts apathetic, produces droppings that are exceptionally large and too runny--often mixed with blood---whips her tail, and strains painfully. The bird seems nervous, keeps moving from perch to perch, and seeks relief by stretching the body and holding it almost horizontally. The careful observer will notice a slight roundness of the underbelly. If the egg is not passed within an hour when a female is in this state, she will quickly lose strength, look very ill, and squat on the cage bottom, barely able to keep her balance, plumage raised, eyes closed, emitting faint cries of pain. Without immediate help she will die.

Possible causes: Females that are too young may develop egg binding when they lay their first eggs, but even adults at the prime breeding age of one to two years can suffer from binding if the oviduct is not elastic enough or if the egg is too large. An egg with too rough or too soft a shell or with no shell at all can also cause egg binding. So can poor nutrition, especially vitamin and calcium deficiencies, housing in rooms that are too dark, damp, or cool, or too many broods in succession without adequate rest periods in between.

Measures to take: If the condition has not deteriorated to its most painful state you can try to provide relief with damp heat. Also drip a little warmed castor oil or salad oil on the vent with an eye dropper every ten minutes. That is about all you can do. If the egg is not produced within two hours take the bird to the veterinarian. A vet who has experience with birds may try to assist the female's efforts with massage. If that fails there is a way to enlarge the oviduct without recourse to surgery, or an operation may be necessary. These last two measures can save the parakeet only if the exhaustion that goes along with egg binding is not too great. Important: Female parakeets kept singly or living with human-imprinted partners--in other words, birds that do not actually mate--sometimes lay eggs. It is best to give such a bird a nesting box for her eggs and let her sit for a time. If the eggs, which are infertile, are removed, the female may continue laying and get exhausted from this. This, too, can cause egg binding or an overall deterioration of health and serious illness. Many a parakeet female living singly or in a platonic relationship with her partner lays eggs every six to eight weeks even if she is not allowed to sit on them.

Excessive or chronic egg laying is an all-too common problem in domesticated female psittacines. Of all the domestic psittacines, this condition is most often seen in cockatiels, budgerigars and love birds. Chronic egg laying is also common in hand-raised birds that have imprinted onto their human foster parents. In the wild, most birds and other wild life tend to come into their normal breeding cycle based upon the amount of daylight exposure and the availability of food. As the seasons change and spring approaches, the amount of natural light increases. This increase in sunlight causes hormonal changes within the bodies of birds and thus influences breeding and egg laying. Chicken farmers and people in the poultry industry have known about the influence of light exposure on egg production for many years. To increase egg production, poultry farmers will often increase light exposure with artificial lighting. This will also maintain an adequate plane of nutrition to prevent problems, such as egg binding. In captivity, pet psittacine birds are usually housed indoors, where they are exposed to both artificial and natural light. If the amount of light exposure is greater than 10 hours a day over a period of a few weeks, the hen's natural hormonal activity for breeding will be triggered. A female bird doesn't necessarily need a mate to lay eggs. Other stimuli that may induce sexual behavior and egg laying include cage items or objects, such as a toy bird, mirror or nest box. The bird's owner may also sexually stimulate the bird by petting or stroking the bird's back, which mimics or is interpreted by the bird as copulation. Naturally, after having exposure to the stimuli, the bird now begins to lay eggs. Her goal is to lay a clutch of eggs, incubate them, and raise the young she produced.

The problem that often occurs next is that the bird's owner removes the eggs as they are laid. This only encourages the bird to lay more eggs, because instinctively the bird is trying to produce the next generation of birds. This phenomenon is often termed double clutching, and some breeders do this to produce and raise more birds for the pet market. As the bird continues to lay more eggs, and the eggs are still being removed by the owner, the bird's health is jeopardized. Excessive egg laying places high demands on the bird's body. If the hen is on an inadequate diet with little or no calcium, the bird will eventually become hypocalcemic. Hypocalcemia will then lead to soft-shelled eggs, egg binding and soft, brittle bones. Egg binding can result from excessive egg laying and low dietary calcium intake, along with vitamin and dietary imbalances. If the hen is allowed to continue to lay eggs and is on a diet deficient in calcium, vitamins and adequate protein, the bird's body will have an increased demand for calcium for proper egg-shell formation. Since the bird has little to no calcium in her diet, the only place the body can obtain calcium is from the long bones of the body.

