Cockatiels and Egg Binding
By Eleanor McCaffrey,
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I receive many heartbreaking emails from people who have lost their birds because of egg binding. Hopefully, the information below will prevent this from happening to your bird. The risk of egg binding can be minimized with proper nutrition and conscientious breeding. Oh, you think you have a male bird? Unless your bird had a DNA blood test you may have a female and not even know it.  (Note: In 2006, I started adding the names of birds who have died while trying to bring new life into this world to the bottom of this page. This page is dedicated to them. If your bird died from egg binding and you would like her name added, please email me.
Egg Binding

A cockatiel should be able to lay a clutch of 2-8 eggs, laying one egg every other day.(48 hours) Egg binding is the inability of a female bird to pass or expel an egg from her body. According to the Pennsylvania State University, Veterinary Science Extension, this condition is most commonly seen with smaller birds such as cockatiels, parakeets, canaries, lovebirds and finches. Even single female birds who have never had any contact with a male bird can still lay eggs and die from egg binding. The most common causes of egg binding are a very young female bird (under 18 months of age) laying her first egg, lack of calcium in the diet, an all seed diet which lacks vitamins and minerals necessary for the production of normal eggs and healthy muscles, by allowing birds to breed all year long and chronic egg laying in single females.

Lack of calcium and other nutrients, cause an egg with a soft shell that is larger than normal or abnormally shaped to be produced. The soft shell causes the egg to get trapped inside of the female's body because the muscles in the ovary and cloaca can not get a good grip on it to push it out. Lack of calcium and other minerals also causes weaker muscles that are unable to contract properly to expel the egg. Chronic egg laying, which is usually correctable, depletes a bird's body of calcium, leading to low blood calcium levels and the formation of soft shelled eggs. According to the Pennsylvania State University, Veterinary Science Extension, other causes of egg binding include other nutritional deficiencies, lack of exercise, being overweight and over-breeding (more than 2 clutches a year). All of these conditions are preventable.  Reproductive tract infection, dysfunction and genetics can also cause egg binding. Egg formation takes approximately 24-25 hours and females will pass 1 egg approximately every 48 hours.. There are physical changes in female birds that signal the approach of an egg laying cycle. If you are already in the habit of weighing your bird each day, there may be a significant gain in weight. The female's lower vent area will also appear slightly larger and feel firmer to the touch. Droppings will be extremely large and loose. The symptoms of egg binding include the bird sitting on the bottom of the cage floor, rocking back and forth, sitting on her tail feathers with her legs spread apart, tail wagging or bobbing, abdominal distention, straining as if trying to lay an egg, labored breathing, lack of droppings, and ruffled feathers. The bird's legs may be affected if the egg is pressing on the nerves that control the leg muscles and the bird will not be able to perch. Her limbs may appear bluish white. This indicates a vascular problem. She may even be making soft, crying sounds. Some birds will require ex-rays or ultrasound for a diagnosis of egg binding because the egg is not externally visible

In most cases, the condition can be successfully treated by an avian veterinarian, if caught early enough. If not, the condition is fatal. According to Pennsylvania State University VSE, "Straining for longer than 1 hour in a small bird or longer than 3 hours in a larger bird indicates a need for immediate medical intervention." The bird becomes weak, exhausted and goes into shock. The result is  life threatening because shock causes the blood to stop circulating. According to a Dr. Michael Sutton DVM and Dr.Nick Woo Sam DVM ,small birds such as finches, can die within 45 minutes of being egg bound. They concur that untreated egg binding is a fatal disease.
Egg binding requires medical treatment by a veterinarian. Home remedies usually don't work. Procedures are complicated, sometimes requiring anesthesia because of the pain involved. Your veterinarian has a number of non-surgical ways to help your bird. These include administering drug therapy, such as calcium and hormones with a catheter placed inside the bone marrow of the femur, which is a bone in the leg. This helps the muscles contract so the bird can pass the egg. You veterinarian also has special instruments to help remove the entire egg, collapse the egg, or move the delicate tissue which may be stuck to the egg and preventing it from being expelled. If these measures fail, the bird may require surgery to remove the egg.

