Birds Online
  Home > Health and diseases > General topics > Trimming nails and beak

Please note: This article is available
in a new version

Click here.

The upper beak of this budgie is much too longFrom time to time, some bird's nails or beak may become too long. Both parts of the body are built by keratin and therefore are a bit similar to humans hair - but there are also important differences. Many people think that it is easy to trim a bird's nails or even its beak. Well, this is so for an avian vet, but not for each and every bird owner who is not trained in doing such things. Regarding a bird's nails and beak you should really know what to do in case you try to trim these body parts, or else you risk severe injuries. Especially trimming the beak is fairly complicated because once you cut wrong, your bird will bleed and suffer from terrible pain as you will learn further below.

Anatomy of a bird's nails
This bird's nails are very dark and therefore one cannot see the blood vessels inside of themA bird's nails are comparable to human finger nails in some regards. There are parts of it that are "dead". But in the inner section of a bird's nail is a blood vessel that supplies the growing part of the nail with nutrients. In general, this blood vessel is easy to see - as long as the bird has no dark nails. If you want to learn more about the blood vessel's position, you just have to look through the nails standing in front of a bright light. Most budgies and also some other small pet bird species have transparent nails and therefore the light will shine through them and you can see the blood vessel as a dark area. You should avoid touching this part of your bird's nail while trimming it.

Which aids are useful?
Bleeding nailNail clippers are appropriate tools for trimming your bird's nails. But be careful: Sometimes the nails splinter. In such a case you should have a nail file within your reach. Use the file as if you would use it filing your own finger nails. Another important aid you should have at hand is a haemostatic medicine like for example ferric chloride because you can never be sure not to hurt a blood vessel. It is always dangerous when a bird's claw is bleeding and you have to make sure the animal won't bleed to death. Always keep in mind that there is only a little amount of blood inside the body of a small pet bird. So regarding a bird a few drops of spilled blood are are quite much if you take the total amount of blood into account!

Is nail trimming painful for birds?
In general, it doesn't hurt a bird if you clip its nails, it's similar to cutting a humans hair or clipping finger nails. But please note: Even though it doesn't hurt a bird if you trim the nails, only those persons who are able to hold a pet bird in a way that the animal is unable to move should trim a bird's nails. If you don't feel able to do so, please contact a vet and ask him or her for help. Or let an avian vet show you how to trim your bird's nails properly. This might be helpful for the future.

Trimming a bird's beak
The upper beak of this budgie is much too longA more delicate and also quite dangerous job is trimming a bird's beak. Since most birds will try to bite you and are difficult to hold in one's hand, even professionals like avian vets often have their difficulties when it comes to trimming a bird's beak. Severe injuries of the tongue easily happen if one slips with nail clippers or pliers. Furthermore one should protect the eyes of the bird. And please keep in mind that there is an inner part of the beak which is full of blood vessels. This part is the bone which is covered by a tissue that produces the horny sheath of keratin that most people call "beak". In fact it is only a part of the beak - and it's the part that has to be trimmed in some cases. This horny sheath of keratin is dead, there are no blood vessels running through it. So it is save to trim this part of the beak. But once you touch the tissue that builds this sheath or even the bone, you will have to deal with a heavy bleeding. A bird who is injured in this way suffers from terrible pain and is in danger of bleeding to death. Therefore it is better to take your bird to an avian vet who is familiar with these risks and who will trim your bird's beak without causing a severe bleeding.

Sherlock's upper mandible is bleedingThe photo on the right shows what can happen in case a beak is injured in the above mentioned way: The vet (it was no avian vet, though!) accidentally cut it too short and injured the bird. A severe bleeding was the result and the vet had to make it stop by using heat. The blood vessels have been burned to make them stop bleeding. Sherlock, that's the name of the poor bird, was lucky since the vet was able to save his life. Fortunately Sherlock recovered quickly from his injury and there was no permanent damage. His beak grew back within a few weeks and he was able to eat as well.

Finding the reason for a beak constantly grows too long
Many budgies and also some other pet birds suffer from this problem: The beak constantly grows too fast and has to be trimmed quite often. Sometimes there are even brownish or reddish spots inside the horny sheath or the structure is no longer as smooth as as before. Of course it is important to trim the beak to make sure that the bird will always be able to eat. But you should be aware of the fact that the beak won't grow that long without a cause.

Most pet bird owner tend to think that their birds should wear out their beaks in a more intense way and offer them mineral blocks for chewing on and wearing out the beak. But in fact this isn't the right thing to do. Of course birds need mineral blocks, but chewing on them won't stop the beak from growing too long. In many cases a hidden disease is responsible for the excessive beak growth. Many budgies who show this problem suffer from a liver disease. In case your bird's beak is too long and you can see the above mentioned dark or reddish spots, this is a typical symptom for a liver disease. In fact the spots are haemorrhages. You should contact an avian vet and make sure that the potential liver disease is treated, or else your bird will sooner or later die from it. Quite often the beak growth goes back to normal once the liver is stabilized.

Danger: burrowing mites can cause beak fractures
Fatal beak fracture due to burrowing mitesBirds who suffer from burrowing mites often show severe malformations of their beak. Sometimes the beak is too long and in other cases it is malformed. You may want to help, but it's very dangerous to trim a beak with a structural damage caused by burrowing mites. You should take the bird to an avian vet who will try to trim the beak without injuring the animal. The photo in this paragraph shows a budgie whose beak has been broken while somebody tried to trim it. There was a structural damage caused by the burrowing mites, so the whole horny sheath of keratin was ripped off. Regrettably the poor budgie couldn't be saved by the bird specialist who took the photo. She tried to save the bird's life, but it was too late.

All photos and the text on this page are protected by the copyright law. In case you'd like to use photos or texts for your own non-commercial purpose, please contact the author.