There is a process that goes into snakes shedding their skin. For snakes, shedding their skin is a way of life. Unlike humans or other mammals whose skin grows continually with the body, snakes’ skin does not. Instead, as they grow, they will ditch the old outer layer of skin and start over.
How can you properly care for a shedding snake? Keep it nice and humid in the snake’s environment, and include things the snake can brush up against to aid in removing dead skin. Try not to handle the snake while it is shedding. If the snake’s skin seems to be hanging on for longer than a week or two, seek veterinary advice for your pet snake.
Shedding skin is a really unique way of cleansing the outer part of the body for snakes. Read on for more details about the process of owning a shedding snake.
The Regular Process
Most snakes shed easily with the entire process taking only one or two weeks. When a snake is ready to shed, it will create a rip in the old skin, generally in the region by the head or mouth. Then they slither slowly out of the old skin. The old shed comes off typically as one long tube-shaped shell, looking like a ghost version of your snake. This process is called Ecdysis.
After the snake is done shedding, the patterns and colors will be at their most vibrant. It can be a fun time in the life of a snake.
Fun fact about shedding: Snakes use shedding to aid in growth but they also shed their skin to eliminate any ticks that have attached themselves.
As long as you take good care of your snake and keep the humidity levels between 50 to 70 percent, you can expect the snake to shed easily and normally. Be mindful of your snake and always check the shed to make sure it is one long and clean shell, without any chunks missing.
Aiding Your Snake’s Shed
You may be tempted to handle the snake as it sheds. It is possible, but I strongly recommend leaving your snake to itself. While it is shedding, the new, delicate skin is much more fragile and easy to tear than the previous skin was. Give the snake some time to finish shedding.
While you need to be cautious and very gentle in handling your snake while it sheds, it isn’t impossible to aid your snake in the shedding process. If you see that your snake has been struggling to remove the shed or remnants of the shed still cling to her body, there are several methods you can try to help
You can tell if any old skin shed remains by examining the snake’s body. The shed will be a duller color from the rest of the snake and will have a different feel. It is important to check out the whole shed to see if any pieces are missing.
Before you try any of the following methods, know that this will take time, patience, and some effort. Whatever you do, don’t get upset or discouraged!
One method is to place the snake between several layers of damp paper towels. Let the snake squirm and crawl between the paper towels. The dampness and friction usually help the snake slip out of its old skin.
If at first this option doesn’t remove all of the skin, don’t worry. You can try it again but only after giving the snake a rest of an hour or more before restarting this process.
Another method is to give your snake a bath. Similar to adding a water basin in the cage, take the snake out of the cage and place it in a container of cage temperature water, about one half or three-fourth deep as the snake is long. The water needs to cover the snake’s body but barely.
Leave the snake in this body of water for twenty to thirty minutes but never leaving it, always keeping a watchful eye on the snake.
Once the twenty minutes are over, remove the snake and let it crawl through a damp towel. This usually removes the excess skin as water gets in between the old and new skin and lubricates the snake up, allowing for an easier experience.
For those wondering, products do exist which were created to help ease the process of shedding for snakes. I have linked one of the best of these products here. Not only will it help the shedding process, but the product also promises an added sheen to the body that works between sheds.
Signs of an Oncoming Shed
Even though snakes shed their skin routinely, it can still be a stressful time for it. I discourage anyone from handling the snake just before he/she starts shedding.
Here are some signs your snake is about to shed:
- – Shine and skin color will fade
- – Eyes become a dull, milky, or even blue hue
- – Underside or underbelly turn a pinkish hue
- – Flakes of the skin begin to peel off
- – Loss of appetite, sometimes complete
- – Lack of interaction or hides more than usual
- – Rubbing its nose against objects in the cage
- – More moody more than usual
- – Skittish or defensive
Recognizing these signs can help you understand your snake and prepare for your snake to shed.
It is normal for the snake to show signs of shedding and then appear to go back to normal. Just right before the shedding starts, the eyes may clear up. This is the last sign before the snake actually begins shedding.
Provide the Ideal Environment
When you notice the snake is showing signs it is about to shed a layer of its skin, it will be important to prepare the snake’s habitat. The snake will want to have the ideal environment for this process. If done properly, the shedding can be an easy, low-stress experience for both you and the snake and avoid improper or shedding (dysecdysis).
While snakes need a relatively humid habitat at all times of the year, it is especially welcomed when a snake sheds. Maintaining the humidity levels will make the skin easier to peel off the snake so as to avoid any excess skin left stuck to their body. The following is a list of methods that you can choose to employ from.
- Create a moist shedding box
- Mist the environment with warm water
- Place a warm water bowl or basin within the cage
- Replace the bedding with a more humid bark substance
- Cover the cage top
All of the above methods have been proven to help raise the humidity levels of a snake cage. Remember the recommended humidity levels are between fifty percent and seventy percent. If you do not have a way to accurately measure the humidity levels, I suggest investing in a device typically found in a pet or department store.
If you choose to add a water basin, make sure the basin is large enough to fit the snake’s entire body and also check to make sure the water is deep enough for the snake to partly submerge its body in.
