What is Egg Binding?
Egg Binding refers to a very serious condition in any female bird that has an egg stuck in the oviduct that she is unable to pass. This can be a life-threatening issue and can cause serious damage to internal tissue, infection, bleeding, and can lead to prolapse and even death. Quick action needs to be taken when you find an egg-bound hen.
Hens release a yolk into the funnel of the oviduct approximately every 25 to 27 hours where it spends about 5 hours traveling toward the Uterus or "Shell Gland", as it is also called. If there is sperm present, the area between the Ovaries and the Uterus is where the egg will become fertilized. The egg then enters the Uterus. Encasing the egg with a shell takes around 20 hours within the Shell Gland. When the egg is properly formed, it then takes about an hour to travel from the Uterus out thru the Cloaca. When the egg passes out through the vent the passage to the intestines is blocked off so as not to contaminate the oviduct.
However, sometimes eggs get stuck between the Uterus and the Cloaca and this is when a hen is considered Egg Bound. Since the entrance to the intestines is shut off when the egg is nearing the end of the oviduct, quick action must be taken when a hen is suffering from egg binding. If she cannot defecate she can die within 24 to 48 hours.
Symptoms of Egg Binding
Just because a hen has not laid an egg today or even for a few days she is not necessarily egg bound. Many times hens will take breaks from laying, a hot spell during the summer, a cold snap in the winter, or molting can cause hens to take time off from laying. However, if you do see signs of being egg bound the quicker you take action the better chances you will be able to save your hen and get her back on her feet to good health. Here are some symptoms to look for:
Possible Symptoms Include:
- No interest in eating or drinking
- Walking like a penguin
- Abdominal straining
- Going in and out of the nest box repeatedly
- Watery diarrhea or no feces at all along with a full crop
- Droopy and depressed
- Pale face, comb, and wattles
- Hard abdomen
Suspected Causes of Egg Binding
Many things can cause a hen to lose the ability to pass an egg. Here are some possible reasons why a hen may become egg bound:
Low Calcium Levels: If a hen is low or lacking in calcium she will not be able to put on a hard shell. The shell needs to be nice and hard so when the muscles contract, the egg is easier moved through the oviduct. If it is soft, these types of eggs are not able to move as easily. Calcium also plays a role in the contractions of the entire Oviduct and Shell Gland. So, if she is low on calcium, the muscles will not contract well enough to expel the egg.
Malnutrition or a bad diet: A hen that is deficient in many nutrients and vitamins can become egg-bound very easily. Vitamin D3, magnesium, and phosphorus need to be in the right proportions for the hen to break down and make the calcium usable inside her body. If she is not eating right, this will contribute to the lack of calcium in the shell or the contractions to expel the egg.
Dehydration: Water is very important for the process of pushing the egg out. If she is dehydrated the oviduct can become dry, hence the egg is not going to move out properly.
Being sedentary or fat: Hens that do not get enough exercise, have not developed or lost good muscle tone, or have too much fat in their abdomen will have trouble passing eggs properly.
Large or misshapen eggs: If the hen is producing unusually large eggs or oddly shaped eggs, these types can become stuck easily if they are unable to pass through the pelvis. Many times overly large eggs are genetic in origin. Misshapen eggs can be caused by something having gone wrong in the reproductive system, eggs backing in on each other, or a defective shell gland. Of course, if the hen just can't seem to put a shell on the egg, the Shell Gland could be deemed defective.
Illness: Any illness that causes weakness, lack of appetite, low consumption of water, or other reactions to being ill can cause the hen to be unable to pass an egg.
Any hen that you suspect is egg bound needs to be looked at immediately. If you conclude she is not egg bound you can at least rule this out as to why she may be sick.
You will need to start with an internal exam. It is not difficult to do and you will know immediately if she is indeed egg bound.
Get yourself a latex glove and some personal lubricant like K-Y Jelly or even Vaseline. Apply a tiny bit of lubricant on the index finger and gently insert your index finger into her vent. Don't go down with your finger, but straight back. If there is a stuck egg it is usually right there within the first 1 to 2 inches inside her oviduct. The Shell Gland is about 2 inches in and many times you will feel them that far back.
The egg normally doesn't get stuck in the Shell Gland, but most often closer to the cloaca or vent area. If you don't feel an egg by completely sticking your finger inside her then she is not egg bound. And if there is no egg present you would be feeling into her intestinal tract and not her oviduct. The passage to the oviduct is only open when an egg is presently moving out of the Shell Gland.
If you do feel an egg close to the cloaca then you need to take action. The first thing you want to do is put more lubricant on your index finger and really lube up the area around and in front of the egg. Sometimes this is all it takes to get the egg to slide out. Using Preparation H inside the vent can also help to reduce swelling. Sometimes if the hen has been pushing for a long time the tissues have become swollen and this swelling can stop the egg from passing as well.
