Treating Tortoise Eye Infections: A Step-by-Step Guide

Reptiles struggle with several health issues that are prevalent among most species. These include respiratory infections, skin infections, internal parasites, shedding problems, eye infections, and many others.

Today, we will discuss how eye infections affect reptiles, in general, and tortoises in particular, and how you can detect and treat the condition in time.

Let’s jump right in!

Causes of Tortoise Eye Infections

There are multiple causes of eye infections in tortoises, including:

  • Bacterial infections – These are more common than you’d like and can progress fast, especially in tortoises with weak immune systems. Some of the most common culprits include Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Escherichia coli, or Pseudomonas. Bacterial infections are typically aggressive and spread out fast, capable of infecting the entire ecosystem. They are also rather difficult to treat, primarily due to the pathogen’s aggressiveness. The most common trigger is poor environmental husbandry, including, but not limited to, poor enclosure maintenance, not removing food leftovers, not changing the substrate, etc.
  • Parasitic infections – We’re talking primarily about external parasites like lice and mites. These rank as skin parasites, but they can often attack the reptile’s eyes, causing localized trauma that’s often subject to inflammation and injury. These injuries can become infected and progress into deadly conditions if left untreated. Not to mention, the parasites’ normal activity is draining to begin with, causing anemia, lethargy, nutritional deficiencies, and potentially spreading various blood-related diseases.
  • Fungal infections – I’ll rank fungal infections as the most dangerous and devastating conditions. One reason for that is the sheer aggressiveness, which, when combined with the difficulty of treating the condition, can result in permanent blindness and even death.
  • Nutritional deficiencies – It’s easy for a captive-bred tortoise to experience nutritional deficiencies due to its native predisposition to the problem. Reptiles are more prone to experiencing calcium and vitamin D3 deficiencies than any other problem, and these aren’t the only nutrients to consider. Part of the problem is that reptiles have a slow metabolism, so they eat rarer than other species. This means that they must eat a varied and highly-nutritious diet to make up for the low number of meals. A lack of vitamin D and A, for instance, can lead to eye problems due to increased dryness and higher susceptibility to infections.
  • Environmental factors – Improper living conditions can also lead to eye infections. We include here factors like dirty enclosure, inadequate temperature and humidity, and improper UVB lighting, causing vitamin D deficiency.
  • Physical trauma – Most instances of physical trauma occur due to the turtle’s eyes rubbing against hard surfaces by accidents. This includes plants. The unfortunate interactions can lead to local injuries that are prone to infection. It’s not uncommon for tortoises to lose their eyes this way.

As you can see, there are a handful of risk factors to consider, which may seem rather overwhelming. Especially for a more inexperienced reptile keeper.

Fortunately, you can prevent many of these issues by adhering to a clear prevention plan, which we will discuss shortly.

Symptoms of a Tortoise Eye Infection

Eye infections produce a variety of symptoms, which vary in terms of severity.

These include:

  • Cloudy eyes – This is typically a sign of a bacterial or fungal infection and suggests the potential for more severe eye-related conditions. The tortoise’s afflicted eyes appear cloudy and milky in appearance compared to the clear eyeballs of a healthy specimen.
  • Discharge – This symptom is present in pretty much all cases of eye infections. The discharge itself can have different colors, like white, colorless, green, or yellow. These colors can indicate a bacterial infection.
  • Swelling – The eye and the surrounding tissue may swell up, causing the eyeball to protrude out of the eye socket. This is a clear sign of severe infection that requires immediate treatment.
  • Visible discomfort – The tortoise will either close its eye or exhibit discomfort signs like rubbing, scratching, and squinting. These are signs of pain and discomfort that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Furthermore, the tortoise will exhibit low appetite, lethargic behavior, and avoid exposure to light, among other things. I recommend contacting your vet if your tortoise is experiencing one or more of these symptoms.

That’s because there are many potential culprits to consider, and most of them give away similar symptoms.

And you don’t want to treat your tortoise for a different disorder than the one it’s experiencing.

