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Egg Binding

Eggbound, Egg Retention, Dystocia, Obstructing Cloaca

Overview


Egg binding is a fairly common, potentially life-threatening reproductive condition in hens. Affected hens are often referred to as being "egg bound". The usual history is that the hen has stopped laying. An egg bound bird has an egg lodged in her uterus or vagina, in which the hen is either not able to lay, or it is taking her an abnormal amount of time to lay. Young hens that lay their first egg often develop this condition.

What Causes Egg Binding


Egg binding is caused 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

What an Egg Bound Hen Looks Like


Symptoms associated with an egg bound hen appear suddenly and quietly. The clinical signs observed in affected hens will vary depending on each individual hen and the severity of the condition. Typically, an egg bound hen may look like they are straining and uncomfortable. Their behavior may become sluggish and dull, which can be confused with depression. The bird may have a distended abdomen and a swollen and/or pasted vent.

How Egg Binding is Diagnosed


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 or through radiographs. However, in cases where hens are trying to pass a soft-shelled, shell-less, or ruptured egg, it's presence cannot be felt through palpation or through radiographs. Sometimes an ultrasound can be helpful for picking up soft-shelled or shell-less eggs.

How to Help an Egg Bound Hen


Egg binding should be taken seriously and quickly addressed, as the blockage caused by the egg suck 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.

Clinical Signs

Lethargy
Hen has not yet laid an egg
Swollen and pasted vent
Abdominal distension
Sudden onset
Appears to be straining
Sitting/squatting abnormally
Tail pumping
Loss of appetite
Excessive time spent in the nestbox

Diagnosis

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

Treatment

NameSummary
RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
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 jelly
0.2 mg/kg applied to the chicken's vent areaK Marx
SUPPORTIVE CARE
Place hen in a relaxing environment, apart from other flock members and in a comfortable temperature-controlled environment. Watch for any changes and make sure to reduce exposure to any external stressors (a companion pet such as a dog or cat they might be afraid of, wind chill or draft from window, loud noises, etc.)
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.
Increased EnrichmentProvide more stimulation through the use of food enrichment to encourage hens to participate in natural chicken activities such as scavenging for food.
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)

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

Blogs

Age Range

Occurs in hens actively laying eggs

Risk Factors

  • Chronic egg laying
  • Extreme temperature fluctuations such as very cold or very hot weather conditions
  • A calcium-deficient diet
  • Hen starts laying eggs at an early age
  • Laying large eggs
  • Poor body condition
  • Underdeveloped reproductive tract

Seasonality

WinterSpringSummerAutumn