Sunday, December 8, 2013

Comparison of healthy vs overgrown tortoise beaks

Today's theme: does your tortoise's beak look healthy? Below I've posted 2 pics of tortoise beaks, one of torts with healthy beaks, one of tortoises that badly need a trim.

A healthy tortoise beak should be short and the 'chin' should be visible. Younger tortoises often have little ridges in the front, which is completely fine. There shouldn't be a strong over or under-bite.
Some examples of healthy beaks
I am showing 3 different kinds of healthy beaks:
-on the left, one of a tortoise that still has the little ridges in the front (which is totally fine, as long as the beak is short)
-one of a tortoise that has a smooth, short beak (top right)
-one of a tortoise that previously had an overgrown beak, and has had his beak trimmed and filed (bottom right).

An overgrown beak may just be long in the front, which is really easy to trim... or it may be overgrown all around, making your tortoise look like an old dinosaur. A badly overgrown beak will need to be trimmed by a vet, or sometimes local rescue groups and reptile specialty stores offer free or cheap trims. Every year I help trim many beaks for my friends and at our local rescue group meets. If done properly, it doesn't cause much stress to the animal, and can significantly improve its quality of life. An overgrown beak can hinder eating, and in some cases, prevent the tortoise from pulling its head into its shell.

Some examples of overgrown beaks, in need of a trim
There are many factors that play into causing an overgrown beak:
-too soft foods
-no stones etc. for the tortoise to rub its beak on
-underlying internal issues, such as metabolic bone disease (MBD), caused by lack of calcium and UVB
-different growth rates - I have one tortoise that needs her beak trimmed twice a year, while the others never or only rarely do. 

If you can't find someone to do it for you, you can also use an emery board to gently file it bit by bit. If you would like to learn about how to gently file your tortoise's only slightly overgrown beak, you can watch a short video here:
If the beak is very overgrown, then this may take a while.

If you feel confident you can trim your tortoise's beak (let someone experienced show you how if necessary!), here is a description of how: For small tortoises I use the clipper method, because the vibration and noise of a Dremel just seems to be a little much for them. For larger tortoises, a Dremel may be a better option. If you have experience with this kind of thing, it is possible to do it yourself, BUT don't attempt this until someone has shown you how!

Jill has a very healthy beak. I've never had to do anything to it. 

A view of Jill's healthy beak, from the side. 
Once the beak is nice and trim, it really helps to feed on a slate, and to have different shaped rocks and a cuttlefish bone, too, in the enclosure. These will help maintain a healthy beak. I also like to make the tortoises work for their food a little - I don't chop anything up. Feeding tough-to-chew foods will help, as well.

If your tortoise doesn't touch its cuttlefish bone, you can make it more enticing by soaking it in cucumber juice or carrot juice (the orange color helps, too!). I also sometimes offer eggshells, boiled to sanitize them. Some of the tortoises that never touch their cuttlefish bone, do help themselves to the eggshell, which contains calcium, too.

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