Parrots’ claws grow throughout their lives, so they wear down their nails naturally by perching and climbing on abrasive tree branches and surfaces.
In captivity, pet parrots’ nails can become too long, curly, and flaky.
There isn’t one claw length that’s right for all birds, but you can tell if it’s comfortable based on its movement and body language. The ideal nail length depends on the parrot’s species and size.
A parrot with overly long nails will have difficulty walking, grasping objects, and climbing.
You can take your parrot to a vet to be clipped, or you can trim your parrot’s nails at home. Once the claws have been clipped, various textured perches can keep a parrot’s nails short.
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. It’s impossible to specify the optimal claw length because larger parrots have longer nails.
If your parrot’s nails feel sharp, they might not necessarily be too long. Parrots’ claws are meant to be pointy as it gives them a better grip on their food and perches.
If a parrot struggles to do normal things, such as walk and stand, they’re most 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 shouldn’t curl back on themselves like a sheep’s horn.
- Flaky appearance due to the shedding of layers of keratin.
- Difficulty grasping objects. If its claws are too long, they may struggle to pick up items or drop them.
- Perching behavior. You may notice your parrot prefers to stand on a flat surface rather than a perch.
- Climbing and walking becomes uncomfortable.
- Nails are too sharp. Getting its nails caught on toys, clothing/fabric, or cage bars.
According to The Royal Society, parrots routinely scratch themselves to maintain their feathers and remove parasites. Consequently, you may notice/feel cuts, abrasions, and scabs on your parrot’s skin.
Why Do Parrots Bite Their Nails?
Parrots chew on their nails when the claw length makes grasping and walking difficult, but there are other reasons.
It may be a nervous habit triggered by anxiety or a repetitive behavior caused by boredom. Also, parrots chew on 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. This can lead to self-mutilation, such as chewing or biting at the feet.
How To Clip Parrot Nails
Can you clip a parrot’s claws? If you’re a new owner, you may feel that this is a daunting task. But clipping the nails needn’t be stressful once you know what you’re doing and have gained some experience.
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. So, you’ll need to be bonded with your parrot.
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:
Gather Your Materials
Before you start, gather all of the materials and tools you’ll need for the job. You’ll need these items:
- Towel 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) to stem the flow of blood.
If you accidentally cut your parrot’s quick (the blood vessel inside its nail), styptic 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. For use on your parrot, get one that’s labeled as bird-safe.
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.
Wrap Your Parrot in a Towel
Claw clipping can be a worrying experience for parrots. For this reason, most parrots will attempt to fly away as soon as you commence the procedure. 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 one that’s a light, neutral color. White, pale grey, and beige work well. 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 that 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. So, some owners cover their parrot’s head and eyes with a towel. Uncover the eyes if it seems to stress your parrot.
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 there with you, ask them to hold the parrot for you.
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. 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 lift each of the toes, one by one. This will make it easier to clip each nail individually.
Cut The Tip of Each Nail
Now that your parrot has perched its foot on your hand, you’re ready to 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. Your parrot will be in pain due to sensitive nerves.
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 reach the quick. Only cut or file the tip of the claw.
If your parrot has dark or black claws, you may not be able to see the quick. In this case, it’s safer to take your parrot to a vet rather 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 them for ease of grasping objects.
Once you’ve finished, reward your parrot with a treat. This way, it will come to associate having its nails clipped with a positive and pleasant experience.
Check for Signs of Distress
Nail trimming can be a stressful experience for parrots. After all, it’s not something that they’d naturally have to deal with in the wild. Being physically restrained can be uncomfortable and induce panic.
How stressed your parrot becomes will depend on its personality and the strength of its bond with you. If you have a trusting relationship with your parrot, it’s likely to tolerate a claw trim.
However, some parrots are more easily frightened than others. While clipping your parrot’s claws, keep an eye on its behavior. Check for 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.
You may have more success using a nail file instead, as the loud clipping noise can be startling.
Parrot’s Nails Are Bleeding
If one of the parrot’s nails starts to bleed, this means that you’ve cut the quick. You’ve clipped too much of the nail off and opened up the blood vessel. The quick will bleed quickly, 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 flow of blood.
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 you first cut 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 will do this by grasping various textures (toys, bars, surfaces, and perches).
Pet parrots’ claws may grow faster than they can file them down. Within 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 will need one more often.
How To Keep Your Parrot Nails Short
Most parrots adjust to having their claws cut. As they get used to the routine, your parrot will normally tolerate the experience better. However, there are things you can do to keep your parrot’s claws short naturally, such as:
- Real tree branches. You can get branches from pet stores or gather them from the wild, but sterilize them first.
- Safety pumice perches. These have a smooth area for your parrot’s feet but a rough area to rest the claws on. Avoid smooth or polished perches.
- Braided ropes.
If you use a pumice perch, don’t keep it in the cage constantly. Leave it in there for a few days a month. Avoid using sandpaper perches or perch covers, as these can cause sores on the bottom of the feet.
Look for perches that are rough-textured but solid. There shouldn’t be any sand or other materials stuck to the perch that might come loose as these particles can become a health hazard if ingested.