Nutrition, husbandry, and genetics influence the condition of a reptile’s skin and is a reliable indicator of the animal’s general health. When examining any reptile with a dermatological issue, your vet will need a comprehensive report on enclosure dynamics such as temperature, humidity, substrate, and the reptile’s nutrition.
Ecdysis is the process through which a reptile’s keratinized epidermis is shed. The process repeats throughout its life. Dysecdysis refers to any abnormality in this process. Growing leopard geckos shed more regularly than mature adults.
Factors That Influence Shedding
Proper housing, feeding, and care are essential for reptile pets’ well-being. These considerations fall under the heading of ‘husbandry.’
Unfortunately, if some fundamental husbandry requirements are not satisfied, the reptile will suffer. A sticky shed is a typical issue with pet leopard geckos, who need a damp hide to shed properly.
The shedding cycle of a gecko should last no longer than 24 hours.
If the gecko’s toes are infected and necrotized, the retained shed might tighten around them, infecting and necrotizing them.
Blindness, starvation, and infection can all arise from retained shed in the gecko’s eyes. See a veterinarian soon if your gecko has a chronic problem with retained shed, infection, or necrosis (localized death of tissue cells).
The Shedding Process (Ecdysis)
The dermis and epidermis are the two layers of reptile skin, just as they are in humans. Keratin covers the epidermis (top layer), which is thicker on the dorsal (upper surface) of the reptile’s body and thinner on the ventral (lower surface) (bottom surface).
The stratum germinativum is continually forming keratin cells, which mature and travel outside the stratum corneum.
Except for geckos, which can usually shed their skin in one piece, lizards usually shed their skin in many pieces.
Dysecdysis (Ecdysis Anomalies)
Any anomaly in the shedding process is referred to as dysecdysis. Snakes are more likely than any other reptile species to have dysecdysis, but it can affect any reptile.
Environmental humidity and temperature, internal and external parasites, infection, malnutrition, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, previous injury, and dehydration are possible causes of dysecdysis.
If the illness is not treated, subsequent bacterial and fungal infections might develop. The cause of dysecdysis must be identified to avoid the condition from repeating in future sheds.
The owner should learn about their normal geographical location when purchasing any reptile. Tropical organisms demand more humidity, while desert organisms require less.
Helping Your Leopard Shed
Direct involvement in the initial Ecdysis process is not advised. Certain substrates, such as orchid or coconut bark retain moisture and thus increase humidity, whereas dry sand and crushed walnut reduce humidity.
Rocks and branches in the cage give roughened surfaces for the reptile to begin and finish their shed.
Unfortunately, many reptiles are kept in enclosures that are inadequate for typical movement, making removing the dead layer of skin difficult.
Furthermore, reptiles in nature have a wide range of habitats, allowing them to seek out regions with varying humidity levels before shedding.
Many desert species will burrow into the soil to deeper strata with higher humidity levels before a shed.
It takes time for a regular shedding cycle to complete. As the surface scales drop off and lose their color, your pet will appear dull.
The deeper layer is not fully developed at this point; therefore, any attempt to remove the skin may cause damage. Soaking or misting the reptile regularly during this time will help promote a healthy shed. You may want to add a humidity box to the enclosure at this point.
A small shoebox or similar container filled with damp sphagnum moss and a hole cut out to enable the leopard gecko access can be easily made.
During a shed, reptiles rarely eat, so alter the feeding schedule accordingly. The eyes will get bluish as the process progresses.
Because the reptile’s vision will be impaired, caution should be exercised when handling it to avoid preventable Dysecdysis. To kickstart the shed, your leopard gecko may rub its head on a provided rough item – like the bark of a branch.
“Emotional baggage is like the dead skin of a snake. If you don’t shed it, how can you grow emotionally?”― Khang Kijarro Nguyen
After Shedding Care
Your leopard gecko should be properly examined once the shed has been completed to ensure that it is complete. Snakes and some geckos frequently keep their spectacles or eye caps, while lizards retain skin rings around their limbs, toes, or tail. When removing a retained spectacle, take extra care to avoid damaging the eye.
A mineral oil-coated cotton-tip applicator or earbud, used in a circular pattern, will often loosen and remove a retained spectacle. Retained shed around a limb, toe, or tail should be removed as soon as possible to avoid the object acting as a tourniquet, causing atrophy or sloughing of the affected area.
You can remove any remaining skin by soaking it in warm water for 15-30 minutes and then removing it with tweezers or forceps. Including a humidity box in your reptile’s enclosure can help to reduce shedding.
Building a Humidity Box For Your Shedding Leopard Gecko
To build a humidity box, start by finding a large plastic container to fit the reptile comfortably within. To enable the reptile access, cut a hole in the top. Fill the box halfway with sphagnum moss and water. Excess water can be easily removed by simply turning the box over on its side and letting the excess water drain.
Place the box on the warm side of the cage, either under a heating pad or under a basking light. Humidity will form inside the box as the temperature rises. External parasites irritating the reptile’s skin might induce frequent shedding.
Remember that dysecdysis is linked to other issues that may need professional attention. Your vet will need a thorough history to detect the problem and prevent future damage to your leopard gecko.
Common Causes of Dysecdysis
If your reptile hasn’t lost all of its skin repeatedly, you should consider seeking the help of your veterinarian. It will be necessary to remove the remaining skin. If it is not removed, it may cause more issues as it can become a site for infections. If infections are present or persist, medication may be required.
The most common causes of dysecdysis are problems with husbandry and management and can include:
- Handling while shedding
- Poor nutrition (lack of calcium or vitamin D3)
- Low cage temperature
- Low humidity
- Inadequate cage furniture
- Cage too compact
These are all husbandry issues that I’m sure you can fix. If you’re already doing this and your leopard gecko is still struggling to shed, you may need to visit a vet – possible complications may include:
- Systemic diseases
- Fungal/bacterial skin infection
- Mites or other parasites
- Thyroid disease
- Burns or healed scars
Dysecdysis is characterized by your gecko retaining a shed, possibly multiple layers if it has been an ongoing problem.
This can cause damage to the underlying scales and tissue to the point that the animal may never have a normal shed again.
According to Dr. Reich of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the Univerity of Illinois, the main cause of this problem is improper humidity levels.
“Most of the time, the problems arise because the humidity is too low for the reptile,” she says. “Even desert species need an appropriate level of humidity.” Luckily, there are numerous ways to limit this problem from occurring.
There are multiple water drip and mist systems commercially available for reptile owners. One other way to counter dysecdysis is as straightforward as buying a humidifier for a reptile’s room.
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