Parrot Reproductive Disorders
by Dr Brett Gartrell B.V.Sc (Hons)
Reproductive problems hit breeders where it hurts most, right in the breeding hen. There is nothing more frustrating than losing a good bird when it's breeding. The following article describes some of the more common problems and some things you can do to help.
The failure of an egg to pass through the oviduct at a normal rate.
Causes of egg binding include:-
Signs a bird can show include:-
Many of the complications of egg binding can lead to the death of the bird.
Treatment involves first and foremost stabilising the patient. Make no attempts at delivering the egg until the bird is stable.
If only minimal depression is present then provide supplemental heat (28-31°C) with easy access to food and water. Cropping the bird with oral calcium, vitamin D and energy supplements can be useful. Lubricate the vent (KY jelly or Vaseline are useful). Wait at least 20 minutes for the bird to pass her egg on her own before intervening.
If the hen stays stable but does not pass the egg then a short attempt at gentle manipulation of the egg can be attempted. Don't press directly down onto the egg. This will push the hard shell against the fragile kidneys, adrenal glands and ovary, which can cause death or bruising of the kidneys resulting in a leg paralysis.
Pressure can be applied to each side of the egg downwards, towards the vent. If there is not immediate success, stop. Put the bird back into the heat and wait another 15 to 20 minutes.
This process can be repeated a number of times while the bird is not severely depressed. If still no success consider veterinary help, either by phone or preferably bring the bird to us before she is too unstable.
If the hen shows signs of severe depression then immediate veterinary treatment is recommended. We can provide the hen with antibiotics, intravenous fluids, hormones (oxytocin) which promote uterine contractions, steroids and injectable calcium and energy supplements. If necessary we can collapse the egg after draining its contents (ovocentesis) or open the uterus under a general anaesthetic and remove the egg.
Complications - these are the things that can go wrong when you finally get the egg out and think you're in the clear. Murphy's Law !!
PROLAPSE OF THE OVIDUCT AND UTERUS
An extrusion of the interior cloaca and uterus to the exterior and has the appearance of a red inflamed mass of soft tissue at the vent.
It can occur following normal egg laying but is especially common after an episode of egg binding. It is more likely to occur in birds that are in poor physical condition (eg muscle weakness, obesity or malnutrition). More likely with malformed, soft or shell-less eggs.
INFECTIONS OF THE OVIDUCT AND UTERUS
Can be associated with general systemic infections or can occur on their own. Infectious agents include bacteria, chlamydia, mycoplasmas and fungi.
Factors which make infections more likely include:
Signs of these infections are very general and non-specific. They include; depression, anorexia, weight loss and abdominal enlargement. Occasionally a cloacal discharge will seen (smelly ooze from the vent).
Birds can produce eggs through an infection but quite commonly these eggs will be misshapen with a rough sludgy appearance to the egg shell. Normally as the shell forms the egg is rolled smoothly in the shell gland. Where there is infection the motion will be jerky and the shell rough.
Dead in shell can be as a result of uterine infections in the hen, as can the weakness and deaths of chicks after hatching.
Treatment of uterine infections is based around antibiotics. Identifying the bacteria and the correct antibiotic by cultures is worthwhile in valuable birds.
In severe cases uterine flushing can be helpful and to salvage the bird, a hysterectomy can be performed. This puts an end to a bird's breeding career but can save its life.
The binding up in the uterus of successive eggs, egg yolk material and where infection occurs also pus material.
This problem usually occurs secondary to egg binding or uterine infection.
Treatment is limited to surgery. Attempts can be made to salvage the uterus, but most cases have severe scarring and adhesions. The birds may be saved by a hysterectomy but have no breeding future.
Inflammation or infection of the ovary which is usually secondary to systemic disease.
Signs are difficult to distinguish from any other systemic disease including:-
Treatment is the same for any severe systemic disease and involves supportive care with warmth, fluids and nutrition. Antibiotics are useful in cases of bacterial infection.
Any problem in the cloaca can cause obstructions to egg laying (eg. infections, scarring, faecal stones or chronic prolapses) or to mating (e.g. dense vent feathering, abdominal fat, papillomas or warts especially those due to vitamin A deficiency).
ECTOPIC EGGS (NON-SEPTIC EGG PERITONITIS)
Eggs not taken up by the oviduct and instead are deposited into the abdomen. Can also be caused by rupture of the oviduct and is more likely to occur if hens are restrained or stressed during ovulation.
Results in yolk material spreading through the air sacs and over the abdominal organs which causes a mild inflammatory reaction. If no bacteria is present, all yolk material will be reabsorbed.
Treatment is mainly supportive, but antibiotics are used in case of septic peritonitis.
If the signs are severe then surgery to remove yolk material.
Attempt to switch off laying cycle. Manipulating the amount of light the bird gets can be successful. We recommend the hen be removed from its cage and sight and sound of its mate, then covered except for four hours of light for four days. If this is not successful hormonal injections can be used but there is a risk of significant side effects including depression, increased urine production, weight gain, liver damage, suppression of the immune system and diabetes.
SEPTIC EGG RELATED PERITONITIS
Yolk peritonitis that is contaminated with bacteria and causes a severe inflammatory reaction throughout the abdomen. It is more common than non-septic peritonitis.
Causes congestion, scarring and adhesions of all abdominal organs.
Can be complicated by diabetes, strokes, intestinal obstruction and hepatitis.
Treatment initially involves supportive care to stabilise the bird. Heat, fluids and antibiotics should be given as well as the provision of high protein foods.
Surgery is helpful in valuable birds to remove pus and infected yolk material. In pet birds we generally perform a hysterectomy at the same time which prevents the disease recurring.
Any episode of this puts the birds breeding future in doubt as there is always scarring and adhesions and there can be severe uterine damage.
CHRONIC EGG LAYING
Laying beyond the normal clutch size or repeated clutches in the absence of a mate or breeding season.
Especially common in hand raised hens which have imprinted onto humans.
Signs other than the number of eggs are limited to loss of condition.
Eventually malnutrition from pouring all her resources into egg production will result in abnormal eggs or egg binding due to uterine muscle dysfunction and general muscle weakness.
Treatment revolves around trying to switch off the laying cycle. Involves:-
In some particularly determined hens all this will fail and it may be necessary to use hormonal injections. (See under Ectopic Eggs for side effects that can occur with hormonal injections.) Injections will work for a period that can vary from as little as two weeks to up to six months.
In some hens the only solution is hysterectomy.
The maximum safe levels for production have not been determined in parrots. In the wild greater than two clutches per year is abnormal but this is quite often limited by feed availability. Can breed some parrots in captivity (eg Macaws, Cockatoos, and Eclectus) up to four clutches a year with no apparent side effects.
Prolonged laying, hatching and rearing puts stresses on a bird. If birds are kept in optimal conditions they seem to be able to keep on breeding. These birds are however on a knife edge. If anything is wrong with management or diet then the birds will not be able to cope. Diseases which are usually secondary problems can become major concerns, eg Chlamydia and Megabacteria (Otherwise known as Birdkeeper’s Bogeymen).
While no absolute recommendations can be made, it is best for the bird owners not to become greedy and push them for large numbers of clutches. Allow the birds a rest period each year.
An odd abnormal egg is not a concern and it is quite common for hens to throw different shaped eggs with no problems.
However a run of soft-shelled, rough shelled or infertile eggs indicates a potential problem.
KEEPING HENS IN GOOD CONDITION FOR BREEDING
IF YOU'RE UNSURE WHETHER OR NOT YOU HAVE A PROBLEM - assume you do and ring us for advice.
© 1997 Parrot Society of Australia Inc