Box Turtle Swollen Eyes

Being a box turtle owner, you want to ensure the best for your pet, providing it with a comfortable and safe habitat that mimics its natural habitat.

Getting to know your box turtle will help you quickly identify when something isn’t right, such as swollen eyes.

When your box turtle’s eyes swell, it can be problematic, making it harder for your turtle to eat properly, which can result in weight loss. Swollen eyes can cause blindness in a box turle if not treated properly.


There are a number of symptoms to watch out for, though the most obvious is swollen eyes.

  • Runny eyes – irritation or injury – often only one eye looks infected
  • Cloudiness in one or both eyes, discharge and swelling – illness, vitamin deficiency
  • Eyes swollen shut – infection or ear abscess
box turtle swollen eyes
Swollen eyes in a box turtle

It’s not uncommon for box turtles with eyes swollen shut to be unable to eat until the problem is resolved. The signs and symptoms you should be watching for, include:

  • Eyes puffier than usual
  • Puffiness getting worse
  • Red orbital glands and conjunctive
  • Fluids coming from the eyes
  • Blindness in severe cases – this will cause weight loss in a short period


There are numerous causes for swollen eyes, most of which can be rectified by you with changes to the habitat, while others will require veterinary treatment.

Incorrect Humidity Levels

Your box turtle could experience swollen eyes when the humidity levels drop below optimum.

Keeping humidity levels at optimum ensures the health of your pet, even the ornate box turtles that prefer desert areas burrow to get the humidity they need.

Respiratory Infection

Swollen eyes are usually the first sign that your box turtle could have a respiratory infection. When a respiratory infection occurs, the only course of treatment is antibiotics supplied by your veterinarian.

Incorrect Substrate

Providing your box turtle with a substrate that isn’t moist and provides humidity can result in swollen eyes.

Dry substrates often have dust particles and more, which can cause eye irritation and can cause the eyes to swell.

Low Temperatures

Your box turtle relies on its environment to regulate its body temperature.

Exposing your pet to low temperatures for extended periods can result in swollen eyes, which is why it’s imperative that you monitor your temperatures keeping them at optimum to help your turtle stay strong, happy, and healthy.

Incorrect Lighting

When you have your heat lamp too close to your turtle, it can cause eye problems, which can result in eye swelling.

When the heat lamp is too close to your pet, it can cause eye injuries, which in turn will cause the eyes to swell.


Dehydration is dangerous for any human or animal, including your box turtle. If your pet is dehydrated, its eyes will swell.

You want to ensure you keep your humidity levels at optimum, providing regular misting to ensure your pet remains hydrated, and provide tepid baths to help your turtle rehydrate.


As with any pet, box turtles can be injured from time to time. An eye injury can quickly become infected if not treated properly, which can cause eye swelling.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is a diet-related illness, where your pet isn’t fed the best diet to help them get the vitamin A that they need.

This is often seen in turtles that are fed iceberg lettuce, a poor-quality commercial diet, or an all-meat diet.

Unhygienic Water

Poor quality water is a breeding ground for bacteria. If you don’t provide fresh water daily in a shallow bowl for soaking and drinking, then it’s possible that your pet has developed an infection from poor living conditions.



If your box turtle’s eyes are swollen, then you first need to take a look at the environmental conditions inside its habitat.

The biggest cause of concern is dirty or contaminated water, this leads to bacterial infections, eye infections, and swollen eyes.

You need to ensure you have humidity levels at optimum to reduce the risk of your pet’s eyes drying out, which causes irritation and infection, which leads to swollen eyes.

Provide ample humidity with misting two to three times daily, ensuring your pet remains hydrated.

Thoroughly inspect decorations and rocks that you use in your box turtle’s enclosure to identify if there are any sharp edges which could result in eye injury.

Also pay close attention to the substrate you are using, ensuring that it isn’t dry that can get into your pet’s eyes, such as sand.

Illness and Diet

The first thing you want to look at if your box turtle has swollen eyes is the diet you are feeding.

Vitamin A deficiencies are serious concerns resulting in numerous health issues for your pet, including eye infections. With a lack of vitamins, your pet’s epithelial tissues break down which causes infection and swelling.

Bacterial and respiratory infections should be treated by your vet.

Ensure you provide your pet with plenty of fresh water and clean substrate. You want to provide plenty of hydration, combined with a good quality diet that is rich in Vitamin A.

In some cases, the vet may recommend a Vitamin A supplement, which is provided via injection or an oral powder. This treatment should only be carried out under the supervision of your vet.

If your box turtle has developed an abscess, then this will need to be treated surgically, where the abscess is opened, drained, and flushed. This is usually accompanied by antibiotic treatment.


There are a number of things you can do daily to ensure that you prevent the risk of your pet developing swollen eyes. Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to caring for turtles.

Vitamin A

To avoid the risk of a Vitamin A deficiency in your box turtle, you will want to provide a nutritious diet that is rich in Vitamin A.

Provide a diet of yellow or dark orange vegetables, such as butternut, carrots, sweet potato, and winter squash. Provide plenty of dark leafy greens, which can include spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, and dandelion greens.

You can also feed liver, from whole fish or mice, which are rich in Vitamin A. Remember if you have a young turtle, they prefer a protein-based diet, while adults prefer a vegetable diet.

Water Quality

It’s imperative that you provide your box turtle with clean, freshwater regularly. You want to change their water on a regular basis, even if it looks clean.


Choose substrates that can be moist, such as sphagnum peat moss and eco earth, both of which are safe and very effective in your turtle’s enclosure.


Ensure when setting up your box turtle enclosure that you provide your pet with a temperature gradient, so it can regulate its body temperature easily. This means creating a warm and cool side to the enclosure.

Ornate Box Turtle

Daytime70°F – 90°F
Basking Area80°F – 90°F
Humidity30% – 60%

Other North American Species

Daytime75°F – 75°F
Basking Area85°F – 88°F
Humidity60% – 80%

Use a digital thermometer to monitor the temperatures. A digital thermometer is more accurate than other thermometers and enables you to read the temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius quickly and easily.


Common box turtles appreciate a humidity that ranges from 30% to 60% for ornate box turtle and 60% to 80% for other North American species.

In order to maintain humidity levels, you can provide a moist substrate and mist two to three times daily.

A digital hygrometer is the most convenient and effective way to monitor your humidity levels and ensure that they remain at optimum.


Your box turtle is going to need sunlight to remain healthy and strong. This means living in captivity, it is your responsibility to provide it with UVA and UVB lighting of a minimum of five percent.

The bulb should be changed every 6 to 9 months, due to the UV output decreasing before the bulb burns out.

Box turtles will benefit from UV lighting for ten to twelve hours daily. Many turtle owners use a timer switch on their lighting, so the lights can turn on and off even when they are not at home, creating a day and night cycle.

Baths and Soaking

Soaking your turtle in a lukewarm bath for up to twenty minutes two to three times a week can improve hydration and reduce the risk of swollen eyes.

You don’t want the bath too hot, as it can burn your pet, so keep an eye on the warmth of the bath. Always create a shallow bath, ensuring your turtle’s head can stick out of the water easily to reduce the risk of drowning.


There are so many causes of swollen eyes. Providing a clean and hygienic habitat that meets your pet’s temperature and humidity needs, along with a nutritious diet may be all that’s needed to reduce the risk of swollen eyes.

If your box turtle has injured its eye or has an infection, then it’s always recommended to seek veterinary assessment and treatment.

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