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Snake Shedding - Some Tips

If a snake is well and healthy it will shed its skin regularly, roughly once a month for most species - generally the age and size of the snake will determine the frequency, young snakes that are growing faster tend to shed more regularly than older snakes.

A snake will ideally shed its skin in one entire piece. It's really interesting to watch (and not very common to see - it took me several years of keeping snakes before I was lucky to catch one in the act of shedding its skin!)

What is 'shedding'?

Shedding is the process of growth, when the body is too large for the old skin, it dries out and separates from the new skin that forms underneath. It is then discarded or 'shed', usually in one piece, starting at the head all the way to the tail, the resulting dead skin appears 'inside-out'.

How to tell if your snake is due to shed its skin

There are several signs that a snake is due to shed its skin. Often they go off their food, become less active and may spend more time in their moist hide or curled up in their water bowl. Once their skin starts to look duller or 'milky' in appearance they may become more irritable due to their eyesight being hindered by the old skin. Some people recommend avoiding handling their snake during this period in order to give them time to shed in peace.

The shedding process takes around 1-2 weeks to complete and once it is over your snakes skin will look brighter and he/she will likely be hungry, especially if they missed a feed or two.

How you can help

In order to facilitate the process as much as possible, ensure that the humidity and temperature is correct. Provide a water bowl big enough for the snake to soak its entire body in or a moist damp hide (such as a plastic lidded container containing sphagnum moss with a hole in the lid for the snake to enter). It is also a good idea to provide decor that will enable the snake a rough surface to start the shedding process, such as branches or cork bark as they will start by rubbing their head against something rough to separate the first bit of skin from its head.

Potential problems

⁃ Incomplete shedding or shedding in bits This is usually the result of the wrong humidity or temperature. Royal pythons will shed like this if they're on a substrate that is too dry for their preference or their enclosure is not humid enough. Cornsnakes prefer a moist hide to facilitate their shedding process whereas some other snakes may be found soaking their entire body in their water bowl for a day or two.

If there is still some old skin on the snake that hasn't come off, an easy way to remove this is by putting the snake in a plastic tub with a lid and an inch or two of warm water then putting this back in the warm viv. Leave the snake like this for an hour or more then gently rub the snake (using rubber gloves to do this is even easier!) and the old bits of skin should come of easily.

⁃ Retained eye caps Sometimes all the skin has come off apart from the eye caps, it's easy to spot as the eye/s will still look cloudy after a shed and if you look closely you can see the retained skin covering the eye. It is possible to remove this using tweezers, but it is very tricky and I'd advise getting expert or veterinary help doing this as a mistake could easily cause damage to the eye and blind your snake!

⁃ Infections and necrosis
Occasionally skin may get stuck around the tip of the tail and if not removed, can tighten or even build up over time leading a reduction in blood supply to the end of the tail causing it to die and fall off. Often if some skin remains stuck onto the snake, the snake will restart the shedding process again sooner, in attempt to get rid of the retained skin. If not helped, several layers can build up and infections can occur as well as necrosis of the underlying tissue. In this instance if attempts to remove the extra tissue via soaking (see above) have failed, it is best to seek veterinary advice.

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