Should I clip my turtle's nails?
May 26, 2010 11:42 PM   Subscribe

Should I clip my turtle's nails? Its beak also looks a bit long.

Have you ever owned a turtle and clipped its nails? I have a painted wood turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima) or it could be a Central American wood turtle. Anyway I bought it in 2002 and it is still alive. Because it is not in the wild and scratching around rocks, land, dirt, its nails have gotten longer. Should I clip its nails? What is the best way to do this? (yeah probably not PediPaws). I think it's beak also looks a bit long as it appears to overhang its mouth more than before. I don't to touch the beak, but is there anything I can do to help it naturally help nail and beak growth in check?
posted by KimikoPi to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm a long way from being an authority on turtles, but I have had a box turtle since 2001 and have never had to clip its nails or beak. The two box turtle care guides I have make no reference to beak or claw trimming.

(Now, I'm mentioning box turtles because they're the closest thing to Rhinoclemmys that will have a pet manual published for them; yes, Terrapene are North American emydines and Rhinoclemmys are Central American batagurines, but they're both terrestrial radiations of a clade of aquatic turtles. So.)

Also keep in mind that turtles, as ectotherms, have much slower metabolisms and rates of growth than, say, cats or cockatiels, whose claws/nails do need to be trimmed fairly regularly.

My first instinct says to leave them alone barring definitive advice that says (1) that it's okay to do so and won't damage the turtle, (2) that it's actually a good idea and (3) here's how to do it without cutting the blood vessels underneath.

Personally, I'd just make changes to the terrarium (driftwood, rocks, other furniture or substrate) to improve nail and beak wear.

P.S. Re: "still alive." Your turtle should easily be able to live 30 or 40 years, if not more. Much more. I expect mine to be at my funeral.
posted by mcwetboy at 5:05 AM on May 27, 2010

Can you put a few rocks in the turtles habitat?
posted by soelo at 7:19 AM on May 27, 2010

I have a Russian tortoise, so your pet my vary, but we bring her to the vet about once a year for a check up and a beak/nail trim. Not to pull the "see a professional" card, but getting a check up and at least having a pro tell you how to tell if they need a trim and showing you how to do it if so doesn't seem like a bad idea, at least for the first time.

(Yes, I could trim her myself. But trimming someone's beak seems like the definition of "someone knows how to do this better than I do".)
posted by Gucky at 7:36 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding Gucky. I am not an expert, least of all about your particular turtle, but speaking of turtles in general it is possible, and may be necessary to clip nails and file down the beak. That link (scroll down to Health Problems) is encouraging, but it needs some care and you can do some damage if you don't know what you're doing. I also think you should go to the vet, get the job done there and seek advice/instruction on whether you can do it yourself in future. I'm afraid this will probably cost you.
posted by Phanx at 7:56 AM on May 27, 2010

A nail trim is a good idea if her nails are impeding her movement or causing her to get hung up on things in her environment, BUT if she needs them (like if you have deep water she needs to clamber out of) or if she can't flip herself over if she ends up on her back without the added length of the claws, leave them. Does she have a cuttlebone to chew? These are important for turtles not only as a calcium source but to keep their beaks worn down. What more can you tell us about her environment and diet?
posted by The otter lady at 8:04 AM on May 27, 2010

Second the rocks suggestion.
posted by chinabound at 8:50 AM on May 27, 2010

Thirding Gucky.

My mum has had turtles for over 30 years, and she will trim the box turtles nails herself with a standard nailclipper you can buy at a drugstore, but if the beak needs filing (and the ones she has that are about 20 or so years old have needed filing at least a few times), she'll take it to the vet or an exotic pet shop that specializes in turtles.

Actually, on further thought, I believe she's attempted to file down the beaks herself, but the turtles DO NOT ENJOY being in the position required for beak-filing (or nail-clipping, for that matter), so it is easier to let someone else do it. Or at least have an extra set of hands to hold the turtle steady.

In your case, I'd recommend having the vet show you how to trim the nails for the first time, as it is possible to freak out if you hit the blood vessel in the claw and it starts bleeding. Or so my childhood experience would tell me.

In regards to natural ways to keep the nails/beak trimmed, I'll also echo the suggestion for rocks. Preferably nice large ones suitable for climbing.
posted by paisley sheep at 11:30 AM on May 27, 2010

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