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What is Vitamin A Deficiency?

Also called Hypovitaminosis A, Vitamin A deficiency often occurs in turtles kept as pets. The turtle’s body needs Vitamin A in order to develop healthy skin, mucous membranes and ducts within their organs. Should they not get enough Vitamin A, they will experience squamous metaplasia which will inhibit typical activities of the turtle’s skin or organs, most often as a result of getting in the way of the flow of fluid through ducts.

Vitamin A deficiency is most often seen in young, semi-aquatic turtles or box turtles that are over the age of six months. Tortoises will rarely experience a Vitamin A deficiency as their diet naturally includes vegetables with the vitamin. The deficiency is typically not seen in those under the age of six months; this is because the yolk will usually have sufficient amounts of the Vitamin for a few months of nourishment. As this store of the vitamin runs low, turtles must eat items with enough Vitamin A to replenish the vitamin in their system.

Vitamin A deficiency (also known as Hypovitaminosis A) occurs when turtles do not have enough Vitamin A in their diet, leading to a disruption in the normal function of their skin or other organs.

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Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency in Turtles

Should your turtle be experiencing a Vitamin A deficiency, you may observe the following:

  • His eyelids may be swollen
  • He is disinterested in food and loses weight
  • He develops a mouth infection
  • He experiences respiratory infections

Liver or kidney failure may also occur should the turtle’s diet have been high in protein.


Swollen eyelids are the most seen sign of a Vitamin A deficiency. As this is also a symptom of a bacterial infection in your turtle’s eyes or respiratory tract, your veterinarian will want to determine the actual cause of the condition prior to beginning treatment.

Vitamin A deficiency is connected to numerous conditions in turtles to include stomatitis, pneumonia, and otitis. These conditions will often not clear up with treatment until the Vitamin A deficiency is resolved.

Causes of Vitamin A Deficiency in Turtles

A Vitamin A deficiency or Hypovitaminosis A is due to your turtle not getting enough Vitamin A in his diet. As your turtle’s body requires Vitamin A for healthy skin, mucous membranes and ducts (small tubes that allow fluids like urine, saliva or bile to travel through) within their organs, when they don’t get enough of the vitamin, they will experience an unusual growth and thickening of their cells. This will cause a disruption in the normal function of the skin or organs.

Diagnosis of Vitamin A Deficiency in Turtles

Should you notice any concerning symptoms in your turtle, you will want to bring him to the veterinarian. A physical examination will be conducted, which will include an eye exam and oral exam. Your veterinarian will ask you for information regarding your turtle’s history, the symptoms you have seen, and his diet, along with any supplements he takes. As symptoms of a Vitamin A deficiency are similar to those of other diseases, your veterinarian will want to rule out other reasons for the symptoms prior to diagnosing your turtle. 

Turtles with a Vitamin A deficiency often have bacterial infections as a secondary condition. Blood testing will likely be conducted, to include a complete blood count (CBC), as well as a serum or plasma chemistry panel. This will help to determine if there are any underlying infections or organ involvement in your turtle

Your veterinarian may also consider conducting a biopsy of any abnormal skin on your turtle. The skin sample will be looked at closely so that your veterinarian can understand if the skin abnormalities are a result of excess keratin due to a Vitamin A deficiency. 

Treatment of Vitamin A Deficiency in Turtles

Should your turtle be diagnosed with a Vitamin A deficiency, changing his diet to ensure that he takes in enough Vitamin A will be an important aspect of his treatment. While his diet is changed, your veterinarian may recommend a supplement for your turtle to take. It is likely that once your turtle takes in more Vitamin A through what he is eating, the amount of the supplement will be reduced; ingesting too much of the supplement can lead to toxicity. 

Should your turtle be experiencing an underlying bacterial or fungal infection, treatment can include topical and/or systemic antibiotics or anti-fungal medications. 

Recovery of Vitamin A Deficiency in Turtles

You will want to ensure that your turtle has a healthy diet that includes enough Vitamin A. This can include dark, leafy greens, and/or yellow or orange vegetables. Name brand commercial turtle pellets and live fish tend to have enough Vitamin A to meet your turtle’s needs. Regular follow up with your veterinarian may be necessary to monitor the levels of Vitamin A in your turtle and ensure his health.

This condition is preventable through ensuring a healthy and complete diet for your turtle.

Vitamin A Deficiency Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Red eared slider
1 Year
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My red eared slider developed swollen eyes about a week ago. We've been using eye drops that are supposed to help him with this deficiency for 4-5 days now. I've also been taking him outside in the sun a few times a day to help keep his body temperatures up. He seems to be doing better immediately after the drops in his eyes and after sitting in the sunlight. How long will it take before his eyes are completely back to normal and is there something more I can do to help him recover?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3001 Recommendations
It really depends on the cause of the swollen eyes; infections, vitamin A deficiency, trauma among other causes; if there is no discharge and no respiratory difficulty, vitamin A deficiency is the most likely cause. You should monitor Squirt for a week or so for some sign of improvement, if there is no improvement you should try to visit a Veterinarian for a closer examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Red ear slider turtle
One Year
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Lethargic, swollen eyes, outburts

Hello I believe my turtle has vitamin A deficiency as well as a respiratory infection. I just got back in town from a trip and had my mother taking care of my turtles. After I cleaned my tank and was observing my turtles I noticed the oldest one was having problems breath, was being lethargic, had swollen eyes as well as a loss of appetite. I started googling to try to figure out what the problem was and came across RI. One of the treatments I read was to basically lower the water and have it at a higher temperature than usual to act as a warm blanket for the turtle since they can use a fever to fight off the infection and to also cover the tank so it humidifies. I also put a small prop in the tank so he can lift his head up so he won’t drown because he has gotten weaker. He also has been having random outburst of lifting his head around and swimming around the tank and up to the glass. I also separated him from the two baby turtles in case this is contagious. Please help me im in desperate need of advice. Thank you in advance!

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1415 Recommendations
Chino may need vitamin supplementation in addition to the housing changes that you have made. If there is a veterinarian in your area who can see exotic animals, it would be a good idea to have him seen. If there is not one available, there are vitamin supplements available from your pet store, I'm just not sure without seeing him if that is an appropriate treatment for him. I hope that he recovers well.

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