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Egg Binding in Birds and Reptiles

Posted December 20, 2014 in Bird Health & Care

Snake with its eggs

Dr. Laurie Hess is our resident exotics expert and contributes regularly on the Pet Health Network. For more from Dr. Hess, find her on Facebook!

While it is more common for egg-laying animals to follow seasonal cues to breed, such as longer day length, warmer temperatures, and more plentiful food sources, pet birds and reptiles don’t always follow these rules. Pets are generally maintained under unchanging temperature and light conditions in our homes and usually have the same access to food regardless of the time of year. Thus, pet birds and reptiles sometimes lay eggs during the non-breeding season, unlike their wild counterparts.

Since many pet birds and reptiles lay eggs all year round, these animals have the potential to develop reproductive problems all year round, some of which can be life threatening. One of the most common problems I encounter as a veterinarian who solely treats birds and other exotic pets, like reptiles, is egg binding. Egg binding is a catch-all term for failure of the animal to lay an egg. The egg is retained within the female’s body typically somewhere within the reproductive tract (except ectopic eggs that come out of her reproductive tract but are still retained within her body - a very difficult situation that is usually treatable only with surgery). The egg may be retained in its fully developed form, with a yolk and egg white inside and a shell outside, or it may get stuck in the reproductive tract at any stage of earlier development. Egg binding can happen in birds and reptiles from lack of essential nutrients (especially lack of calcium which is critical in forming the egg’s outer shell), lack of ultraviolet light (that helps form active vitamin D in birds’ and reptiles’ skin to enable them to absorb calcium from food), excessively large or malformed eggs that are either too big or misshapen to pass through and out of the reproductive tract, or physical problems within the reproductive tract (such as a twist in the oviduct – the tube that connects the ovary to the cloaca, the chamber where eggs exit the body).

Each of these different causes of egg binding is treated differently. To help the animal lay, some egg-bound pets merely require supportive care, such as fluids underneath the skin to rehydrate them if they haven’t been eating, a calcium injection if they haven’t been getting adequate calcium

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Laurie has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified bird specialist and exotic animal veterinarian as well as a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.