Parrots’ claws grow continually throughout their lives. In the wild, parrots naturally file their nails down by perching and climbing on tree branches. This prevents them from growing too long. In captivity, parrot nails can become too long.
Overgrown parrot nails are long and curly and may look flaky. If your parrot’s nails are too long, you might notice pain when your bird perches on your arm. Your parrot may also have difficulty climbing, grasping objects, and walking. The ideal parrot nail length allows the bird to perch properly without getting in the way of other activities.
You can take your parrot to a veterinarian to have its claws clipped professionally. This is the safest method, but you can trim your parrot’s nails at home, too. Providing a range of textured perches in your parrot’s cage can also help to keep its nails filed down.
Do Parrots’ Nails Need to Be Clipped?
Parrots can be found in most warm areas of the world, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere. Wild parrots’ nails grow just as fast as domesticated parrots’ and keep growing throughout their lives. But birds that live free in the great outdoors don’t have their nails trimmed by humans.
Wild parrots don’t need to have their nails clipped because they keep them filed down naturally. Free parrots spend all day climbing and perching on trees. The branches on which they rest come in many different sizes, shapes, and textures. Because tree branches are naturally rough, their nails are kept short without them trying.
But in captivity, it’s a different story. Most pet parrots are kept in cages with smooth, straight perches made of plastic or polished wood. These untextured poles don’t offer parrots the opportunity to file their nails naturally.
For this reason, you might notice that your pet parrot’s nails are overgrown. It’s common for parrots’ nails to get too long after weeks of sitting on smooth surfaces.
A parrot with overgrown nails might start to find it difficult to carry out its daily activities. Imagine how difficult it would be to do the simplest things if you had long, curly fingernails. That’s why it’s best to keep an eye on your parrot’s claws and trim them if they start to get too long.
Many owners choose to take their birds to a veterinarian for a professional claw trim. But it’s also possible to cut your parrot’s nails at home.
Are My Parrot’s Nails Too Long?
There is a wide range of acceptable nail lengths for parrots. This is because there are over 400 different species of parrots if you include parakeets, cockatiels, and cockatoos.
It’s impossible to give a precise measurement of the perfect parrot nail length. Larger birds can have much longer nails than smaller birds. But there is certainly such a thing as a parrot with overgrown nails.
If your parrot’s nails feel sharp, they might not necessarily be too long. Parrot’s claws are designed to be pointy, as it gives them a better grip on their food and perches. But if a parrot struggles to do normal things, such as walk, they’re probably too long.
Signs of Overgrown Parrot Nails
If your parrot’s nails are overgrown, you’ve probably spotted a few of the signs already. Many indicators suggest that your parrot may require a nail trim:
- Your parrot’s nails look long and curly or twisted. They should have a gentle curve but shouldn’t curl back on themselves like a sheep’s horn.
- Claws have a flaky appearance.
- Your parrot has difficulty grasping objects. If its claws are too long, it may struggle to pick up treats and toys or may continually drop them.
- Changes in perching behavior. Overgrown claws can make perching uncomfortable. You may notice your bird hopping from one foot to the other or preferring to stand on a flat surface rather than a perch.
- Difficulty climbing and walking.
- Your parrot frequently gets its nails caught in toys, clothing/fabric, or cage bars.
- Parrot nails too sharp. When perching on your hand or arm, your parrot’s claws hurt or scratch your skin.
If your parrot nails too long, you may also notice scabs and sores on your parrot’s skin. According to The Royal Society, birds routinely scratch themselves to help maintain their feathers and get rid of parasites. If your parrot’s nails are too long or sharp, they may inadvertently cut themselves while carrying out this behavior.
Why Do Parrots Bite Their Nails?
A parrot biting its nails can also be a sign that its claws are overgrown. Certain birds may chew on their nails deliberately to shorten them. This may happen when the claws have become long enough to cause problems grasping and walking.
But don’t rely on your bird biting its nails as a sign that it’s time to give them a trim. Some parrots are more fastidious with grooming behaviors than others. Many parrots won’t bite their nails at all, even if they reach an uncomfortable length.
A parrot may also chew on its claws for other reasons. For example, it may be a nervous habit triggered by anxiety or fear. It can also be a repetitive behavior caused by boredom if your parrot doesn’t have enough to do.
