Egg binding is a condition that leaves female parrots (hens) unable to expel eggs from their bodies. As long as it’s discovered early, the parrot can make a full recovery. Unfortunately, it can also be life-threatening and commonly kills wild hens with no access to veterinary treatment.
Egg-bound parrots develop abdominal swelling where the egg becomes stuck. They’ll also strain to get it out of their bodies, sometimes causing a prolapse. They’ll develop rapid or labored breathing, fluffed-up feathers, and a loss of appetite from the discomfort the stuck egg causes. Some egg-bound parrots develop diarrhea, while others become constipated. If your parrot starts sitting on its cage floor or struggles to perch, the egg’s applying too much pressure to the parrot’s spine and nerves, making it difficult to stand.
Understanding the signs of dystocia is vital to getting your parrot the treatment it needs. The longer the condition goes undetected, the greater the risk of death.
How Do I Know if My Parrot Is Egg-Bound?
Egg binding is an uncomfortable and sometimes fatal condition that affects female parrots. It’s also known by several other names, including:
- Post-ovulatory stress
- Egg retention
- Impacted oviducts
Dystocia occurs when the egg passes through the reproductive system at an abnormal rate, leaving the bird unable to expel it from its body. Thankfully, VCA Hospitals explains how it’s treatable when detected early, but it can become life-threatening if too much time passes from when the parrot first begins to lay her egg.
Egg binding is most common in smaller parrots, such as:
It surprises many owners to know that female parrots are able to lay an egg, even if she doesn’t come into contact with a male. Parrots ovulate like many female animals, but unlike humans, who produce microscopic eggs, birds produce hard, large eggs that they need to physically push out of their bodies. This doesn’t mean all female parrots lay eggs, but all of them are capable of doing so.
Understanding the condition and knowing what to look out for are the most vital steps in getting the best treatment if it happens to your bird. The most common signs of egg binding in parrots include:
Rapid or Labored Breathing
Hens with egg binding find it difficult to breathe and either breathe too rapidly or too slowly. You may notice a “panting” respiratory rate or your parrot may look like it’s barely breathing at all. Dystocia affects all birds differently, but any breathing changes are a cause for concern.
One of the most evident signs of egg binding is abdominal swelling. Your parrot will develop a rounded stomach or swelling around her bottom where she’s attempted to lay an egg. Any type of swelling is highly abnormal and should be seen by a specialist avian vet.
If your parrot fails to produce droppings, it could be due to egg binding. Inflammation of the oviduct is the most likely cause because the egg constricts the intestines, preventing them from functioning properly.
Diarrhea is another sign of egg binding. While this may seem to contradict the symptom of constipation, some birds produce wet feces due to their cloaca relaxing during the egg-laying process. The droppings may also be white. Whether your bird develops constipation or diarrhea depends on your bird’s condition and where the egg resides in its system.
Most egg-bound hens visibly strain as they attempt to pass their eggs. Unfortunately, straining is usually futile, as the egg can’t go anywhere. If you notice your bird continues to strain but doesn’t pass an egg, it’s likely gotten stuck. Many owners mistake this behavior for their bird pushing to go to the toilet, but if no feces appear, then it’s likely because of something more serious.
Fluffed-up feathers are one of the most common signs of illness in parrots. Parrots like to hide their illnesses so that predators don’t target them. As a result, they fluff up their feathers to make themselves look bigger and more intimidating. It also hides injuries and ailments – in this case, an impacted egg.
Sitting On Cage Floor
A stuck egg puts pressure on the spine, making it difficult and often painful for parrots to perch. In the most severe cases, egg binding causes paralysis, leaving parrots confined to the cage floor. This isn’t normal for birds as they need to perch, so always get this behavior checked out as a matter of urgency, especially if it appears overnight.
Lameness is likely to occur in the advanced stages of egg binding. We’ve explained how an impacted egg puts pressure on the spine, but it also affects the nerves, leaving affected parrots unable to move their legs. This is another reason you’ll find your bird sitting on its cage floor.
Loss of Appetite
Egg-bound parrots eventually lose their appetites as they struggle to deal with the pain and discomfort of the condition. However, appetite loss is a symptom of several illnesses, so look out for other clinical signs of egg binding to determine whether your parrot has the condition or not.
In severe cases of egg binding, you may see a part of your parrot’s reproductive tract protruding out of its cloacal opening. It’ll look like a pink mass from where the bird’s stained too hard or too often. Don’t touch it, as it’ll likely be sensitive. It may also hurt your parrot.