The snake will use this body of water to help shake off the peeling skin. If the water is too deep, the snake might get scared and avoid getting in altogether. Remember that snakes become more sensitive in the shedding process, especially as it can lose visibility levels during this time.
Just as the environment can become too dry, it is also possible to over-soak the snake. When the snake begins to shed a layer of skin, its body begins to build up oils essential to a healthy snake. When over-soaked, the snake will lose these oils.
Add Coarse Objects
In addition to water, snakes can use uneven objects to rub against. This aids in the shedding process and is good to consider when preparing for your snake.
You may see the snake go from the water basin to a rough branch to aid in removing the shedding skin. It can be a cool experience, especially for curious young minds to witness snakes wiggle out of their smaller old skin. I’ll never forget how intrigued I was in elementary school, staring at the snake slowly ebb out of its old skin.
DO NOT PULL OFF THEIR SKIN
It may seem like a small deal to you when snake to retains parts of its old skin and you just pull a piece off by yourself. Let me warn you against doing this. It is not advisable to remove the old skin by yourself.
It can be harder to remove than it looks, especially around the head and the eyes of the snake. If the skin doesn’t easily peel off the eyes, you may damage or ruin the eye completely. It is best to let this process occur naturally.
My suggestion is to do nothing for the eyes. If the old skin stays on the eyes, the best thing to do is to leave it until the next shed.
While it will lower the vision abilities, you are far more at risk to damage vision permanently if you try to remove the skin by yourself. Since the reason it stayed was probably low humidity, simply raise the humidity levels and watch for the skin to fall off.
However, if you are concerned about its vision, it is best to take your snake to the vet for their careful examination. They will be able to remove the shed for you.
Snakes also become more protective in the shedding period. This is quite a stressful time for the snake, they become more cautious and will hide for longer amounts of time.
It can be expected for your snake to not eat during these two weeks. In fact, I recommend not feeding your snake at all during the shed. Both shedding and eating take a considerable amount of energy.
If the snake is forced to split its energy between the two, it may put the snake at a higher risk of a difficult shed. As humans, going two weeks without food can sound crazy but trust me, you won’t want your snake to split its efforts between eating and shedding.
Once a snake is done shedding, you will notice the skin is now more brilliant than before. The snake’s attitude will be much more pleasant and your pet can now be handled again. Its always a good idea to be more gentle right after the shedding is done until the snake is fully accustomed again to being handled.
Remove the old skin from the cage and dispose of it as well as any poop. Snakes are known to poop more frequently after a shed.
Shedding is exhausting for snakes. They will be thirstier than usual. Take note of this and refill the water supply accordingly.
This is also a good opportunity to feed your snake again.
As snakes continually shed, old wounds can heal up, sometimes till they are unrecognizable. This doesn’t mean that some scars won’t remain. Just like humans, some scars will always be present. The important thing with shedding is the skin will heal.
Seeking Medical Help
If after one to two weeks and the skin still hasn’t peeled off entirely, I recommend consulting a reptile-specified veterinary.
Another reason to visit the vet is if the skin is peeling off in pieces and you are either uncomfortable to try the previously mentioned removal methods to aid the snake or want to know if there is another explanation for the dysecdysistic shedding.
I wasn’t personally aware of the serious nature of snakes completely shedding from the old layer. For example, if a snakes tail tip doesn’t get rid of the old skin, the tip can experience blood constrictions, and later requiring the tail be removed by a veterinarian to save the snake.
Imagine wearing the same size skinny jeans that you could fit into as a small kid until you reached adulthood. There most likely would be serious consequences!
This can be avoided of course. If there is a bit of skin left on the tail, first try wetting the tail as it passes through your hands. It is common for the excess skin to remove easily but if it stays on, you may need to contact your veterinarian.
The veterinarian has been trained to remove any excess skin, including that over the eyes and other sensitive areas.
When you bring your snake to the vet, they may ask for you to bring any vitamin supplements you administer to your pet snake.
As stated before, when a snake sheds normally, the scientific process is named Ecdysis. However, whenever a snake has a particularly difficult time shedding or shedding in pieces, we call this dysecdysis.
When you examine the shed and notice pieces missing, or the snake is having a hard time this can be a sign of a potential health concern.
Dysecdysis can be caused by a number of issues: malnutrition, parasites, infection, metabolic irregularities, or a tumor. More often than not, the reason your snake may be experiencing dysecdysis is due to a poor environment.
If you ever are concerned about the health of your snake, take your snake to the reptile veterinarian immediately.
Is shedding painful for snakes? While I can imagine the snake can get uncomfortable and the skin might itch, the ecdysis process of shedding is not painful. If the dysecdysis shedding is caused by reasons other than low humidity, the issue itself might be painful.
Can I hold snakes when they are shedding? You can hold snakes right after they shed and rarely and with great caution while they shed. However, it recommended to not hold the snake right before or during a shed.
Do snakes ever stop shedding? While snakes definitely slow down the frequency of shedding as they move into adulthood, snakes will shed as long as they grow. Typically, an adult snake will shed three times a year.