Other body structures are also affected by the lack of calcium. Calcium is necessary for normal muscle contraction; without it, the hen may exhibit seizures and sometimes partial paralysis. Many old-time canary breeders familiar with this condition often use the term "cage paralysis," to describe this type of calcium deficiency. The egg-bound hen is often found huddled in a corner on the cage bottom. She'll often have a larger-than-normal thin or soft-shelled egg in the distal portion of her reproductive tract. The lack of calcium lead to the development of the soft-shelled egg and the inability to properly contract and expel the egg. The bird is now in a lifethreatening situation. Fortunately, many birds can be saved with the help of a well-qualified avian veterinarian. Many of these birds will require radiographs or x-rays to help the veterinarian make a diagnosis of egg binding. Hospitalization, along with injections of oxytocin, calcium and vitamin D, are all necessary to help expel the egg and correct the calcium imbalance. In some instances where medical treatment is ineffective, the egg may require removal through surgical or manual manipulation. Once the bird has been stabilized and the egg expelled, dietary and nutritional changes are made to prevent egg binding from reoccurring. So now that we know that excessive egg laying can lead to egg binding, how do we control excessive egg laying so egg binding won't occur? The first thing is to decrease the amount of light to which the bird is exposed. By decreasing the amount of light exposure, we may be able to trick the bird's internal hormonal mechanism into believing that breeding season is ending. This should be done gradually over the course of a few weeks.

The next step is to leave the eggs in the cage. By leaving the eggs alone, we are giving the hen a chance to lay a clutch of eggs. After the clutch number has been reached, the hen will naturally stop laying eggs. Make sure the hen has adequate nutritional intake with enough calcium, vitamin D3 and protein. Sources of calcium include cuttlebones, calcium/mineral blocks and calcium powder. Vitamin D3 is in most vitamin supplements made for pet birds. Vitamin D3 can also be made by the bird's body if you expose your bird to unfiltered sunlight or UV lighting. Vitamin D3 can also be added to the diet like the calcium powder. Protein sources include eggs, legumes, tofu, meats and formulated diets made for breeding birds. Once the hen has stopped laying eggs and is incubating them, cut back on the protein, but maintain adequate calcium and vitamin supplementation. Leave the eggs in the cage for the normal length of time required for the eggs to hatch. Afterward, the eggs can be discarded. Hopefully by now the hen will no longer want to continue laying eggs. If egg laying still continues, medical treatment with hormonal drug therapy may be necessary. There are various hormonal drug therapy preparations available. They include drugs such as medroxy progesterone (Depo-provera), leuprolide acetate and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). Hormonal drug therapy works by suppressing ovarian development, which will consequently delay egg laying.
If medical therapy is unsuccessful, surgical treatment can be attempted as a last resort to stop chronic egg laying.
Hormonal drug therapy is administered by injection, which may need to be repeated to successfully suppress egg laying. Like any drug therapy, side effects may be a possible problem, and repeated treatment may not be in the best interest of the hen. If medical therapy is unsuccessful, surgical treatment can be attempted as a last resort to stop chronic egg laying. The surgical procedure performed is a salpingohysterectomy. This procedure involves the removal of the "uterus" and the oviduct, but not the ovary. The ovary doesn't need to be removed because it will no longer be secondarily stimulated by a hormonal feedback produced by the "uterus" to release ova or eggs.
More info on eggbinding can be read from our article on The Reproductive System.
This covers other similar egg problems such as EGG PERITONITIS, the OVIDUCT and egg abnormalities.


E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.