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Eye Problems With Turtles

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Eye problems are a common ailment among pet turtles. Both aquatic and terrestrial turtles are prone to eye swelling if the conditions in which they're kept aren't quite right. Box turtles in particular are susceptible to ear abscesses, which can cause eye swelling. Eye problems are usually curable, but they can lead to serious health problems if left untreated.


A runny eye, or an eye the turtle keeps rubbing, could be a sign of irritation or injury, especially if only one eye appears infected. Cloudiness in one or both of your turtle's eyes, excessive discharge or swollen eyelids are all signs of possible illness or vitamin deficiency. A turtle whose eyes are swollen shut might have an infection or ear abscess that needs to be addressed right away -- he may not be able to eat until the problem is cleared up. Aquatic turtles especially are sight feeders and face a danger of starvation if their eyes are swollen shut too long. If you notice any of these symptoms in your turtle, you should work with your vet to determine the underlying cause.

Environmental Causes

An improperly kept habitat is the biggest culprit in a lot of eye infection cases. Dirty, contaminated water can cause eyes to get infected, and turtles who aren't properly hydrated can develop dry eyes that become irritated and infected. Box turtles especially need to have plenty of humidity and moisture in their habitats in order to prevent eye woes. Rocks, tank decorations and heat lamps that are kept too close to the turtle can result in eye injuries, and sand and dirt can also get in the turtle's eye and cause irritation.

Dietary and Medical Causes

Vitamin A deficiency can cause a lot of health problems for a turtle, including eye infections. A lack of sufficient levels of this vitamin can cause the gradual breakdown of epithelial tissues that can make eyes more prone to infection and swelling. In addition, eyes become more vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections that will require veterinary intervention. Respiratory infections and ear abscesses may also lead to eye swelling, gumminess and discharge.


The best treatment is avoiding the problem in the first place by making sure your turtle has plenty of clean water and bedding, is thoroughly hydrated and receives a diet high in vitamin A. Minor eye irritation may be treated with human eye drops, but persistent or more serious symptoms should be seen to by a reptile vet, who can administer antibiotics and determine whether your turtle needs a vitamin A shot. Ear abscesses might require surgery to correct.