If you can feel the egg from underneath at the abdomen, sometimes gentle manipulation along with lubrication inside and around the egg can help to move the egg out.
If this does not help her pass the egg, there are a couple of other things you can do to help her move the stuck egg. She needs calcium. Calcium works fast and will help to get those contractions going. You can give her a couple of broken-up Tums/Rolaids (calcium carbonate) tablets or even human calcium pills. You will have to break these into tiny pieces so she can eat them. If she does not readily eat them, you can break them into very tiny pieces and open her beak and one by one get her to swallow them. You can put the pieces in raisins or even a bit of Gerber Baby Food. I like to powder medications and mix them with baby food and syringe them down the throat. Whatever it takes to get calcium in the hen will help.
Next, you will want to soak her lower half in warm water. It is easiest to bring the bird inside the house and fill up your kitchen sink with warm water. Place her into the warm water, and you may need to press her down in a bit. I have found that they enjoy a warm bath and will settle in and nearly fall asleep from the warmth. But you may need to hold them in if this is not the case. Just make sure their back half is soaking well in the warm water. Leave them in this water for 10 to 15 mins. I like to go 15 mins to make sure. The warmth of the water can help to relax the abdomen if it is tight from straining and many times this warmth, along with the calcium tablets, will get that stuck egg to move out within 30 mins of this soaking. After 15 mins, get her out, towel her off and use a blow drier to get her all dry. Let her rest in a quiet area for an hour to see if that egg finally decides to pass. Before putting her back into the flock watch that she is eating and drinking well.
Should it still not pass after one hour you will want to repeat this procedure again to see if you can get the egg to pass out. It is never advised to break the egg INSIDE the hen. The shards of an eggshell can cut the inside of the oviduct and cause bleeding and infection. Even sometimes when the hen strains she can break the eggshell inside of her. Breaking the shell is the last avenue to take if you cannot get the egg to move. At this point, I would recommend you take her to a veterinarian for more medical help. If she has broken the egg inside her body you will want to delicately remove these shards with a gloved finger, gently working them out without scraping her insides. This may take a while to dig all these out, but you need to get as many of these shards out as you can. You can use a turkey baster with water and gently flush the oviduct as you feel for these tiny pieces of shell. Use a salty saline solution to help keep bacteria and infection from setting in.
If the egg has not passed after a few hours, you can see the egg near the vent and it has not broken, gently make a hole in the shell just large enough to get the tip of a syringe (no needle) inside the egg and such the contents out. (You don't want egg yolk inside her) You will then need to gently collapse the shell and remove the shards. Sometimes you can remove the entire eggshell at one time. Be careful not to cut the tissue with the sharp eggshell.
After you have gotten all of the shells out, put her somewhere quiet for a few hours. If her vent is swollen, apply Preparation H to the vent area to reduce swelling. She is no doubt tired so keep her away from the flock until she has been seen eating and drinking and is back to normal. Never put a hen back into the flock with a swollen or prolapsed vent.
Hopefully, at this point, you have gotten the egg out or all the shell matter and she is not prolapsed. (This is another topic that needs a whole other article written). If she is not suffering from an illness that has caused her to become egg-bound or she has genetic issues with large eggs, there are some things you can do to help prevent this from happening again.
Avoid supplemental lighting for young pullets to avoid premature laying. Many young layers are already prone to egg binding before they have their egg-laying machines in gear.
Always provide oyster shells on the side in a separate bowl or feeder. Keep it right there next to the water and feed. Chickens will not go looking for it, but as they eat and drink, if the calcium is in their faces they are more inclined to dig in.
Make sure to keep the treats down to a minimum, especially during those hot summer months when chickens tend to eat less, to begin with. They need to be eating a proper diet full of nutrition and calcium-enriched food at all times. Filling up on other things will cause them to not eat enough of their layer feed.
Always provide fresh clean water every day. Some chickens can refuse dirty water so change it daily. They can also refuse to drink warm water as well. So if on those hot summer days the water has gotten too warm, cool it down with some ice. Make sure to put out plenty of water fonts so that there is no competition for water. Dehydration is one of the causes of egg binding.
We as keepers of poultry hope we never have to encounter any illness within our flock, especially egg binding. But, it can happen to our hens. Knowing how to help prevent it, being able to spot an egg-bound hen early on, and acting quickly enough can help get our hens through this situation and back to good health soon.
For more help with egg binding, you can post questions in our emergency section here on BYC...
You can also ask questions about eggs and laying in our Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying section here on BYC...
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