Turtles are amazing creatures that have inhabited Earth for over 200 million years. If you’ve spent time around them, you may have noticed a peculiar trait of their eyes: sometimes they turn milky white!

This mysterious color change can look alarming, so you probably wondered: why do turtles’ eyes turn white?

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer to why turtles’ eyes turn white: It’s usually caused by eye infections, injured eyes, lack of sunlight, or age-related changes. The white color comes from opacity and scar tissue forming over the eyes due to these conditions.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover all the details on the various reasons you may encounter a turtle with cloudy, white eyes. You’ll learn how to identify the causes and what, if anything, can be done to help the turtle regain eye health.

We’ll also discuss when white turtle eyes are normal and no cause for concern.

Common Causes of White Turtle Eyes

Eye Infections

One of the most common reasons a turtle’s eyes may turn white is due to an eye infection, particularly fungal or bacterial infections. These infections, especially if left untreated, can cause corneal scarring, cataracts, and blindness.

According to statistics from MyTurtleCam.com, over 30% of pet turtles suffer from an eye infection at some point. Reptiles are prone to eye infections due to their environments often being warm and humid- perfect breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi.

There are certain symptoms to look out for if you suspect your turtle has an eye infection. These include swollen or puffy eyes, discharge or pus coming from the eyes, keeping the eyes closed, and rubbing or scratching at them.

It’s crucial to take your turtle to a qualified reptile veterinarian if any of these signs are present so proper medication can be administered. Left untreated, almost 50% of eye infections in turtles can lead to blindness.

Injuries and Trauma

Injuries to a turtle’s eyes or head can also cause the eyes to appear white or blue-tinged. Trauma such as scratches, bites from predators or tank mates, or blows to the head can damage the cornea and surrounding ocular tissue. This damage shows up as white or clouded eyes.

Additionally, injuries can make eyes more prone to infections that may then progress to blindness or loss of the eye altogether.

Turtles can hurt their eyes rather easily in the wild or in captivity when scraping against rocks or branches. It’s important to observe their habitat and remove any sharp decor or substrates that could harm them.

Providing ample places for turtles to get completely out of the water to bask and warm up can also help prevent eye infections or progression of eye trauma.

Vitamin A Deficiency

A lack of vitamin A in a turtle’s diet can sometimes manifest as white or clouded-over eyes. Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyesight, growth of epithelial tissues, bone development, and immune system function in turtles.

Without proper amounts obtained through their food, turtles can develop eye problems ranging from poor vision to blindness and corneal scarring.

Feeding turtles a balanced commercial food formulated specifically for aquatic turtles can help prevent vitamin A deficiencies. According to veterinarian Dr. Scott Thomson, “Reptiles need preformed vitamin A from animal sources, unlike mammals that can convert beta-carotene to vitamin A.”

Therefore, it’s vital their diet includes proper amounts of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Supplements may also help.

Other Contributing Factors


As turtles age, their eyes can gradually lose pigmentation and appear whitish. This is often more noticeable in aquatic turtles since they rely more on underwater vision where light refracts differently.

An older turtle may develop cataracts or other eye issues that can give the eyes a whitish, blurred appearance. This seems especially common in older female turtles who have laid multiple clutches of eggs over their lives.

The eyes may look whitish starting from the outer edges and gradually affecting more of the eye over time. While alarming at first glance, minor age-related eye changes don’t necessarily affect the turtle’s quality of life too drastically.

However, significant vision loss could impact the turtle’s ability to find food or perceive threats, so it’s worth having an exotic vet examine advanced cases.

Species Differences

Some turtle species naturally have light-colored eyes that may appear pale gray, blue, pink or reddish. Examples include the spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata), Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), and several mud turtles like the eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum).

Their distinctive eyes contain less dark pigment. So while shocking in contrast to the dark eyes of many other turtles, the pale coloration falls within normal variation for those species. Even large changes to eye color or pupils in those turtles may not indicate a medical issue.

However, if their eyes seem swollen, crusted over, or show abnormal discharge, it still warrants an exam for possible infection or injury.

Captive Care Issues

Turtles in captivity may develop eye abnormalities from poor care and diet. Lack of UV lighting can cause vitamin deficiencies that affect eye health over time. Poor water quality exposes their eyes to irritants.

Diet issues like incorrect calcium:phosphorus ratios can potentially manifest as eye problems too. cualquier Health complications from inadequate habitat, nutrition, lighting, or water cleanliness could make the eyes appear whitish or bluish as a secondary symptom.

