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White Film Over Turtles Eyes [Treatment, Causes, Prevention]

turtle eyes closeup

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

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In this article, we are going to talk about the white film over turtles’ eyes, why they occur, how to prevent them and what to do when it happens. So, let’s get started!

What Is The White Film Over Turtle’s Eyes?

The white film that you might observe over a turtle’s eyes is called the nictitating membrane.

Here’s a breakdown of what it is and its function:

  1. Nictitating Membrane: This is a translucent or semi-transparent third eyelid that moves horizontally across the eye, from the inner corner to the outer corner. It’s present in several animals, not just turtles.
  2. Protection: The nictitating membrane serves as a protective layer for the turtle’s eyes. When a turtle is swimming or digging in the substrate, this membrane can shield the eyes from debris, sand, and potential irritants.
  3. Moisturization: The membrane helps to keep the eyes moist, especially when the turtle is out of water or in a dry environment.
  4. Vision: While the nictitating membrane is translucent and not entirely clear, it allows the turtle to see, albeit somewhat hazily, even when it’s drawn across the eye. This can be particularly useful when the turtle is in murky water or environments where it needs protection but still wants to keep an eye out for predators or prey.
  5. Health Indicator: Sometimes, a persistent white film over a turtle’s eyes can indicate a health problem, such as an infection, vitamin A deficiency, or other issues. If the film doesn’t retract or if the turtle seems to have trouble seeing, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles.
turtle eye diseases

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what diseases causes white film over turtle’s eyes?

A white film over a turtle’s eyes can be indicative of several health issues.

One of the most common diseases associated with this symptom is a Vitamin A deficiency.

Here’s a breakdown:

Vitamin A Deficiency (Hypovitaminosis A):

Cause:

Turtles, especially aquatic ones, can develop Vitamin A deficiency if their diet lacks appropriate amounts of this essential vitamin. Commercial turtle pellets usually contain adequate Vitamin A, but turtles fed a diet limited to items like lettuce or meat can become deficient.

Symptoms:

Swollen eyelids, a white filmy appearance over the eyes, and pus-filled abscesses behind the eyes are common symptoms. The turtle might also exhibit respiratory issues, poor appetite, and lethargy.

Treatment:

A veterinarian can administer Vitamin A injections and recommend dietary changes to address the deficiency. It’s essential to ensure that the turtle receives a balanced diet that meets all its nutritional needs.

Turtles, like many other animals, require a balanced diet to ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients for optimal health. Vitamin A is essential for turtles as it plays a role in vision, growth, reproduction, and immune function. A deficiency in vitamin A can lead to various health problems, including swollen eyes and respiratory issues.

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An 11-state salmonella outbreak in the U.S. was linked to small turtles. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning about this. (Source)

Here’s a list of foods that are enriched with vitamin A and are suitable for most pet turtles:

  1. Dark Leafy Greens: These include kale, spinach, dandelion greens, and collard greens. However, it’s essential to rotate these with other greens since too much can lead to other health issues due to their oxalic acid content.
  2. Carrots: These can be finely grated or chopped and offered occasionally. They are high in beta-carotene, which turtles can convert to vitamin A.
  3. Sweet Potatoes: These can be cooked and mashed or given raw in small amounts. Like carrots, they are also high in beta-carotene.
  4. Red Bell Peppers: These can be chopped into small pieces and offered occasionally. They are not only a good source of vitamin A but also vitamin C.
  5. Liver: This is a very high source of vitamin A. However, it should be given in moderation and as a treat rather than a staple. Make sure it’s from a clean source and is free of additives.
  6. Eggs: Specifically, the yolk of the egg contains vitamin A. It can be boiled and offered in small amounts.
  7. Fish: Especially fish liver oil or small whole fish like minnows. They can be a good source of both vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids.
  8. Commercial Turtle Pellets: Many high-quality turtle pellets are fortified with vitamin A. Always check the label to ensure you’re providing a balanced diet.
  9. Pumpkin: This can be offered in small amounts, either raw or cooked.
  10. Cantaloupe: This fruit is another source of beta-carotene. It can be given in moderation as a treat.
  11. Parsley: This can be added occasionally to their diet.
closeup of turtle eye

Eye Infections:

Cause:

Bacterial or fungal infections can lead to a white film over the eyes. Poor water quality, injuries, or a compromised immune system can predispose turtles to such infections.

Symptoms:

Apart from the white film, the turtle might have swollen or reddened eyes, and there might be discharge.

Treatment:

A veterinarian might prescribe antibiotic or antifungal eye drops or ointments. It’s also crucial to address any underlying causes, such as improving water quality.

A study suggested that a ban on small pet turtles, which was intended to prevent the spread of salmonella, isn’t working as effectively as it once did. (Source)

Physical Injury:

Cause:

Scratches or injuries to the eye can result in a cloudy appearance.

Treatment:

Depending on the severity, a vet might prescribe antibiotic ointments to prevent infections.

Poor Water Quality:

Cause:

High ammonia levels, inadequate filtration, or infrequent water changes can irritate a turtle’s eyes, leading to a cloudy or filmy appearance.

Treatment:

Regularly clean the tank, ensure proper filtration, and monitor water parameters. Changing a portion of the water regularly can help maintain water quality.

Turtle Swollen Eyes Home Remedy

How to prevent white film over turtle eyes?

Preventing a white film over a turtle’s eyes involves ensuring that the turtle lives in a clean environment, receives a balanced diet, and is protected from potential sources of injury or stress.

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Here are some steps you can take to prevent this issue:

Balanced Diet:

  • Ensure that your turtle receives a well-balanced diet rich in Vitamin A. Commercial turtle pellets usually contain the necessary nutrients. You can supplement this with fresh leafy greens, vegetables, and occasional protein sources like insects or fish, depending on the species.
  • Avoid feeding your turtle a monotonous diet, such as only lettuce or meat, as this can lead to Vitamin A deficiency.

