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Duck Diseases: Egg problems

Avoiding problems in the UK
Almost every spring brings at least one tale of female ducks or geese suffering from ‘egg binding’. Often lethal for the birds, it’s also stressful and sometimes expensive for their owner, and it is best to try to avoid this condition by good management.

Always make sure that the birds have the correct diet.

* Use breeder rations which will have the correct proportion of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D;

* give access to mixed poultry grit;

* lime the ground with slaked lime or calcified seaweed if you live in high rainfall area, especially if the soil is acid and there is no lime in the ground. It is essential that ducks have the correct minerals to form a good shell, and that enough calcium is available for them to use when laying eggs too. Calcium is also needed for muscle contractions to push the eggs down and out of the oviduct.

Some factors are beyond one’s control. A spell of cold, wet weather when birds are in-lay, is the most likely time for them to be affected by oviduct problems. It is beneficial if the birds are housed at night in a dry, draught-free shed. The warmer environment helps. But quite often Calls live out in a fox-proof pen or with the wildfowl, and they are generally better off with this style of life. They are hardy creatures and, given a choice, prefer to stop out all night whatever the weather.

Another thing one cannot avoid is the fact that oviduct problems are more likely to happen in young birds. It can be the first egg laid in a cold spell which causes the problem, but keeping an eye on youngsters sometimes enables you to intervene in time.

Egg production
An egg released from the ovary is fertilised in the first part of the oviduct, where sperm is stored. As the egg passes down the oviduct, a layer of albumen is added, and then the outer layer is calcified as it passes through the shell gland. The egg then passes down to the cloaca and is laid, the whole process taking about 24-48 hours. Eggs can get blocked in their passage down the length of the oviduct.

Egg peritonitis
When an egg passes down the oviduct, it can be deposited in the abdominal cavity. This will become enlarged and inflamed. It is likely that ducks which have a distended abdomen which feels hot are suffering from this condition. Such birds cannot be saved and are best put down. The condition can be chronic, or a bird can die suddenly, with no obvious external symptoms

Egg binding in the lower oviduct
More frequently, an egg is held up in the lower part of the oviduct, after the shell has formed in the shell gland. The duck strains to pass the egg. She will spend a lot of the time sitting down, bobbing her tail gently up and down. The vent may have mucous around it, and the hard egg can sometimes even be felt when placing your hand under the abdomen. In such a case there are several things you can do to help.

* Bring the duck into a warm environment (24-28 degrees C). This helps the bird use its muscles in the oviduct, and the egg may be passed normally.

* At this point, it is also very useful to have an oral calcium supplement. Calcivet is a liquid calcium and magnesium supplement, administered orally, which can quickly bump up the calcium supply. It is available from The Bird Care Company. Note that this is a short-term treatment for calcium and is not a remedy for frequent soft-shelled eggs.

Extract by permission of
The traditional veterinary treatment for this problem is an injection of calcium.  This works very well though it is expensive, invasive and risky.  Oral treatment, with a highly bio-available liquid calcium/magnesium/vitaminD3 supplement like Calcivet (called CalciBoost in America), works equally effectively but is far cheaper and less stressful for the bird

Perversely providing good quality calcium every day can actually have the reverse result to that you desire.  If all the bird’s' maintenance calcium requirements are satisfied from the gut then the bones slowly lose the ability to quickly pump calcium back into the blood (simply because they have not need to do so for so long).  Egg-binding can result from this over supplementation. So we never use Calcivet (CalciBoost) seven days a week.

- When the bird has been warmed up, see if you can help her pass the egg by smearing vegetable oil or a suitable lubricant  in and around the vent. A traditional treatment is to hold to duck over a bowl of warm water, apply oil to the vent, and push any egg which can be felt in the lower abdomen outwards towards the vent.

- If this fails, a calcium injection (Calciject - calcium borogluconate), given by a vet, may help; this is usually administered by the vet with oxytocin. Calcium is needed for the bird to use its muscles to push the egg out. My vet stressed that the calcium injection used for cattle is all right – as long as it does not contain magnesium as well.

- In a bad case where the egg will not pass out, but can be seen art the vent,  the exposed shell can be broken with forceps. The contents are then extracted by syringe, and the shell gently pulled out. This is not the best strategy as the bird is more likely to suffer from an infection if the egg shell breaks. It is therefore a last resort at the vet’s, and must be followed up with a course of antibiotic e.g. Baytril, 0.3ml twice a day for a Call duck for 5 days. This is prescribed by the vet and advice will be given about withdrawal times for the product (if appropriate - Call ducks are not usually eaten, or any bird in these circumstances).

In a bad case of a bird straining to pass an egg, the oviduct will prolapse i.e. turn outwards. This reduces the bird’s chance of survival.

If the egg is successfully passed without prolapse, subsequent eggs may be passed normally and the bird never experience problems again. Do keep an eye on what is happening though, for the next week. I have known a larger duck have the same problem recur because her muscles had been strained so much, that the subsequent egg again collected in the lower oviduct and the bird had to be put down.

If all this worries you – don’t. It is not that common. It may not happen to your birds, but it’s as well to know how to avoid problems, and how to get help if it does affect your stock.



For further information on the use of veterinary medicines please contact your Vet or visit the website of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate who are the regulatory authority for veterinary medicines in the UK.