Egg binding isn’t just an uncomfortable situation for your laying hens to be in – it can be fatal.
This condition isn’t incredibly common when hens are well-cared for, so you shouldn’t worry if your chickens have never suffered from it in the past. However, even if you manage a healthy, happy flock, it’s important to know the signs, causes, and treatments for egg binding so that you don’t have to worry about losing any of your birds.
It sounds harmless, but egg binding is a situation that should be dealt with like an emergency if and when it arises in your flock.
Disclaimer: I am not a vet and you should always consult with a licensed veterinarian if you think that something wrong with your chicken. The information in this article is based on personal experience and should only be used for educational purposes.
What is Egg Binding in Chickens?
Egg binding occurs when a hen has an egg that is trapped somewhere inside the oviduct. Often, this is between the cloaca and the uterus, but you can sometimes also see it trapped near the vent or cloaca.
The problem with egg binding isn’t just that it prevents additional eggs from being released. It also affects a chicken’s digestive functioning. When a hen is ready to lay an egg, her cloaca will close off the opening to the intestines so that eggs don’t become contaminated with feces.
If this opening remains close – which it will when she can’t pass the egg – she won’t be able to poop. While constipation may not be a huge issue in humans, in chickens, it’s fatal. In fact, it can lead to death within just forty-eight hours.
Egg binding can also lead to a number of other conditions. It can cause infections related to egg yolk peritonitis (which is an infection in the coelomic cavity of a hen) along with vent prolapse. This latter condition refers to when the vent begins to protrude out of the rear of the chicken. It can cause cannibalistic behavior among the rest of the flock and also serve as a precursor to infection.
Finally, egg binding can cause abdominal masses or infections. These can be difficult to treat.
What Are The Symptoms of an Egg Bound Chicken?
Egg binding is a difficult condition to detect in chickens because often, you won’t know that your chickens are egg bound until it’s too late. And of course, your hens can’t come right out and tell you that they aren’t feeling well back there!
The most challenging aspect of identifying an egg bound hen is that often, the symptoms that you do notice will look just like symptoms of other diseases.
Sometimes, an egg bound chicken will even ultimately pass the egg, and you’ll have no idea that she was suffering in the first place.
However, you can look for some general signs and symptoms, many of which indicate a severely bound egg. Your hen might not eat and drink as much as she used to, or she may appear to be lethargic. She might wheeze or pant, too, like she has a respiratory problem. Her legs may even appear to be lame as the egg is pressing on nerves in the pelvis.
Often, people report that their egg bound chickens appear depressed or sick, with shaky wings and noticeable abdominal straining. You might even see your hen’s tail move vigorously up and down as she tries to get rid of the egg. Hens who are egg bound often walk strangely, stopping frequently to squat and attempt to lay.
Look closely at the feces of your chicken, too. If she’s egg bound, she might have diarrhea.
Causes of Egg Binding in Chickens
When you’re trying to figure out how your chicken becomes egg bound in the first place, it can be quite overwhelming. This is because there are dozens of culprits at play when it comes to an egg bound chicken, any of which can be quite difficult to pinpoint.
Sometimes, egg binding is a one-off occurrence in which there is little that you can do to prevent or stop it. For example, if your hen is trying to lay an unusually large or peculiarly-shaped egg, she might become egg-bound.
This is because the oviduct is limited in how far it can stretch, and eggs that don’t meet the standard template can easily become lodged and stuck. The same goes for eggs with double yolks – as much as you might like seeing them in your egg basket, they tend to be supersized and are difficult for hens to pass.
Egg binding can also be caused by reproductive issues. Some of these are one-time occurrences and others are issues that certain hens might be prone to. If you find that one hen continually lays odd-shaped eggs on a regular basis, she might have some genetic issues that make her also more prone to egg binding.
Some of the causes of egg binding that are easier to prevent include malnutrition and the age of your chickens. Simply put, older chickens tend to be more likely to become gg bound since they don’t lay as many eggs – the muscles are weakened and slack as they are more inactive, and they aren’t as good at passing eggs.
When it comes to nutrition, a hen whose diet is lacking in critical minerals, vitamins, and protein (including but not limited to calcium) is also more likely to become egg bound. Hens who are inactive or obese may also be at risk.
Infections and illnesses can cause egg binding. Certain internal parasites can cause egg binding, as can reproductive tract infections. These can often be prevented with good practices of animal husbandry, so they aren’t quite as common in most backyard flocks.
