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Snake Shedding

By BrentNpetco on Aug. 18, 2016

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Why do snakes shed?
All reptiles—including snakes—shed their skin as part of a natural process called “ecdysis.” Unlike other animals, reptile skin doesn’t grow as a snake grows, so unless a snake sheds his skin, he can’t grow any larger. Once a snake grows to a point that his scales begin to look stretched, a new layer of skin will develop under the current one. Once this new layer is ready, the snake will shed the old layer—revealing shiny new scales. If you have a pet snake, it’s important to be able to recognize a healthy shed process from an unhealthy shed process, called “dysecdysis.”

 

Healthy snakes usually shed their skin in one single piece, but there are times when you may notice your pet snake having problems shedding. There are several factors that can affect the shedding process—including age, species, health, nutrition, ambient temperature and humidity.

 

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How often do snakes shed?
This can vary greatly by age, species and diet of the snake. On average, a young snake will shed between one and two times per a month. It depends on species, but many pet snakes reach adulthood between the ages of 1–3. An adult snake will only shed his skin a few times a year.

 

How can you tell if your snake is about to shed?
The most noticeable warning that your snake is about to shed is called “blue phase.” This is when your snake’s eyes take on a hazy, bluish-gray color. What’s happening is that the eye cap, an adapted scale covering the eye, is loosening up in order to prepare to be shed. Another noticeable change is that your snake’s whole body will begin to look less vibrant—almost dull compared to how it normally looks. Once he sheds, his color will be back in full force, and he may even look a little brighter than before.

 

When a snake is getting ready to shed, his normal behavior may change too. In many cases, your snake will hide more than usual and he may become restless or uneasy due to his vision being impaired. It’s best to not handle your snake at this time, as it could be stressful for him. Finally, when your snake is getting ready to shed, you may notice he won’t take any food offered. This is normal. Your snake should pick up his old eating habits once he is finished shedding, which could take several weeks.

What can cause a pet snake to have issues shedding?
Poor husbandry and improper nutrition are the most common causes of shedding complications. To rectify these issues, ensure that you are caring for your snake correctly by answering these questions:

  1. Are you housing your pet snake at the correct temperature and humidity? 
  2. Does he have a water dish large enough to soak in?
  3. Are you cleaning the habitat on a regular basis and ensuring there are no parasites living inside the habitat? 
  4. Are you feeding your snake appropriately sized frozen/thawed rodents often enough? Timing and the size of the frozen/thawed rodent will vary by the snake’s age and species.
  5. Are you over-handling your pet snake? Too much time outside of his habitat can add stress to your snake’s life, leading to many medical issues—including problems shedding. A couple hours a day out of the habitat in a room temperature environment is fine, but any more could be too much for your pet snake to handle. Never take your snake outside in extreme temperatures.

Besides husbandry and improper nutrition, there are more severe issues that can lead to shedding complications. Other causes may include infection or trauma. Shedding issues can be the first signs of a more serious problem requiring veterinary care. So it’s important to ensure that your snake is shedding regularly and that his sheds look healthy. A healthy shed means most, if not all of the old skin, comes off in one piece and none of the old skin is left behind. The entire shed process can take several weeks.

 

What can I do to help my snake shed?
Correct humidity is key to helping your snake shed. Most snakes (depending on species) need between 40–60% humidity to allow for an easy shed. All snakes should have a water dish large enough to submerse their whole body in. Also, you can provide your pet snake with plenty of rough surfaces, like pet-safe rocks and branches in his habitat to rub his body against. These rough surfaces will help to pull the old skin away from his body and aid in the shedding process.

 

In addition, when you see signs that your snake is getting close to shedding, you can provide him with a high humidity hideaway or shedding box. All you need to do is add moist paper towels or moist moss. Replace paper towels daily and moisten with warm water.

 

You can also create your own shedding box using a plastic container that is large enough for your snake to curl up in. Just cut a hole on the lid big enough for your snake to slide in and out. You will want to soften the edges of the hole you cut out; I normally apply duct tape to the edges to make sure there are no sharp edges. Then follow the same rules as above with moss or paper towels. Another trick to helping your snake shed is to place him between a few layers of warm, damp towels and allow him to crawl through them. The combination of humidity and friction will help to remove any remaining patches of skin. Never try to remove any skin yourself, especially the eye caps, as you could harm your pet snake.

 

If you find that even with the use of a high humidity hideaway that your snake still seems to have some patches of old skin that will not come off, you may want to consult with your veterinarian to see if you can try to use a product like shed-ease, a shedding aid that can help soften old skin. If your snake’s shedding problems persist, you should confer with a veterinarian, as there may be a bigger issue at hand.

 

 

 

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About the Author
  • Brent has always had an interest in pets of all types. Born and raised in Louisiana, he had many pets as a child, but his reptiles and his reef aquariums were his passion. He enjoyed learning what inhabitants needed in their environment to thrive. The road wasn’t always easy, but with each problem Brent, found new solutions. Brent began working for Petco in 2004 as a store associate, where he worked mainly in the aquatics and reptile department. In December 2012, Brent graduated with his MBA and was offered a job at Petco’s National Support Center in San Diego, CA. In his role as Live Aquatics Vendor Coordinator, he worked with Petco vendors to bring in new aquatic species as well as update the current in-store habitats based on compatibility. In August of 2013, Brent became the Associate Merchandise Manager for Live Aquatics. He assists in overseeing Petco’s full assortment of live aquatic and reptile SKUs, choosing the aquatic life sold in every Petco. He is the proud pet parent to a miniature Australian Shepherd and his favorite hobby is caring for his established reef tank.
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