Growing up, it’s pretty normal to feel completely uncomfortable in your own skin sometimes – it’s just a part of growing up! Some reptiles and bugs bring a whole new meaning to that saying, however. As they grow, it’s common for these animals to simply crawl out of their old skin. If you’ve noticed a change in your pet’s appearance and behavior such as discoloration, lack of appetite, or cloudy eyes, they might be shedding their skin! Here’s why and how you can help them through this natural process of growth.
What is Shedding?
The skin is an organ that continuously grows with the rest of the body. Molting or shedding is the process of regenerating new skin cells and discarding old skin cells. While humans are able to regenerate or shed skin unconsciously, other animals don’t shed quite so gracefully. Unlike humans, some reptiles shed layers of skin in large quantities periodically. Other creatures such as snakes and exoskeletal bugs may shed all their skin at once, which is called ecdysis.
Animals That Shed
Snakes are a popular example of animals who undergo ecdysis. According to Cascade Kennels, snakes can shed their skin fairly regularly, from 4 – 12 times a year. Snakes shed as they mature, so younger snakes that are actively growing shed more than older snakes. As snakes begin to shed, their skin becomes dull and dark. Since the old skin includes spectacles that protect the eyes, the snake’s eyes will fill up with liquids between the old and new skin, making their eyes look white and blue.
To remove the skin, snakes will normally rub against different objects, but snakes can come across issues if the temperature is too dry. Humid conditions help the skin rub off smoothly, so if you have a pet snake that is struggling to shed its skin. It can be a good idea to measure and adjust the humidity in its environment.
Lizards shed their skin in pieces, so don’t be alarmed if you find a giant slab of skin in your lizard’s tank! The skin will naturally fall off the body, but lizards can also exfoliate their skin off by rubbing against rocks or branches. Like lizards, turtles and tortoises also shed skin in pieces, especially around their neck, legs, and head. As their shells grow, their scutes (plate-like scales) peel and flake off. You can learn more about turtle shell peeling here.
It is common for animals undergoing shedding to be irritable and lose their appetite. Concerned pet owners shouldn’t worry too much about the change in temperament or shedding. You can leave your pet to shed skin naturally for the most part. If you think something is truly amiss, contact your veterinarian for professional help.
Problems with Shedding
Shedding can be a laborious process if conditions aren’t ideal for your pets. Here are a few things that may signal a trip to the vet:
- Sores from rubbing
- Algae blockage
- Shell rot
- Partial shedding (for snakes)
- Extremely frequent shedding (for turtles)
No matter what species you own, it’s important to keep an eye on your pet to make sure there is no abnormal shedding or infection occurring. Our veterinarian, Dr. Lopez at Brookhurst Animal Medical Center in Anaheim, can assess whether your animal is having problems shedding. For snakes and lizards, he can speed along the shedding process for snakes by carefully bathing the snake in water for an extended period of time. For turtles, it’s quite the opposite. Too much time in the water could lead to infections or mold which Dr. Lopez can also treat. While it’s possible for pet owners to attempt the same procedure, it is generally advised to see a professional because shedding is such a sensitive process. Ultimately, it depends on the situation. Check out this article about reptile molting or give your local vet a call to learn more.
Shedding is a normal part of a reptile’s growth, kind of like puberty with the weird skin and cranky disposition. It’s also a good indicator of your pet’s general health. Too much molting? They might be overfed. Too little molting? They might be malnourished. Either way, now you have a better understanding of your scaly friend and you’ll know what to do at these crucial stages of growth (which is mostly nothing). Happy shedding!