This article will cover the topic of Egg Binding. Of course, Egg Binding can only be found in laying hens and not cock birds, but how will you know if your hen is Egg Bound?. You may have a bunch of questions you hope to find answers to in this topic because Egg Binding is quite common even among wild birds, so below we will try to answer as many common questions as we can.
Table of contents
- Common causes
- Identifying an egg bound hen
- The dangers
- What to do first
- What not to do
- Items you may need
For a hen to produce a single egg takes a huge amount of resources. You need to remember that each egg will produce a life, contain nutrition to support that life during development and a safe environment so that it can develop safely. Some hens can lay as many as 10 eggs each clutch and may have several clutches each year. Although cock birds can not become egg bound, they can however suffer with similar deficiencies as hens because they too need the same minerals, vitamins in their diet.
This alone should now explain why you always see birds foraging in the dirt, and the importance of providing a well-balanced grit dish in all of your cages or aviaries at all times. They require a huge amount of calcium, minerals, iodine, carbon and a good variety of vitamins ranging all across the spectrum. Their bodies take a long time to take up calcium, so it needs to be in abundance at all times. Offering cuttlebone and crushed oyster shells is simply not enough, they will likely need a liquid supplement several times per week, maybe more prior to breeding and again after their breeding season ends.
90% of the time when I help someone with their Egg Bound hen the cause is usually the hen being deprived of nutrition and 10% is often natural causes such as health issues, deformities/genetic related. Sometimes healthy hens may randomly produce eggs that are not formed correctly despite nothing being wrong with the hen, it happens in life.
Also known as Retained Egg, egg retention is a serious condition which needs immediate attention by an Avian Vet or your hen will likely die. If it is the last egg to be laid in the clutch, then it means you have more time to get it addressed, but not much longer. If more eggs are still being produced by the hen and one from the previous day (Retained Egg) is still lodged inside her, then the new egg can not pass the lodged egg. Hens do not have the capacity to hold several eggs at one time and survive. The term Egg Retention is not often heard, but it is a condition and very much a common cause of Egg Binding. The cause of Egg Retention is another matter which would also need addressing, especially if it is common with that particular hen. I myself had never heard of the phrase until I got to know the late Dr Ross Perry, the leading Australian Avian Vet. He taught me a lot and explained all I needed to know about the condition, so I am passing on this information to you.
Here are some reasons why hens are usually unable to pass an egg:
- Egg shell is too thick
- Egg has no shell
- Egg is too large
- Egg is too small
- Egg has a malformed shape
- Hen is too weak
- Hen is sick
- Hen is too hot or cold
- Hen has blockage (another egg or tumor)
- Hen has internal injury
- Infection in the overduct
- Clogged vent
- Calcium depletion
Identifying an egg bound hen
It is not easy for a novice to recognize a hen who is Egg Bound and even some experienced bird keepers struggle to identify Egg Binding, mistaking it for other illnesses, but there are clear signs to look out for. Laying hens, especially Gouldian Finches, will usually have a darker beak or a much fuller colour. Sometimes the hen may not be in condition for breeding but may produce an egg out of season and become Egg Bound, but again there will be some obvious signs.
Below is a list of clinical signs to look for to help identify Egg Binding in hens:
- Laboured breathing
- Lameness with half opened eyes or closed eyes
- Unusual tail bobbing or twisting of their tail
- Straining to push out the egg
- Unable to perch
- Rounded lump on the bird's left upper to lower abdomen area
- Clear slimey liquid from the vent or broken yolk
- Unable to hold head up
- Unable to eat & drink
- Sitting on the floor unable to move
- Sudden death
Egg Bound hens are usually seen as fine the day before, but next morning can often be found on the floor looking as though they are close to death or with one or more of the symptoms as shown above. You can put the bird in your hand on its back and very gently feel around the bird's left-hand side of the abdomen area below the keel bone (rib cage) then feel for an egg. Press very gently in a circular motion and feel for the egg, sometimes it may be evident an egg is present and sometimes not. Remember not to press too hard, or you risk breaking the egg within, possibly causing a fatality. If the egg inside has not formed a shell, it is unlikely you will feel the egg.
An egg closer to the vent can be gently squeezed out by someone with experience and 'never' by a novice, but it must be removed the same day.
You may on a rare occasion find blood exiting the vent area or in the hen's stools, this can happen due to excessive straining or the egg breaking inside the hen. It is extremely dangerous to break an egg within the hen and the final prognosis is never good, an Avian Vet should be contacted immediately.
