Animal Information

Vitamin A deficiency called Hypovitaminosis A

A deficiency in vitamin A, called “hypovitaminosis A,” is common in aquatic and hatchling turtles fed inadequate diets.

A condition termed “squamous metaplasia” occurs in vitamin A deficiency, which results in a thickening of the lining of ducts, often blocking the flow of fluid through the ducts. This is most common in the tear ducts, and ducts in the pancreas and kidneys.

The most characteristic sign of vitamin A deficiency in turtles is swollen eyelids. Often, the swelling is so severe, the eyes cannot be opened. This swelling is also a common sign of bacterial infection of the eyes or respiratory tract, or a result of eye irritation from dirty or dusty shavings. Therefore, a definitive diagnosis must be made before any treatment is started.

Vitamin A is present in high quantities in green leafy vegetables (especially dandelion greens), yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots and yellow squash, whole fish, and liver.

Turtles fed iceberg lettuce, an all meat diet, or a poor quality commercial diet are prone to develop a vitamin A deficiency since these foods have very low levels of this vitamin. Hatchling turtles fed high protein diets are also at risk of developing a deficiency.

Foods High in Vitamin A

ApricotsBroccoli leaves and flowerets
Cantaloupe
Carrots
Collard greens
Dandelion greens (beware of lawn treatments)
Kale
Mango
Mustard greens
Nectarines
Papaya

Parsley
Peaches
Sweet potatoesSpinach
Turnip greens
Yellow squash
Liver
Whole fish

Foods Very Low in Vitamin A

Apples
Bananas
Corn
Grapes
Lettuce
Oranges
Summer squash
White potatoes

Signs Of Hypovitaminosis A

The most characteristic sign of vitamin A deficiency in turtles is swollen eyelids. Often, the swelling is so severe, the eyes cannot be opened. This swelling is also a common sign of bacterial infection of the eyes or respiratory tract, or a result of eye irritation from dirty or dusty shavings. Therefore, a definitive diagnosis must be made before any treatment is started.

  • Swollen eyelids
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Raw skin with secondary bacterial infections
  • Nasal discharge (a runny nose)
  • Necrotic stomatitis
  • Abnormal development of the eyes in embryos

The key to treatment is providing a nutritionally balanced diet, developed specifically for the species of turtle, taking into account whether it is a carnivore or herbivore. Vitamin A supplements will usually be given orally (the preferred method) or by injection (if the condition is severe) until proper levels in the body are restored. Turtles with a vitamin A deficiency are often deficient in other nutrients as well, such as vitamin E and zinc, so these nutritional imbalances need to be corrected as well. Since vitamin, A toxicities can occur care must be taken to not over supplement. You should always follow your veterinarian’s directions carefully.

What Should I Feed My Water Turtle?

Turtles eat a variety of items in the wild and while we can’t exactly mimic these foods exactly for our pets, we can provide them with some options.

Aquatic turtle pellets are a staple for your pet turtle but they shouldn’t make up the bulk of their diet. Always feed your turtle in water, limit the pellets to make up about 25% of the diet and then make up the rest of the diet with the following items:

  • Earthworms, crickets, waxworms, silkworms, aquatic snails, bloodworms, daphnia, shrimp, krill, and mealworms. For very small turtles, prey may have to be cut into smaller pieces.
  • Leafy greens: Collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, kale, and bok choy. Make sure you only feed items with appropriate calcium to phosphorous levels.
  • Aquatic plants: You can add aquatic plants on which turtles usually love to snack. Submerged plants are often eaten by turtles, as are water hyacinth, water lettuce, duckweed, azolla (fairy moss), and frog-bit.
  • Other vegetables: Carrots (tops are fine too), squash, and green beans.

 

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