Is your bird’s beak overgrown? A beak trim is a serious procedure that is far too often looked at in the same light as a nail trim. However, if a beak is trimmed too short, it will cause the bird pain, will bleed, and may make it difficult or impossible for a bird to eat. Furthermore, beaks shaped improperly or trimmed to the wrong length can cause jaw malalignment and problems that can persist or exacerbate as the beak grows back. But, don’t fret! For the majority of pet birds, beak trimming should never be needed. Here we discuss the beak growth process and how to prevent a bird’s beak from becoming overgrown.
How does a beak grow?
A parrot’s beak grows from the base growth plate in layers. As it grows, it flakes off at the tip with regular chewing. The beak is constantly growing from both the back and below. Since the beak is continually growing, flaking is normal with visible layers of keratin. In nature, parrots constantly use their beaks for climbing, foraging (breaking open fruits and seeds), and excavating cavities for nesting. In our homes, chew toys and foraging toys must take the place of what the birds would find in nature. So, toys are absolutely essential to the critical beak-wear process. The abrasion from destructible toys shapes and trims the beak with each bite.
What causes an overgrown beak in parrots?
One reason why your bird’s beak is overgrown may have to do with diet. The upper beak or lower beak can grow too long, and/or abnormally. The upper beak overgrows far more often than the lower beak. In fact, some flaking is normal and expected, but too much dryness or brittleness indicate a metabolic problem such as fatty liver disease. According to the Animal House of Chicago veterinary center for birds and exotic pets, an overgrown beak can be an early sign of fatty liver disease… and one of the few outward signals that there may be nutritional issues. As a result, it is important to talk with your vet about what diet is appropriate for your bird.
Finally, there may be underlying causes for an overgrown beak that are not related to diet or toy access. According to the Del Mar Vet Hospital of St. Augustine, Florida, in addition to nutritional imbalances, an overgrown beak can be the result of health problems including trauma, developmental abnormalities, or polyomavirus-like infections. “Beak trimming is not necessary in birds unless the beak is overgrown due to underlying health problems or malocclusion,” states Greg Harrison, DVM, Dipl ABVP-Avian, Dipl ECAMS in Clinical Avian Medicine, Volume I, pg14. Therefore, you should talk to your avian vet about what might be the root cause of your specific bird’s beak overgrowth.
How can I prevent my bird’s beak from overgrowing?
But, don’t lose hope! Talk to your vet to identify what you can do to prevent your bird’s beak from overgrowing. Always provide plenty of natural beak-conditioning toys that your bird can chip away at. Experiment and find a wood block thickness that is satisfying to your bird. Bird toys with mahogany pods are great for exercising smaller beaks. And in the process of play, these fun toys are also chipping away at your bird’s beak and helping to prevent stressful beak trims.