“Hello Devin, I have a fire salamander that is between 7 & 8 years old. It has just formed white on its eyes and seems to be getting a bit skinny. I am thinking cataracts but not sure. Do you have any information or suggestions on what you might think this might be and can I do anything for it?”
There are a number of different health issues that can cause cloudy eyes in amphibians and only a veterinarian will be able to determine the cause and recommend treatment.
Perhaps the most serious issue would be a bacterial infection. Every amphibian enclosure harbors bacteria and many can cause issues if the animal’s immune system is compromised. Healthy salamanders exposed to these bacteria may live fine, but if overly stressed—for example due to poor water quality or unusually high temperatures—then these bacteria may take over.
Older animals may also have a weaker immune system and be more prone to suffering from bacterial infections.
Bacterial infections are also common if the enclosure is dirty. Treatment would involve first fixing whatever is wrong with the salamander’s environment and then using antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian to treat the infection.
Test the Water
For aquatic amphibians with cloudy eyes, have a water test performed for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate and ensure they are all at 0 ppm (nitrate up to 20 ppm). Often poor water quality can lead to diseases that can be seen in clouded eyes.
Diet and Nutritional Problems
Cloudy eyes do not necessarily mean the salamander has a bacterial infection though. There are other issues that can cause cloudiness, for instance diet.
A diet too high in fat can result in cloudy eyes, a condition known as corneal lipidosis. Issues related to vitamin A deficiency can also cause swelling of the eyes and white around them. Check the salamander’s diet, make sure you are not overfeeding or always feeding fatty foods such as wax worms or mealworms, and ensure you are using proper nutritional supplements.
Time for a Vet
The best bet is to bring the salamander to a veterinarian that specializes in reptiles and amphibians for a diagnosis. In the meantime, clean the cage, check the water quality, ensure it is not too hot or the substrate to wet, and consider the diet you have been feeding.
Lastly, on a personal note, I had a tiger salamander that I bought as a child. It lived to the age of 21 years and during the last 4 had cloudy eyes that progressively got worse until it finally died. I never learned the cause, but old animals tend to develop health problems more easily than young ones. Take the age of the amphibian into consideration when thinking about its health.