Reptile Molting and Dysecdysis

Reptile molting is a very important part of your pet’s growth. It helps keep them healthy by protecting them from infections under the old skin cast.

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Shedding is called ecdysis and snakes go through this 4-12 times per year. During this time their colors dull and their eyes become milky.

Pre-Shedding Period

Reptiles that are preparing to shed will often rub against objects like rocks and branches to facilitate the process. They may also lose interest in food and become more aggressive than usual. During this period, it is important to give your reptile plenty of privacy and avoid handling him unless absolutely necessary. A scared reptile is more likely to shed improperly and could develop a problem with his new skin.

During the pre-shed period, your reptile’s old skin will start to dull in color and take on a blue tinge. It will also begin to slough off in areas where it is covered by substrate or cage furnishings. Snakes that are preparing to shed can also defecate during this time. While this can be unsettling, it is normal and should not be a cause for concern.

Once the basal cells of your reptile’s outer layer of skin (OG) have finished synchronizing with those of its inner layer (IG), the OG will “kick out” the IG, and it will be time to shed! As the OG is shed, the IG will quickly grow bigger because it can no longer fit inside the discarded OG.

Many lizards and snakes that are preparing to shed will find places in their enclosure to hide during the shedding process. They may also use their rocky crevices or windthrow to create humid retreats where they can rest and relax. If your pet has a humidity retreat box, you should encourage him to use it during this time as it can offer a safe, quiet and secure place to hide while he is shedding his old skin.

Post-Shedding Period

A reptile is able to tell when it’s getting ready to shed. It will usually rub its head and nose against a rough surface to create a rip in the old skin layer, which it then crawls out of like taking off a sock. This process is called ecdysis, and is also what we see when birds lose feathers, dogs shed their fur, and snakes slough their skin.

During this phase, your snake will most likely stop eating. It may even become depressed or lethargic and refuse to move around. It is important to keep it warm and provide the best possible care during this time.

It’s very important not to disturb the shedding process in any way. If you must, do so very carefully and slowly. In the wild, snakes will often use rocky crevices or windthrow (a pile of discarded boards) as a humid retreat while they’re preparing to shed. In captivity, a large enough water bowl or a terrarium humid retreat box can be very useful.

Some exotic pet owners soak their reptiles in tepid or lukewarm water to help the process along, but be careful not to overdo it. Too much water can drown a reptile, and it can also slow the drying and shedding process by making the skin too wet. If your reptile’s skin is ragged and sticky, gently working at it with your fingers may help loosen the skin for easier removal.

Problem Sheds

In captivity, a reptile’s shedding process can go wrong, leading to problems like retained eye caps or areas of the body that are not shed. These are called problem sheds, or dysecdysis. Normally, they are not a big deal as the reptile will usually get back to normal after two or three shedding cycles, but they do need to be addressed as soon as possible. Most of the time, a reptile with dysecdysis will have an underlying issue such as poor husbandry, a lack of a good surface on which to rub, external parasites, or a poor diet.

Shedding is a normal part of your reptile’s growth, kind of like puberty (although less painful). It’s a necessary and important process, so don’t be too hard on your scaly friend during this delicate time.

Sheds are typically completed by rubbing the reptile’s body against a rough object until the skin is split, then pulling off the old skin. Reptiles may also eat their shed if they are hungry. It is very important to not pull off shed that isn’t ready to come off, as it can cause mites if you do. It’s best to enlist the help of a friend for this, restrain your snake and gently but firmly remove the shed while it is still attached. This should only take a few seconds, but it is very important that you don’t pull the skin off too early.

Treatment

In most instances, the best course of action is to have your reptile seen by a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles. They will be able to diagnose the underlying issue and provide the most effective treatment for your reptile.

Reptile skin doesn’t grow with the rest of the body so when a reptile outgrows their old skin they need to shed it. Reptiles often become irritable during this time, lose their appetites and don’t like to be handled as much as they normally would. Their coloring dulls and their eyes turn a whitish-blue color as they get ready to shed.

A veterinary professional will recommend that you gently rub your snake or lizard while it is shedding. This helps to lubricate the skin so that it can slide off easier without any pain. The veterinarian may also recommend a warm soak to help soften the skin which can make it easier to remove.

Never try to pull the loosened skin off as this can cause injury and infection. The skin will fall off naturally when it is ready. If you notice any bodily fluids with the discarded skin such as blood or pus then you must take your reptile to an exotic veterinarian who specializes in reptiles immediately.

Dysecdysis is one of the most common problems that pet owners face when caring for their companion reptiles. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest to prevent with proper care and attention to your reptile’s environment, diet and health.