Parrots can also chew on their feet due to discomfort, pain, or itchiness caused by an infection or growth. Dermatitis, for example, can cause an itchy rash, according to the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery. This can cause self-mutilation, such as chewing or pecking at the feet. Take your parrot to an avian vet if you suspect a medical reason behind the behavior.
How To Clip Parrot Nails
Can you clip parrot claws? If you’re a new owner, you may feel that this is a daunting-sounding task. But clipping a parrot’s nails needn’t be stressful if you know what you’re doing.
You’ll need to have a good relationship with your bird. If your parrot doesn’t trust you, it won’t let you hold it still as you approach it with nail clippers. So, ensure you’re well-bonded with your parrot before you start. This may take several months of daily interaction or longer if your bird has trauma in its past.
For practical help, have a vet demonstrate the procedure. This is the safest way, especially if your parrot has dark nails (it’s harder to see the quick). If you want to attempt your parrot’s pedicure yourself, follow these steps:
Gather Your Materials
Before you start your parrot nail cut, gather all of the materials and tools you’ll need for the job. Have them close at hand throughout the process so that they’re easy to reach. For your parrot pedicure, you will need:
- Clippers. Depending on the size of your parrot’s claws, you can use human toenail clippers or larger nail clippers designed for dogs.
- Nail file (optional – parrots’ claws can be sharp after clipping, so some owners like to sand them down a little).
- Styptic powder is also called hemostatic powder or blood-stopping powder.
The styptic powder is important. If you accidentally cut your parrot’s quick (the blood vessel inside its nail), this powder will stop the bleeding. It contains astringents that cause tissue to contract, sealing off the broken blood vessel.
According to VideoGIE, hemostatic powder is commonly used in human surgeries to stop internal bleeding. But for use on your parrot, buy one that’s specifically labeled as safe for birds.
Some owners prefer to use a nail grinding tool rather than clippers. This is like a Dremel polishing tool, but smaller and designed for small animals. It’s up to you which you use.
Wrap Your Parrot in a Towel
Claw clipping can be an uncomfortable experience for a parrot. For this reason, most birds will attempt to fly away when you begin the procedure. The best way to ensure your parrot stays put is to wrap it in a towel.
Birds can be scared of brightly colored towels, so choose a towel that’s a light, neutral color. White, pale grey, and beige work well. The towel doesn’t have to be exceptionally thick, but it must be large enough to wrap all the way around your parrot’s body at least twice.
Holding your parrot still with one hand, wrap the towel around its body. Wrap it snugly so that your parrot can’t move its wings – but not tightly enough to cause pain or discomfort. Ask a friend to help you if you’re finding it difficult.
Often, parrots find it easier to stay calm during a claw trim if they can’t see what’s happening. So, some owners also like to gently cover their parrot’s head and eyes with a towel. All parrots are different, so if this seems to stress your parrot out, you can uncover their eyes.
Let Your Parrot Grasp Your Hand
When your parrot is securely wrapped in its towel, sit down with your bird in your lap. Lift the end of the towel so that your parrot’s feet are exposed. Ensure that your supplies (clippers, file, and styptic powder) are within easy reach.
You may have to tilt your parrot backward and let it rest against a cushion or the arm of a chair. If you have a friend there with you, ask them to hold your bird for you.
Next, let your parrot grasp your hand with its toes. Ideally, this should be your non-dominant hand, as you’ll be using your other hand to do the clipping. For example, if you’re right-handed, let your parrot perch on your left hand.
Your parrot should grasp your index finger so that your thumb remains free. This way, you can use your thumb to gently lift each of your parrot’s toes, one by one. This will make it a lot easier to clip each nail individually.
Cut The Tip of Each Nail
Now that your bird has perched its foot on your hand, you’re ready to start cutting its nails. Your parrot may start struggling at this point, so be sure to hold it securely.
Before you start cutting or filing, you must identify the quick. This is a blood vessel that runs through the center of the nail. If you accidentally cut the quick, your parrot’s nail will start to bleed. Your bird will also be in pain, as the quick also contains a sensitive nerve.
If your parrot has pale or light-colored claws, you’ll be able to see the quick through the nail. It looks like a red or pink vein. When trimming the claw, stop before you get to the quick. Only cut or file the very tip of the nail.
If your parrot has dark or black claws, you may not be able to see the quick at all. In this case, it’s safer to take your parrot to a veterinarian rather than attempting the pedicure yourself.
