What is Egg Binding in Birds?
In a healthy female bird, eggs are produced regularly and able to pass from her body into the nest. However, when the egg is unable to pass from the bird’s body normally, it is known as egg binding. Egg binding is a serious condition that can lead to disease or death.
While egg binding isn’t overwhelmingly common, it is one of the most common reproductive issues for birds and is more common in some species or breeds. Small birds such as finches, canaries, budgies, lovebirds, and cockatiels are most frequently and severely affected.
Symptoms of Egg Binding in Birds
Tail wagging or bobbing
Failure to perch
Lameness or weakness
Symptoms of egg binding usually appear within 24-48 hours. Birds who are egg bound for longer than this have a poor prognosis and are more likely to show severe symptoms, including paralysis or death.
Causes of Egg Binding in Birds
The causes of egg binding depend somewhat on the species of bird.
Under normal circumstances, a female bird produces an egg after her ovary releases an ovum into a passage called the oviduct. At this point, the “egg” is just a yolk. As it travels down the oviduct, the egg white material (also known as albumen) begins to accumulate around the yolk and a membrane forms that will then develop into a calcium carbonate shell.
The primary causes of egg binding are nutritional deficiencies that lead to improper production of the egg. These can be either from dietary deficiencies or result from over-production of eggs that leads to critical shortages of nutrients including calcium, vitamin E, and selenium.
Some birds are genetically predisposed to egg binding due either to anatomical or metabolic differences. Anatomical issues may be caused by developmental problems or medical obstructions like tumors.
Other conditions that can increase the risk of egg binding include stress, obesity, lack of exercise, or infection.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Egg Binding in Birds
Your veterinarian will diagnosis egg binding after a physical exam and analysis of symptoms. If the egg has progressed far enough to develop a shell, it may sometimes be felt in the abdomen.
If the bird is stable enough, radiographs (x-rays) are the most common means of diagnosing a bound egg. If the egg is soft-shelled, has no shell, or has broken through the wall of the oviduct, your vet might use ultrasound, laparoscopy, and/or laparotomy instead of an x-ray to diagnose egg binding.
Additional tests to evaluate your bird’s overall health might include bloodwork and bacterial cultures to look for other illnesses and nutritional deficiencies.
Treatment of Egg Binding in Birds
In most cases, supportive care for the egg-bound bird will help them pass their egg on their own. This can include providing a heat source, giving fluids for hydration, and correcting any nutritional deficiencies. If greater intervention is needed, your veterinarian may prescribe:
Vitamin D and vitamin A injections
In severe cases, tissue might actually prolapse from your bird, or protrude from the bird’s body. Birds with prolapsed tissue are at higher risk of severe complications. In these cases, if the egg can be reached, it will be manually removed and damaged tissue will be treated before gently reducing the prolapse. Stitches are often needed to keep the prolapsed tissue where it should be, and the bird will need antibiotics and pain medications as they recover.
If the egg binding was caused by weak contractions that were unable to push the egg through the oviduct, the veterinarian may prescribe a medication like oxytocin to stimulate stronger contractions. Other medications include prostaglandins and arginine vasotocin which help make the oxytocin more effective in creating stronger contractions to help expel the bound egg.
If the bird cannot pass the egg on their own and it cannot be manually delivered in an awake bird, the bird can be placed under general anesthesia. A speculum can be used to manually remove the egg from the oviduct, break the egg down to allow it to be removed, or perform surgery into the abdomen to retrieve the egg.
Recovery and Management of Egg Binding in Birds
Birds who have experienced an egg binding episode should be rested from reproductive stimuli for at least 2-4 weeks, or preferably for an entire reproductive season. These birds should also be carefully assessed to understand why the egg binding occurred in the first place. Dietary deficiencies should be corrected to avoid egg binding in the future.
To reduce reproductive signals, try the following:
Adjusting the amount of daylight the bird is exposed to
Removing nesting boxes and materials
Allowing laid eggs to accumulate
Rearranging cage furnishings to discourage broodiness
Removing any perceived or actual mates
Restricting stimulatory petting
Giving hormonal injections
Long-term effects of egg binding can include scarring, strictures, or adhesions within the oviduct. These can all increase the risk of future episodes of egg binding. Birds with a history of egg binding may also develop noncancerous lumps or areas of inflammation called granulomas within the oviduct, or they may develop uterine infections. This is especially true for birds with retained yolk or eggshell fragments from previously bound eggs that were removed.
Prevention of egg binding involves correcting the most likely causes, including providing a healthy diet and making sure your bird isn’t overweight. Diet recommendations will vary by species and breed—it’s always recommended to consult with a veterinarian.
In severe cases, the oviduct can also be removed surgically if necessary.
Egg Binding in Birds FAQs
How long can an egg-bound bird live?
An egg-bound bird can only live a couple days without treatment. With treatment, they can most often live normal lives.
Can an egg-bound bird be saved?
Yes! In most cases an egg-bound bird can be saved. The most important factor in being able to successfully treat an egg-bound bird is how quickly the problem is identified and treatment started. If you ever suspect your bird may be egg-bound, seek veterinary assistance immediately.
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