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by Dr. Anna Osofsky, DVM of Carrollton West Pet Hospital * (972)492-1828

Introduction:

Chronic egg-laying occurs when a bird lays more eggs than is normal during a given period of time; unfortunately, it is a common problem in pet birds. Although any species can be affected, it is most common in cockatiels, budgies, lovebirds, canaries and finches. Contrary to what many people think, birds can lay eggs without having a male available to mate with. Often, the bird perceives a person in the family or an object (such as a toy in their cage) to be her mate. Chronic egg-laying can lead to many severe medical problems such as egg-binding, egg-yolk collecting inside the abdomen, and fractured bones due to calcium loss. Because of these medical problems, it is important that we work together on reducing the number of eggs your bird lays.

What you can do at home:

There are many things that you can do at home to try to reduce the number of eggs your bird lays.
Removing any perceived mates: Birds will try to find ways to mimic their natural environments as much as possible; thus, they may try to find something to act as a mate whether one is available or not. Pet birds often consider one or more of the people in their family as a mate, toys or certain perches in the cage can act as stand-ins, and other birds in the household can, of course, be perceived mates. Try to remove contact with any perceived mates; for example, remove toys that your bird is mating with or reduce contact with the person the bird thinks of as a mate. Try to restrict petting to the bird’s head. Sometimes, the bird will *********e on anything (food dishes, toys, perches etc), in which case it is impossible to remove perceived mates.
Removing any nesting material: If your bird is spending time at the bottom of the cage shredding newspapers or paper towels, these must be removed. Contact paper can be applied onto the bottom of the cage for easier daily cleaning of droppings and food. Newspaper or paper towels can be used when the bird is not trying to lay eggs. Nest boxes should only be provided when breeding is a goal.
Leaving eggs in the cage as long as the bird is interested in them: This will allow the bird to try to go through her normal behaviors after laying the eggs. If she is actively sitting on a clutch of eggs, she is less likely to continue laying. If her eggs keep being taken away, she may continue to lay eggs so that she can have something to sit on. If the bird has absolutely no interest in the eggs, they can be taken away. If your bird is sitting on the eggs at the bottom of the cage, make sure her food and water are easily accessible.
Decreasing day-length: Birds usually lay eggs when day-lengths are long (e.g. in the summer). By making your bird think it is winter, you may be able to reduce the number of eggs being laid. The bird should be kept in complete darkness for 14-16 hours a day (so only 8-10 hours of light); if any light is available during the dark period, this will not work. A walk-in closet or guest-bathroom may work best for providing complete darkness for this length of time. Some birds (e.g. cockatiels) breed during the rainy season and may initiate egg-laying when it is raining. Though we cannot control the rain, if you have a fountain near your bird or flowing water your bird can hear, this may increase her egg-laying.
Changing the environment: Birds need to feel secure to breed. If you can move your bird to a different place in the house and change her cage around a bit, you may make her feel insecure enough to stop laying eggs.

Nutrition:

In addition to trying to reduce the number of eggs laid, it is important to make sure your bird is on a good diet; an all seed diet increases the risk of egg-binding and fractured bones due to malnutrition. Ideally, we’d like small birds (cockatiels, lovebirds, and budgies) that are chronic egg-layers to have 50% of their diet be good quality seed and 50% be healthy fruits, veggies, and bird pellets. Larger birds should have no more than 10% of their diet consisting of seed. A cuttlebone should always be available to birds that are in lay so that they can increase their calcium intake in addition to what they receive in their regular diet.

Medical treatment:

Despite your best efforts, your bird may continue to be a chronic egg-layer even though you have followed all the recommendations for environmental changes. In these cases, or if your bird has become sick from egg-laying, medical treatments are needed.

Calcium supplementation: Egg-laying requires a HUGE amount of calcium, most of which is used to make the shell. Birds, especially those on an all seed diet, can quickly become calcium depleted, leading to serious medical problems. Thus, it can be helpful to supply additional calcium to your bird when she is actively laying. We can prescribe a calcium syrup that you can give to your bird via syringe once to twice a day or you can place the syrup in the water daily. Keep in mind that when your bird is NOT laying, the calcium supplementation should be stopped or it can potentially cause kidney problems in your bird.

Lupron injections: Lupron is a reproductive hormone that can be given to birds to stop egg-laying. It may initially cause an increase in reproductive behaviors but should then suppress tthem starting about 3 days after the injection. Each injection should last approximately one month, but the actual time may vary. Lupron does not work in every bird but it is quite safe and can be very effective. Lupron injections are moderately expensive but are an essential tool in treating birds with reproductive diseases. In addition, the injections may eventually stop working over time.

Surgical treatment: “Spaying” your bird is the most definitive way to stop egg-laying and it can be life-saving. However, there are downsides to this procedure. First, it can be costly. Second, there are significant surgical and anesthetic risks. Finally, at present when we “spay” a bird we only remove the oviduct and uterus and must leave the ovary in place. As a result, we estimate that in about 10% of birds, the ovary will continue to try to release eggs but they will have nowhere to go. These birds then have egg yolk in their abdomen and can become sick. This complication does not occur in most birds but it is important that you are aware of the risks.

When to call your veterinarian:

Chronic egg-laying can lead to many secondary health problems. Please contact us immediately if your bird has been trying to lay an egg for a prolonged period of time but has not been able to pass it, if your bird is not passing any droppings, if your bird is bleeding from the vent, if you notice tissue protruding from the vent, if your bird is lethargic, if your bird is sitting fluffed at the bottom of the cage, or if your bird is not eating well. Please also contact us (though it is not usually an emergency) if your bird’s eggs become soft-shelled or malformed as these can indicate problems to come.
 
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