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are you supposed to clip tortoise nails?

Do Tortoise Nails Need Clipping?

Wild tortoises spend most of their time burrowing and foraging for food. Naturally, this allows them to wear down their nails, thereby ensuring they don’t grow too long.

However, when tortoises are kept in captivity, they don’t do much work with their nails, which can cause them to overgrow.

Monitor your tortoise’s claw length and clip them as needed, no more than 1-2 times a year, to ensure they don’t grow too long.

Clipping your tortoise’s nails is critical for its health since overgrown nails can cause walking difficulties, injuries, infection, and arthritis.

While nail clipping is necessary for captive tortoises, it can cause pain and infections if not done correctly. So, we’ll explain when to clip a tortoise’s claws.

Should You Cut a Tortoise’s Nails?

Cut tortoise’s nails no more than twice a year to prevent them from growing too long. While nails are an important part of a tortoise’s anatomy, they can grow to uncomfortable lengths.

Wild tortoises use their claws frequently to dig, climb over obstacles, and forage for food. This enables them to wear down their nails naturally, thus preventing them from growing too long.

However, when kept in artificial habitats that don’t have the enrichment to wear down nails, tortoise’s claws can grow to excessive lengths.

Overgrown tortoise claws tend to get caught up in things, and if your tortoise forcefully tries to free itself, it may end up injuring itself. Furthermore, if you keep more than one tortoise, the tortoise with long nails might injure others as it attempts to climb over them.

Allowing your tortoise’s nails to grow too long can affect its ability to walk properly. When a tortoise’s nails grow too long, they bend downwards, and this can cause discomfort when walking.

Tortoises with overgrown nails end up changing their walking style to minimize pain. Unfortunately, doing so puts enormous strain on the soles of their feet and is likely to cause sores and injuries.

What Problems Do Overgrown Nails Cause in Tortoises?

Overgrown nails aren’t pleasant to look at, but there are other reasons why long nails can be problematic for tortoises beyond simple aesthetics. These include:

how long should tortoise nails be?

Injury and Infection

Allowing your tortoise’s nails to grow unchecked can significantly increase its risk of injury.

That’s because the claws will often get tangled up in things and may get pulled out. When this happens, the tortoise will develop wounds that can become infected if not treated early.

Walking Difficulties

The discomfort experienced from walking with long nails is likely to alter the tortoise’s walking style.

As a result, the tortoise might end up putting undue pressure on its footpads as it struggles to walk. This can cause its feet to get sore, further impeding its mobility.


According to the Journal of Biology, arthritis in tortoises is linked to trauma wounds caused by overgrown claws. Tortoises affected by arthritis experience severe joint pain, making it hard to walk.

How To Trim a Tortoise’s Nails

If you’ve noticed your tortoise’s nails have grown too long, there are ways you can trim them to ensure your tortoise remains healthy.

Take your tortoise to a vet for trimming as herp vets are experts at trimming overgrown nails and will trim your tortoise’s nails at a fee. However, you may choose to trim your tortoise’s nails at home.

You don’t need any special equipment to trim the nails. In most cases, a standard pet nail clipper will work just fine. You also need a towel to hold your tortoise in place, and that can be matched with cornstarch to control bleeding in case you accidentally injure the quick.

Here is a simple guide on how to trim a tortoise’s nails at home:

Comfortable Position

Tortoises dislike human handling, even if they have strong emotional bonds with their owners.

Attempting to hold down your tortoise to clip its nails makes it uncomfortable, so it may squirm around to free itself. This can lead to falls, which may cause severe injury.

So, before you clip your tortoise’s nails, ensure it’s comfortable. Wrapping your tortoise’s body in a towel not only prevents it from squirming but provides you with a better grip.

If you’re trimming the nails on your tortoise’s front limbs, wrap the towel around the lower part of its body and vice versa. You should avoid binding your tortoise’s body too tightly when trimming its nails, as this puts too much pressure on it and may cause injuries.

Put the tortoise between your thighs when trimming, as this gives you a better grip, further minimizing the risk of accidents. If possible, ask a friend or partner to hold the tortoise as you trim its nails. This frees up your hands and provides you with better control, reducing accidental injuries.

Clip the Nails

When clipping your tortoise’s claws, you should do it carefully to avoid inflicting injuries.

Remember, tortoises’ nails have quicks that contain blood vessels and nerves. So, cutting a section of nail that has a quick will result in pain and bleeding.

The quick is easy to identify. It’s located in the middle of the nail and is black-colored, unlike the rest of the nail, which tends to be lighter. Stay 3 mm away from the quick when trimming.

It’s still possible to inadvertently cut the quick when trimming, despite exercising a high level of caution. If this happens, dab your pet’s injured claw in cornstarch to help staunch the bleeding. Alternatively, you can apply hydrogen peroxide solution to the wound to prevent infection.

Note that some tortoises can be aggressive when handled. If you are not careful when trimming your pet’s claws, it may attempt to bite you in a bid to free itself.

Make sure your fingers are at a safe distance from your tortoise’s mouth when clipping its nails.

What Happens if I Cut the Nails Too Short?

If you accidentally cut too high up on the claw, apply a 5% hydrogen peroxide solution or corn starch to the claw tip using a cotton swab and disinfect the wound.

how to clip tortoise nails

How Do I Prevent The Need For Nail Clipping?

While trimming overgrown nails is important, the procedure can be unpleasant for your tortoise. You can minimize the need for trimming by providing conditions that allow it to wear out its nails naturally.

Here are ways to keep your tortoise’s claws short to prevent the need for clipping:

Large Enclosure

Living in a cramped space limits your tortoise’s movement, which in turn reduces its opportunities to wear down its nails naturally.

To mitigate this problem, you should house your tortoise in a spacious enclosure with room for movement. Doing so motivates your tortoise to indulge its instincts for roaming and playing, thus helping it wear down its claws.

Right Substrate

As mentioned, digging is an important activity for tortoises since it keeps their nails short.

It’s easier for wild tortoises to wear down their nails in this way. After all, their habitats are covered in abrasive soil and rocks, which create friction. 

To keep your tortoise’s nails short, replicate their natural environment by providing an appropriate substrate. A mixture of sand and loam soil is ideal for your tortoise enclosure since tortoises can dig it far more easily. Ensure the substrate bed is deep enough (at least 2 -3 inches) to allow digging.

Abrasive Accessories

Adding accessories, such as rocks and logs, to your tortoise’s enclosure can keep its claws from growing too long. As your tortoise climbs over these obstacles, the friction will naturally file its nails.

Do Tortoises Feel Pain When Their Nails are Clipped?

Your tortoise won’t experience any pain if you clip its nails, provided you don’t cut the quick. According to Contributions to Zoology, tortoise nails are made from a hard keratin layer.

Aside from the quick, which contains blood vessels and nerves, tortoises’ nails are formed by dead cells. Consequently, clipping them correctly won’t cause a tortoise any pain.

Tortoise nails need to be clipped regularly if they aren’t provided with the right toys and substrate. Doing so won’t be painful and can be done as needed. As long as you’re careful, it’s easy to do this at home.