Abnormal Skin Shedding in Reptiles

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 25, 2008


Abnormal skin shedding, or disecdysis, is one of the most common health problems affecting pet reptiles. Some species of snakes and lizards shed their entire skin in a single complete piece, while other reptiles shed their skin in patches. In all cases, however, once the process is complete, the reptile should be completely covered in a fresh, new layer of skin.

Symptoms and Types

After an incomplete shed, pieces of old skin often remain attached around the toes and tail, or over the surface of the eye. Bands of unshed skin may act as a tourniquet and cause tissue death and the loss of toes or portions of the tail. Infections can develop underneath patches of unshed skin leading to red, irritated areas that may drain pus. Spectacles that have not shed give the reptile’s eye a milky and sometimes wrinkled appearance.


The most common cause of abnormal skin shedding is a humidity level within the terrarium that is too low. Other contributing factors can include the lack of a surface on which to rub, poor health, external parasites, and an inadequate diet.


Abnormal skin shedding can be diagnosed by close examination of the reptile. Uncovering the condition’s cause may require researching a reptile’s preferred humidity levels and nutritional requirements, analyzing the environmental conditions within the terrarium, and performing a complete health workup.


You can treat many cases of abnormal skin shedding in reptiles in the comfort of your own home. Spray or soak the animal in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes and then gently rub or peel the skin away. If the spectacles have not shed, apply an artificial tears ointment and wait about 10 minutes before gently rubbing them off the eye or lifting them away with a fingernail. If after repeating these treatments over the course of a few days there is no improvement, or if the underlying skin looks red or otherwise unhealthy, take the reptile to a veterinarian.

Living and Management

If moisture levels within the terrarium must be kept low, add a hide box containing a layer of moist sphagnum moss to provide an area of relatively higher humidity.


Maintaining proper humidity levels within a reptile’s terrarium, providing a surface on which to rub and a water bowl in which to soak, and keeping pets in good health will prevent most cases of abnormal skin shedding.


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