Turtle Nails

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Turtle Claws – How To Trim Them

If you have turtles then you have to consider all their needs including your turtles nails. It is not enough to simply provide an enclosure and food. There is a lot more you need to consider.

For instance, you also have to ensure their nails and beaks are kept at a manageable length.

You don’t need to worry. Caring for a turtle is a simple process as they are low maintenance.

In fact, at most you only need to trim the turtle’s nails twice per year. Most turtle owners trim their turtles’ nails just once a year.

If the turtle’s nails/claws are overgrown, it’s easy to notice. Apart from trimming the nails, you might as well consider trimming the beak in addition, if you have a tortoise.

While the nails are super easy to trim yourself, the beak can be trickier as you need to file it down. This is because it isn’t easy to hold the turtle down and file its beak at the same time.

Quick Reference Section

Trimming turtle nails

The same process you follow when trimming turtle nails also applies when trimming tortoise nails. A question many pet owners ask is “Can I cut my turtles nails?” Well, you can. The process is quite simple. You should be able to follow it with little to no fuzz.

Firstly, you need supplies. To trim the turtle’s nails/ claws, you need

  • Cat or dog nail trimmer, you can also use a human cuticle nail trimmer. I recommend the Boshel Cat Nail Clippers.
  • Antibiotic ointment/coin starch (in case of bleeding)
  • Towel

How To Cut Turtle Nails

Step 1

Before you even start the process, you need to ensure the turtle’s safety. The turtle will likely not remain still as they are uncomfortable with human handling.

To stop the squirming, it is a good idea to warp the turtle in a towel. In addition to binding the turtle and making it more comfortable, the towel adds extra grip.

When trimming the nails of the from limbs, bind the back half of the turtle’s body firmly in a towel. The binding should be firm but not hard enough to harm the turtle.

You may also want to place the turtle between your thighs or on a table or hard surface. Alternatively (an probably better), you can have someone help you with the trimming process.

An extra pair of hands is always a plus. The person can hold the turtle as you trim the nails.

Step 2

The nail clippers you are going to use need to be proportional to the size of the turtle and its nails.

For big turtles and tortoises, dog nail clippers may be needed.

For tiny turtles, you can use cat clippers. Even manicure clippers can be used.

One clipper type to avoid is the guillotine clippers.

These offer you little control and accuracy.

Step 3

Now, you need to simply clip the nails. When clipping the nail try to keep it as close as possible without hitting the quick.

This is the part of the nail that receives blood flow. You should be able to see exactly where and what to trim when you use a cat nail trimmer.

With the guillotine nail clippers, it can be difficult to know if you’re cutting too close to the quick. Once you are done with front nails, you can then move onto the back nails.

Trimming the turtle’s nails is usually a simple and incidence-free activity.

In case you cut into the quick

If you cut too close to the quick of the nail, you can superficially injure the turtle.

If that happens, use the cornstarch to treat this bleeding. Simply dab some corn starch onto the tip of the nails, just enough to stop the bleeding.

You can also apply some antibacterial ointment as well to ensure there is no infection.

If you have never worked on turtle nails, you may think it’s highly unlikely that you will harm the turtle as cutting nails seems like a rather simple activity.

However, turtles usually squirm when you hold them. Don’t expect them to remain still, and a sudden jerk can lead to injury.

Turtles are resilient creatures and they should be fine in no time at all. If you do cut too close to the quick, keep an eye on the injury and ensure that it is treated in order to avoid infections.

It is always a good idea to have another person help you with the trimming process. The other person can hold down the turtle so you can use both hands to trim the nails.

Useful tips

  • As shy creatures, turtles will tuck their limbs into their shell making it slightly tricky for you to access their nails. Be patient and gently get hold of the nails. If you are not confident enough to trim the nails yourself have a professional do it. Many herp vets can easily trim the nails for you. You can watch closely and learn. A more experienced turtle keeper can also help you trim your turtle’s nails.
  • Turtles generally dislike being held. This means even the calmest turtle can become vicious as you try to trim their nails. They may bite you and even try to scratch you with the long nails you are trying to trim. Wrapping the turtle up helps calm it down, and prevent the turtle from moving too much. The turtle may be squirmish so take your time.
  • If the turtle won’t stick out the limb, you can try tickling the plastron (the underside of the shell). The sensation can cause the turtle to untuck the limbs so you can trim the nails.
  • Holding the animal in the air rather than on a solid surface can cause the turtle to extend its limbs as it tries to find the ground. This should give the opportunity to trim the nails.
  • You can gently push on the leg on the other side of the retracted limb. The turtle may respond by pushing out the limb on the opposite end.

Lastly, you need to be patient. Do not shake the turtle or even jiggle it in an attempt to get it to retract its limbs. This is very stressful for the turtle and can even lead to injuries. Simply avoid this.

Once again if you are unsure, visit a veterinarian.

The video below demonstrates how to cut your turtle/tortoise nails.

Why you need to trim your turtle’s nails

Trimming your turtle’s nails is necessary as it helps to prevent injuries. This is especially true of turtle species such as cooters, sliders, and three-toed box turtles.

These species have exceptionally long front nails. In the wild, turtles naturally wear down their nails as they walk and move across rough and uneven terrain.

Do turtles have nails or do they have claws? Turtle nails are also referred to as claws. They are one and the same.

  • For starters, long nails can get caught in carpets, plants (especially artificial ones), or even filters. In an attempt to free themselves, the turtles can end up injuring themselves.
  • Additionally, if you have several turtles in a single tank, the long nails of one turtle can scratch and injure another. This is quite common when they climb each other in an attempt to get closer to a heat source. When they go unnoticed, these innocuous scratches can become infected and lead to many complications.
  • Long nails can even harm you the human when you try to handle the turtle.


In the wild turtles trim their nails and beaks by scratching them against rough surfaces such as rocks. They do this naturally.

In an artificial set up such as an aquarium, turtles are unable to naturally trim their nails and beak. This can cause their nails, in particular, to overgrow.

Long overgrown nails are common among box turtles and freshwater turtles. Overgrown nails can make movement difficult, and can get caught in objects such as plants.

Apart from overgrown nails, an overgrown upper beak is another issue to consider.

If you have any questions or information, please leave a comment below.

About the author

Brock Yates

Brock Yates has a passion for educating people about turtles & tortoises. He manages several websites and has a goal of getting everyone the best and most accurate information to help them with their turtle & tortoise care.


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