Dogs and cats aren't the only pets who should get regular nail trims. Pet birds need them, too. Birds in captivity don't wear down their nails while perching, as birds do in the wild, so they can easily become overgrown. But don't worry because, with the right tools, training, and technique, you can easily trim your bird's nails at home. Use this step-by-step guide so you don't have to wing it (pun very much intended).
How to Know if Your Bird Needs a Nail Trim
"Wait, my bird needs their nails trimmed?" If you're just learning this for the first time, don't panic. It's possible your bird has been sufficiently wearing their nails down on their own.
Regardless, here's an easy way you can tell if it needs to be done: have your bird stand on a flat surface and take a look at their feet. Their toes should all sit flat on the surface. If they don't, and their toes are being lifted up off the surface, it means their nails are too long.
Preparing Your Bird for Nail Clipping
If you've never restrained your bird before, you'll need to start by getting them comfortable with handling. Birds can become stressed very easily, so get them used to being held as early as possible.
The best method for trimming your bird's nails (and a lot of other tasks, like medication administration and examinations) is using a towel for restraint. If your bird isn't used to seeing or being touched by a towel, desensitize them to this first. Praise them with treats and words of encouragement before you go all in with nail clipping.
The best way to get your bird used to being held in a towel, start when they're young. Introduce the towel, let them touch it, then try draping it over their head, and treat them immediately.
Tools You'll Need
Your bird's nails are very different from your own, so you'll want to make sure you have the right tools. Skip regular nail clippers (these might work for cats, but they can splinter and damage your bird's nails) and get bird-specific nail clippers instead. You'll need:
- Small to medium-sized towel (depending on the size of your bird)
- Bird nail clippers
- Styptic powder (or cornstarch)
Trimming a bird's nails by yourself is very challenging and can be dangerous unless your bird is used to this type of restraint. Grab a buddy to help you and keep everyone safe.
How to Hold Your Bird
Restraint for birds is way different from small mammals. This is, in part, because birds can fly, and their anatomy is very different. The two big things to remember when holding your bird for a nail trim are 1) it's OK to gently hold them around the neck because their tracheal rings are entirely made up of cartilage (unlike ours, which are incomplete); and 2) you should never hold them around their chest, because their body cavity needs to expand in order for them to breathe.
- With an open towel in your hand, approach your bird from behind and drape the towel over the back of their head and body.
- Place the knuckles of your index and middle fingers on either side of the neck to keep them from biting. In larger birds, you may need to use your index finger and thumb instead.
- Use your other fingers and palm of the same hand to gently hold their wings in and support their back.
- Keep them as upright as possible and allow the towel to stay open a bit so you can keep an eye on their chest. Stop immediately if you suspect your bird is having trouble breathing.
- Your other hand can support the feet. Holding onto something with their feet can keep your bird from scratching or flailing, so you can use a piece of the towel or your finger to occupy the foot that's not having a nail trim.
Keep all restraint to less than 10 minutes to keep your bird safe. Even if the nail trim isn't complete, give them a break and finish later.
Trimming Process Step-by-Step
If your bird does well with towel restraint for a few minutes at a time, it's safe to go ahead and start trimming.
- With one person restraining your bird in a towel, gently take one toe into your hand.
- If the nail is clear, you can look closely and see a pink line running through the nail. Avoid this pink line, which is the quick. If your bird has black nails, you probably can't see the quick.
- Trim tiny portions (~1 millimeter) at a time.
- If the nail starts to bleed, dab a bit of Styptic powder (or corn starch!) onto the nail to stop the bleeding, then move on to the next nail.
- Don't rush yourself, but aim to get through all toes quickly so your bird doesn't overheat or become stressed.
What is the quick? Your bird's quick is the blood and nerve-filled portion at the center of the nail. If you cut the quick, it will bleed and make a mess. Plus, it'll feel uncomfortable for your pet.
Watch for Signs of Distress
You'll need to watch for signs of distress throughout the entire bird nail-trimming process. Birds can deteriorate quickly and quietly, especially if they have any underlying conditions. Use these safety measures to keep your feathered friend safe.
- Watch your bird's chest rise and fall throughout the nail trim. If their breathing speeds up or changes at all, stop and release them.
- Avoid holding their cheeks too firmly because it can lead to bruising.
- If your bird starts flapping their wings, regroup and adjust your restraint.
- Avoid trimming their nails in a room with windows because, if stressed, they might panic and try to fly into the window to escape.
- Excessive screaming, flapping, and fluffed up feathers are signs of distress, so stop if your bird shows these.
When to Have the Vet Trim Your Bird's Nails
All exotic vets and some general practitioners will trim your bird's nails for you at the vet office. They can do this as part of your exam or as a separate visit. If your bird seems distressed by the trimming process or if you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself, don't hesitate to ask your vet to perform the task for you. They might even be willing to show you restraint tricks and guide you through, so you're able to do it at home.
Bird Nail Clipping Techniques You Won't Stop Raven About
Birds aren't maintenance-free pets. Even though they have feathers instead of fur, they still need nail trims and baths to keep them looking and feeling great. Start by getting them used to towel restraint, then practice touching their toes before trimming them. And if at any point you get nervous about clipping your bird's claws, call your vet's office for help.