Parrots’ claws grow throughout their lives, so they wear down their nails naturally by perching and climbing on abrasive surfaces. In captivity, pet parrots’ nails can become too long, curly, and flaky.
No claw length is right for all parrots, but you can tell if it’s comfortable based on its movement and body language. A parrot with overly long nails will have difficulty walking, grasping objects, and climbing. The ideal nail length depends on the parrot’s species and size.
You can take your parrot to a vet to be clipped or trim your parrot’s nails at home. Once the claws have been clipped, various textured perches can keep a parrot’s nails the right length.
Are My Parrot’s Nails Too Long?
As there are over 400 different species of parrots, there’s a wide range of acceptable claw lengths.
If your parrot’s nails feel sharp, they might not be long. Parrots’ claws are meant to be pointy, giving them a better grip on food, objects, and perches.
If a parrot struggles to do everyday things, such as walk and stand, its claws are likely too long.
Signs of Overgrown Parrot Nails
If your parrot’s claws are overgrown, you’ll notice the following signs:
- Long, curly, or twisted claws. The claws should have a curve, but they shouldn’t curl back on themselves like a sheep’s horn.
- Flaky appearance. This is due to the shedding of layers of keratin.
- Difficulty grasping objects. It may struggle to pick up and position items.
- Perching behavior. You may notice your parrot prefers to stand on a flat surface rather than a perch.
- Movement. Climbing and walking become uncomfortable.
- Overly sharp nails. It’ll get its nails caught on toys, fabric, or cage bars.
According to The Royal Society, parrots routinely scratch themselves to maintain their feathers and remove parasites. So, you may notice/feel cuts, abrasions, and scabs on the parrot’s skin.
Why Do Parrots Bite Their Nails?
Parrots bite at their nails when the length makes grasping and walking difficult, but there are other explanations.
It may be a nervous habit triggered by anxiety or a repetitive behavior due to boredom. Also, parrots bite at their feet due to pain or itchiness caused by an infection or growth.
According to the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, dermatitis can cause an itchy rash, leading to self-mutilation, such as chewing or biting at the feet.
How To Clip Parrot Nails
You’ll need a good relationship with your parrot. If your parrot doesn’t trust you, it won’t let you hold it still as you approach it with the nail clippers.
For practical assistance, have a vet demonstrate how to perform the procedure. This is the safest way, especially if your parrot has dark nails where it’s harder to see the quick.
To cut your parrot’s claws, follow these steps:
1/ Gather Your Materials
Before you start, gather all the materials and tools, including:
- Towel. This is to wrap the parrot and keep it still.
- Clippers. Depending on the size of the claws, you can use dog clippers.
- Nail file. Parrots’ claws can be sharp after clipping, so some owners like to sand them down.
- Styptic powder (hemostatic powder). This is to stem the flow of blood.
Styptic powder will stop the bleeding if you accidentally cut your parrot’s quick (the blood vessel inside its nail). 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. For use on a parrot, buy one that’s labeled bird-safe.
Some owners prefer to use a nail-grinding tool rather than clippers. This is like a Dremel polishing tool but intended for small animals.
2/ Wrap Your Parrot in a Towel
Claw clipping can be a worrying experience for parrots, so most birds will attempt to fly away. The easiest way to keep your parrot still is to wrap it in a towel.
Parrots are sometimes scared of brightly colored towels, so choose a light, neutral color. White, pale grey and beige work are good choices.
The towel doesn’t have to be thick, but it must be large enough to wrap around the thickest part of your parrot’s body at least twice.
Holding your parrot still with one hand, wrap the towel around its body. Wrap it snugly so your parrot can’t move its wings, but not so tightly that it causes discomfort.
Ask a friend to assist if you’re finding the process difficult.
Parrots find it easier to stay calm during a claw trim if they can’t see what’s happening. Some owners cover their parrot’s head and eyes with a towel but uncover the eyes if it stresses them.
3/ Let Your Parrot Grasp Your Hand
Once securely wrapped in a towel, sit down with your parrot in your lap.
Lift the end of the towel so that its 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 with you, ask them to hold the parrot.
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 perform the clipping.
Your parrot should grasp your index finger so that your thumb remains free. This way, you can use your thumb to lift each of the toes one by one, making it easier to clip each nail.
4/ Cut The Tip of Each Nail
The parrot has perched on your hand, so you can start cutting its nails. Your parrot may start struggling to break free at this point, so hold it securely.
Before you start cutting or filing, identify the quick. This is a blood vessel that runs through the center of the nail. If you accidentally cut the quick, the nail will start to bleed.
If your parrot has 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 reach the quick.
If your parrot has dark or black claws, you may not be able to see the quick. In this case, taking your parrot to a vet is safer than attempting the procedure yourself.
Don’t cut off too much of the claw, or your parrot may have trouble climbing. Your parrot’s nails should still have a curve to assist with grasping objects.
Once you’ve finished, reward your parrot with a treat. That way, your parrot will associate having its nails clipped with a positive and pleasant experience.
Parrot’s Nails Are Bleeding
If one of the parrot’s nails starts to bleed, you’ve cut the quick.
This means you’ve clipped too much of the nail off and opened up the blood vessels. The quick will bleed, and your parrot may lose a lot of blood.
If one of your parrot’s nails starts bleeding, follow this procedure:
- Gently pinch the toe to reduce blood flow to the nail. If possible, hold your parrot upside down.
- Dip the bleeding nail into a container of styptic powder
- Apply mild pressure to the damaged nail until the bleeding stops.
Once you’re sure that the wound has stopped bleeding, brush off any remaining powder. If the bleeding worsens, take your parrot to a vet to cauterize the wound and stem the blood flow.
How Often Should You Trim Parrot Nails?
Parrots’ claws grow continuously, so they won’t stay short and blunt forever. Parrots’ claws grow at different rates based on their diet, cage setup, and climbing habits.
After cutting your parrot’s nails, you may initially notice your parrot struggling to grasp, climb and balance. This may mean you’ve cut its claws too short, but an adjustment period is 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’ll do this by grasping various textures (toys, bars, surfaces, and perches).
How To Keep Your Parrot Nails Short
There are things you can do to keep your parrot’s claws short naturally, such as:
- Real tree branches. The rough texture will wear down the parrot’s nails.
- Pedi-perches. These have a rough area to rest the claws on and stimulate healthy feet.
- Braided ropes. The abrasive texture of the rope gradually wears away the excess nail.
You can buy all of these items at local pet stores or online.
If you use a pedi-perch, leave it there for 1-2 days per week. Avoid using sandpaper perches or perch covers, as these can cause sores on the bottom of the feet, leading to bumblefoot.
Nail trimming can be a stressful experience for parrots. After all, it’s not something they’d have done in the wild. Being physically restrained is uncomfortable and can induce panic.
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.
You may have more success using a nail file instead, as the loud clipping noise can be startling.