Egg Binding in Chickens

EGG BINDING is a serious disorder that most commonly affects a young hen when laying her first egg, but can affect any hen at any time.

Some cases are so severe that the only possible solution is surgical, and can result in a complete hysterectomy. This would require the assistance of a qualified Veterinarian and must be done under a general anesthetic. But I’d like to discuss the cases that would be considered mild to moderate, where the brave and curious Fancier is interested in trying to help out their hen.

The first thing I highly recommend (although I realize not always practical), is to obtain an x-ray of the bird’s abdomen. This is a valuable tool in confirming that you truly have an egg bound problem. Swollen and distended abdomens can be symptomatic of other more serious disorders. If the x-ray shows a distinctly formed and calcified egg, then you have a certain course of action. If the x-ray shows no distinct egg formation, then you can be dealing with a shell-less egg and that can get complicated. You may even be dealing with an internal layer. However, if the hen’s internal structures are fuzzy and indistinct, you could also be dealing with an abdomen that is filled with fluid. In this case, you’d be dealing with a completely different problem.

A fluid-filled abdomen could be a sign of peritonitis – egg related or otherwise. Whether caused by egg material never passed or not, a good course of action is to immediately put the hen on a good broad-spectrum antibiotic, such as Baytril. (Good SUPPORTIVE THERAPY should be included in any treatment program – May issue.) If the condition does not improve through the course of treatment, then a local Veterinarian should be consulted for possible fluid removal and to determine the next course of action.

If the x-ray confirms the presence of a calcified egg (egg with a shell), and the hen is not in any serious distress, then you can follow a conservative and simple medical and supportive approach.

Begin by making sure the hen has adequate protein, calcium, selenium, and vitamins A and E, since dietary insufficiencies can be a cause of egg binding. A preventative course of antibiotics is good too, but make sure you add a good probiotic during and after treatment.

Be sure the hen has plenty of fresh water to drink (hand water if necessary), and lubricate the cloaca (vent). Use a water based lubricant such as K-Y Jelly. This should be applied at regular intervals. Attempt to get some just inside the cloaca – but be cautious not to cause a tear in delicate tissues. If you can see the tip of the egg through the cloaca, even better – lubricate it too. An additional step that can be taken is to attach a heat-softened piece of small tubing to a 3 cc syringe and inject warmed KY or warm soapy water (mixed with sterile water) via the tube up past and around the egg.

A warm, moist environment is helpful. If you have a duck, you can begin by offering her a very warm bath. (Bantams fit nicely in the kitchen sink – much to the dismay of my spouse.) If you can find a small screen to lay over the top and put something heavy on the edges to secure it, then you can walk away and let the girl float about for awhile. If you have a hen, then you’ll have to support her so that the bottom half of her body is submersed for about fifteen minutes. As long as the bird seems fine otherwise, I would just repeat this at regular intervals, and give Mother Nature a chance to work.

If you can palpate the egg to determine that it’s close to delivery, and your bird seems to be having a hard time, you can go beyond the warm water baths and put her into an incubator. Set the temperature between 85-90 degrees with high humidity or place wet towels inside the incubator. Make sure the bird has a fresh airflow. Most incubators have a good intake and exhaust system for fresh air – but make sure the air holes are open so that you don’t suffocate your bird. Don’t leave her in there more than a few hours. And keep an eye on her condition.

If she still hasn’t expelled the egg, and you don’t think she’s going to on her own, then you can move to manual manipulation. This only applies if she is still bright and not in shock. Palpate the abdomen to find the location of the egg and gently manipulate it in an effort to move it along. GENTLE is the key word here. If manual manipulation fails and you can see the tip of the egg, another option is aspiration, implosion, and manual removal.

First, get someone to help you hold the bird very securely while you work (preferably not upside down). Then, using a syringe and a large needle (18ga.), draw the contents of the egg into the syringe. After aspiration of the contents, gently collapse the egg all around. You want to do this gently in order to keep the inner membrane of the egg in tact, which will keep the eggshell fragments together.

Last, gently remove the egg. (Copious amounts of lubrication would be good here.) Go slow and try to keep the shell together (although broken). If all fragments do not come out, they should pass, along with remaining egg content, within the next several days.

These are simple, at-home remedies for a condition that can become very serious. There are more methods available for the more difficult cases, but too many to list here. If your hen isn’t helped by the methods I’ve listed, then either the egg binding is serious, or you have a different problem altogether. If it is a severe case of egg binding, it may be serious enough for a Veterinarian. If a local Vet is not available that is willing to help, you’re desperate to save the bird, and you are a brave soul, you may be able to get a Vet from an Agricultural College to walk you through a more complex procedure.

But for the simple cases of egg binding for a hen’s first egg, the above procedures may be just enough to save many of the birds that are lost each year at sexual maturity.