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How to Maintain Your Parrot's Nails (Dremel vs. Nail Clipper)

Juliet has owned parrots for over 20 years. She currently has two cockatiels—Rascal and Coconut—who both have big personalities.

Trimming your parrot's nails is a necessary part of their care, but it isn't as simple as it may seem.

Trimming your parrot's nails is a necessary part of their care, but it isn't as simple as it may seem.

How to Tell If Your Bird's Nails Are too Long

So how do you know your bird's nails need to be trimmed?

  • Their nails are noticeably sharp. For example, if you have your bird on your shoulder, it shouldn't feel like, "ow ow, this bird is killing me, it feels like pins and needles!"
  • Their nails are constantly getting stuck. This can be very dangerous. For example, you have a t-shirt on and your bird's on your shoulder, and they're getting their nails stuck in your shirt. This can cause them to panic and when they try and fly away, they can easily break their leg, so that's not good.
  • Their nails are so long they're "curly." Another way to know if your bird's nails need to be done is the bird's nails (the claw) should be curved, but if it's extremely exaggerated and their feet are just, you know, all curly and long, that's another good indication.

Pro Tip: Put your bird on a flat surface to help you see the nails better.

Wild birds may not need nail trims (ha!), but indoor birds definitely do.

Wild birds may not need nail trims (ha!), but indoor birds definitely do.

How Do Birds Trim Their Nails in the Wild?

Caring for your parrot's nails is a very critical part of caring for your parrots. So why do indoor parrots need their nails maintained and parrots out in the wild do not?

Parrots out in nature get plenty of stimulation by climbing on trees. The bark gradually sands on a consistent basis. But birds that are cared for indoors don't get the same stimulation that wild birds do. So if you have a pet parrot, you want to make sure you're maintaining their nails on a regular basis.

How Often Should Parrots Get Their Nails Trimmed?

My parrot gets his nails done about every six weeks. Some larger parrots can get their nails trimmed as little as twice a year; it depends on the size. Each bird is different, so it's always preferable to get them done regularly.

If it's been more than a couple of months since your parrot has had its nails trimmed, take your parrot to a professional. They can advise you as to when your parrot's nails should be next maintained and how often they should be maintained.

How to Avoid Cutting to the Quick

Trimming your parrot's nails regularly, with just a light treatment each time, helps prevent the bird's nails from bleeding when they're getting cut. Because if you wait too long in between each trim, the vein grows closer and closer to the tip of the nail. And then when your bird's nails are trimmed, it's easier to cut into the quick.

How to Trim Bird Nails

Please don't try and trim your bird's nails on your own if you've never done it before or you're not experienced. You can really cause serious injuries, so it's always better to take your bird to a professional.

I would never in a million years attempt to trim my parrot nails myself. There are groomers out there who have been known to actually cut a parrot’s entire toe off by accident when using a nail clipper, but even a Dremel can be a deadly machine for a bird if an accident happens. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet which might lead people to think they can attempt to trim their parrot's nails. BAD IDEA! It's always best to take your parrot to a groomer.

Who Is Qualified to Trim Bird Nails?

You can either go to an avian vet or you can go to a bird shop that sells bird supplies because quite often there is an employee there who is specifically trained and very experienced in maintaining bird's nails.

How to You Cut a Parrot's Nails With a Dremel?

There are a couple of different ways to trim a bird's nails, either with a nail clipper or an electric file. Electric files (also called Dremels) are usually preferable over clippers because with the electric file you can take off a little bit at a time, whereas with a clipper you might cut too deep and hit the vein, causing the nail to bleed. Even worse, if the bird moves at the wrong moment, its entire toe might get clipped off. So it's always better to use an electric trimmer and you can go a little bit at a time.

Dremels also make the nail very smooth, and a nail file can be used to buff it even more delicately. It only takes a couple of minutes, so it's over and painless for the bird.

I don't recommend using sandpaper perches to maintain your bird's nails.

I don't recommend using sandpaper perches to maintain your bird's nails.

What About Bird Nail-Trimming Perches?

The problem with sand perches is that they really don't do the job. They can also injure the bottom of the bird's feet. So even if you have sand perches, you want to make sure that your bird is getting their nails properly maintained, preferably with a Dremel nail file (an electric nail file).

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Juliet Csaky