Did you ever wonder what the number-one reason people take their pet birds to the vet is?
It’s trimming overgrown nails.
Nail trimming is not an easy task, but it keeps your bird more comfortable and protects you from scratches.
The veterinarian’s website DVM360 estimates that 25 to 30 percent of all visits to vets for pet birds are to get their nails trimmed.
It’s never a bad idea to let your vet trim your bird’s nails, but in this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about how to trim your bird’s nails and live to tell the tale.
The Simple Way to Trim Overgrown Bird Nails
The first thing to do when trimming your bird’s nails is to make sure that they actually need trimming!
How can you know that your bird’s nails are too long?
One reliable indication that your bird needs a nail trim is trouble staying on its perch.
Long nails make it harder for your bird to grasp a hard surface. Or your bird may have trouble walking. It may wobble or lean forward as it walks on the bottom of its cage.
The other way to know whether your bird’s nails need trimming is simply to take a look at its feet.
If the nails are so long that they are beginning to curl backward, they need cutting.
Have the Tools for Trimming Your Bird’s Nails
To trim your bird’s nails you will need pet-safe blunt scissors or nail clippers designed specifically for birds.
Don’t use the same trimmers you would use on your own nails.
You will also need some styptic powder, in case you accidentally cause bleeding.
Styptic powder is available at drugstores in the men’s shaving products section. You need to have styptic powder or a substitute ready before you start trimming your bird’s nails.
Start By Calming Your Bird
It’s never a good idea to reach into your bird’s cage, grab it across its wings, and start whacking away at its overgrown nails.
First, make sure the room is safe for taking your bird out of its cage. Close windows and doors.
Turn off any ceiling fans. Move the cat to a different room.
When you take your bird out of its cage, always take a moment to let your bird feel comfortable being heard.
Talk to your bird. Move slowly, approaching it from the side, not from over its head (like a predator would).
Does all this sound complicated? Get a helper! Having someone hold your bird, cradling it in a towel, makes the whole process easier for both you and your pet.
Locate the Quick of the Nail
In birds that have light-colored nails, you will see a reddish vein in the middle of the nail.
You don’t want to cut the quick! Aim to trim the nail about a millimeter (1/25 of an inch) in front of the vein.
If you own a bird that has dark-colored nails, you will need to take a look at their toes when they are standing on a flat surface.
Your bird will need to have all of its nails trimmed so that standing on a flat surface is not causing its toes to curl.
If you can’t find the quick in a dark-colored nail, look at the bottom of your bird’s foot.
Imagine a line that goes from the very bottom of your bird’s toes and goes straight across to the nail.
Add about a millimeter (1/25 of an inch) and cut the end of the nail there.
Your objective is to cut enough for your bird to be comfortable, not for your bird to stand on absolutely flat feet.
Hold Each Nail Between Two Fingers, and Trim!
Gently but firmly grasp your bird’s toe with two fingers. You should hold the toe with your fingers on either side, not on the top and bottom of the toe.
The reason for grasping the side of the toe is to provide a kind of tourniquet in case you cut too much of the nail.
Remember, the blood vessels in the nail are on the sides, not in the middle.
Cut just a little bit of the nail at a time, so you minimize damage if you start cutting too much.
When you have successfully trimmed one nail, proceed to trim any other nails that are too long.
What Do I Do If My Bird’s Nails Start Bleeding?
There are two things you need to do if you cut into the quick of your bird’s nail.
Apply pressure on the sides of the toe with one hand. With your other hand, sprinkle styptic powder onto the bleeding nails.
Continue holding the toe to restrict circulation for up to 15 minutes while the bleeding stops.
If you don’t have styptic powder, you can use cornmeal or flour.
These don’t work as well as styptic powder, but you can use them in emergencies if they are all that you have.
What About Trimming Nails on Small Birds?
Nail trimmers designed for humans may be OK for small birds, but it’s still better to use trimmers designed for birds.
When you use the right trimmers, you are less likely to tear or shatter the nail.
But Don’t Birds Trim Their Own Nails?
If you provide your birds with the right kind of perch, they will wear down their nails naturally, so you won’t have to trim them.
VCA Animal Hospitals recommends braided rope perches. They provide just the right amount of friction to keep your bird’s nails and beak trimmed.
The only precaution for using braided rope perches is replacing them when they begin to fray.
Pet birds may swallow strands of frayed rope or get their toes caught in them.
Giving your bird a ceramic or cement perch will give it something to peck at, to keep its beak trimmed.
But a ceramic or cement perch should not be the only perch in your bird’s cage, because it can develop pressure sores on its feet from standing on it too much.
Natural wood is a great perch for any bird. Dragonwood and manzanita perches are suitable for birds of all sizes.
Don’t bring in branches you collect outdoors, however, because they can carry infectious fungi and bacteria.
It’s always best to provide your bird with several perches of different sizes and made of different materials.
This keeps pressure sores from forming on your bird’s feet and gives your bird opportunities for play.
Any perch should be small enough that your bird can wrap its toes at least halfway around it. This gives it a good grip, so it won’t fall off.
If you have finches, budgies, cockatiels, or lovebirds, try putting a cuttlebone in the cage.
Your birds will scratch and peck at it, keeping their nails and beaks trimmed, and it will provide them with extra calcium.
Also read: Can a Bird’s Beak Grow Back?
How Can I Find Someone to Trim Overgrown Bird Nails Near Me?
If you are squeamish about trimming overgrown nails yourself, you can always take your bird to the vet.
Nail trimming is a normal part of any checkup for a pet bird.
Vets trim nails with a special instrument called a cautery pen, which seals off blood vessels as it cuts the nail.
The heat of the cautery loop also kills any bacteria or fungi that could infect the nail.
For larger birds with sharp, pointy nails, such as Amazon parrots, cockatoos, and macaws, veterinarians file down nails with an instrument called a Dremel drill.
Both cautery pens and Dremel drills are for professional use only—it is easy to cause injury if you are not trained in how to use them.
Bird Owners Also Ask
Q. I don’t have anyone to help me trim my bird’s nails. How do I hold my bird?
A. Hold your bird with its back in the palm of your hand.
Place your index finger over its head, and let your other fingers and thumb gently hold it on both sides.
Q. Why can’t I use the trimmers I use on my own nails to trim my bird’s nails?
A. The trimmers people use to cut their own nails are designed for flat nails. Birds have curved nails.
Q. How do you hold your bird while you are trimming its nails?
A. It’s best to get someone to help you trim your bird’s nails. They hold the bird while you trim the nails.
Your helper can cradle the bird in a towel to keep it from flying away and to keep it calmer while you are doing the trimming.
The towel also reduces the risk of getting scratched or bitten.
Q. Does Petco trim bird nails? Does Petsmart trim bird nails?
A. Petco and Petsmart offer walk-in certified grooming services, but they do not usually trim bird nails.
It never hurts to call ahead and ask. If your local store does not offer the service, they may be able to refer you to someplace that does.
Q. If I break my bird’s nail, will she need a trip to the vet?
A. Broken nails cause pain in birds. If you have a pain medication specifically formulated for birds, such as Metacam, you can give it (carefully following instructions on the label) to help your bird feel more comfortable.
Bleeding that will not stop is a reason to take your bird to the vet immediately.
You should also take your bird to the vet at the first sign of infection, such as pus or swelling, and if the nail has not begun to heal in a week.
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