A broken bone isn’t strictly an indication of egg binding, but calcium deficiencies are a leading cause of dystocia. Birds with broken bones may not have enough calcium in their bodies, which means there’s a serious possibility that an egg may be stuck too.
What Causes Egg Binding in Parrots?
It’s not easy to determine the exact cause of egg binding. All hens are at risk, regardless of their age. Young birds that are laying eggs for the first time are just as vulnerable as older parrots in poor health. Nevertheless, there are many causes, such as:
Calcium deficiencies affect many parrots, particularly those on an all-seed diet. According to MSD Veterinary Manual, low calcium levels can lead to:
- Thin-shelled eggs
- Cessation of egg-laying
- Cloacal prolapse
A poor diet causes calcium deficiencies. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of calcium. You can also give your parrot cuttlebones, oyster shells, and leafy greens to increase its calcium intake. Breeding birds need more calcium than most, so keep an eye on your hen’s diet during these vital stages.
Low Protein Diet
Low protein diets also cause egg-laying issues. Because parrots predominantly eat plant-based foods and little meat, they lack protein from the diets, which causes malnutrition. Parrots lacking protein are more likely to experience impacted eggs than those who get all the nutrients they need.
Eating the right amount of protein also decreases the risk of obesity and weight-related diseases – other leading causes of egg binding in parrots.
Lack of Exercise
Parrots that aren’t provided with enough toys to play with or out-of-cage exercise time become egg-bound because their muscles don’t develop properly, making it difficult for the hen to expel her eggs. She’ll also tire easily and won’t have the energy she needs to lay them. Cages that are too small are a problem, as they don’t allow enough room for parrots to move and promote a sedentary lifestyle.
Obesity is a problematic side effect of nutritional deficiencies and little-to-no exercise. Not only does obesity cause health and behavioral problems, but it makes it difficult for hens to lay their eggs. It’s not natural for parrots to be obese, as it puts too much pressure on their delicate organs.
Environmental stressors can impact the egg-laying process, making it difficult for hens to expel them. The following things can have an impact on your parrot’s mental wellbeing:
- Loud noises
- Too much noise
- Predatory pets
- Insufficient temperature
- Location changes
- Aggressive cage mates
- Constant interruptions, particularly during bedtime
Parrots enjoy a consistent environment with a routine schedule. If any of these things disturb that, the parrot will become stressed and, as a result, the chances of an egg becoming impacted are increased.
Misshaped or malformed eggs become stuck in a parrot’s reproductive system, making it impossible for hens to expel them. This can be caused by a defective shell gland and infectious bronchitis. Malformed eggs are also the result of stress, deficiencies, and poor exercise habits. Once the egg becomes stuck, it won’t come out without veterinary assistance.
How To Prevent Egg Binding in Parrots
While egg binding is a serious condition, there are measures you can take to minimize the risk of it forming. Take the following egg-binding prevention steps to protect your parrot:
Improve Your Parrot’s Diet
Parrots on a poor diet need to switch to a nutritionally complete diet consisting of pellets. While birds love seeds and nuts, they lack several essential nutrients they need to be healthy.
As such, you should only give them to your parrot as a treat a few times a week. Pellets are formulated to contain all the vital vitamins and minerals. Parrots also need a balanced and varied diet consisting of:
You may also need to provide calcium, vitamin, mineral, and phosphorus supplements in the short term. Overall, improving your parrot’s diet will reduce the risk of egg-laying problems.
Wild parrots spend their days foraging for food and looking for shelter. They don’t have as many opportunities to move in captivity, so it’s up to their owners to give them plenty of out-of-cage exercise time so they can burn off energy by exploring and flying around. Their cage should be large enough to allow for movement and have space for toys and puzzles for your bird to play with when you’re not around.
Discourage Egg Laying
You can discourage your bird from egg-laying, which minimizes the risk of them becoming stuck in the reproductive system. You can do this by:
- Removing nests and nesting materials
- Separating the female parrot from her male cage mates
- Being careful not to stimulate your parrot through touch
This method is effective for preventing egg binding in parrots who can’t stop laying eggs.
Surgery and Treatment
In the worst cases, a hysterectomy to remove the bird’s oviducts and uterus is recommended when it’s not possible to extract the egg through the vent. However, this type of surgery is incredibly risky and is only carried out when no other options are available.
Chronic egg-laying parrots may also be suitable for hormonal drug therapy. This is designed to stop them from laying eggs temporarily to allow their bodies to recover.
While egg binding is a life-threatening condition, it needn’t be too much of a threat, as long as you provide your parrot with a healthy diet, exercise, and a comfortable environment to live in.