The CDC has investigated many Salmonella outbreaks linked to pet reptiles. Among these outbreaks, tiny turtles have caused the most illnesses. In fact, the sale of tiny turtles has been a significant concern. (Source)

Maintain Water Quality:

  • Regularly clean the tank and change a portion of the water to prevent the buildup of waste products like ammonia.
  • Use a good quality water filter suitable for the size of your tank.
  • Test the water parameters (e.g., ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH) regularly and adjust as necessary.
  • Avoid overfeeding, as uneaten food can decay and deteriorate water quality.

Proper Habitat:

  • Ensure that the tank is of an appropriate size for your turtle.
  • Provide a basking area where the turtle can dry off completely. This helps prevent fungal and bacterial infections.
  • Use a UVB light to help turtles metabolize calcium and other essential nutrients. Ensure it’s replaced as recommended since its effectiveness decreases over time.

Avoid Stress:

  • Minimize handling, especially if the turtle is not accustomed to it.
  • Ensure the tank is placed in a quiet location, away from high traffic areas or loud noises.

Regular Health Checks:

  • Periodically inspect your turtle for any signs of illness or injury. Early detection can prevent more severe issues.
  • Consult with a reptile veterinarian for regular check-ups or if you notice any abnormalities.

Safe Environment:

  • Ensure that there are no sharp objects in the tank that could injure the turtle’s eyes.
  • If you have multiple turtles, monitor them for aggressive behavior, as fights can lead to injuries.

Quarantine New Additions:

  • If you introduce new turtles or other animals to the tank, quarantine them first to ensure they don’t introduce diseases to your existing pets.
closeup of turtle eye

The CDC warned against kissing small turtles due to the risk of salmonella. “Pet turtles of any size can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings even if they look healthy and clean,” the notice mentioned. (Source)

how to treat white film over turtle eyes?

If you notice a white film over your turtle’s eyes, it’s essential to address the issue promptly to ensure the health and well-being of your pet. Here are some steps you can take to treat and manage the condition:

Consult a Veterinarian:

  • Always consult with a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles (herpetologist) for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
  • The vet may prescribe antibiotic or antifungal eye drops or ointments, depending on the cause.

Vitamin A Treatment:

  • If the white film is due to a Vitamin A deficiency, the vet might administer Vitamin A injections.
  • You’ll also need to adjust the turtle’s diet to ensure it receives adequate Vitamin A in the future.

Improve Water Quality:

  • If poor water quality is the suspected cause, take immediate steps to improve it.
  • Change a portion of the water in the tank and ensure you have an effective filtration system in place.
  • Test the water parameters (e.g., ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH) and adjust as necessary.
  • Avoid overfeeding, as uneaten food can decay and deteriorate water quality.
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Isolate the Affected Turtle:

  • If you have multiple turtles, consider isolating the affected turtle in a separate tank or container to prevent potential spread of infections and to monitor its condition closely.
  • Ensure the quarantine tank has clean water and a basking area.

Warm Salt Baths:

  • A warm salt bath can help with minor eye irritations. Use aquarium salt (not table salt) and dissolve it in warm water. Let the turtle soak for about 10-15 minutes. Ensure the water is not too hot and always supervise the turtle during the bath.
  • This method is not a substitute for veterinary care but can be used as a supplementary treatment.

Maintain a Clean Environment:

  • Regularly clean the tank and remove any debris or uneaten food.
  • Ensure the basking area is clean and dry.

Minimize Stress:

  • Reduce handling during the treatment period.
  • Ensure the tank is in a quiet location, away from high traffic areas or loud noises.

Follow Treatment Instructions:

  • If the vet prescribes medication, ensure you follow the dosage and duration instructions carefully.
  • Monitor the turtle’s condition and return to the vet for follow-up visits as recommended.
turtle eye infection home remedy

why do the turtles eyes turn white (or Cloudy)?

Turtle eyes turning white or developing a white film can be attributed to several factors. Here are the primary reasons:

Vitamin A Deficiency (Hypovitaminosis A):

This is one of the most common causes of eye problems in turtles. A lack of Vitamin A in the diet can lead to the hardening and thickening of the outer layers of the eye, resulting in a white appearance.

Other symptoms can include swollen eyelids, pus-filled abscesses behind the eyes, respiratory issues, and lethargy.

Eye Infections:

Bacterial or fungal infections can cause a white film or cloudiness in a turtle’s eyes.

Such infections can arise from poor water quality, injuries, or a compromised immune system.

Physical Injury:

Scratches, abrasions, or other injuries to the eye can result in cloudiness or a white appearance as the eye tries to heal.

Poor Water Quality:

High levels of ammonia, nitrites, or other harmful chemicals in the water can irritate a turtle’s eyes, leading to a cloudy or white appearance.

Inadequate filtration, infrequent water changes, or overfeeding can contribute to poor water quality.

Age-related Changes:

Just as in humans, as some turtles age, they may develop cataracts, which can give the eyes a cloudy or white appearance.

Other Health Issues:

Systemic illnesses or other health problems can sometimes manifest as eye issues, including a white appearance.

Before We Go

So, this is my detailed guide on what to do when there is a white film over your turtle’s eyes. Though the white film will not kill your turtles, they are not good for them either. And if left untreated for a long time, they can cause serious problems. Also, a white film can be an indication of other serious problems.

So, if you see your turtle has a white film over its eyes, I’ll advise you to immediately ask the help of a professional vet. Vets can properly diagnose the cause and treat according to it.

Let me know if you have any more questions on this topic on the comment box below. I’ll try to answer as soon as I can!

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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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