My Tortoise Can’t Open His Mouth – Reasons and What to Do

My Tortoise Can’t Open His Mouth – Reasons and What to Do

When your tortoise has any health issue is can become quite upsetting as owners. Tortoises are hardy reptiles, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have problems. One common problem with tortoises is the inability to open their mouth. It can be very upsetting to see, but what should we do when it happens? And is it a severe problem for tortoises?

Tortoises that can not open their mouth can be down to several reasons. The most common reason for a tortoise being unable to open his mouth is an overgrown beak that needs to be trimmed down. Another reason can be mouth rot is keeping your tortoise mouth shut or a respiratory infection. 

Ok, so there are some of the most common reasons why your tortoise can’t open its mouth. Let’s look at some of the reasons in more detail, how they are fixed, and some tips on preventing it from happening again. 

Your Tortoise Has An Overgrown Beak

A tortoise eats their food entirely differently from the way we humans do. We chew and grind our food up with our teeth. Tortoises can’t do this as they don’t have teeth; they use their beak to grab and sharp edges to simulate chewing before swallowing. 

As you may expect, the whole process can be pretty harsh on the beak and, over time, wears it away. Evaluation is a beautiful thing, and it helps your tortoise when it comes to the beak. The tortoise beak continues to grow throughout the tortoise’s life to compensate for the fact it wears away from chewing.

When it comes to captive breed tortoises, if you have not got the diet dialed down, it can be completely different from what they would have in the wild. 

In the wild, your tortoise will inadvertently chew on rocks and other hard objects as they eat food. However, this will not be the case in the wild, and as owners, we will be very uneasy adding rocks to their diet as they can be choking hazards. 

If they don’t have hard objects in their diet, then your tortoise’s beak will keep growing without wearing down. Your tortoise beak will become overgrown, and In effect, this will seal shut your tortoise’s mouth and not allow them to open their mouth. 

Your tortoise’s diet when they are young is so important to set them up for a healthy life. If you don’t include enough calcium or have too much protein in their diet, their skeleton can become misshapen. Their head is obviously part of their skeleton, and if this becomes misshapen even slightly, it can misalign the jaw and stop the beak from wearing down. 

One last thing could be and it is not very pleasant, and it could be that your tortoise has a broken jaw. If they do, then the jaw can be misaligned and cause the beak to become overgrown as it does not wear down as it should. 

How To Know If Your Tortoise Has An Overgrown Beak

It is first worth pointing out that if you feel that you don’t have the skill or knowledge to see if your tortoise has an overgrown beak, visit a vet for help. Your vet may need to take an X-ray to access your tortoise’s jaw. 

However, looking at your tortoise’s beak, the top part of their beak should be short, and you should be able to see the “chin visibly.” A younger tortoise may have little ridges on thor beak, and this is entirely normal. An overgrown beak will look long and will overhang the bottom chin. 

If your tortoise only has the front part of the top beak that is long, this is relatively easy to trim down. If your tortoise has an overgrown beak all around then, it can be a little more challenging to trim. 

Treatments For A Tortoise With An Overgrown Beak

Tortoises kept in captivity overgrown beaks are among the most common problems I see people having with their tortoise. 

The only real treatment is prevention, but you are more likely looking for help if you are reading this. Right? Well, more on prevention later, but treatment is down by trimming down the overgrown beak. 

A vet should have no problem trimming down your tortoise beak, and unless you change the diet, it will be a regular occurrence. If, however, you feel a little more confident, you can carry out the process yourself. 

How To Trim A Tortoise’s Beak At Home

Trimming your tortoise beak is relativity easy to do at home and, most importantly, safe enough for you to do so. 

You will need a couple of components to get the job done correctly, including cloth, a white pencil, cuticle trimmers, and a nail file.