It’s vital not to cut off too much of the claw. Otherwise, your parrot may have trouble climbing. Your parrot’s nails should still have a curve to them for ease of grasping objects.
When you’ve finished the pedicure, reward your parrot with a treat or two. This way, it will come to associate having its nails clipped with a pleasant experience.
Check for Signs of Distress
Nail trimming can be a highly stressful experience for many parrots. After all, it’s not something that they’d naturally have to deal with in the wild. Being physically restrained can be not only uncomfortable but also panic-inducing.
How stressed your parrot becomes will depend upon its personality and the strength of its bond with you. If you have a trusting relationship with your parrot, it’s likely to tolerate the occasional claw trim. But some parrots are more easily frightened than others.
While you’re clipping your parrot’s claws, keep a close eye on its behavior and mood. Watch out for any signs of stress, such as:
If your parrot becomes too agitated, stop trimming its nails and keep still for a few minutes. A short break is often sufficient to calm your parrot down. Take as much time as is necessary to get the job done.
If your parrot is highly distressed and won’t calm down, let it go. You can attempt to trim its nails again later. You may have more success using a nail file instead, as the loud clipping noise can be startling.
Parrot’s Nails Are Bleeding
Your parrot’s claws should not bleed when you clip them. If one of its nails does start to bleed, this means that you’ve hit the quick. You’ve accidentally clipped too much of the nail off and opened up the blood vessel.
A bleeding nail might not sound like too much of a problem. However, it can be dangerous. The quick will bleed rapidly, and your bird may lose a lot of blood. This can be fatal to a parrot if not treated immediately. If one of your parrot’s nails starts bleeding, follow this procedure:
- Gently pinch the toe to reduce blood flow to the nail. Hold your bird upside down while you do this if it will let you.
- Dip the bleeding nail into a container of styptic powder. If you don’t have any, you can use cornstarch or flour (though this won’t be as effective).
- Apply gentle pressure to the damaged nail until the bleeding stops.
Styptic powder can be harmful if ingested. Ensure that your parrot doesn’t nibble at its nail while the powder is working. When you’re sure that the wound has stopped bleeding, brush off any remaining powder.
If the bleeding gets worse or doesn’t stop, take your parrot to a vet immediately. They’ll be able to cauterize the wound to stem the flow of blood.
How Often Should You Trim Parrot Nails?
Parrots’ claws grow continuously throughout their entire lives. This means that after you cut your parrot’s nails, they won’t stay short and blunt forever.
But all parrots are different, and just like us, parrots’ claws grow at different rates. Depending on your parrot’s diet, cage setup, and climbing habits, you may find its nails grow back quickly – or it may take longer than you thought it would.
After you first cut your parrot’s nails, you may initially notice your bird struggling to grasp, climb and balance. This may mean you’ve cut its claws a little too short, but an adjustment period is quite normal. After a few days, your parrot will have learned how to adjust its grasp in line with its new nail length.
Over time, your parrot will naturally file its nails into a sharp point again. It will do this by grasping various textures (toys, surfaces, and perches). This is how parrots naturally file their nails down in the wild.
But pet parrots’ claws often grow faster than they can file them down, owing to their domestic environment. Within a few weeks to a few months, you’ll notice it’s time to get the clippers out again. Some parrots only need a nail cut twice per year, whereas others benefit from a trim more often.
How To Keep Your Parrot Nails Short
Most parrots eventually get used to having their claws cut. As it gets used to the routine and anticipates its treat, your parrot will begin to tolerate it better.
However, there are some things you can do to keep your parrot’s claws short naturally. You may still need to cut them from time to time, but you can reduce the frequency. Adding the following objects to your parrot’s cage should help to keep its claws filed down:
- A variety of perches of different shapes, sizes, and textures. Avoid smooth or polished perches.
- Real tree branches. You can get branches that are safe for birds from pet stores. Alternatively, gather them from the wild, but sterilize them before use. Soak them in diluted bleach, rinse them well, and dry them in sunlight to remove pathogens.
- Braided ropes.
- Safety pumice perches. These have a smooth area for your parrot’s feet but a rough area to rest the claws on.
If you use a pumice perch, don’t keep it in the cage all the time. Have it in there for no more than a few days each month. Avoid using sandpaper perches or perch covers as these can cause sores on the bottom of your parrot’s feet.
Look for perches that are rough-textured but solid. There shouldn’t be any sand or other materials stuck on the perch that might come loose. These particles can become a hazard if ingested.