How To Trim A Turtle's Nail

How To Trim A Turtle’s Nail? How Long Should It Be?

Do you know that turtles have nails that grow continuously, just like ours, since they are made of keratin? Therefore, at some point, you must clip your turtle’s claws when they are overgrown.

How do you trim a turtle’s nail, and how long should it be? To trim your turtle’s nail, you simply wrap your pet in a towel to help minimize movements. Then, stretch out its feet and cut the overgrown nails using your cat or dog clipper. Just make sure to cut above the blood vessel to avoid bleeding.

Now, perhaps you are curious about how often you should trim your turtle’s nails? This blog post will address this and much more on how to cut a turtle’s claw.

How To Trim a Turtle’s Nail? How Long Should It Be?


Just like human nails, turtle nails can also grow pretty long. Therefore, you must trim the nails or claws to keep them at a manageable length. But how long should the nails be?

How To Trim a Turtle's Nail

Well, the nails should not be long enough to affect your turtle movements. And when trimming, you must avoid cutting the claws too close to the blood vessels. With that said, here is a step-by-step guide on how to trim your turtle’s nails.

Step 1: Gather your supplies

Before trimming the nails, you must gather the right tools for the job. These include:

  • Pair of nail clippers or human cuticle nail trimmers
  • Towel or light blanket
  • First aid kit
  • Betadine solution or cornstarch
  • Bright flashlight

For the clippers, you could use a dog and cat nail trimmer or human nail clippers, depending on the size of your turtle.

Step 2: Secure your turtle

Once you have all the supplies within reach, get your towel and wrap your turtle in it. This will ensure you get a firm grip on your turtle and prevent it from moving around.

Trim a Turtle's Nail

Alternatively, you could get an extra pair of hands to help you restrain the turtle. Next, place your wrapped turtle between your thighs or on top of a table for extra grip.

Step 3: Start the nail trimming

After you have secured your turtle, unwrap the towel on the front side to expose the nails. This way, your turtle will only be wrapped halfway. Next, get your flashlight and shine it through your turtle’s claws so you can see the nerves inside.

Then, carefully cut the overgrown tortoise nails around the tip area using your cat nail clipper. You must ensure not to trim the nails too close to the blood vessel in the claws. Repeat this process with the claws on the rear feet or limb.

See also  Box Turtle Eggs Care Guide: Things To Do And Not To Do

Check out this video of a female red-eared slider having her nails trimmed by qualified professionals:

Step 4: Use an antiseptic ointment

If you accidentally cut the overgrown claw nails too close to the blood vessel, apply some cornstarch to prevent excessive blood loss. You can also use a betadine solution, styptic powder, or dilute hydrogen peroxide.

However, if there is no bleeding, apply some antibiotic ointment on the clipped nails to prevent infections. Then, use a nail file to smoothen the sharp nail tips.

Do Turtle Nails Have To Be Trimmed?

Yes, because shorter claws are healthy and easier to manage. In addition, the nails must be trimmed because your turtle could accidentally injure you or its tank mate with its long nails.

Painted turtles

What’s more? The overgrown claws may get caught in things like the carpet around the house. In some cases, the nails may grow very long, impeding your turtle’s ability to walk comfortably. That said, not all turtle species need to have their overgrown claws trimmed, including:

  • Male red-eared sliders
  • Painted turtles
  • Sideneck turtles
  • Map turtles
  • Ornate wood turtles
  • Softshell turtles

Also read: Can You Paint a Turtle Shell?

How Often To Trim a Turtle’s Nail?

You can do it once or twice a year, depending on how fast the turtle’s nails could be growing. Generally, you can tell that it is time to trim the nails of your Eastern box turtle or any other species of turtle if you notice the following signs:

Eastern box turtle
  • Nails curling up
  • Difficulties of movement
  • Blood vessel (quick) occupying less than half of the claw
  • Claws pointing in different directions
  • Nail breakage

How To Naturally Trim a Turtle’s Nail

Wild aquatic turtles don’t have anyone to trim their nails. Instead, these animals usually clip or wear down their overgrown nails by digging and foraging on hard surfaces in the wild. Sometimes, they also scratch their long claws on hard rocks, helping them keep their toes at the right length.

How To Naturally Trim a Turtle's Nail

So, one way to help your captive turtle trim its nails naturally is to make the basking spot coarse. For instance, some parts could be concrete to help your pet turtle file its nails while climbing up. Also, you could add driftwoods and many plants in their tank or take your pet for a walk on rough terrain.

See also  How To Take Care Of Turtle Eggs?

Additional Tips On How To Trim a Turtle’s Nail

Whether it’s your first time doing it or not, here are some tips to help you do a good job.

Additional Tips On How To Trim a Turtle's Nail
  1. You can use manicure clippers or any type of pet nail clipper to cut the nails but not guillotine clippers.
  2. If your turtle tucks its feet inside the shell, try tickling it underneath its carapace. It will end up sticking out its claws.
  3. Never use force while trying to make your turtle stick out its limbs. Your pet might injure you in the process.
  4. Be sure to wash the nails with warm water and apply a gentle antibacterial ointment after the trimming to avoid infections.
  5. If you are not comfortable trimming your turtle’s nails, you can have a professional vet do the job for you at a small fee.
  6. Never place your fingers near your turtle’s beak while trimming the nails to avoid potential bites.


Before we conclude, we will respond to frequently asked questions about trimming a turtle’s nail.

1. Can I trim the nails of my red-eared slider?

Trimming the red-eared slider nails is not recommended, especially if it is a male. This is because male red-eared sliders use their long claws to impress their female counterparts. But for female turtles, you can trim the nails using a pet nail clipper.

2. When should I trim my turtle’s nails?

If the turtle nails are overgrown and are impeding your reptile’s movement, or they are curled up. However, not all turtle species need to have their nails clipped, mainly the aquatic, such as the male red-eared sliders.

Related: Why Is My Turtle Always Basking?


Trimming a turtle’s nail is relatively easy with dog or cat clippers. But of course, you must be patient. The important thing is knowing how short to clip the turtle’s claws so you don’t hurt your pet’s blood vessels. More so, you must know how often to trim the nails.

How To Trim A Turtle's Nail

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