Overgrown Claws:
Everyone knows that their own fingernails and toenails grow at a regular rate, and must be trimnmed frequently. The same applies to birds. In wild birds, nail growth and nail wear balance naturally. But the nails of caged birds are seldom exposed to the same abrasive wear as their wild counterparts. Consequently, the nails grow excessively long, unless you keep them trimmed properly. Long nails make it difficult for the bird to perch or climb, and the nails can get caught on various things and cause injury. When trimming the nails, it is best to pare off a little at a time, so that you do not cut into and expose the nail's quick. The "quick" refers to the blood and nerve supply that grows partway down the nail. In tight-coloured nails, the quick is easily seen, but black nails hide it completely. If the quick is cut, the nail will bleed profusely and cause the bird pain. The bleeding must be stopped immediately because birds cannot tolerate the loss of much blood. Apply a moistened styptic pencil, silver nitrate, iron subsulfate or a liquid anti-coagulant to the bleeding area. Then take a dry piece of cotton and apply little pressure to the nail until all bleeding stops. Sometimes heat cautery is needed to stop really stubborn bleeding. If the bird has lost any appreciable amount of blood, it should be kept at 26 to 29 degrees C., (80 to 85 degrees F.), and the cage should be covered for a few hours to keep the bird quiet. This will help it get over the shock of blood loss, and lessen the chance of renewed bleeding.
Claw Detail

In older and frail birds the toenails sometimes grow excessively long, in extreme cases even curling like a corkscrew. The usual explanation is that the claws do not get enough wear on artificial perches and are smooth and too thin and do not allow for enough exercise. I am sceptical about this explanation because I have seen and know many parakeets that are not confined to a cage, perch only on natural branches, have complete freedom of movement, have rough stones in their living area, and still develop overgrown toenails. It is true, of course, that no caged bird can be provided with enough opportunity to wear down its claws sufficiently. nevertheless, accelerated growth of the claws usually goes hand in hand with some weakness. A bird with claws that grow too long needs steady care and high-quality food and should be watched closely. Since claws that are too long hamper and endanger a bird (catching in textiles or in a chain, getting stuck in cracks, impeding grooming) the toenails have to be cut periodically with nail scissors. For this procedure, as well as for any other treatment, the bird has to be caught and held properly. Don't try to catch a bird in flight, you could easily injure its wings or shoulder joints. Also avoid needlessly chasing your parakeet back and forth in its cage, this would scare the bird half to death. If all else fails, darken the room and reach for the bird from above while talking soothingly. Hold it loosely but properly in your hand. The bird's back should be in the palm of your hand with its head between your thumb and forefinger, your middle finger encircling its abdomen, and the toe about to be treated being held gently but firmly between your ring finger and little finger. Don't turn the bird upside down so that it lies on its back. Now hold the toe up to a bright light so that you can clearly see the dark blood vessels in the horny tissue of the claw. Trim the overgrown claw close to the end of the vein, cutting at an angle to leave the upper and outer tip longer than the inner part of the nail. If you should nick the vein a drop of blood will form but it causes hardly any pain to the bird. If the cut continues to bleed press styptic cotton against the end of the claw until the bleeding stops. Timid bird owners can ask a bird breeder, pet dealer, or avian veterinarian for help with this chore. Some pet stores offer free claw and bill trimming to their customers.

Excessive Growth of the Beak:
Periodically thin splinters will chip off the tip of a parakeet's beak. This is a normal part of the renewal of the beak's tissue. But in older parakeets, for reasons as yet unknown, the beak sometimes grows too fast in spite of frequent whetting. Usually only the upper mandible is affected, but more rarely the upper and lower mandibles cross each other because they both grow too long simultaneously. In either case the bird is hampered in its intake of food. If nothing were done to help, eating would eventually become impossible, and the excessively long beak would injure the skin of the crop region. Don't let things get that far. The best thing to do is to take the bird to an experienced avian veterinarian, breeder, or pet dealer to have the beak trimmed with proper (nail) clippers. If the bird has a predisposition for excessive beak growth, regular trimming may be necessary, sometimes as often as every four weeks. Competent bird owners can quickly learn to perform this duty themselves and dispense with the trips to, the veterinarian. If in spite of all your caution the trimming should result in minor bleeding, apply styptic cotton to the beak until the blood stops. If the beak is very brittle, dab it with slightly warmed glycerine or olive oil before wielding the clippers.

Overgrown beaks are well known among adult like adult parrot-like birds. Most develop because of an incomplete diet. Lack of minerals as found in green food and suitable grit, combined with a vitamin and protein deficiency are usually to blame. Prolonged periods of diarrhoea can result in an overgrown beak by washing out necessary food elements and beneficial bacteria, although this is uncommon.

For horny growths on the cere, see hypertrophy of the cere.

Cure consists of proper care and feeding. In some cases birds respond well to a balanced diet, in other cases overgrowing of the beak persists and must be constantly trimmed. If neglected, eating will become more and more difficult, the bird will lose weight and finally contract some infection and die or starve to death. Sometimes, if given a piece of wood to bite on, the bird breaks off the extra length of beak but in most cases it is necessary to trim back the beak regularly. A budgerigar should be taken in the left hand, his head steadied by placing the thumb and forefinger against the cheeks, then the long tip of the beak should be cut with strong nail scissors and the sides trimmed. Some people may prefer nail clippers It is important not to cut the beak shorter than its normal length or the live part will be injured and cause bleeding. It has happened that even after shortening the beak to its normal length, the bird could not shell hard seeds, picking out only the soft oats. On examining such a bird, I found the inside of the upper beak thickened by surplus growth. Not until this wars scraped out with the tip of nail scissors, was the bird able to shell hard seeds. If it is noticed that the bird cannot eat properly and becomes weak, he should be given soft food such as bread soaked in milk and squeezed dry, and seeds soaked in water overnight. This will maintain his strength until the beak can be cut and, if necessary, the inside of the upper beak scraped. Bread and soaked seeds should only be used as an emergency treatment, as a steady diet neither should be fed as they are deficient in proteins. If an excess of calcium and phosphorus such as is found in bone meal is forced on a bird, overgrown beaks may result.

There are also scissors bills, undershot bills, unevenly developed bills or beaks, horny growths on beaks, etc. In some cases part of the beak is missing altogether. Lack of necessary food elements in the diet is the most common cause hereditary dispositions come next. Birds of the parrot family are more prone to develop beak abnormalities than other cage birds. But budgies can get this also. Where malformed beaks are discovered on young in the nest it is best to destroy such birds. Washing the beaks to remove caked food and trimming may save some birds while still in the nest, if the diet can be corrected immediately. Deformed beaks are only one sign of something wrong with the development of the bird. Dietary factors from the parents can also lead to some beak deformities in baby birds.


E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.