It's important to check your bird's health every single day, looking for signs of illness. Then you must follow through with immediate professional medical care from an avian veterinarian. If you haven't been doing this and notice that your bird is in extreme danger of dying from egg binding and part of the egg is visible, there are a few things that you can do to try and stabilize her until you get her to a vet. First,DO NOT attempt to puncture, break or pull the egg out of the your bird. You may kill her in a matter of seconds. A broken egg shell will cause even more problems, such as abdominal peritonitis,  an acute inflammation or infection of the abdominal cavity. Yolk from a broken egg that enters into the bloodstream can cause egg yolk emboli, blocking the artery to the heart or brain and causing immediate death. Pulling out an egg can also cause tearing of the ovary or reproductive tract and hemorrhaging. All of these conditions are fatal.
You can try to help her pass the egg until an avian vet is available. Give her energy supplements by putting Gatorade or adding Karo Syrup or a little sugar in her water dish. You may try to reduce the stress on her heart and other organs by helping her muscles to relax. Pick her up gently so you do not damage the egg. Gently rub some mineral oil, cooking oil or KY jelly around the egg and on the bird's cloaca to lubricate the area. Another method is to add some cooking oil to a spray bottle filled with very warm water. Shake the bottle vigorously and mist some of the warm water and oil mixture over the vent area. Next, put her in an incubator, hospital cage, a  small box, aquarium or small cage if available. Put  a warm wet towel on the bottom of the cage and place a heating pad under the cage, being careful not overheat your bird. The cage temperature should be 85-90° Fahrenheit and the humidity level about 80%. Another option is to take her into a warm steamy  bathroom where a very hot water shower has been running. 

The warmth and humidity may help her muscles relax enough to expel the egg. If she doesn't pass the egg within 20 minutes, get her to a veterinarian immediately. Remember small birds require immediate medical attention after 1 hour of straining, larger birds after 3 hours. Please, now that you know the facts, if you love your bird, take her to a vet at the first sign of any problems.

CLICK HEREto view an ex-ray of a cockatiel with egg binding.
CLICK HERE for preventing chronic egg laying.
CLICK HERE  to find an avian vet now.
Note  Females laying eggs are losing calcium. Provide extra calcium in her diet from cuttlebone, fresh dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach, parsley, beet greens, turnip greens, endive, chard, mustard greens,  watercress, broccoli leaves and stalks.

In Memory of Micah, Purdy, Murphy, Petey,
Mallory, Wilbur, Tweety, Chicken, Sadie,
Tweety #2, Bashful, Coco, Rosie, Kita, Miss Cindy Lou,
Heidi, Sunny,Snowflake, Allira, Jazmine, Dallywoo,
Finnette, Angel, Lucy, Coco, Cupcake,
Braveheart, Milly, Daffodil, Sugarcane, Tweety,
Eddie McDonald, Sunny P, Anni, Suzie,
Princess, Summer, Sammie,  Krystal, Sandy, Dee Dee,
Squeaks, Blondie Coish, Sweetie, Beau, Ruffles, Cuca, Sam,
Skitz, Petunia, Sweetie, Chico, Vale, Falcon, Bugger,
Bunny, Koko, Kathryn Nicole, Sunshine, Sunny
Fluffy, Romeo, Casper, Skittles, Bob, Bobbi, Tweety B, 
 Priscilla, Penny, Dusty, Beeka, Perry, Simba, Nancy, Rumour,
Louie, Sunny, Griffin, Katie, Cinder aka Poofy,
Snowy Bennett, Miss "J", Lucky, Winky, Sailor, Zakie,
Bonnie, Christian,  Rokitza, Willow, Mama Bird,
Trixy Frodo, Jojo,Trinity, Mitu, Paris, Sweety Bird,

Sources of Information--Pennsylvania State University of Veterinary Extension,
Dr. Michael Sutton DVM and Dr.Nick Woo, Egg Binding by Dr.Dawn Ruben,
the Long Beach Animal Hospital,Gary Gallerstein, DVM and books on breeding as sited on bibliography page.