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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

March 26, 2013

How (Not) to Cut a Bird's Nails

By Elizabeth Creith


I never do nail trims.

There are several grooming salons in town who will trim your cat's or dog's nails, but few places to take an iguana or a cockatoo for a pedicure. In our pre-pet-store days, when we actually had time to keep animals of our own, David used to breed cockatoos, budgies, ringnecked parakeets, lovebirds and zebra finches. (All right, nobody actually breeds zebra finches. The trick is stopping zebra finches from breeding.)

All these birds needed nails trimmed, occasionally beaks as well, and David and I got very, very good at it. It was a natural service for us to offer our customers.

Some pet stores offer nail trimming services.
David always had the bottle of blood-stop handy, because the quick might be a bit closer to the end of the nail than expected, especially if the nails hadn't been trimmed in some time. The first time we nipped the quick, there was blood and flapping and screaming and panic, until we got the owner out of the way. After that we didn't let the owners watch.

We tried to get people to make appointments for their pets' pedicures. Our customers seemed to believe that David was actually a fixture in the store, and never took time off or left the building for any reason during open hours—and possibly not afterwards, either. Walk-ins were always astonished if he wasn't there. I always told them to come back later and preferably after they'd phoned.

Only once did I give in.

“Tiki really needs her nails done, and I absolutely don't have time to come back,” the young woman said. “Please, can't you do them for me? I have an appointment in half an hour, and I need to take her home first, and I don't like to stress her two days in a row with the carrier and...”

“Okay, okay,” I said. In retrospect I believe I was bludgeoned out of my common sense by italics.

I took Tiki into the back room and got her out of her cage and into a towel. I drafted our part-timer, Erica, to hold her. I got out the clippers and the blood stop. I started cutting—one, two, three, four nails on one foot. So far, so good. Change feet. One, two—and then Tiki jerked and a bright bead of blood appeared on the end of the toe.

“No panic,” I said to Erica, and poked Tiki's toe into the blood-stop. The yellow styptic powder coated the wound, exactly as it was supposed to. Then it bubbled up as the toe went on bleeding. I dipped the toe again. Same result. This never happened when David did it.

I pinched the end of the toe between my finger and thumb. Blood oozed out and dripped off my finger. I tried sticking a bit of tissue to the wound—an old shaving-cut trick. It turned bright red in a second and dropped in a sodden little dot onto the floor.

“Uh-oh,” Erica said. “Now do we panic?”

“Crazy glue,” I said. Even people doctors use crazy glue to close small wounds. I got out the tube. The trick was having a dry, or dryish, surface to which the glue would stick. I dabbed and pressed at Tiki's toe with paper towel and tissue, and each time, as I took the tissue away, the blood welled up again. Birds don't have a lot of blood to start with, and I could feel my heart starting to race.

Someone tapped on the door to the back room.

“Are you almost done?” the owner called. “Only I've got this appointment...”

Nailed It
Some bird owners use pedicure perches to help trim their pets' nails. Read about those and other bird accessories here.
“Nearly!” I sang out. I could feel my nose growing. Finally, finally the toe stopped bleeding long enough for me to get crazy glue onto the end of it. As it dried I cut the tiny sharp tip off of the last untrimmed nail and bundled Tiki back into her carrier. There was blood on the towel, blood on the floor, blood on my shirt and fingers, but no blood on Tiki.

“Here you go!” I said brightly as I shoved the carrier back at Tiki's owner.

“What do I owe you?” she asked.

“Nothing! Special today! Don't be late for your appointment! 'Bye, Tiki!”

When she'd gone, I swore Erica to secrecy.

And that's why I don't do nail trims.

Want more bird talk? Click here to read Elizabeth's blog about the store cockatoo, Jack.

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