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How to Do a Beak Trim on a Tortoise

Updated November 21, 2016

Tortoises use their hard, sharp beak to tear and chew their food items. In the wild, tortoise beaks are kept in check by chewing on hard objects and a well-balanced diet. In captivity, however, tortoise beaks often overgrow due to nutrient deficiencies in their diet and the lack of hard food objects that abrade the beak. Tortoise beaks that overgrow can inhibit the animal's ability to eat its meals. You can trim the beak yourself at home using basic household materials.

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  1. Compare your tortoise's beak with multiple pictures in a tortoise reference book to determine if the beak is actually overgrown. Some tortoises naturally have an overgrown beak and trimming their beak can cause significant injury to the tortoise. It is important to be certain there is a problem before you attempt to trim a tortoise beak.

  2. Stop feeding the tortoise a day or two before you attempt to trim the beak. This will reduce the likelihood of the tortoise evacuating its bowels on you as you trim the beak.

  3. Wrap the legs and shell of the tortoise tightly in a towel to restrict the movement of its legs. It is much easier to focus on trimming the beak without the sharp claws of the tortoise scratching your hands and legs.

  4. Place the tortoise on your lap so that the head faces up toward you and ensure that you have a secure grip on the animal. Having an extra set of hands around to hold the animal makes the process much easier and safer for the tortoise.

  5. Grip the head of the tortoise firmly by the sides of its head, behind the eyes. Tortoises are strong animals, but take care not to twist or jerk the head when handling it to prevent injury. Instead, try to hold one position that allows you to access the beak.

  6. Slide a credit card under the beak to pry it open.

  7. Rub a fingernail file carefully over the beak to wear it down to the desired size.

  8. Tip

    Remain patient when attempting to trim your tortoise's beak. As exhausting as the process may seem to you, it is even more exhausting for the tortoise and the task will become easier as the tortoise tires and stops fighting. Provide cuttle fish bones for your tortoise after you have successfully trimmed the beak to help keep the beak at a natural size.


    Overgrown beaks are a sign of nutrient deficiency; consult a veterinarian to determine what adjustments you should make to your tortoise's diet to prevent the beak from continuing to overgrow. Never grip the tortoise by the bottom and top of the head since you can damage their breathing pathway and cause serious injury to your pet. Do not over-trim your tortoise's beak. The beak is a living part of the tortoise and will start to bleed profusely if overtrimmed, leading to stress and other problems for captive tortoises.

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Things You'll Need

  • Tortoise reference book
  • Towel
  • Credit card
  • Fingernail file

About the Author

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