Shell Damage, Nails, Beak

Shell damage

Tortoise shells are very tough, and are also designed to be damaged by predators, absorbing all the abuse the body would otherwise have to deal with. Many shell injuries can be treated at home but you should see a vet or an expert if:

  • the shell is cracked through
  • there are pieces missing
  • there are holes into the body cavity
  • there is any sign of air movement in a crack or hole, or breathing is affected

Treatment of minor shell damage:

Carefully clean the area, gently removing loose parts (but do not force them).

  1. Swab the damaged area with Betadine Solution and let dry.
  2. Apply a triple antibiotic ointment to any raw areas.
  3. You can apply a sterile gauze pad to the wound and use paper tape to protect the shell, then use electrical tape on top of the paper tape for strength and protection.
  4. If the damage leaves a very sharp edge, you can gently file it down like you would a fingernail. 
  5. Give the tortoise plenty of warmth and quiet to help it recover after. (See the “Nursing Care” section.)
Tortoise with repaired shell
Damaged shell repaired by veterinarian

Skeletal injuries

Includes fractures, strains, dislocations. If the limb is misshapen or swollen, or if the bone is showing, treat for shock and transport. Most skeletal injuries should be seen by a vet, but if you want to do it yourself:

If the injury is bleeding, treat the wound first.

  1. If you need to splint the injury, use solid material such as a tongue depressor or sheet metal. Make it the right size, pad sharp edges and pad the part that goes against the limb.
  2. Carefully tape the splint in place. Immobilize the bones or joints above and below, or vice versa.
  3. If the limb is retracted, but looks to be in a natural position, just tape it to keep it from moving. If it is not in a natural position, treat for shock and transport.
  4. Treat for shock.

Beak and claw or nail problems

Overgrown beaks and claws are often the result of poor husbandry and/or diet. Some rough surfaces in the habitat, tough to bite foods, and the right amounts of vitamin D and calcium help manage the beak and claws normally.


Trimming the overgrowth. Claws can be clipped like a small dog’s claws- being sure to avoid the “quick”. (Note: do not trim the foreclaws of slider-type turtles! They are meant to be long for foreplay.)

Trimming minor beak overgrowth can sometimes be done by increasing fiber, tougher stems and stalks, offering cuttlebones, and/or offering the food on a rougher surface.

If it is more overgrown, it is more difficult and should be left to someone with experience.It is generally done with a small file or a hand-held motor tool (Dremel) and a bit appropriate to the animal’s size and the severity of the overgrowth. The key points are being gentle, taking a little off at a time, and trying to identify why it happens to avoid future trims.

  • Resources

Edited 8-15-2012 (C) Mark Adkins