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The Pet Directory Reptile Article - Skin shedding (Ecdysis) in Reptiles
Skin shedding (Ecdysis) in Reptiles

Article by Allen O’Grady - The Pet Directory Resident Reptile Vet
As published in The Pet Directory QLD, WA & NT Edition

Skin shedding, the scientific term being ecdysis, is a continual normal cyclic process occurring through the life of all reptiles.

Skin Shedding in Reptile

While most lizards shed in varying size sheets, snakes shed in a singular piece like an inside out glove. Turtles lose the scutes on their shell and patches of skin from their head and limbs.

Age and level of nutrition have a big impact on the shed cycle.

The younger the reptile if fed adequately and in a healthy environment, will grow faster and shed more frequently (as often as monthly). Total skin slough is usually within 1 to 2 weeks and begins with a slight dulling or clouding of the skin and loss of clarity of the eye scales. Normally at this time appetite will be markedly reduced and the animal may become readily agitated as sight is reduced. Snakes in particular often rub against rocks or sticks to aid the shed which starts at the head with the snake sliding through the skin after it catches on something. The semi transparent skin is left behind usually in a single piece.

Dysecdysis, or abnormal shedding, is often a sign of some disease in a reptile and usually relates back to a nutritional, environmental or other husbandry problem. Avoid handling a reptile during its shed as this can cause trauma and lead to dysecydsis. Too low a temperature, or humidity, poor nutrition, parasite problems or infections and lack of objects with which to rub against may all play a part in causing dysecydsis.

If a snake or lizard has problems, we have to look at removing the retained skin. This can be facilitated by placing the reptile between warm moistened towels which when the reptile moves helps release the adherent loose skin.

Always ensure the spectacles over the eyes come away completely with the shed as retained spectacles can lead to eye infections.

You should check the skin shed for them and if in doubt have a veterinarian check as to the true situation. It is unwise to try and remove a retained spectacle yourself as permanent damage can be done to a snake’s cornea.

Providing there are no complications a retained spectacle can be treated by a veterinarian placing a piece of sticky tape onto the spectacle and then gently removing. Snakes with complications may require soaking the spectacle for 20 minutes with a sponge and then removing with the blunt end of surgical forceps. Follow up antibiotic creams may need to be locally administered.

If husbandry and management changes do not correct the dysecydsis, obtain a veterinary opinion. Sometimes bacterial skin infections, generalized bacterial infections causing septicemia, ticks or mites, burns with scar formation and hormonal disorders can be a factor in dysecdysis. Once any of these problems are detected and treated, normal ecydysis will often return within a few months.


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