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Grooming and Routine Care of Pet Birds

By Teresa L. Lightfoot, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Chair, Avian and Exotics Department, Florida Veterinary Specialists

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Birds, like all pets, require routine care and grooming. The next section covers the specifics of routine care for pet birds.

Wing Clipping or Trimming

Wing trims help protect against loss or escape of pet birds. Trimming should be done by a trained veterinarian or other individual who is familiar with the type of trim needed. It is important to understand that trimming the wings is not a guarantee against escape. A bird that can only glide to the floor indoors may be able to fly outside on a windy day.

Nail Trimming

Nail trimming is usually done to prevent scratching of the owner’s skin rather than due to overgrowth of the nails. However, over-trimming a bird’s nails decreases its stability and increases the chance that it will fall from its perch. Generally, a good compromise can be reached by trimming the needle-like tip of the nail just enough to blunt it, while still leaving enough nail to allow a stable grip. Trimming the nails of birds is not difficult if the bird becomes accustomed to it at a young age. All birds, regardless of age, should be trained to allow trimming, especially large birds. Having to use a restraint for trimming can be an unnecessarily traumatic experience for your bird.

A cement perch can help keep nails blunted without trimming.

The use of cement perches (available in various sizes and textures) may eliminate the need for nail trimming in some birds if the perch is selected and placed appropriately. If used, it is best to place a cement perch where the bird stands for brief periods (such as in front of a food bowl or treat cup). To avoid irritation to the bottom of the feet, the cement perch should not be the main perch used by the bird to preen or sleep.

Beak Trimming

Sometimes excess keratin accumulates on a bird’s beak and needs to be removed. Your veterinarian can do this with specialized sanding tools. Normal, healthy birds that are provided with abrasive surfaces (such as rough wood, or the commercially available concrete perches) rarely require beak trims.

Means of Identification

There are 2 common methods for identifying caged birds. Many birds are leg banded, either for individual identification or to indicate a proper quarantine history. Bands represent certain hazards to the bird (for example, they can become caught on a loose wire) and their removal entails some risk if the proper equipment is not available.

Leg banding is being replaced or augmented by microchipping as a means of permanent identification. In pet birds, microchips are normally placed deep in the left pectoral (chest) muscle. This procedure is normally done under local or general anesthesia as the needle used to place the chip in the muscle is large, and the process can be painful for the bird. Adverse reactions or microchip failures in birds are uncommon.

Vaccinations

A few vaccines are available for pet birds (notably polyomavirus vaccine), but most caged birds are not routinely vaccinated. If you have questions about the need to vaccinate your bird, you should discuss your concerns with your veterinarian.

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