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Birds reproduce by laying eggs. Only female birds are able to do so, and therefore this special kind of disturbance of health can only happen to them. After the egg has been built inside the body of the female bird (hen), it travels through the so-called oviduct which is a special part of the bowel of oviparous animals (those animals who lay eggs). When it reaches the cloaca, the egg has to be passed by pressing it to the outside. In general, this process is a bit exhausting for the hen, but a just few minutes after the egg is laid the bird recovers.
However, sometimes negative factors can cause serious problems and the egg gets stuck inside the hen's body. The bird is unable to lay the egg and gets weaker and weaker. This is what we call a hen that has become eggbound. In some cases, the mucosa of the oviduct sticks to the egg and while the bird presses it slips outside. The egg still sticks to it and therefore the inner part of the hen's body (her oviduct) which is very sensitive to injuries and dries out quickly is exposed to the air (see below).
Both situations, the latter one and egg binding, can become life-threatening for the affected bird! In this chapter you will learn more about these diseases and what you can do to help your bird.
The first symptoms of egg binding are quite unspecific and it's not always easy to recognise an eggbound hen in the early stage. An affected bird seems to be tired, doesn't want to fly and moves very slowly. Her posture is unusual, she holds her tail very low and some birds even drop their wings. The plumage is fluffed up and the bird is short-winded. From time to time, they try to pass the egg and you can easily see how exhausted they become. The hen loses her appetite and even refuses the food offered to her by her mate. Within only a few hours, she becomes so weak that she is no longer able to stand on her feet. Therefore she just lays on the floor with her eyes closed, obviously suffering from great pain. Please keep in mind: egg binding in this advanced stage is life-threatening!
Different causes can lead to egg binding. For example it can happen because the bird is weakened by a chronic or serious illness, due to an infection of the oviduct or if the egg itself is malformed respectively too large. The risk of egg binding is increased by several factors such as wrong nutrition (calcium deficiency), stress within the flock or too large clutch size (the eggs laid first have thicker shells than the last egg and thinner shells break easily or cause malformation). Also the muscles that are responsible for bringing the egg outside can be atrophied due to a poor general health status of a bird. And sometimes one egg isn't passed fast enough and then sticks to a second one inside the oviduct (see radiography on the right and above). As you can see there are two eggs inside of the bird, the upper (second) one is malformed. The avian vet saved the bird's life by a surgery. Without this kind of help, the hen would have died within the next 24 hours after the radiography has been taken.
As soon as you recognise that a female bird has become eggbound due to any reason and the hen is not able to pass the egg, you can see her picking her own feathers around the cloaca. Birds who do so are desperately trying to help themselves to get rid of the pain and the egg inside their body. The more the exhaustion grows, the weaker the bird gets and soon the hen is nearly unable to move and can't even lift her head from the ground. Also the wings are dropped and she can't breathe easy. On the right you can see a hen in such a serious health condition. Egg binding can lead to death within only twelve hours because the bird is in great pain and totally exhausted.
Please take your bird to an avian vet quickly when you think the hen might have become eggbound! You should try to help her like this in the late evening, on public holidays or even at the weekend. Maybe you cannot reach an avian vet, but you should at least take the bird to an animal hospital. Always keep in mind that dying from being eggbound is one of the cruellest cause of death for a female bird. She surely suffers from such terrible pain as nobody can imagine. Every human being who has a heart should not let her suffer and die without offering her the help she desperately needs because she can't do anything. During the transport you should keep the ill bird warm, because hens who have become eggbound feel very cold.
Photo above: This female Barred Parakeet named Maxi suffered from being eggbound as you can easily see. Her cloaca was dark red and enormously swollen. Even though her owner did everything to save Maxi's life, the poor bird died. The vet was unable to help her because he could not get the egg outside in time. Photo on the right: This picture shows the cloaca of a hen who had been eggbound. Dried blood covers her skin and as you can see she had been picking her feathers around the vent. The egg has been removed by an avian vet and within just a few hours the bird felt much better.
If you notice an egg binding in an early stage, in most cases the avian vet will be able to save the bird's life by getting the egg out of the body. There is a special way to squeeze it out by a gentle massage without breaking the shell. Sometimes this doesn't work and a surgery is the only way to get the egg out. Please do not try to press the egg out of the hen's cloaca! The shell easily breaks and it would for sure injure the sensitive mucosa inside the oviduct. Internal bleedings, infections or even a deadly blood poisoning could be the results of such an "experiment".
Most hens keep on producing eggs after they have become eggbound. In general, it's no problem for them to pass their eggs, but sometimes vets find out that there is an infection of the oviduct and therefore they treat the birds with hormones to stop the hens from producing any further eggs. The effects of these medicaments will run out within a few weeks or at most some months.
The only way to save a bird's life after an oviduct prolapse is an emergency surgery which should take place as soon as possible. In fact it is important that no tissue dies off: The larger the necrosis is the higher is the risk of dying. To be honest, even with immediate medical intervention the chances for survival are uncertain for the affected hen. If you don't interfere and leave the bird in its flock, something terrible will happen. Birds who remain untreated will become weaker and weaker due to their severe injury. Their flockmates will soon begin to bite the bloody part of the body, this type of cannibalism is a typical behaviour in birds (even in budgies!) and it is known as pickout.
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