Hypovitaminosis A (Vitamin A deficiency)
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Hypovitaminosis A (Vitamin A deficiency)

Edward M. Craft

Hypovitaminosis A is the result of a diet that is lacking in vitamin A. This lack of a sufficient amount of vitamin A has a profound result on the eyes of some reptiles. Signs of this illness are presented in its early stages as a mild swelling in the eyelid or the tissue surrounding the eye. As the illness progresses the swelling will become more severe and the eye itself will become red and inflamed. The swelling will eventually reach the point where the eyelid becomes completely swollen shut.

This condition is seen in a variety of species, but most commonly effects chelonians. While this condition may not be life threatening in some species of reptiles, it may prove life threatening in chelonians. Once the condition has reached the point where the eyes of the chelonian have become swollen shut it will leave the animal blind. Sight is vital to the feeding habits of chelonians. Without site a chelonian will refuse to eat, making treatment of the underlying vitamin deficiency even more difficult and may potentially lead to the animal's death by starvation.

Treatment of this condition involves the use of topical antibiotic ointments in species that lack a spectacle, like the crocodilians, chelonians and some lizards, to prevent secondary bacterial infections from developing and complicating treatment. Intra-muscular injections of vitamin A should also be given on a weekly basis until the condition clears. The most important part of the treatment process is to address the underlying cause of the condition by correcting the diet to include foods rich in vitamin A. Fluids may have to be administered in species whose feeding habits are effected by sight in order to maintain proper hydration until the condition allows the animal to return to feeding. Tube feeding may be necessary if the condition is left untreated in these animals for too long a period of time.

Other causes of a non-specific inflammation of the eyes may include viral, bacterial and systemic infections. When a non-specific swelling of the eye or surrounding tissue of the eye is present in a reptile it should not be assumed that hypervitaminosis A is the underlying cause of the condition. Proper diagnostic technique is critical in eliminating viral and bacterial infections as the cause and will help to determine whether it is the secondary result of a more serious systemic infection.

The best method for treating this condition is the same as it is for any other illness or injury and that is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. This may be made possible if the reptile is fed a proper diet to start with. It is always easier to prevent an illness or injury than it is to diagnose and treat one.

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All rights reserved by Edward M. Craft. Printed in the United States of America. Original Edition 1998.