  1. Your tortoise is not going to like the process despite it being painless and safe. So wrap them in cloth; this will stop them from getting away from you. Also, your tortoise is likely to poop, so this will save you from being covered in it.
  2. Using your white pencil, mark your tortoise’s beak to the level you want to trim it to. Be over cautious as you don’t want to over-trim the beak, and you can redo it again if needed.
  3. Your tortoise is likely to pop its head into its shell. Hold your tortoise’s head just behind thor jaw to stop them from doing it. It will not hurt your tortoise but don’t be overaggressive.   
  4. Holding your tortoise against your chest will keep them secure and make them feel safer. Use your other hand to hold the cuticle trimmers. You may need a little help keeping your tortoise head from going back into the shell.
  5. Start trimming the beak start with the cuticle trimmers facing the front of the beak as the front section is much thicker and harder to cut. The sides of your tortoise’s beak will be much softer and easier to cut.
  6. Keep trimming your tortoise beak till you reach the white line we made earlier. Don’t go beyond this point; you can later access if more needs to be trimmed. Over trimming can cut your tortoise and cause many other problems.
  7. Using the nail file, smooth out the beak as you would with your fingernails.
  8. After you have finished up, bathe your tortoise and maybe a little treat to reward them for being brave. A treat can also train them to become used to the process. 
  9. Access that you have the beak to the optimum level, and your tortoise finds it easier to eat and open its mouth. 

It is expected that your tortoise will be a little crumpy and off their food for a few days; however, your tortoise can quickly overcome this with a little watermelon treat. 

It is common for a captive-bred tortoise to have overgrown beaks, and learning the process will save you a lot in vet bills. 

How Can You Prevent An Overgrown Beak?

Despite it being a widespread problem with captive-bred tortoises, having an overgrown beak doesn’t mean we can’t do things to prevent it from happening. 

Adding extra hardness to your tortoise’s diet is the best way to grind down the beak. Some will add flat rocks to their tortoise diet, but this can be unsafe and not something I would do or recommend. 

Adding a cuttlefish bone to your tortoise enclosure for them to nor on is the best and safest way. Some tortoises will not be interested in chewing on a cuttlefish bone, so we need to be creative.

Serve your tortoise food ontop of the cuttlefish bone, and as your tortoise chops down, they will be grinding down their beak as they would in the wild. 

Mouth Rot in Tortoises

A less frequent cause of not allowing your tortoise to open their mouth is mouth rot. However, mouth rot usually stops your tortoise from closings its mouth and makes it hang open. 

Mouth rot is very common with all reptiles, which are caused by a respiratory disease. Several things can cause it, including and not exclusively to low temperature,  poor humidity control, dietary issues, or an injury to the mouth.

A weak immune system can lead to your tortoise falling foul of mouth rot. Your tortoise immune system starts to shut down when they get too cold. The reason why your tortoise environment is so essential to keeping a healthy tortoise. 

Your tortoise’s signs that unable to open their mouth is down to mouth rot are runny nose and puss leaking from their mouth. You will need to visit a vet who will be the only people who can treat it with antibiotics and, in extreme situations, surgury. 

To prevent your tortoise from developing mouth rot, keep a close eye on their overall health. Ensure that their environment is all correct and have access to plenty of UV light from the sun or a bulb. 

Respiratory Infections in Tortoises

Just as you would expect with mouth rot, respiratory infection is more likely to make your tortoise mouth stay open. However, that’s not to say it can not lead to your tortoise being unable to open its mouth. 

Foaming or running nose are all signs that your tortoise is suffering from a respiratory infection. You should visit your vet as soon as possible to get your tortoise treated with antibiotics.

Tortoises who get respiratory infections are often caused by sudden and dramatic changes in the temperature. Keeping a stable climate is needed with all reptiles to keep them healthy. 


If you have a tortoise that can not open its mouth, then the chances are that your tortoise beak has become overgrown. The remedy is relativity simple to overcome by trimming it down as you would with your fingernails. 

If you are not confident in tackling the task, a vet should be able to carry out the process. If you don’t change the diet or getaway to make your tortoise grind down their beak naturally, it may become a regular occurrence. 

Other things can keep your tortoise mouth from opening, such as mouth rot or respiratory infect but these are less common reasons. If you suspect mouth rot or a respiratory infection, a trip to the vet is advised.