Last Updated Oct 13, 2016
In captivity, turtles don't walk enough and eat enough rough foods to keep their toe nails and beaks trimmed. When your turtle's toe
nails get long, or the beak gets too much of an overbite, have an experienced turtle keeper or a veterinarian show you how to trim
them. It's also easier with two people holding the turtle.
Trimming the beak ... Now, there is something.
Beaks overgrow for two major reasons: in captivity turtles don't have enough dirt on their food and rough stuff to chew on to wear down their beaks; and often the diet is high in protein, which causes extra growth.
I give my turtles cuttle fish bone to chew on, which also supplies calcium.
Now, for the trimming. I do this about once a year on my box turtles, if necessary, and here is how I do it.
Getting a second person to help, may be a good idea.
An overgrown beak must be trimmed, because eventually it will prevent the turtle from eating its food.
I use a fingernail file for this, the paper version. I find that the metal versions can abrade the side of the lower jaw, and if I slip, the sharp tip has the potential of hurting the turtle. On a larger turtle, you can use a dremel tool if you are handy with that; my vet uses that.
(Don't reuse any turtle-used nail files on humans!)
1) Don't feed the turtle for a couple of days. It will make for a less messy procedure if it has empty intestines.
2) Take the turtle, a towel, and an old credit card or a small wooden spatula, and the nail file.
3) Sit down, towel in lap, turtle on towel. Hold turtle between your thighs, tightly, head up.
4) Coax turtle into sticking its head out. This is the hard part. :-) Scratching the shell, holding it up in the air, waving food in front of its nose, or simply waiting a few minutes will work eventually. (Never shake a turtle!)
5) Grab the turtle's head. My turtles are used to having their head touched, so I usually manage to get my hand on it. Grip gently but firmly. Don't try to pull, be careful not to yank or twist! It may take a while before you have a grip. Turtles have solid skulls, so you can hold firmly, but be careful. You sorta have to try this. I have seen vets grip the turtle behind the head on the neck, but that does not work well for me, and I am afraid that squeezing too hard will damage the turtle. Don't touch the eyes. Hold to the SIDES of the head, not top and bottom, otherwise you will squeeze the air pipe!
6) Once I have the turtle's head, I usually get between 1 and 10 seconds to do work on the beak before the turtle frees its head. Be careful and only rasp on the outside of the beak. The credit card is to pry open the turtles mouth. Sometimes opening the mouth will help you work and it can help keep the turtle from pulling in the whole head. This takes a bit of practice, too.
7) Repeat the above as often as necessary to reduce the beak to the desired size. Eventually the turtle will get tired, and holding its head becomes easier.
8) Eventually you will get tired, too, and you decide to try again the next day. It may take several sittings if the beak is much overgrown. No traumatic after-effects on my turtles have been noticed.
Note: Male sliders and cooters have naturally long front claws. It's a sign of male prowess. 3-toed box turtles also have longer claws.
Claws in many captive turtles will overgrow, because they don't wear them off, especially if the animals are kept indoors. There is nothing unhealthy about long claws, but a turtle might get stuck in a filter or the carpet with a long claw and tear of the claw and even the toe that is attached to it.
If you have trimmed a bird's nails--turtles work just the same.
I use a nail clipper for cat claws for my turtles. They leave a better cut surface than regular nail clippers or scissors, which may squeeze more than cut. You'll also need a towel and some corn starch.
1) Don't feed the turtle for a couple of days. It will make for a less messy procedure if he has empty intestines.
2) Take the turtle, the towel, and the nail clippers.
3) Sit down, towel in lap, turtle on towel. Hold turtle between your thighs, tightly.
4) Coax turtle into sticking leg out. Scratching the shell, holding it up in the air, waving food in front of its nose, or simply waiting a few minutes will work eventually. (Never shake a turtle!) You may also be able to grope for a leg and pull it out carefully. One trick is to push on on the retracted leg on one side to bring out the other one...there is only so much room in that shell!
5) Grab the turtle's leg. Hold firmly but don't pull too hard--you don't want to dislocate a joint. If you hold tightly for a few seconds, often the turtle will get tired and relax the leg muscle for a moment. That's the moment to pull the leg out a bit further.
6) Once I have the turtle's leg, I usually get between 1 and 10 seconds to do work on the foot before the turtle frees its leg.
7) Clip the claws little by little. If the claws are transparent enough for you to see the blood vessels in the claw, trim about 1 mm away from the blood vessel.
8) Repeat the above as often as necessary to reduce the nails to the desired length. Eventually the turtle will get tired, and holding its legs becomes easier.
9) Eventually you will get tired, too, and you decide to try again the next day. It may take several sittings if the claws are much overgrown. No traumatic after-effects on my turtles have been noticed.
1) Can't get head or leg out: patience, patience, patience.
2) Turtle bites: wrap front of turtle into towel, or have turtle bite into a towel. While it is figuring out that it didn't get your finger, you get to work for awhile.
3) Blood: There should not be any blood when trimming the beak!If there is blood from trimming claws, you've cut too short. Usually there is
just a little blood, and you don't need to do anything except to keep the animal dry and clean (on paper towels or newspaper) until bleeding stops. If you want to do more, you can put a little cornstarch on the bleeding claw to help stop bleeding.