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Avian Grooming

In the wild birds will for the most part groom themselves. They will use what resources that come natural to them though this is not always enough. We’ve all seen birds with long and/or broken toe nails and beaks so long they can barely survive. Our pet birds have the luxury of having us available to help maintain their grooming needs.

There is no exact time between groomings; each bird is an individual and should be groomed as needed. It is a good idea to get in the habit of having owners examine their birds on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule. Physically check the toes and beak to be sure the length isn’t too long. Are they having trouble picking up their food or are they getting stuck in their toys or the owners clothing? If their goal is to keep their bird from flying remember it may only take one or two feathers to grow back in before they can fly. ALWAYS consider all birds with or without a wing trim flighted!

Our avian patients need to be handled as stress free as possible, which makes grooming a challenge. Your larger birds should be lightly wrapped in a towel, your assistant should be sure to have control of the bird’s head and be sure not to put any pressure on the bird’s chest which would constrict breathing. Smaller birds like parakeets and cockatiels can often be held without a towel.

Nail Trim- Avian patients are often presented for a nail trim due to the pain they are causing their owners during handling. For some birds trimming only the point of the nail may be sufficient but you must determine if the length of the nail needs to be trimmed. At times nails will overgrow into a semi-circle or even a circle causing the bird not to be able to perch. At other times the nails will overgrow causing the toes to turn to the side and if not clipped often, over time can cause the toes to become arthritic. Your goal is to trim the nail parallel to the bottom of the toe pad, and trim a small amount at a time to try and avoid bleeding. You can trim nails with a dremel, or an appropriate size nail trimmer. If bleeding occurs you can use styptic powder (be sure your brand is not toxic to birds), styptic pencil or a hand held cautery unit to stop the bleeding.

Beak Trim- Prior to trimming a patient’s beak be sure to know what a normal length is for that species. Some owners will see what is a natural overbite and think the beak needs trimming; this is where having a reference guide will be helpful in educating owners. There are two common choices of beak-trimming tools. The first is a human nail trimmer to trim the tip of the beak and any high pointed areas. You would then follow up using a metal file to shape the beak and to remove any dead beak. Keep in mind there is a blood supply and if you cut too deep you can cause pain and possibly hit the growth plate causing long term problems. If you do get blood you can either use a small amount of styptic powder (be sure your brand is not toxic to birds) or you can use a hand held cautery unit. The second method for trimming a beak is to use a dremel with a stone tip; you MUST have a steady and gentle touch. Carefully apply the dremel bit over the irregular area and smooth out the beak; too much pressure on the beak can compromise the vascular layer and cause bleeding.

Wing Clip- Having a birds wings trimmed can help in preventing height when flying, aids in training, prevent dominance and avoids danger such a crashing into windows. No wing clip is full proof for not allowing the bird to fly and owners need to be told this at EVERY wing trim. An ideal wing trim will be performed symmetrically and allow the bird to flutter to the ground safely. Too severe a wing trim can allow a bird to fall too fast causing trauma, often resulting in a split keel. There are several options for wing clips; picking which to use will depend on your comfort level and what will work best for your patient.
Always look at each feather prior to cutting it to be sure it is not a blood feather. Avoiding all blood feathers, trim three to ten primary feathers under the dorsal covert feathers so the cut feather cannot be seen when the wing is in the normal position. With lighter birds such as Budgies you may also remove as many secondary feathers you think is necessary. The other option is to trim the secondary feathers, and continue to the primary feathers removing several of them, always leaving a minimum of the last three to four primary feathers on the end.
There is no right or wrong way to trim wings.

Bathing- Bathing is not something we would be seeing birds for but you should educate your clients in providing a birdie bath. In the wild birds will bath in puddles, streams and in the rain; our pet birds need to have an option also. Some birds will use their water bowls if that’s all they have, if so thoroughly cleaning the bowl before and after the bath is necessary. The owner can supply a portable birdie bath, add an additional water bowl or if the bird enjoys it be placed in the shower or the sink with a light shower spray. Drying is not necessary.

Supplies- Nail clippers (canine and human), gauze pads, styptic pencils, non-toxic styptic powder, hand-held cautery, metal file, dremel with stone bit, curved scissors, towel for restraining.

 

References:
Exotic Animal Care – Tully and Mitchell
Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician – Ballard and Cheek
www.aav.org