Should You Trim Your Tortoise Nails


Unlike cats and dogs, tortoises don’t need much maintenance in the way of hygiene. They don’t need as many baths, nor do you need to trim their nails as often. In fact, they’re pretty low maintenance. Tortoises are still living beings, however, and they still do have needs, and as a responsible tortoise keeper, it’s your job to make sure that those needs are met, regardless of how often they need to be done.

Trimming your tortoise’s nails doesn’t need to be done that often. Most of the time, if it’s even necessary, doing it once or twice a year should be enough. However, when it’s not done correctly, it can not only cause discomfort to your pet, it might also lead to an infection, one that you’ll need to see a vet for. We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen. Today, we’ll be talking about your tortoise’s nails, and how to keep them prim and proper.

The Deal with Tortoise Nails

Claws and nails are pretty much a necessary part of any animal’s body. For some, they help with keeping traction while running, for others, it’s used to grab on to prey, whilst others use them to dig. In the case of tortoises, they use their nails to help them climb over obstacles, burrow into the ground and are also used to keep their balance while they walk.

Most of the time, the act of using their nails is generally what keeps them short, thanks to regular wear and tear. That’s why we’ve mentioned that you don’t have to trim tortoise nails that often. But if your tortoise’s habitat doesn’t have the right types of enrichment that will allow your pet to wear their nail down naturally, like rocks they can climb over or bedding that they can dig through, these nails can grow too long.

Tortoise nails that grow too long can become a health hazard. Nails have a tendency to get caught into things, and if your tortoise decides to struggle in such an event, they can injure themselves. Also, if you have more than one tortoise, they may also accidentally injure others when they climb over their companions, which is what they often do.

When you trim tortoise nails, you’re also preventing injury to yourself. This is because handling a tortoise with long claws, especially tortoises that tend to struggle a lot can give you scratches. These scratches can lead to bad infections if you’re not careful.

What You’ll Need

When you trim tortoise nails, you really don’t need specialized equipment. If you have other pets, like cats or dogs, then you can use their nail trimmer. Just make sure you washed them before you use it on your tortoise. If you don’t have a cat or dog nail trimmer, then you can always use nail trimmers that you use on your nails yourself, although this can make the whole thing a bit more difficult.

For the best results, it’s better to go to a pet shop or a vet and get yourself a dog or cat nail trimmer. You will also need a paper towel or a regular towel to help keep your tortoise in place, and corn starch in case you accidentally cause your tortoise to bleed.

How to Trim Tortoise Nails

One of the biggest obstacles when trying to trim tortoise nails is your actual pet tortoise. When they’re uncomfortable, they tend to squirm around, which might cause them to hurt you or themselves. Unfortunately, while pretty much needed, putting a really firm grip on your tortoise can cause discomfort for them, and the experience itself might cause them to lose trust on you.

The best way to hold on to your tortoise whilst still minimizing the discomfort you might cause them is to wrap them in multiple layers of paper towels, or any soft towel. This can help you apply pressure with your hand without actually hurting your tortoise, and it’s also a great way to avoid you from slipping or dropping your tortoise while you trim their nails.

If you’re trimming the nails on your tortoise’s front nails, wrap the towel on the lower half of their body, and wrap the upper half if you’re planning on trimming the nails on the back legs. Some people prefer to keep their tortoise between their thighs instead of gripping them to keep them secure. Others prefer to hold them with one hand and use the other hand to trim the nails. Either technique works. What’s important is that you don’t end up squishing or over-restraining your pet.

Using a thumb or any other finger, simply anchor the foot that needs the nails trimmed so your tortoise isn’t able to pull it back into its shell. If your tortoise does end up pulling their leg into their shell, rubbing your tortoise’s underbelly can help them relax and allow you to grab hold of their legs again.

Next, we start the trimming process itself. Now, trimming tortoise nails is pretty much straightforward. But you need to do it as quickly as possible in order to lessen the stress you’ll be causing your pet. Unfortunately, if your tortoise is the type that squirms a lot, it can be a bit difficult to do. Especially so since you also need to be accurate when you trim tortoise nails.

Tortoises, like other animals, have what’s known as a quick inside their nails. The nail quick is equivalent to a human’s nail bed and is pretty much a blood vessel within the nail. If you accidentally cut a part of the nail that has a quick in it, you will cause bleeding on your tortoise. Usually, the tortoise’s nail quick is pretty easy to distinguish. It’s a black cylinder in the middle of your tortoise’s nail, and the bit you’re supposed to trim is usually lighter colored.

However, even if you’re careful, you may still end up cutting into the quick and cause bleeding. We did mention that tortoises might end up squirming, remember? If you do cause bleeding, simply dab your tortoise’s bleeding foot into corn starch. This can help staunch the bleeding. So long as you didn’t cut deep enough, your tortoise will recover relatively quickly. Just make sure you watch out for any infections to prevent any lasting damage.

If you do suspect your tortoise is having an infection in the area, like if they’re obviously in pain while they walk, it’s probably best to visit the vet so they can give you something for the infection.

Some Tips

Try to be patient with your tortoise when you’re trimming their nails. They are generally very reclusive animals, and they don’t appreciate being touched for too long, even if it’s for their own good. If you think you’re unable to do a good job or are not confident enough, then that’s fine. Some vets do offer this service for a small fee. If you do decide to have a vet do it, make sure you observe how they do it so you can do it yourself at home next time.

Of course, if you’re not confident with trimming your tortoise’s nails yourself, you can always just increase the ways your tortoise can wear down their nails by themselves. Add rocks on your enclosure, give them things to climb over, and maybe change their bedding into something they can dig into.

You should also remember that trimming can bring out the worst out of any animal. Even if you feel your tortoise has been very calm towards you before the trimming process, you may end up getting bitten while you trim tortoise nails. Tortoise bites, while not necessarily harmful, can be very uncomfortable, and might even cause you to drop your tortoise if you’re not careful. Make sure to keep any of your fingers away from your tortoise’s beak while you trim their nails.

If you’re having a hard time having your tortoise stick out a leg, there are a few things you can do to help you out. Try tickling or rubbing the plastron of your tortoise, or the underside of its shell. This generally helps them relax and will help bring them out of hiding. You can also poke the hind legs gently to force the front legs out, and vice versa, though if you’re prodding the front legs, make sure you keep away from the beak as we’ve mentioned before.

Another good tip is to make sure that you hold you tortoise in the air. If your tortoise is unable to feel anything underneath them, they are less likely to try and walk away, hence less likely to wiggle around. Also, try to keep everything as steady as possible. Make sure that you don’t accidentally shake or jiggle your tortoise around whenever you trim tortoise nails.

Final Thoughts

Tortoises are low maintenance, but that can also be detrimental for them. This can foster complacency amongst tortoise keepers, that since tortoises don’t need much effort to care for, they can pretty much be left alone. Try not to fall into this trap. Tortoises may not have the same high-maintenance needs as other pets, but these needs are still very important for a tortoise’s growth and overall health.

Recent Posts