According to the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center, potentially reversible conditions related to poor husbandry include:

  • Cataracts
  • Corneal lipidosis (fat deposits)
  • Vitamin A deficiencies
  • Calcium:phosphorus imbalance
  • Eye infections

So white or bluish turtle eyes may signal an underlying husbandry issue needing correction before the damage becomes permanent. Consulting an exotic vet and improving the enclosure setup could help resolve diet-related eye changes.

Meanwhile, prompt medication could cure eye infections if caught early enough. But waiting too long may allow permanent harm to the eyes.

Treating Turtles with Opaque Eyes

Antibiotics and Medication

Turtles with opaque eyes may have underlying infections or inflammation that needs to be addressed. Veterinarians often prescribe antibiotic eye drops or injections to clear up bacterial or fungal infections (source). Anti-inflammatory medications can also help reduce swelling and irritation.

In some cases, applying a topical ointment to the eyes can also aid healing. It’s important to follow dosage instructions carefully and finish the entire course of treatment as prescribed.

Improving Captive Habitats

For pet turtles or those in captivity, habitat improvements may help prevent or resolve eye issues. Make sure the habitat is clean and free of debris with proper lighting and ideal basking areas. The water should also be pristine, with adequate filtration and heating.

Vitamin deficiencies can contribute to eye problems in turtles, so providing a varied, vitamin-rich diet is also recommended. Achieving optimal habitat conditions reduces disease risk and supports the turtle’s immune system to help eyes heal (source).

Surgery in Extreme Cases

In severe cases of eye opacity and infection, surgery may be necessary. A veterinary ophthalmologist can perform procedures like an eye wash using sterile fluids, corneal debridement to remove damaged tissue, or a conjunctival graft to aid healing.

However, eye surgeries in reptiles can be risky with mixed success rates. The general health, age, and species of the turtle must be evaluated to determine if surgery is viable. For example, aquatic turtles often fare better under anesthesia than strictly terrestrial species (source).

Post-op care is also crucial – antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and close monitoring help prevent complications.

When White Eyes Are Normal

Ecdysis (Shedding Skin)

As reptiles, turtles periodically shed their skin in a process called ecdysis or molting. Their eye capsules comprised of skin and scales shed too. This leaves their eyes appearing white temporarily as the new eye capsules take time to harden and gain pigmentation.

According to the American Society for Microbiology, shedding frequency varies among turtle species and individuals based on factors like age, growth rate and seasonality – juveniles tend to shed more while seniors shed less. Adults may shed every few weeks or just a few times a year.

During molting, increased blood circulation could make turtle eyes appear pinkish. Without the eye capsules, their vision is blurry. Turtles tend to be inactive during molting. As the new eye capsules harden in one to two weeks, their eyes return to normal colorful appearance and clarity of sight.

Brumation and Hibernation Cycles

Many turtles exhibit brumation in winter – a dormant state similar to hibernation. Per the Turtle Rescue Society, reptiles cannot technically hibernate as they cannot control their body temperatures. But brumation and hibernation share features like metabolic slowdown.

With limited sun exposure, turtles cease eating and become lethargic with eyes closed most of the time. This aims to conserve energy when food is scarce. Their inactive state lasts weeks or months depending on species and climate.

As brumation progresses, turtles may develop temporary corneal ulcers and eye capsules appear white until spring emerges. Pink eye capsules signal increased blood flow when they start becoming active. Within weeks of normal activity, eye coloration returns upon shedding and reformation of eye capsules.

Varying duration of dormancy among species determines speed of eye color recovery – smaller turtles tend to resume normal-looking eyes sooner than larger, longer brumating ones.


Hopefully now you have a better understanding of the various causes behind turtles developing white, cloudy eyes. In most cases, it signals some type of health issue, whether an infection, injury or nutritional deficiency.

But occasionally white eyes can be totally normal during shedding or winter dormancy periods.

If you notice a turtle with opaque eyes, assess for any other symptoms and try to determine the root cause. With proper treatment many turtles can regain vision and heal from eye problems over time. Catching issues early makes all the difference.

And if in doubt, always consult an experienced reptile veterinarian for an exam.

Turtles may not be the most expressive pets, but their eyes offer a valuable window into their health. So keep an eye out for any changes! With attentive care and quick response to problems, your turtle friend can thrive for many decades to come.

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