Do Lizards Shed Their Skin?

All lizards grow continuously throughout their lives, however their skin does not grow to accommodate their changing size.  It is for this reason that they must shed their skin regularly to allow for proper growth.  This process is known as ecdysis.

How often a lizard sheds its kin depends on its age.  Lizards that are younger and growing much faster will often shed much more frequently than older lizards.  Some lizards, such as healthy iguanas will shed every four to six weeks and may even shed more often during peak growing season.  Since shedding reflects normal grown infrequent sheddings  (once or twice a year or less) should be a cause for concern.

There are a number of ways to tell if your lizard is about to shed.  They will show a number of distinct behavioral and physical changes prior to shedding such as exhibiting a change in appetite or complete refusal of food.  (this usually happens immediately before a shed).  A change in overall color, usually dulling is most common as well.  These creatures may become hostile or more aggressive than usual and may exhibit signs of disapproval when being disturbed or handled in any way.  Their eyes have been known to swell up or puff out two to three times their normal size (this only occurs in lizards with moveable eyelids and is done to loosen old skin).

Almost all lizards shed their skin in pieces.  After the lizard actually begins the shedding process it should usually take no more than three weeks for all of the old skin to come off. For those few lizards such as the alligator lizard that shed all in one piece such as a snake, the shedding should usually be completed within several hours.

If you are an owner of a lizard or other type of reptile that sheds its skin you may have heard of the term “problem shed”.  Perhaps you have heard of it but do not necessarily know what it means or whether it is a cause for concern.  A problem shed is incomplete or improper shedding and is known as dysecdysis.  This type of shed is not actually the problem rather than being a symptom of the problem.  To correct this and prevent it from occurring in the future, you must first find and address the actual issue.  The most common cause of dysecdysis is due to improper husbandry or diet.  Improper housing, including temperature, humidity, lighting and insufficient cage accessories for rubbing off dead skin can all be causes of this happening.  A few other common causes include: a lack of moisture within the environment, diet that is lacking in the necessary nutrients, too much stress, too much handling during the shedding period, or it could be related to some type of illness the creature could be experiencing.

If your lizard is suffering from a problem shed first of all, you should never attempt to pull off or tear loose pieces of skin that aren’t coming off on their own.  Doing this can cause damage the partially formed keratinous scales that are growing underneath the old skin and can leave the lizard more susceptible to mites.  If the skin doesn’t seem to come off as easily when you gently pull it, never pull on it any harder.

There are a few things that one can do to help a lizard through an incomplete or improper shed and they are as follows:  Determine what problem is causing the improper shed and try to correct it immediately, make sure that there are plenty of cage accessories for your lizard to rub up against in its habitat (this helps them shed their skin easily), Set up a high humidity hide for small lizards, place a bowl of water in the enclosure for your lizard to soak in, larger lizards can be soaked in a tub of warm water (approximately 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 10 to 15 minutes then rubbed at the retained skin gently.  It is important to always monitor your lizard when it is soaking and to never leave it unattended or let the water go above their shoulders as this could cause it to drown.  Wrapping your lizard in a damp towel with a dry towel over it for five minutes and then exposing a small areas and rubbing gently to help remove old skin can also be helpful.  These methods may need to be practiced more than once to eliminate the retained skin  If your reptile is not showing any signs of improvement after trying these methods it is best to contact your veterinarian.  Furthermore, if you think your lizard is having a problem shed, pay special attention to its toes, dorsal crest spikes or fans, dewlaps and tails as retained skin on these areas can constrict tissue and lead to serious complications such as auto-amputation.

It is important to never remove the lizard’s shedded skin from its habitat as lizards consume their skin after shedding it.  Lizards consume their skin after shedding for a number of reasons.  It provides them with calcium and other nutrients and is a way of grooming themselves.  Shedding and consuming their skin is a vital process in a lizard’s survival and growth.

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