Tortoise Eye Infection: Causes, Prevention, Treatment

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Conjunctivitis is common in tortoises. Though the disease is harmless early, it will cause blindness in your pets when it goes untreated. Hence, primary knowledge of tortoise eye infection causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment is necessary. 

Tortoise eye infection briefing,

Low humidityAntibioticsClean enclosure
Filthy penEye drops Proper temperature 
Eye injurySuitable humidity 
Low immunityBalanced diet 
Hypovitaminosis Treating eye injury 
Low temperature 
Foreign body 

What should you do if your tortoise has an eye infection? Can you offer it a home treatment? Find the answers here. 

Eye Infection Or Conjunctivitis In Tortoises 

Do you know what healthy tortoise eyes look like? 

Well, healthy tortoise eyes are bright and shiny. Its iris can be vibrant green, blue, and brown.

Moreover, the eyelid structure in tortoises has a unique design. For example, their lower eyelids are bigger.

Furthermore, tortoises have a third eyelid located at the eye corner. This eyelid cleans the eye surface whenever the tortoise blinks. 

Any deviation from this ideal condition causes eye infections in tortoises. Generally, the condition starts with a white spot on the cornea, which grows gradually. 

Generally, the bacterial attack on the ocular surface and their outgrowing without a break lead to an eye infection in the tortoises. This condition is clinically tagged as conjunctivitis or inflamed eyelids. 

Though eye infection can occur in tortoise species, it is most common in Russian tortoises.


Tortoise eye infection is very visible from the beginning. Usually, both eyes get infected at the same time.

Other symptoms of tortoise eye infection are,

  • Eye Swelling: The bacterial infection on the ocular surface leads to puffy eyes. Shut eyes are often a consequence of swollen eyes. 
  • Sunken Eye: Tortoises look horrible with sunken eyes. Their eyeballs sink into the socket, and the surrounding area looks burned black. 
  • Closed Eye: Unlike healthy tortoises, infected pets can not fully open their eyes. Because of the swelling and inflammation, the tortoises feel more comfortable with closed eyes.
  • Discharge: Watery eyes and mucus discharge from eyes are common symptoms of tortoise eye infection. You will also notice cloudiness in the tortoise’s eyes.
  • Eye Inflammation: Bloodshot eyes often indicate an infection in these reptiles. Tortoises with inflammation can not keep their eyes open as sunlight causes irritation.
  • Frequent Rubbing: Eye infection causes great discomfort in the tortoise’s eyes. Hence, the pet tends to continuously rub its eyes against something for relief. 
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Conjunctivitis results from a bacterial attack on the eyelid or the eye surface. Generally, Aeromonas, Pseudomonas, Chlamydophila, etc., organisms are responsible for this infection.

However, bacterial growth in the eye does not start on its own. But external factors like immunity, environment, etc., promote the population of harmful microorganisms, causing the infection. 

Factors that influence eye infection in tortoises are, 

  1. Lack Of Moisture: An optimum humidity level is definitely necessary to keep the tortoise hydrated. Low moisture in the pen can dry the eye skin tissues, cracking the surrounding areas. Such spots can get under bacterial attack easily. 
  2. Filthy Enclosure: The dirtier your tortoise habitat, the more the chances for bacterial growth. Hence, your pets are at a higher risk of an eye infection. 
  3. Vitamin A Deficiency: Hypovitaminosis takes a toll on the tortoise’s immunity, making them vulnerable to infectious diseases. Pets with vitamin A deficiency suffer from respiratory illness, eye infections, mouth rot, etc. 
  4. Low Immunity: Malnutrition and other diseases can weaken a tortoise’s immunity. As a result, the creature falls victim to eye infections or similar illnesses. For example, a post-brumated tortoise has low immunity and exhibits mouth rot or eye infection-like issues. 
  5. Improper Temperature: Tortoises depend on external heat to maintain healthy body functions. At a low temperature, the pets shut down their system completely and enter into brumation. Refusing meals during this stage weakens the pet’s immunity and exposes them to different diseases. 
  6. Foreign Body: Substrates like sand, wood chips, etc., can get stuck into the tortoise’s eyes. This not only causes irritation but might also scratch the eye surface. Hence, there is a risk of eye infection. 
  7. Eye Injury: Tortoises with a cut or scratch on the eyes are more vulnerable to an eye infection. If the wound is not covered, the bacteria will enter the trauma and infect the spot. 
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Taking the sick tortoise to a vet is strongly suggested. The expert will do proper checkups and lab testing to determine the root cause of the infection. 

Usually, antibiotics are enough to heal the eye infection of tortoises. The vet may prescribe an eye drop to help the pets with discharge and irritation. Wiping off the discharge with a soft, damp cloth also relieves the tortoises from discomfort.

Ignoring the infection for too long arises complications. For example, tortoises with shut eyes can see nothing and refuse to eat. Soon, the pets will lose weight and become vulnerable to other diseases. 

In the worst-case scenario, the tortoises will lose eyesight to a degree or go completely blind.


Antibiotics and eye drops will surely heal the tortoise, but additional home care is also necessary. Luckily, the care guide and prevention for eye infections for these reptiles are the same. Such are, 

1. Hygienic Husbandary:

Bacterial growth starts from the filthy enclosure. The leftover foods and rotting poops are the breeding ground for harmful organisms. To eliminate the outbreak of bacterial population, you need to maintain the minimum hygiene protocol in the tortoise habitat. For example, 

  • Remove meal leftovers and tortoise wastes daily. 
  • Change the substrate once a month or once every other month. 
  • Wash the water bowl and meal dish every week. 
  • Thoroughly clean the enclosure and the decorations at least once a month. 

2. Humidity Control:

The dry environment has a negative impact on the tortoise infection condition. Because of the low humidity, the pet will suffer from dehydration, which dries its eye tissues.

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Hence, ensure a humidity of over 40%, depending on the tortoise species. Installing a hygrometer will indicate the exact humidity percentage in the enclosure. Ways to maintain an optimum moisture percentage in the pen are, 

3. Balanced Diet:

Hypovitaminosis is one of the reasons tortoises suffer from eye infections. Therefore, a diet enriched in vitamin A is recommended for pets. However, tortoise meals include nutritious items like vegetables, grass, hays, weeds, plants, etc., anyway

You can add vitamin A, vitamin D, multivitamins, and calcium supplements to the meal to back up any mineral deficiency. These additions also help the tortoises build a strong immunity too. 

4. Temperature Regulation:

Low temperature also invokes the population of bacteria. Besides, the tortoises also grow low immunity in the low temperature. Thus, maintain a proper temperature according to the species in the pen. 

For example, the basking temperature for Hermann’s tortoise is 95F – 105F. The species prefer a daytime temperature between 77F -87F. 

Details on the tortoise temperature guide are attached here

5. Special Care:

Tortoises do not prefer tankmates. Putting two tortoises inside an enclosure increases the risk of a bloody fight. Any scratch to the eyes during the fight can lead to a terrible eye infection. 

So, you better watch out for your tortoises and do not force them to adjust to each other. 

Again, fights are not the only reason tortoises can get an eye injury. Any sharp edge in the pen can also damage the pet’s skin or eyelids. Hence, remove any object with a sharp end. 


Eye problems like closed eyes or third eyelid inflammation should also be considered seriously. The below article discusses the symptoms and treatments of other possible eye issues in tortoises. 

8 Reasons Why My Tortoise Can Not Open Its Eyes

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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