Dr. Laurie Hess is our resident exotics expert and contributes regularly on the Our Site. For more from Dr. Hess, find her on Facebook!
While it is more common for egg-laying animals to follow seasonal cues to breed, such as longer day length, warmer temperatures, and more plentiful food sources, pet birds and reptiles don’t always follow these rules. Pets are generally maintained under unchanging temperature and light conditions in our homes and usually have the same access to food regardless of the time of year. Thus, pet birds and reptiles sometimes lay eggs during the non-breeding season, unlike their wild counterparts.
Since many pet birds and reptiles lay eggs all year round, these animals have the potential to develop reproductive problems all year round, some of which can be life threatening. One of the most common problems I encounter as a veterinarian who solely treats birds and other exotic pets, like reptiles, is egg binding. Egg binding is a catch-all term for failure of the animal to lay an egg. The egg is retained within the female’s body typically somewhere within the reproductive tract (except ectopic eggs that come out of her reproductive tract but are still retained within her body - a very difficult situation that is usually treatable only with surgery). The egg may be retained in its fully developed form, with a yolk and egg white inside and a shell outside, or it may get stuck in the reproductive tract at any stage of earlier development. Egg binding can happen in birds and reptiles from lack of essential nutrients (especially lack of calcium which is critical in forming the egg’s outer shell), lack of ultraviolet light (that helps form active vitamin D in birds’ and reptiles’ skin to enable them to absorb calcium from food), excessively large or malformed eggs that are either too big or misshapen to pass through and out of the reproductive tract, or physical problems within the reproductive tract (such as a twist in the oviduct – the tube that connects the ovary to the cloaca, the chamber where eggs exit the body).
Each of these different causes of egg binding is treated differently. To help the animal lay, some egg-bound pets merely require supportive care, such as fluids underneath the skin to rehydrate them if they haven’t been eating, a calcium injection if they haven’t been getting adequate calcium in their diet, or supplemental vitamin D if they have not been exposed to direct ultraviolet light. In more complicated cases, such as when there is a physical obstruction within the oviduct, preventing the egg from passing, the egg may need to be surgically removed – a procedure that can involve great risk and frequently great expense due to the often difficult nature of the surgery.
Since egg binding can be life threatening, bird and exotic pet owners must do everything they can to try to prevent this condition from happening. Both birds and reptiles need to be fed complete diets containing all the nutrients in the proper proportions to meet the additional demands that egg laying plays on the body. Since different species of birds and reptiles have different nutritional requirements, owners of these pets should consult with bird and reptile-savvy veterinarians to get the most up-to-date recommendations regarding feeding. Birds and most reptiles also require direct UV light, unfiltered by window glass, to produce adequate vitamin D. Birds should not be encouraged to lay; they should not be given access to small places (like closets or cabinets or underneath beds) where they can build nests. Owners should touch birds only on their heads, not on their bodies, so that they don’t send confusing quasi-sexual messages to their pets, and they should remove all mirrored toys from their birds’ cages so as not to make the birds think that they have mates.
Unlike with birds, with reptiles, interaction with and behavioral cues from owners plays less of a part in determining whether to lay eggs, and it is harder to deter egg-laying in reptiles than it is in birds. If a reptile starts to show signs of egg-laying (swollen body, decreased appetite, burrowing), they should be given a place with appropriate nesting material to dig and lay. In addition, they should be kept at species-specific optimal temperatures, so that if they decide to lay, conditions are perfect for them to do so.
Egg-laying is a natural behavior that both birds and reptiles everywhere demonstrate. Owners of these animals should not be afraid if their pets display egg-laying behavior. The trick is for owners to educate themselves about their pets’ needs, both during non-breeding times and during these animals’ reproductive cycles, to try to prevent egg-binding from developing if egg-laying occurs.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Egg Binding in Birds and Reptiles - pets
Many sick pet birds look alike. They sit on the bottom of their cages with ruffled feathers and their heads down. This is why it’s so hard to figure out what is wrong with your bird without taking it to the veterinarian. Perhaps you also notice that your bird has a big belly. Perhaps it is a female who has a history of laying eggs but has suddenly stopped laying eggs. Your veterinarian will confirm this problem as “egg-binding”.
Egg-binding is a fairly common issue in certain female birds, such as cockatiels, budgies, and lovebirds. This is because these species tend to constantly lay eggs. If something prevents them from laying the egg, it will get stuck in the belly. When multiple eggs get stuck in the belly, this is called egg-binding.
There are different reasons for egg-binding to occur. Most of the time, this problem is related to a nutritional imbalance such as insufficient calcium. Calcium is required to create the egg shell therefore birds laying many eggs tend to use up their calcium stores very quickly. Without enough calcium, the shell doesn’t form properly and the egg can get stuck in the belly. Egg-binding can also happen if the bird becomes dehydrated or is not getting enough calories in its diet.
This problem needs to be addressed by your veterinarian because your bird can quickly become very sick. X-rays and ultrasound are the most common ways to diagnose egg-binding. The treatment is to remove the eggs that are stuck.
There are two options that your veterinarian has to remove these eggs. Very often the vet will try the medical option first before going straight to the option that involves anesthesia. The medical option is to attempt to help the bird pass the eggs on its own. This can simply be done by warming the bird up, giving it fluids, and giving it an injection of calcium.
