Egg binding is a condition in which a female bird is unable to expel an egg or clutch of eggs. It is most commonly seen in smaller species such as cockatiels, as they are prone to chronic egg laying. This condition can be serious and require treatment at an emergency pet hospital, but there are ways to prevent this from occurring. If you own a female cockatiel, you need to supply your pet with adequate calcium to prevent a soft egg shell, and be aware of the signs of a potential problem.
Why Your (Single) Cockatiel Is Laying Eggs
Unfortunately, many first time bird owners are under the misconception that single birds do not lay eggs. A female bird without a mate can indeed lay eggs upon maturity, although the eggs are infertile. Cockatiels in captivity are known for chronic egg laying, and a single egg-laying bird may be displaying breeding behaviors, or the urge to breed and raise young. If egg laying becomes a chronic issue or if the hen is nutritionally deficient, egg binding may occur.
How to Prevent This Issue
Although cockatiels are prone to egg binding, there are ways to minimize the risk in your feathered friend. Keep your pet well nourished and provide a diet rich in calcium. This may prevent soft shells in an egg laying female, a condition which often leads to egg binding. Good sources of calcium for cockatiels are mineral blocks and cuttlebone.
The best way to reduce the risk of egg binding is to prevent egg laying from occurring at all. To do so, you'll want to discourage breeding and nesting behaviors, as these behaviors lead to a continuous cycle of egg laying. This may be accomplished by keeping shedding (or "nesting") objects such as paper or scraps out of your pet's reach and avoiding excess handling and petting.
Petting a cockatiel on the back or near the vent area may be stimulating and produce breeding hormones in your pet. Also, avoid placing a mirror in the cage, as the bird's reflection may be conceived as a potential "mate". Any of the above may stimulate your pet into an egg laying cycle and a potential for binding.
Some avian experts believe that egg laying is due to increased daylight exposure during spring and summer. This may be remedied by covering your bird's cage early at night. Also, you might want to avoid the use of artificial light in the bird's room.
Symptoms of an Egg-Bound Cockatiel
Sometimes, despite your best efforts and awareness, cockatiel egg binding may occur. If left untreated, or if the condition is prolonged, your pet's life may be endangered. It is imperative to recognize the signs of an egg-bound bird so you may act quickly. What should you look for?
Inability to pass droppings: An egg bound bird may be unable to pass droppings or become constipated. You may also notice a decrease in your bird's droppings, or droppings that are extraordinarily large or watery. While this may indicate another condition, if your pet displays any of the above symptoms, look for other tell-tale signs as well.
Firmness and swelling: If you suspect egg binding in your pet cockatiel, place your hand on the abdomen and note any possible swelling. This area may also feel firm to the touch.
Sitting on the bottom of the cage and straining: An egg bound hen may strain in an attempt to dispel the egg. If the bird becomes weak or stressed, it may not be able to perch and, therefore, will choose to rest on the cage bottom. You might also want to weigh your pet using a gram scale. Weight gain may indicate egg binding as well.
Loss of appetite: While a refusal to eat may indicate another serious illness, birds affected by egg binding rarely have any appetite.
Labored breathing or panting
How to Help an Egg Bound Bird
If your cockatiel is unable to pass an egg, you may be able to help at home. Try taking your pet into a steamy bathroom after running the shower. The steam may help your pet pass the egg. In addition, you might gently rub a bit of oil near the vent for lubrication, which also may help your pet pass an egg more easily. If these measures do not help, take your pet to an emergency pet hospital at once.
Your avian vet will check for distention and swelling, as well as take x-rays. The x-rays will confirm the condition of egg binding. Upon the diagnosis, the vet may administer medications or insert a needle directly into the uterus, in an effort to dispel the obstructed egg. In extreme cases, surgery may be needed.
For more information, or if you're concerned your bird already has this condition, contact a local emergency pet hospital.