Like humans, turtles need a regular balanced amount of
vitamin A in their diets. They can exhibit some severe
symptoms when their dietary balance is off for an extended
period. Consequently, when an inexperienced keeper or
veterinarian sees a turtle or
tortoise with swollen eyes and
skin disorders, the most common diagnosis is a shortage of
Unfortunately, that is not always a correct diagnosis. In
fact the problem is sometimes the exact opposite, the turtle
could have an excess of vitamin A. Treating these symptoms
with injectable vitamin A in those cases when there is not a
shortage can be fatal to the turtle, as excess vitamin A can
cause liver failure.
Both excess vitamin A (Hypervitaminosis A) and a shortage of
vitamin A (Hypovitaminosis A) can manifest with similar
symptoms: swollen eyes, skin peeling and ulcers, and
respiratory infections, runny nose, and other respiratory
In addition, turtles that need a humid habitat and are not
provided with enough humidity may manifest the same symptoms
with no vitamin A problem at all. Consequently it is very
important to monitor the turtle's diet and make sure that it
is getting the proper foods high in beta-carotene, add more
humidity if the species requires it, and see if this
improves the symptoms, rather than simply giving a vitamin A
injection immediately. See: How to Feed a
Some details that may help in your diagnosis and treatment:
Over-supplementing with vitamin A can lead to thickened and
peeling skin, and may also cause swollen eyes. Don't use
vitamin A injections, the risk is too high. Don't give your
turtle or tortoise vitamin A supplements
more often than once a week.
give your vegetarian and omnivorous turtles and tortoises a
balanced diet according to the needs of its species.
Too little vitamin A in the diet can cause the turtle's skin
to become thin and reddened. The turtle will also almost
certainly have swollen and infected eyes.
Again, unless the turtle is ill enough that it refuses food;
simply treat it by feeding foods high in beta-carotene.
Including dark green and red lettuces and other greens,
squashes, carrots, occasional egg yolks, fish (if the
species eats fish) and/or aquatic plants in the regular diet
provides a natural source of beta-carotene, as beta-carotene
is converted by the body into vitamin A with no danger of
damage by overdose.
If the turtle refuses to eat, (It may do so if the eyes are
swollen enough that it can't see its food, as turtles are
sight feeders.) try soaking the turtle in lukewarm water for
thirty minutes, three times per day. Soaking will improve
the turtle's chances of being able open its eyes, and once
well-hydrated the turtle may begin eating. If it doesn't,
you'll need to have a reptile veterinarian check it out.