Egg binding is a problem that can occur in almost any bird, but is more common in the smaller female birds. Canaries, lovebirds, cockatiels, budgies (parakeets) and finches are the commonly affected breeds. Egg binding can be a serious problem, and is considered an emergency, requiring delicate and professional care. Unfortunately, some birds can succumb in spite of this care.
We don’t see egg binding in larger birds like this chicken very often, it at all
Birds are notoriously good at hiding symptoms of a serious problem until it is too late for treatment. It behooves you to pay special attention to your birds habits, and bring it in for an exam by one of our doctors at the first sign of any problem, no matter how minor it seems.
We like to see our birds come in like this healthy African Grey perching on Emily, that is in for a routine examination
Too often they come in sick like this bird, and in need of emergency treatment
The prognosis is not good when they are this ill
Sometimes they are ill because the egg is blocking waste products from being excreted. This might show up as an elevated Uric Acid on some ill birds.
Graphic photos on this page.
Infection, trauma to the reproductive tract, inadequate nesting area, excessive egg laying, obesity, and nutritional problems are some of the factors involved with this problem. Those birds on all seed diets, or those with an inadequate calcium intake, are particularly prone. An egg that is too soft can also cause the problem. Some birds are just prone to the problem, and even environmental factors like hypothermia can be involved. Determining the exact cause can be difficult.
We can sometimes get a feel for a bird that might have a problem laying eggs when we take a radiograph. The first one shows good density in the bones of the forearm and wrist of a bird. In the second one you can see there is less density, and sure enough, this bird was egg bound.
These bones have more mineral density, as evidenced by their whiter appearance. This means there is adequate calcium reserves.
The same area of a smaller bird shows less mineral density.
Birds that have this problem might exhibit depression, labored breathing, straining, abdominal distention, lack of droppings, whitish droppings only, fluffed appearance, and poor appetite. There might even be a broken bone due to inadequate calcium. These are also the symptoms of other avian diseases. Pressure from a stuck egg can even interfere with nerve function to the legs. Sometimes the only symptom is your bird sitting at the bottom of the cage. Unfortunately, the only symptom in some cases is a dead bird found at the bottom of the cage.
In many egg bound birds there is a history of recent egg laying. Some birds exhibit sexual behavior and even build nests. During physical examination of a bird with a distended abdomen an egg can sometimes be palpated. There are other causes besides egg binding in sick birds with distended abdomens, so it is important to follow a thorough diagnostic process.
Egg bound birds are very ill, and need to be handled gently so as not to stress them to the point that they succumb to this problem.
Our examination is rapid and gentle, and once we determine the problem they are immediately put into a warm room since they are very susceptible to hypothermia
We wrap them in a towel for the exam, and do not use gloves. This towel gives them warmth and comfort, and we can perform the exam with our bare hands to feel for subtle problems while our patient is wrapped in a comfortable towel.
In most cases our doctor can make a diagnosis of a probable egg bound bird on palpation of the abdomen. Technically, their abdomen is called a coelomic cavity in birds, since they have no diaphragm to separate the chest from the abdomen, and it is all one cavity.
X-rays are a significant aid in making this diagnosis, but only if a bird is strong enough. Eggs shells have a high level of calcium, so depending on how well they are developed, might show up vividly on an x-ray. Some eggs are poorly calcified and do not show up well on a radiograph.
It’s not difficult to see the egg on this budgie that is laying on its back
This is the egg from the bird above. It looks tiny in this hand, but not so tiny for a bird this size as you can see from the radiograph above!
Egg bound birds are very ill and require emergency care. Many are hypothermic and require immediate warming. They can be toxic from the inability to eliminate waste products and dehydrated from poor appetites and weakness, so warm fluids are also administered. If the bird is in shock we will give these fluids via an intraosseus catheter. Calcium is also administered to aid in muscle contractions and hopefully expulsion of the egg on its own. Medications to stimulate the uterus to contract are also used.
Whether or not they help depends on the cause of the problem. In most cases, this conservative approach works, so we try this first.
If medical therapy does not work we attempt to help in the removal of the stuck egg. Once the bird is more stable we can sometimes gently expel the egg with liberal lubrication and digital pressure. If the egg is adhered to the uterus digital pressure might not work. Inserting a needle with a syringe attached directly into the egg allows us to collapse the egg and make expulsion easier.
Sometimes the medical therapy works to a certain point and the egg starts coming out. This one did, still in its reproductive membrane.
This bird is traumatizing its reproductive organs, so this is treated as an emergency
After warming it up and stabilizing with warm fluids, it was immediately sedated and examine and cleanses
Gentle manipulation, without tearing any membranes, allowed us to slowly extrude the egg
Out it came, ready to be made into an omelette !
Sometimes they don’t come out this easy, and we need to get them out. After stabilizing and anesthesia we use a speculum and high intensity light to assess the situation.
These are high risk patients, and are closely monitored while under anesthesia. Anesthesia is important to us in veterinary medicine, and you can learn much more about it form our anesthesia page.
This female is being examined with a lubricated speculum to determine the exact nature of her problem. We can deflate the egg by passing the needle through the speculum. On the left you can see the high intensity cool light that allows greater visualization.
Birds need special attention and care, and after any medical or surgical treatment they are watched carefully by our staff
There are factors involved with this problem that we have no control over. Factors we can control are good nutrition, a clean environment, spaying birds that are predisposed to egg binding or are excessive egg layers, minimizing obesity and stimulating exercise.
Careful daily observation of your pets daily habits will help you recognize the early symptoms of this disease. No matter what the problem, any time your pet bird shows any symptoms of a disease, no matter how subtle, it is considered significant and requires immediate veterinary care. This is because birds are masters at hiding illness, and we are all too often presented with sick birds in advanced stages of disease. Our ability to return these birds to normal health is diminished because proper care has not been given early on in the disease process where it is most beneficial.