Finally, a hen who does not have ample access to a nest box may be more likely to become egg bound. This is because she will feel tempted to hold her egg until she finds a spot. Egg binding can also be caused by a stressed hen, for example, one who is hesitant to lay an egg because predators have been lurking around the coop.
Treatments for an Egg Bound Chicken
Here are some potential treatments for egg bound chickens:
Identify the Problem
If you have a hen that is egg bound, your first step in treating her will be to first determine whether or not she is actually egg bound – or whether another health problem is causing her suffering. Don’t perform any kind of treatment until you are positive that this is exactly what is giving her grief.
You can bring your hen to a vet to perform some diagnostic tests, but you can also do a quick test at home. When done, it is a relatively safe and effective way of diagnosing an egg bound hen.
Put a glove on and make sure you lube it up with some lubricating jelly. This will prevent any tearing or damage to your hen’s delicate vent. Using your finger, press gently about two inches into the vent. If there is an egg that is stuck, you’ll be able to feel it. If you don’t feel anything, then egg binding is not the issue.
Give Her a Bubble Bath
No actual bubbles required, though!
An easy way to expel a stuck egg is to place your hen in a warm bath. You should add about a cup of Epsom salts, too, which will help loosen up the egg. Your water should be deep enough so that your hen can sit in it with about three or four inches of her submerged.
Place your hen into the water. She might struggle, especially if you have a breed that isn’t particularly fond of being handled. After a few minutes, she will likely calm down, as the water will feel soothing on her sore vent.
That’s good news because your hen will need to remain in the water for roughly twenty minutes. After the bath, dry her off. Put some more Vaseline or another type of lubricating gel on the vent. Massage lightly for a few minutes, moving front to back, which should naturally encourage contractions in the oviduct.
You need to be very gentle while doing this, because the egg can break inside of her if you are too rough. While it sounds like this would be desirable – it’s not as big anymore, right? – it’s not. I can lead to infection and actually make the egg binding problem worse.
After you’ve spent a few minutes massaging, you should place her in a crate (ideally one in an isolated, darkened location to keep her calm) with plenty of food and water. She should pass the egg, but if she doesn’t, you can repeat the bath and massage treatment a few more times.
If a few hours has passed and nothing has happened, you’ll need to move on to one of the other potential treatments.
Stimulate Her Appetite
If your hen hasn’t been eating due to her bound egg, you may want to give her a solution of sugar water. This will help internally lubricate the egg and replace any nutrients she has lost.
Many people supply calcium in addition to the bath treatment described above. Calcium will make it easier for your hen’s oviduct to contract and your hen will be able to expel the egg more easily. If you choose to do this, give your hen some calcium right before you put her in the bath – just make sure it’s broken into small pieces so you don’t cause her any more discomfort.
Warm Towel Treatment
If you can’t get your hen to sit in a bath, another option is to let her sit on a warm, wet towel. Place her in a confined space to do this. You might need to hold the towel to her in order to get her to sit. The warm moisture should help loosen up the egg.
Removing a Stuck Egg
You can try to remove a trapped egg yourself, but you need to be extremely careful in doing so. If you’re not totally confident in what you are doing, it can be dangerous to the hen. Whenever possible, you should seek the treatment of a veterinarian instead.
To remove the egg, you will need to poke a hole in it so that you can extract the contents with a syringe. Once the contents are out, you should pull the shell out. Do this gently, again, so that you don’t break the egg inside. If it happens to break, make sure you have extracted all of the pieces.
If you don’t remove the pieces, you run the risk of infection. The small shards can cut the inside of the oviduct, which can be incredibly uncomfortable for your hen as well as quite dangerous. If an egg breaks, you’ll need an antibiotic to treat her and prevent infection.
If you don’t want to pull the shell out, you can let the hen rest. Some veterinarians actually recommend this. It is often easier on the hen, as the egg is no longer a solid mass. However, it can take a few days for her to pass the remnants of the shell, which can be a stressful watching and waiting game for you.
This method works well if you can see the egg. If you can’t, you will need to manipulate it with massage to help get it closer to the vent.
Again, this can lead to breakage, so be careful. If you’re able to get the egg out in this area, return you then to the crate and watch her closely so that you can make sure she is eating, behaving, and drinking as normal. You will also want to examine her for vent prolapse or swelling. Even if she is acting normally, if there’s any redness or swelling, you should wait to return her to the flock, as they will peck at the sore area.
If you can’t get the egg out – or if it breaks inside and you need antibiotics- you will need to bring your chicken to a vet as soon as possible.
