In birds, egg-binding is a condition which is very serious and can even be fatal. It occurs in female birds of breeding age, and if spotted in time, measures can be taken to try to save the bird.
Simply speaking, egg binding is when the hen bird cannot pass the egg she has created inside herself, and it is stuck in some part of the reproductive tract or in the vent, or cloaca. It is more common in smaller birds, from lovebirds and cockatiels downwards but can occur in any bird.
One risk is the egg breaking inside the bird which can result in internal tissue damage or infection and can cause death.
Laboured breathing – one key thing to notice is that a hen who is egg-bound will breathe rapidly or look as if she is having trouble breathing.
Swelling – if you see a swelling around the lower end of the stomach or around the vent (the area where faeces comes out of, as does the egg) this may be a sign the bird is ready to pass an egg and cannot manage to do it.
Constipation – another key sign is the immobility to pass droppings as the egg is basically blocking the route.
Straining – just like during pregnancy, the hen will strain to pass the egg but if she continues to do this and nothing happens, this can be a sign of being egg-bound.
Lethargy – if a hen is sitting on the floor of the cage or aviary this is a general sign of ill-health and combined with any of the above, definitely may mean the bird is egg-bound
Fluffed up – another sign of general ill-health is a bird who has fluffed up feathers and isn’t reacting in their normal way.
The first stage is to try and massage the egg out of the vent, often using a lubricant such as cod liver oil to help the process, but this must be done very carefully to avoid breaking the egg.
It is also very important to get the bird into a high temperature as this can give her a chance to pass the egg naturally. A steamy room such as a bathroom can be ideal with a temperature around 85-90 degrees and sit the bird on a warm towel which helps the vent to dilate.
A shallow warm water bath is another option as this will allow her muscles relax and possible help her pass the egg.
However it may be necessary to seek a vet who may give a calcium shot in an effort for the bird to naturally strengthen the egg shell and pass the egg normally. He may need to break the egg and carefully remove the parts. He will then clean away shell fragments and residues of the egg to avoid infection or any further damage.
Also called Hypocalcaemia Syndrome, this is associated with low calcium levels and is the primary suspect behind egg binding. There are a few ways to combat this including:
One possible cause of an imbalance leading to egg binding can be a low protein diet or one which only features seed. Another factor can be a lack of exercise, more so for larger birds which are kept in cages that are not big enough for them and not given time out of the cage.
Egg binding can even effect female birds who live alone and do not have a mate as birds will naturally lay eggs, even though they have not been fertilised. So don’t assume just because a bird doesn’t have a mate that she can’t be egg-bound.
Sometimes there is nothing you can do to stop a bird becoming egg bound, but there are a few measures to put into place which may help reduce the risk.
Firstly, as mentioned above, address calcium levels in the bird’s diet to try and make sure she produces strong eggs which she can lay easily.
Exact diet advice will depend on the breed of bird, but some good general advice is to get plenty of fruit and vegetables into the food bowl. Experts recommend around 20-25% of a bird’s diet should consist of fresh produce as well as sprouted seed.
Sprouted seed is a simple process whereby the seed starts to germinate and in doing so uses its fat reserves to do this. By feed the birds these seeds, you are giving them the proteins, vitamins and minerals contained in the seeds but with far less fat than it would usually contain. Sprouted seeds are also great for moulting birds, and when chicks are being reared and weaned as they are softer to eat for the young birds.
Medicinal herbs are another option to consider. Dried herbs can be used either separately or added to other fresh food, so the birds consume they without realising they are doing so. Adding to seeds is another option. One of the most essential herbs is cilantro.
Fruits such as pomegranates are loved by most birds, although they can be very messy. Other fruits such as figs, guavas, grapes, melons, papaya and watermelon can all be offered, in addition to the normal fruits, such as apple, pear and banana.
In the vegetables department, bell peppers of all colours, cucumber, peas, chili peppers, okra, pumpkin and squash are all excellent bird dietary items along with leafy greens such as cabbage, spinach and kale and traditional veggies such as grated carrot.
To see an egg-bound bird is a terrible thing but is also something that happens in nature. There are things we can do to try and prevent it, to help when it happens, but sometimes nature takes its course. It is the only downside of owning birds, but there are so many plus sides, don’t let it put you off.