Treatments for a Tortoise Eye Infection

The treatment procedure to go for depends on the underlying cause.

Based on this, you have several treatment options, such as:

  • Antibiotics – Antibiotic treatment is necessary in case of bacterial infections. However, the type of antibiotic to use and the dosage depend on the pathogen and the severity of the infection. And only an expert veterinarian can decide on these topics.
  • Antifungal medication – Everything that applies to antibiotics applies to antifungal medications to the letter.
  • Pain relievers – These may also be necessary if your tortoise is expressing signs of clear pain and discomfort. Pain relievers can help your tortoise calm down and escape the stress associated with the infection. This way, the tortoise may be able to rest and eat better during the treatment.
  • Eye ointments – These are also great for soothing pain and preventing the infection from expanding. Eye ointments can be quite effective, depending on the responsible pathogen and the condition’s severity.
  • Environmental and dietary modifications – If your tortoise’s infections are caused by various environmental or dietary-related triggers, your veterinarian may recommend modifications in those areas. Maybe adjust the temperature and humidity, and supplement the animal’s diet with specific minerals and vitamins to eliminate the causes. Naturally, the tortoise may still require targeted medication to treat the condition, but that does nothing so long as you don’t target the underlying triggers.

As you may have noticed, the veterinarian should be involved in the treatment, no matter the cause or severity.

Prevention of a Tortoise Eye Infection

Prevention is always the go-to strategy when it comes to keeping your tortoise’s eyes in good health over the years.

Consider the following approaches:

  • Proper enclosure husbandry – This is the golden rule of infection prevention in reptiles. Reptiles depend on their environmental stability and cleanliness to stay healthy, happy, and thriving over the years. Clean and maintain your tortoise’s habitat properly, and the animal should have no health problems anytime soon. Remember to remove feces and food leftovers and replace the substrate regularly, depending on how fast it accumulates dirt. These strategies alone reduce the risk of bacterial and fungal infections dramatically over time.
  • Adequate nutrition – I cannot stress this point high enough. Tortoises require a varied diet since most species have an omnivorous diet. Learn about your pet’s specific nutritional requirements and diversify its diet properly to ensure adequate nutrient intake and prevent deficiencies. Calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A are of special concern, but there are other nutrients that are just as important.
  • Ensure a safe environment – Decorate your tortoise’s habitat with all the necessary elements and nothing more. Don’t add any unnecessary materials that could turn into environmental hazards. Also, remove everything that could cause your tortoise to experience eye injuries.
  • Constant monitoring – You should always assess your tortoise’s overall health and behavior. This alone is enough to detect any health problems in time and treat them before they aggravate them.

In essence, your tortoise shouldn’t have any meaningful health problems so long as you provide it with proper hygiene, diet, and long-term care.

When to See a Veterinarian?

The keyword here is ‘immediately.’ It doesn’t matter how severe the symptoms are, you should always consult your vet as the first step.

The vet’s assistance and guidance can lead to targeted diagnosis and treatment, preventing the condition from aggravating.

Is Tortoise Eye Infection Contagious?

Yes, tortoise eye infections are typically contagious. Some infections are more contagious and devastating than others, though, especially if the culprit is bacteria or a fungal microorganism.

You should always quarantine the sick specimen, in case you have multiple tortoises housed in the same habitat, to isolate it from the rest.

More importantly, humans can also transmit infections to tortoises. Always clean and disinfect your hands before and after handling your tortoise pet to eliminate this risk.

Is Eye Infection Painful to Tortoise?

Yes, it is. Eye infections cause significant local swelling, redness, pain, and general discomfort, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. Your tortoise may not be able to exhibit clear signs of discomfort, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not experiencing it.

This is another pro-vet argument, showing that a professional’s input and assistance are key in situations like these.

Not only to provide adequate guidance and treatment but to offer the tortoise some relief along the way as well.


Infections are the scariest conditions that your tortoise can face. They can aggravate fast and cause a variety of problems; they are also deadly in more severe cases.

Keep an eye on your tortoise’s health meter and contact your vet at the first sign of trouble.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...