Preventing Egg Binding
Luckily, preventing egg binding is much simpler and easier than treating it. There are several steps you can take so that you never have to deal with a suffering egg-bound hen on your farm.
Build Good Nest Boxes – and Plenty of Them
While there are plenty of ways you can cut corners to save money while raising chickens, skimping on nest boxes shouldn’t be one of them. Chickens need plenty of room to lay their eggs. Usually, the rule of thumb is that you need a nest box for every four chickens.
The exception to this is if you have a broody hen or one that likes to take charge of all the nest boxes. In that case, you might want to build a few extra. It can help to keep your nest boxes loaded with fresh, clean bedding at all times, and to cover the entrance with a curtain so that the boxes are calm, dark, and relaxing.
Watch the Age
Many people try to pressure their hens in an attempt to get them to lay earlier or later in their lives. This is often done through the use of additional lighting. While providing extra lights is usually safe, you need to be careful about doing it with very young pullets or hens that are very old.
Provide Optimal Nutrition
As more people turn to making their own chicken feed as a way to cut costs and improve the health of their flock – a noble proposition – egg binding is becoming more common. This is because commercial poultry feed is formulated so that it has all of the nutrients (including macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals) that chicken need to be healthy layers.
If you’re making your own feed, you need to be sure that you are including everything your birds need. Even if you feed a layer-specific pellet, make sure you also provide an additional calcium supplement feeder in your coop. Your chicken won’t gorge themselves on this – they know when they need calcium and will help themselves when it is time.
Just be careful about mixing calcium into the feed, as they won’t be able to limit their calcium intake. While too much calcium is not common in laying chickens, if you have birds that aren’t egg producers (including rooster), excessive consumption of calcium can lead to multiple health problems or even death.
It is incredibly important to give your hen a balanced diet. Don’t forget – chickens aren’t vegetarians, and deficiencies in vital amino acids methionine and lysine (the building blocks of protein) can cause a variety of nutritional problems.
Remember that a common cause of egg binding is obesity. If your chickens don’t get enough exercise, they are going to be more prone to a variety of health issues – including egg binding. Provide your hens with plenty of space to roam and avoid feeding them too many unhealthy treats.
Illnesses and infections from things like internal parasites can cause all kinds of issues – including, of course, egg binding. Practice good sanitation practices in your chicken coop and run (such as engaging in weekly cleanings and making sure you provide fresh, clean water) to ensure that your birds don’t come into contact with internal worms.
You may find that you need to treat worms with natural methods, like garlic and apple cider vinegar, or medications like Ivermectin. Use synthetic medications sparingly, but don’t hesitate to treat your flock if a worm infestation arises.
Shore Up the Chicken Coop
If your chickens habitually suffer from egg binding and you’ve ruled out all other causes, it could be that your chickens are being repeatedly harassed by some sort of predator. A stressed chicken is not going to stop, in mid-flight as it attempts to escape a fox, to lay an egg!
Therefore, you will want to make sure your chicken coop and run are totally protected from predators. You may need to cover your run to protect against airborne predators, or even seal up holes in your coop that may be serving as entry points for weasels or other small invaders.
Avoid Warm Weather Treats
Try not to give your chickens too many treats, especially in times of hot weather. Your hens naturally eat less feed when the mercury rises, so this can lead to imbalances in electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals in your hens.
When It’s Not Egg Binding- But Something Else
Unless you are incredibly skilled at identifying an egg bound chicken, it may behoove you to seek outside help if you aren’t 100% sure what you are dealing with.
This is because, as previously mentioned, hens often have symptoms that can be the same as those presented by other illnesses.
If your hen has feathers that are stained with urates or is attempting to peck her vent area, she might not be egg bound – but she could be. These are both symptoms of other issues that can arise in the cloaca and other egg production regions. Similarly, a hot, swollen abdomen could be a symptom not of egg binding, but instead of egg peritonitis.
Other misdiagnosed symptoms include standing in a hunched position and waddling.
Make sure you seek medical intervention if you aren’t sure that your hen is egg bound – especially if you can’t see the trapped egg.
Why You Need to Avoid Egg Bound Chickens
You might hear or read a lot about egg binding, but luckily, it’s much rarer than you might think. However, it’s important that you be aware of the symptoms and issues related to this problem, as it can be incredibly devastating to have to deal with in a flock of any size.
Luckily, as long as you feed and handle your chickens properly, egg binding is not common. Keep an eye on your flock and monitor them closely each day. This way, you can stay apprised of any issues before they come problems – and you’ll ensure a healthy, happy flock while you’re at it, too.