• Wed. May 22nd, 2024

How To Trim Turtle Nails: 6 Vet-Approved Steps


Jun 2, 2023


Dr. Athena Gaffud Photo

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Disclaimer: The information about these products has been fact-checked by one of our licensed veterinarians, but the purpose of this post is not to diagnose illness or prescribe treatment. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the veterinarian. We recommend contacting your pet’s veterinarian before purchasing any product from this list.

Have you looked in at your turtle, noticing the daggers they seem to be developing on their feet? You might not have thought much about pedicures for our turtle friends, but sometimes they certainly need the upkeep. After all, you wouldn’t want to be punctured by the pin needle poke of a turtle talon!

If you have never trimmed their nails before, you want a rundown on how to do it—like any responsible owner would! So, let’s go over how to trim turtle nails so your pal can be comfortable and your skin can stay protected during handling.


The 6 Steps for Trimming Turtle Nails

1. Observe the Nail to Be Sure It Requires a Trim

Turtles only need their nails trimmed a few times a year. So, if your turtle might need a clipping, it’s best to check out the nails first to ensure it’s necessary. It should be very easy to detect the vein inside, allowing you to judge exactly how much of the nail needs to be removed. You will see long, pointed hypodermic tips if your turtle needs a trim.

If the nail seems reasonable in length, you can leave your turtle alone and return to it in a few months when it’s had a chance to grow out some. If you have multiple turtles, not every one of them will need trimmed at the same time, so use your judgment.

diamondback terrapin turtle
Image Credit: Miiko, Shutterstock

2. Use the Appropriate Clipping Tools

It’s incredibly crucial to pick the right kinds of clippers—and the correct size depends on your turtle. Most turtles can use a similar size of nail trimming product, so you can find the right pick relatively easy. Sites like Chewy have great products for small pets—like these Kaytee Pro Nail Trimmers.

You can find a wide selection on the site, or even shop at local pet shops to find the right-sized tools.

3. Be Comfortable Performing the Task

You might be a bit nervous if you’ve never trimmed your turtle’s nails. To ease some anxiety, watching a few videos or talking to a professional for guidance is best. Once you get a visual of the process, it will be easier for you to gauge how to do it.

Seeing it for yourself can also make you more confident in your abilities. After the first time, it will likely become second nature to you. That way, the process will be much easier the next time.

Eastern Painted Turtle
Image Credit: Jay Ondreicka, Shutterstock

4. Get a Helper or Find Restraints

Trimming can be tricky for a few reasons. First of all, if you’re a first-timer, you might be worried about the turtle moving or slipping during clipping, which could injure the reptile. But there is a flip side.

Some turtles require restraints because they are especially feisty or active. In this case, someone could get clawed or bitten if the turtle isn’t properly held in place. Often, you can use a thick towel or sweatshirt to wrap the turtle.

This will keep them confined and give them something to bite on should they start to get aggressive.

5. Check Where the Nail Vein Runs

Turtles have veins in their claws. To clip, you must know where these veins run to avoid them. It’s easy to do in the right lighting. You may place a flashlight under the nails to see this clearly. Turtles tend to have translucent nails, and the vein shows up as a thin dark line. It’s vital to completely miss the vein so you don’t cause any excessive bleeding.

If you clip the nail too far back, it can cause the area to bleed profusely. That can be quite scary if you’ve never seen it before, and it can also be dangerous if your turtle loses too much blood. Luckily, it usually looks worse than it actually is.

If you accidentally click too far back, have some cornstarch on hand to stop the bleeding. Cornstarch is a natural coagulant that you can find at virtually any grocery store, and you might even have some in your cabinet now! It is also advisable to have a povidone iodine or a disinfectant at hand in case unintentional cuts and bleeding occur.

western painted turtle
Image Credit: Edgar Lee Espe, Shutterstock

6. Trim in the Correct Spot

Once you have your cornstarch and disinfectant on hand in case you clip too far back, it’s time to start trimming. Be very calm and keep your turtle from moving around too much. Cover your turtle with a towel or have the restrainer stabilize it. Once you have the flashlight and identify the part to be cut, one small clip will take off the tip, and your turtle now has a functional set of nails. Be very careful though as this procedure is stressful for the animal and may cause unnecessary harm to them. If you are not confident enough to do the procedure, always seek help from a professional.

divider-turtleWhy Is Clipping Necessary Sometimes?

Nail clipping is necessary because the nails can get serious points on them. These sharp ends can puncture skin even with a gentle touch.

Luckily, this is an infrequent event. Turtles typically only need a nail trim once or twice yearly—depending on the length.

Domestic Turtles vs. Wild Turtles

The fact of the matter is, in captivity, pets require different care than if they were in the wild. After all, wild turtles don’t stop at a grooming station to get their nails trimmed. So, how exactly do turtles stay in such tip-top shape in nature, but our pets need help?

It’s about the environment.

turtle plastron
Image Credit: Tracy Immordino, Shutterstock

Terrain Texture

The textures in nature organically file turtle’s nails because they trek across many substances—like wood, gravel, and other substances that help keep nails at a normal length. In fact, more active domestic turtles might have naturally shorter nails because they wear them down on the substrate and wood in the enclosure.


In the wild, turtles don’t have a constant food supply. They might eat well one day, and then poorly for days after that. Because captivity offers a constant, steady stream of food, a turtle has a higher vitamin uptake, causing overall better health.

This constant high vitamin source, which means their nails grow quickly. So, that’s why our spoiled turtles also need a pedicure to keep up with their ever-impressive nails.

Turtle Eating Fruit
Image Credit: Maya Shustov, Shutterstock


So now you can see that cutting a turtle’s nail is pretty simple but needs to be done carefully. If you have a more aggressive turtle, it could also be as difficult because they will try to fight you as best they can. Of course, it could be more challenging with more active turtles as they want to move around the whole time.

In these events, it’s best to have a helper on hand to avoid injury to both the turtle and yourself. The process might be a little nerve-wracking initially, but we promise you’ll get used to it the longer you have your reptile friend.

Featured Image Credit: Kurit afshen, Shutterstock

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