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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.