When parrots’ beaks become overgrown, it prevents them from carrying out essential daily tasks, like eating, drinking, preening feathers, manipulating objects, and climbing.
Parrots’ beaks must be trimmed by a vet when the upper or lower beak has grown overly long and misshapen or if there are signs of malocclusion (upper and lower mandible misalignment).
Birds’ beaks are made of keratin and grow continuously, so they must be worn down through usage.
Parrots usually achieve this by rubbing their beaks on abrasive surfaces and general wear and tear. This happens naturally in the wild when parrots are scaling the branches of trees and foraging for food.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen in captivity unless abrasive items like hard-shelled nuts, natural wood perches, chew toys, things to climb, and cuttlebones are added to the cage.
Some health conditions cause rapid beak overgrowth, like fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis). If so, the medical condition must be resolved and the beak trimmed and shaped.
Birds have sensitive nerve endings and blood vessels in their beaks. Also, overgrown beaks have more blood flowing through them than normal. If a mistake is made when trimming the beak, it’ll hurt.
The need to check for underlying medical conditions connected to beak overgrowth and the risk of causing long-term nerve damage means that only a vet should perform beak trimming.
Why Do Parrots Beaks Need To Be Trimmed?
Zoomorphology explains how parrots’ beaks are made of β-keratin (comprising of proteins, mostly the amino acid glycine), the same substance as human nails and hair.
Parrots’ beaks grow throughout their lifetime, potentially becoming long and misshapen. The beak will curve inward over time, meaning the parrot will struggle to perform essential tasks:
- Eating and drinking.
- Opening and closing the mouth.
- Holding onto things.
- Scaling cage bars.
- Balancing while moving.
- Preening feathers.
When the beak is naturally ground down, more protein is formed at the base (near the junction with the skin) and slowly moves downward as the tip shortens.
Certain illnesses, injuries, and nutritional deficiencies can also cause beaks to become overgrown:
- Viral, parasitic, and bacterial infections.
- Hypovitaminosis A.
- Psittacine beak and feather disease virus.
- Fatty liver disease.
- Metabolic abnormalities.
- Beak injury and trauma.
Often, medical conditions cause beaks to grow significantly faster than usual.
Can You Trim A Parrot’s Beak?
When the parrot realizes its beak is growing long, you’ll observe the bird rubbing and tapping the beak against various abrasive objects and surfaces to wear it down.
Experienced owners may be able to trim their parrot’s beaks, but most should take their bird to a licensed vet because beak trimming can go wrong without expert knowledge and experience.
The beak, especially the tip, contains blood vessels and nerve endings. Cutting the beak too short will be excruciatingly painful and may cause permanent nerve damage.
How Long Should a Parrot’s Beak Be?
There’s no uniform length for a parrot’s beak because all species are entirely different.
For example, macaws and pionus parrots have longer upper beaks than many other parrots, making them seem as if they’re overgrown, even though they’re a normal length.
Look for species-specific pictures of healthy parrot beaks online and compare them to your parrot’s beak. If you suspect the parrot’s beak is too long, consult a vet.
How To Tell If A Parrot’s Beak Is Overgrown
A parrot may have an underlying illness if the beak looks physically different and other abnormalities exist. A healthy beak should have the following characteristics:
- Smooth and symmetrical shape.
- Free from peeling and other unusual textures.
- No beak discoloration.
- The upper and lower beak should align.
Budgies’ and cockatoos’ beaks are powdery, but most parrot species’ beaks aren’t.
The main signs of an overgrown beak in parrots include:
The upper beak (rhinotheca) will be significantly longer than the lower beak (gnathotheca) and will likely curve around. It’s uncommon for a parrot to have an overgrown bottom beak.
Parrots’ beaks become rough and uneven if they can’t rub them against textured surfaces.
Check for plugged nostrils (nares), which signifies that a nutritional deficiency is causing the overgrowth.
According to MSD Veterinary Manual, a vitamin A deficiency can affect the beak’s appearance, making it rough and sore, sometimes causing small cracks to develop.
Certain medical conditions can lead to a rough and uneven beak texture.
According to the Australian Veterinary Journal, psittacine beak disease and feather disease is characterized by overgrowth and irregularity of the beak’s surface.
Crooked or Misaligned Shape
Overgrown beaks that need trimming become crooked and misaligned due to the beak’s curvature.
This is called “scissor beak” (crossed beak) and occurs when the lower and upper jaws don’t meet properly. In severe cases, the parrot won’t be able to open or close its mouth.
Cockatoos and macaws are most at risk of developing “scissor beak.”
Growing Into Skin
If the parrot’s beak starts to grow into the surrounding skin, it needs urgent trimming and medical treatment. The skin will likely be red and inflamed, causing the parrot severe discomfort.
Difficulty Eating and Drinking
A parrot will struggle to eat and drink if its beak is too long or misshapen.
How A Parrot’s Beak Is Trimmed
If you notice the parrot’s beak is too long, schedule an appointment with a vet. A veterinarian will examine the beak for abnormalities and recommend a treatment (if required).
The vet will likely remove the excess layers with a Dremel sanding tool or grinding stone drill during the beak-trimming process.
Doing this mimics the action of a parrot filing its beak down by rubbing it on everyday objects, which results in a more natural finish and prevents discomfort and bleeding.
A vet will remove the overgrown portion of the beak without harming the living tissue. However, the experience will still be distressing and stressful for birds.
How To Avoid An Overgrown Beak
Here are some things you can provide to keep a parrot’s beak at the right length:
Parrots need access to cuttlebones to bite and rub their beaks against to keep them filed down. Cuttlebones keep beak length optimized, the tip pointy, and provide exercise for jaws.
Parrots chew on wooden toys, keeping their beaks at a comfortable length.
Choose quality toys made from natural materials that parrots can digest if swallowed. The rough grain and fiber will keep birds’ beaks in top shape. Some good wooden toys include:
- Sticks or pegs.
Never give a parrot toys smaller than its mouth because they’re a choking hazard. Also, avoid toys made from cedar or pine, fragranced, or colored with non-vegetable-based dyes.
Seeds And Nuts
Plants And Greens
Encouraging a parrot to eat fibrous leaves and greens will keep the beak worn down.
How Much Does It Cost To Trim A Parrot’s Beak?
The price of beak trimming for parrots depends on the following factors:
- Vet consultation fees.
- The severity of the beak overgrowth.
- Parrot’s size.
- Other health conditions that require treatment.
The average price of a beak trim is $10 to $50. Verify prices with 2-3 vets for a baseline figure.
Specifically, expect to pay the following fees:
- Small parrots, like budgies, parrotlets, and lovebirds: $10-20.
- Medium-sized parrots, like Quaker parrots and Caique parrots: $20-30.
- Large parrots, like cockatoos and Amazon parrots: $30-40.
- Extra-large parrots, like blue and gold macaws: $50+.
You may also want to consider getting the parrot’s nails trimmed, which will increase the cost.