Home » How Do I Know If My Tortoise’s Beak Is Too Long?
what should a tortoise beak look like?

How Do I Know If My Tortoise’s Beak Is Too Long?

If you look at a tortoise from the side, you’ll see a hard and sharp overhang over the mouth. This is known as the tortoise’s beak, and it’s responsible for breaking off and grinding up food before swallowing.

If your tortoise’s beak appears overgrown, hanging past its jawline, it’s too long and needs trimming.

The best way to identify an overgrown beak is by monitoring your tortoise’s ability to eat. If it’s too long and misshapen, it’ll be unable to open and close its jaw properly.

A varied and self-discovered diet consumed on an abrasive surface, such as a flat rock, will keep your tortoise’s beak worn down and naturally trimmed.

However, meals chopped up into small pieces in captivity mean that a tortoise can’t keep its beak trimmed naturally, leading to overgrowth.

What Should A Tortoise Beak Look Like?

A healthy tortoise’s beak should be short with a slightly curved point on the end.

When you look at a tortoise, the underside of the jaw (its chin, to use a human anatomical reference) should be visible. If the beak is too long, you’ll notice an overhang on the front or around the beak.

how long should a tortoise beak be?

What Are The Signs That My Tortoise’s Beak Is Too Long?

In a way, tortoises’ beaks are similar to human fingernails, which will continue to grow unless kept trimmed or maintained through gradual wear and tear.

The signs of an overgrown beak include the following:

  • Tortoise can’t open its jaw enough to eat. This can be observed by watching the tortoise eat or recognizing any changes in its eating habits.
  • Beak starts rubbing on the front legs. This can lead to irritation and open wounds.
  • Strange squeaking or clicking. In some cases, an overgrown beak can rub against the bottom part of the tortoise’s mouth, leading to a clicking sound.

There are other causes of clicking and squeaks, so this doesn’t always indicate an overgrown beak.

Why Is My Tortoise’s Beak Too Long?

According to the Reptile and Amphibian Practice in California, an overly long tortoise beak is often a sign of malnutrition. That is, well-fed healthy tortoises shouldn’t need to have beak trims.

While this is certainly true of wild tortoises, the reality for tortoises in captivity is different, largely due to the different diet that impacts a pet tortoise’s ability to maintain its beak.

Non-Abrasive Surfaces And Foods

When a tortoise forages for food, the beak experiences a certain amount of wear and tear as it encounters grit and sifts through the undergrowth to find food. This keeps the beak at a manageable and healthy size, as its wild surroundings wear it down.

According to Science Direct, the beaks of tortoises that don’t have access to abrasive surfaces and foods won’t be naturally kept the right size and shape.

Individual Growth Rates

Tortoises’ beaks grow at different rates, so some need a trim twice a year while others never need a trim.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

An oversized or overly long beak can be caused by underlying health conditions, like metabolic bone disease (nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism). This leads to malformed bones and softened shells.

MBD can result in the misalignment of the upper and lower beak, meaning that the tortoise won’t be able to get hold of, chew, and swallow its food properly.

Although filing the beak down will address the situation, it won’t resolve the underlying cause of MBD. The solution is to provide the tortoise with more calcium and ultraviolet (UV) light exposure.

do tortoises need their beaks trimmed?

How To Trim A Tortoise’s Beak

According to Tortoise Feeding and Nutritional Requirements in the Companion Animal, filing replicates the natural process achieved through contact with abrasive foods and certain surroundings.

Those considering trimming a tortoise’s beak at home should be aware that the beak contains blood vessels and nerves, so it’ll feel what you’re doing if you make a mistake.

Improper beak trimming may result in pain and bleeding, which is why it’s strongly advised that you ask a herp veterinarian to trim your tortoise’s beak the first time.

Once a vet has demonstrated the correct procedure, you’ll feel confident enough to trim the beak. Trimming the front of the beak is easier than trimming overgrowth around the entire mouth.

Here’s how to file a tortoise’s beak:

  1. Ensure that the tortoise is comfortable but safe and secure. Use a towel wrap to prevent the tortoise from pushing the clippers away.
  2. Ensure that you have access to the tortoise’s face.
  3. Every tortoise reacts differently to having its beak trimmed, with some trying to retreat into their shells. It’s possible to trim the beak while its head is in the shell, but this will be harder.
  4. As you clip, it’s vital that the tip of the beak finishes with a sharp point. That’s why the clipping movement should be done at a 45-degree angle, one clip on each side of the beak.
  5. Some light filing may be required to smooth the edges of the beak after clipping.

Trimming won’t be required more than once or twice per year, and it can be avoided entirely if your tortoise is given the ‘tools’ needed to keep its beak short.

Alternatives To Tortoise Beak Trimming

One of the most effective ways to prevent a tortoise’s beak from growing too long is giving them an occasional cuttlebone, which is a cuttlefish’s internal shell.

According to the Natural History and Medical Management of Terrestrial and Aquatic Chelonians, cuttlebone is a good source of calcium, and its abrasive surface wears down the beak naturally and safely.

If your tortoise is disinterested in cuttlebone, you can make them more enticing. Add color and flavor by soaking the cuttlebone in carrot juice. Tortoises are naturally drawn to bright colors, like orange.

Feed your tortoise its meals on a flat rock to expose its beak to the rough surface. Again, the abrasiveness will give the tortoise a means of keeping its beak a manageable length.

Avoid cutting up your tortoise’s food into bite-sized chunks so that it has to work to eat. That’s part of how tortoises keep their beaks short in the wild, so this process works in captivity.

With both natural interventions and trimming treatments available, keeping your tortoise’s beak at a healthy length is a simple yet crucial part of tortoise husbandry.