The next option is to put the bird under general anesthesia so it will relax and allow the veterinarian to remove the eggs. This is done very carefully to avoid damaging the uterus of the bird. Your veterinarian may choose to first draw some of the egg contents out with a needle and syringe. This way the egg will be smaller and easier to remove. With gentle pressure on the abdomen, the egg can be slowly pushed out of the bird.
Your bird will need veterinary care for at least 24 hours after this procedure. This is so dehydration and nutritional needs can be addressed. Also, there are some potential complications associated with egg-binding. One risk is that the uterus will tear or burst, due to the build-up of pressure from the eggs. Although this is often deadly, it occurs uncommonly, especially when the sick bird is promptly brought to and treated by the veterinarian.
Another potential problem after egg-binding is infection of the uterus or cloaca. This is the reason that some affected birds will be placed on antibiotics. However, the most important complication after egg-binding is the risk of it re-occurring. This is why it is very important for you to talk to your veterinarian about how to prevent egg-binding from occurring in the future.
Egg-binding is a simple problem (retention of eggs in the belly) with various causes. An improperly balanced diet is a big factor in the development of this problem. It is often difficult to find good information about the proper nutrition for pet birds, but your local veterinarian will always be able to help you. Remember, if your bird looks quiet and has ruffled feathers, it is sick. It may be egg-binding, or it may be another disease. But the sooner your get it treated, the more likely you are to have your healthy bird back quickly.
Egg Binding in Birds and Reptiles - pets
I recently wrote an article about how to identify the gender of your pet bird. In that article, I briefly mentioned that it's undesirable for female birds to be egg layers and many readers wondered why this was the case. Well, I have the answer for you - it's called egg binding. Egg binding in pet birds is a very serious and sometimes even fatal condition.
|Photo via Brian Legate|
I'd like to tell you what exactly egg binding is, the symptoms to watch for, treatments, and how to prevent your female bird from laying eggs. I do realize that chickens are meant to lay eggs, so the prevention portion of this article is not meant for them. Chickens can also become egg bound, however.
How To Help an Egg Bound Pet Bird
Egg binding is a very critical condition. It can harm both the hen and the egg. So don’t waste much time and call an avian vet right away. A serious condition like this should be handled with proper care and only professionals can do that. But if it’s impossible for you to find a vet, then try any of the following tips to help save an egg bound pet bird:
Keep the bird warm. This should help her to ease the muscles for easier passing of the egg. There are many ways to keep a bird warm and the following are just some of these:
- Place the pet bird in steamy room. The temperature should be between 85oF to 90oF with about 60% humidity. Achieve this temperature and humidity by turning on the shower until the bathroom glasses are steamed up. Let the bird sit in this room until she feels better and hopefully be able to pass her egg.
- Give her a warm bath. Prepare a shallow warm bath for the hen. Use your small basin or anything that can safely give the bird a warm bath. Keep her in the bath until the egg is passed through.
- Keep her hydrated. Take note that giving the bird warmth could make her thirsty. Provide water that can be easily reached. If she is too weak to drink, then drop some water or Gatorade into her beak using a baby dropper.
Massage the bird. Apply olive oil on the muscles responsible for passing through the egg. Be very careful when massaging the hen, though. It might break the egg inside. If you are uncomfortable doing this, then better not do this or let the vet do it instead.
Apply lubricant. Petroleum jelly or anything that could serve as lubricant for the bird will help for easy passing through of the egg.
Apply mineral oil to the egg. That is, if you can already see the egg. This helps lubricate the vent and the egg for easy passing.
Give the bird liquid calcium. Do this if you are planning to leave her in a warm place or let her have a warm bath. The calcium hardens the egg for safer and easier labor.
Apply Preparation H. Bird breeders find success by applying this product to the birds’ vent. Try this also to reduce swelling of the vent. The pain must be making the passing of egg more difficult. With reduced swelling, she could finally pass the egg.
While trying all these tips, do the best you can to contact an avian vet. You can never be too sure that any of these tips will work. They worked well for other birds but your situation might be different. It’s not the best time to hope for the best. Instead, make sure that your bird will be at her best condition. Call a vet immediately.
Remember that even if you do the best you can, the egg might still break, which could lead to the bird’s depression. At that point, you can still do something to save the bird by keeping her warm and consulting a vet. Sometimes, breaking the egg would also mean dying of the mother.
If you’re lucky, then the bird should successfully pass her egg with the tips above. Next time, prepare your bird for her soon labor by giving her calcium shots. Some vets might recommend a treatment that will stop the bird from producing any eggs.
What Causes Egg-Binding in Birds?
Causes for egg-binding are usually attributed to three primary issues: (1) issues with the egg itself, such as eggs that are either too big or positioned incorrectly and have trouble moving through the oviduct The tube through which an ovum or egg passes from an ovary. and can get stuck (2) problems with the reproductive tract, such as inflammation, infections and tumors of the reproductive tract that can interfere with the normal passage of an egg or (3) metabolic problems, such as calcium deficiency. Birds with a poor diet can be overweight or suffer from calcium deficiency, both of which can lead to egg-binding. Calcium deficiency can also develop in hens that are chronic egg-layers who may be laying an excessive number of eggs. This overproduction of eggs eventually causes a depletion Reduction in the number or quantity of something. of calcium stores, which are required to form a calcified egg. Low calcium can lead to thin or soft-shelled eggs.