If you have read all of the above then the dangers should be self-evident, if left untreated then the hen's chances of survival are reduced greatly. Yes, sometimes they pull through naturally, but there was a reason for her to become Egg Bound in the first place and that will need addressing right away. It might be worth noting that hens deficient in vitamins & minerals will produce poor quality offspring and may also may have lifelong health issues.
If you find you do have an Egg Bound hen then it is highly likely other hens (if you have more hens) may become Egg Bound too because if one is not getting enough nutrition then the others are probably not either. If they are getting more than enough nutrition, then as mentioned above it might not be a nutrition issue, but rather an underlying health issue.
What to do first
Once you discover your hen is Egg Bound you will need to remove her from her environment even if she has eggs or chicks in the nest, her life is more important and the male can do his job on his own perfectly fine. If you have a hospital cage, then get it prepared for her. The hen will require heat of approximately 85 degree F with no drafts, Zolcal-D liquid calcium, a quiet place. I usually place Egg Bound hens in both of my hands because my hands are naturally warm, and it is almost impossible to overheat them. If you have a reptile or bird friendly heat lamp, then use this for a source of heat for the hen. She will need one single drop of Zolcal-D directly to the beak, as the liquid calcium will help dislodge the egg. Do not try to feed or give any water to the hen because it will not help. Someone with a lot of experience would determine if nutrition was needed or hydration and feed it via a crop feeding tube or crop needle.
I have in the past dealt with Egg Bound hens that were so weak from starvation or dehydrated that they had no energy to push out an egg, I had to feed using a crop feeding tube a highly nutritious mix to give her energy to finish the egg laying, after the egg was laid she was very thirsty and was soon back on her perch.
The best order to deal with Egg Bound hens are as follows:
- Dont panic
- Prepare a warm safe environment
- Feel for an egg and check her over
- Place the hen alone in hospital cage (environment)
- Prepare any nutrition in case it is required.
- Prepare any medication (Zolcal-D or/and other medications)
- Call an Avian Vet if required
She may successfully pass the egg during the process above on her own, so if this happens, leave her well alone and offer her a very shallow dish no deeper than 1 cm of fresh unmedicated water. At this point you may offer her some seed in a small shallow dish for easy access, but it will be water she will need first. It will be important to keep her warm at all times.
Once she is back on a perch, which is usually about 30 mins to one hour after laying the egg, she will be safe to go back to her regular cage. She and all other hens will need supplementing with avian liquid calcium 2 - 3 times per week in their drinking water for the remainder of their breeding season.
What not to do
Well, this section could become huge, but I will stick to the obvious to avoid unnecessary reading & writing. Being heavy-handed such as gripping the hen too tightly, restricting her breathing, holding her around her abdomen or pressing on the abdomen too hard will have undesired results and will only harm your hen. If you have any doubts or are afraid to do anything, then seek help right away from someone with experience or call your local Avian Vet.
Do not just leave the hen in the cage and hope for the best, or you may be disappointed with the results. Egg binding is usually the keeper's fault, not the bird's fault, so it is up to the keeper to fix the issue. Egg binding is not the usual result of poor genetics or weak hens, but rather the keeper not supplying a proper diet or lack of basic care.
Do not allow other pets near your hen such as cats, dogs, other birds or even children because it will just create more stress for your Egg Bound hen. Use a little common sense and be thoughtful about your hens during a stressful time. Never assume cuttlebone and crushed oyster shells are enough as a source of calcium because it is not. In the next section, I will try to cover a list of items you may need, including minerals.
Items you may need
Firstly, it is always recommended to have a hospital cage at hand and always ready in case of emergencies. As mentioned above, if you have no hospital cage, then you can use a cardboard box or small cage. Even a cardboard box can be called a hospital cage once setup correctly 😄
Here is the basic list of needs for a makeshift hospital cage
- Box of some kind with ventilation
- A heat source (heat lamp, head pad)
- Tissue papers or something soft to sit her on
Here is a list of other items you might need, those marked with a * is required:
- Hand rearing formula
- Crop feeding tube
- Zolcal-D *
- Liquid calcium for birds or reptiles *
- A mixing cup and stirer
Here is a list of contents recommended for their grit dish
- Crushed sterilized egg shells
- Crushed Oyster shells
- Crushed Iodine/mineral block
- Thin shavings or grated of cuttlebone
- Carbon Granules
- Small amounts of sea salt
During Egg Binding the only treatment you would normally require is Zolcal-D but on rare occasions other treatments may be needed, but these should only be administered after the hen is back on a perch and not before. Zolcal-D works wonders and superfast, it is concentrated liquid calcium combined with everything the hen needs to make a good recovery.
Offering other medications too soon when the hen is still weak will only hinder the recovery process and may have the opposite effect of what you would expect.