Cats and dogs shed fur. Humans lose millions of dead skin cells every day. Hermit crabs ditch their old shells for an upgrade. But reptiles, unlike any other family of animals, shed their entire outer layer of skin.
It’s quite incredible to see—not unlike a magic trick.
As with any sleight of hand or disappearing act, things don’t always go according to plan. When it doesn’t, this can manifest as Dysecdysis in reptiles, known more plainly as problem or improper shedding.
What is Dysecdysis?
For starters, Dysecdysis is not a condition or disease. It’s not a medical diagnosis, but rather a symptom of many different potential ailments.
Think of Dysecdysis along the same lines as a fever. It can occur due to the flu, the common cold, a stomach bug, heat exhaustion—no matter the cause, it’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, something’s wrong!”
With both a fever and Dysecdysis, you should listen to the body’s warnings.
Dysecdysis is an abnormal pattern of shedding. It can be difficult to pinpoint precisely what is considered “abnormal” because each species can vary significantly in their normal Ecdysis (properly shedding the exoskeleton). For example, a healthy snake tends to shed the entire epidermis in one go. Some lizards, like iguanas, will rub against hard surfaces to loosen the skin, which then comes off in pieces.
Despite the variation, there are a few common signs of Dysecdysis:
- Pieces of shed skin stuck to the animal’s exterior
- Dull, lifeless skin
- Unshed eye caps, which present as persistently cloudy eyes after the last shed
What Causes Dysecdysis?
Much like a fever, it’s important to know what’s causing your reptile’s Dysecdysis. Otherwise, you might be treating the wrong thing.
For example, you typically try to “break” your fever by curling up under a thick blanket, wearing extra layers, and taking a hot shower. But if your fever were actually a symptom of heatstroke or heat exhaustion, then you would be harming rather than helping. In reality, you’d want to do the exact opposite.
These diagnoses aren’t one-size-fits-all—much like the skin your reptile has outgrown.
So what could be causing your pet reptile’s strange shedding patterns? On the one hand, it could be a simple issue of poor husbandry and reptile care:
- Poor nutrition
- Low humidity or temperature
- Handling the animal during its shed
- Insufficient enclosure furniture to rub and remove skin
These situational and environmental factors can be easily remedied before the next shed. On the other hand, your reptile may be experiencing Dysecdysis as a result of an underlying issue, such as:
- Bacterial diseases
- Mites or internal parasites
- Thyroid condition
If this is the case, you won’t be able to remedy their abnormal shedding without first resolving whatever else is affecting them.
What Should I Do When My Reptile Exhibits Dysecdysis?
Because Dysecdysis is a side effect of something else, it’s important to identify and correct the root cause. A veterinarian will be able to diagnose the specific ailment which you can then treat.
In the meantime, you should assist your reptilian pal with the Ecdysis process. Otherwise, the semi-shed skin may constrict around the appendages, which can lead to poor circulation and eventual loss of limbs, such as the tail tip or toes. Here’s how you can help them:
*Disclaimer: Always consult with your veterinarian before proceeding with at-home care of our reptile.
- Warm soak – For a larger lizard or snake, fill a tub with warm water (around 85°F) and place the reptile in it for 15-30 minutes.
- Humidity retreat box – For your smaller reptilian pets, set up a humidity box near the heat lamp to create a humid environment for shedding skin. Find a plastic container that your animal fits comfortably inside, cut a hole in the lid to create an access point, and fill it with dampened sphagnum moss.
- Pillowcase or towel – After soaking, you can wrap the animal in a towel or place them in a damp pillowcase alongside a wet towel. As they writhe, they’ll naturally remove most of the remaining shed.
- Manual removal – For any final patches that are mostly loosened, you may be able to peel them off by hand. Don’t pull at anything that is still firmly attached to the animal, as it can damage the skin forming underneath.
- Antimicrobial spray – During Dysecdysis, you may want to use more than just water to keep your reptile moist. A non-toxic, antibacterial moisturizing solution like Vetericyn’s reptile skin treatment can help the process along without irritating your pet reptile.
If the root cause of your reptile’s Dysecdysis is poor husbandry, then adjusting their environment or diet should solve your problem. You should expect a return to their habitual shedding pattern after two or three complete cycles. Monitor their subsequent sheds closely, checking for retained eye caps or unshed patches.
If the problem shedding persists, you should consult your herp vet about potential underlying conditions, if you haven’t already.
Shed the Stress of Dysecdysis
Just like a fever, Dysecdysis requires care and attention, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. All it takes is assistive measures like a warm bath and moisturizing spray, a few environmental adjustments to humidity and temperature, and in some cases, basic medical treatment.
It can be scary at first, but as with a fever, it doesn’t last forever.
Your temperature returns to normal, and your reptile’s shedding should too.
- Reptiles Magazine. Diagnosing And Treating Dysecdysis aka Retained Shed. https://www.reptilesmagazine.com/diagnosing-and-treating-dysecdysis-aka-retained-shed/
- Anapsid. Reptile Skin Shedding. http://www.anapsid.org/shedding.html
- Pet Place. Dysecdysis – Shedding Problems. https://www.petplace.com/article/reptiles/pet-health/small-pet-health/reptile-small-pet-health/dysecdysis-shedding-problems/
- Animal Veterinary Hospital of Orlando. Care Cards, Dysecdysis. https://myavho.com/storage/app/media/Dysecdysis_Care_Card.pdf