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Egg Binding

Other Names: Eggbound, Egg Retention, Dystocia, Obstructing Cloaca

Egg binding is a fairly common, potentially life-threatening reproductive emergency affecting hens, who are often referred to as being "egg bound". Egg binding occurs when a hen is straining to produce an egg for more than a few hours.

Egg binding may be brought on by several contributing factors and underlying causes, those of which include:
  • Hypocalcemia - Hens with a low blood calcium level.
  • Calcium tetany
  • Poor quality or unbalanced diet
  • Hens laying excessively large eggs
  • Starting egg production prematurely
  • Increased age
  • Trauma
  • Obesity
  • Mycotoxins in feed

Signs and Symptoms of Egg Binding in Chickens


Clinical signs associated with egg binding will vary depending on the severity and size of the bird. The onset is sudden and the most common clinical signs include:
  • Frequent nestbox sitting behavior. Since broody hens exhibit the same behavior, you'll need to know the signs a hen is broody.
  • Abdominal straining. The hen may consistently act like their about to lay an egg. Without an egg appearing.
  • Depression. The hen may isolate herself from the other birds, act less engaged and social, close their eyes frequently like their resting, and/or eat less or nothing at all.
  • Persistent tail wagging
  • Abdominal distension. Look for feces accumulated on the feathers below the vent, and compare the size of the hen's abdomen with other chicken.
  • Assume a wide stance
  • The bird often won't perch, and sleeps on the ground instead.
  • Dyspnea or increased respiratory rate, resulting from compression of the air sacs with abdominal distension.
  • Cyanosis. The comb changes to a crimson color, which will progress to deep purple/blue.
  • In cases where the egg is stuck in the pelvic canal, hens may suddenly appear lame on one leg which may progress to full paralysis. This is caused by compression of the ischiatic nerve.
In some cases the egg can be felt inside the caudal abdomen.

How to Help an Egg Bound Hen


Egg binding should be taken seriously and quickly addressed, as the blockage caused by the egg stuck in her reproductive tract can be otherwise fatal. Initially, if caught early enough, there are several supportive care treatments that may help the hen pass the egg. However, if these treatments fail to help the hen pass the egg then immediate emergency veterinary care should be sought.

How Egg Binding is Diagnosed


  • Palpation of the Abdomen: In cases where egg binding involves a normal hard shelled egg, the presence of the egg can usually be verified through palpating the hen's abdomen.
  • Radiographs: Can be useful in helping to determine the location and number of eggs if they are have a shell present, for it is the calcium from the egg shell which is what makes it detectable through this diagnostic imaging method.
  • Ultrasound: This can be useful in cases where hens are trying to pass a soft-shelled, shell-less, or ruptured eggs and where the presence of the egg is not detected through palpation or radiographs.

Treatment for Egg Binding


Treatment for egg binding may consist of medical management, supportive care, environmental modifications, diet evaluation and possible adjustment, and sometimes surgery. Broad-spectrum antibiotics may be needed in cases where an infection is suspected.

Clinical Signs

Acute depression
Lethargy
No eggs laid
Abdominal distension
Abdominal straining
Wide stance
Sitting/squatting abnormally
Inability to perch
Persistent tail wagging
Dyspnea
Excessive nestbox sitting
Crimson to purple comb color
Lameness
Paresis or paralysis
Sudden death

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs
  • Ultrasound
  • Exploratory surgery

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Egg binding in a Penguin This case report assesses the role acupuncture played in the rehabilitation therapy of an African penguin with bilateral hind limb paresis and paralysis following egg binding and a caesarean section. Egg binding is the failure of the oviduct to pass the egg down into the cloaca. In avian species the sciatic nerve runs through the middle of the kidney. Swelling of the kidney tissue due to the pressure exerted by the retained egg will cause pressure on the sciatic nerve which may lead to hind limb paresis/paralysis. Acupuncture was used to relieve any muscle, joint or nerve pain and to attempt to stimulate recovery of the sciatic nerve. Acupuncture was incorporated into a fairly intensive physical rehabilitation programme to help the penguin to walk again so that it could be re-introduced back into the sanctuary's captive colony. Ref

Treatment

NameSummary
Initial Therapies
Relaxing bathPlace hen in a lukewarm bath in shallow water for 5 to 10 minutes; she should be secluded from other birds to try to get her to relax
Message therapyMessage the hen's abdomen very gently with olive oil. (Be careful not to rub too hard as if the egg breaks inside the hen it can be life-threatening)
Dinoprostone (Prostaglandin E) or KY jelly0.2 mg/kg applied to the chicken's vent areaK Marx
Supportive carePlace hen in a relaxing environment, apart from other flock members and in a comfortable temperature-controlled environment.
SurgeryMay be needed in some cases, where the egg is surgically removed by your veterinarian.
MANAGEMENT CHANGES
Reduced Light ExposureRestrict the amount of time the bird is exposed to light (artificial) or photoperiod (daylight). When birds experience a longer day length, it triggers their bodies to lay eggs. By restricting their exposure to daylight hours or light to no more than 12 hours a day, it can help to minimize reproductive activity. The bird should be in complete darkness at night for a full 12 hours. This may require blackened curtains to be placed over windows, towel or blanket over the cage and/or turning off any lights within their vicinity.
HORMONE THERAPYHormone Therapy is a form of medical therapy used to decrease reproductive activity in hens. It consists of periodic hormone implants or injections that are intended to alter the reproductive cycle of the bird. Over time, hormone therapy may start to become less effective on birds that receive treatment, causing them to require more frequent dosing and to use higher dosages in order to get the same effect.
Leuprolide acetateRecurring leupron injections to stop reproductive activity (egg laying)

Support

Prevention

  • Ensure laying hens receive a quality, mold-free, fresh commercial layer feed as the main portion of their diet.
  • Offer a free choice calcium supplement such as oyster shells, at all times in the coop
  • Do not use additional lighting

Scientific References

Age Range

Occurs in hens actively laying eggs

Risk Factors

  • Genetics - All modern day chicken breeds are susceptible, however breeds known for 'high egg production', such as the Leghorns, Sex-linked Hybrids, Rhode Island Red, Sussex, Barred Plymouth Rock, and New Hampshire Red are highly susceptible
  • Chronic egg laying
  • Calcium metabolic disease
  • Malformed or overly large eggs
  • Young hens that just started laying eggs
  • Reproductive tract dysfunction, as a result of daily egg production
  • Vitamin E and selenium deficiencies
  • Obesity
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Damage to or infections of the oviduct
  • Stressful events
  • Malnutrition

Case Stories

Seasonality

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