Backyard chickens are popular pets, and like any other pet, they can get sick and need to see a veterinarian. Your laying hens may suffer from egg binding, a painful condition that occurs when an egg either is passed too slowly or gets stuck inside the bird's body. Here are four things chicken owners need to know about egg binding.
Why does egg binding occur?
Egg binding usually affects hens that are obese or that started laying eggs too early. Poor feed can contribute to obesity, so to keep your chickens healthy, feed them high-quality, complete feed, and supplement this diet with fresh fruits and vegetables. If you want to give your chickens a treat, stick to healthy table foods like cooked pasta, and avoid feeding them high-fat or high-fat scraps from your table.
Worm infestations are another possible cause of egg binding. Many worms can infest chickens, like tapeworms, hair worms and roundworms, but regular checkups with a vet will allow you to identify these infestations early. Egg binding can also be caused by factors outside of your control, like your chickens' genetics.
What are the signs of egg binding?
There are many signs that can indicate egg binding in chickens. Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Sitting, not standing;
- Fluffed feathers;
- Visibly straining to pass an egg;
- Tail pumping up and down.
If you notice any of these signs, your chicken needs to be seen by a vet right away.
How serious is egg binding?
Egg binding ranges in severity, depending on how badly the egg is stuck. For example, if a hen lays a larger-than-normal egg, the egg may get stuck temporarily. In other hens, the situation is very serious and can be fatal. This can happen if the stuck egg has completely obstructed the oviduct—the tube eggs that travel through—and the hen cannot pass it.
Your vet can tell you how serious your hen's condition is after an examination. This examination may include abdominal palpation (feeling the hen's abdomen) or diagnostic testing like ultrasounds or x-rays.
How is egg binding treated?
The application of moist heat can help your hen pass her egg. Your vet will place your hen in a raised, wire-bottomed cage and then place a pan of hot water underneath. The cage will then be covered with a blanket to hold the heat in. This treatment helps to relax your hen and make it easier for her to pass her egg. Your vet will monitor the temperature inside the cage to make sure it doesn't get dangerously hot. This treatment can take a couple of hours.
If moist heat doesn't allow your hen to pass her egg, medications can be used to encourage her to do so. Calcium gluconate, when given in injection form, often allows a hen to pass her egg.
If necessary, more invasive treatments can be performed. Your vet may carefully crush the egg by pressing on your hen's abdomen; the crushed egg will then be able to be passed. This procedure is risky because the shards of egg may cut your bird as they pass, which can lead to infections or even death.
The entire oviduct may need to be surgically removed if crushing the trapped egg doesn't work. After this procedure, any eggs that your hen produces will be reabsorbed by her body. The removal of the oviduct usually makes hens take on male characteristics like crowing and aggression, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
If you think one of your hens is suffering from egg binding, take her to an emergency vet clinic, such as Bayshore Animal Hospital & Bird Practice, right away for treatment.