Dysecdysis in Reptiles

Green anole shedding.
Any kind of reptile can experience dysecdysis.

Melnotte / Getty Images

Since all reptiles shed, dysecdysis can occur in any reptile species. But because dysecdysis is not normal, it's important for pet owners to be able to distinguish it from a normal shed in their pet. If dysecdysis occurs, it is an indication that there may be something wrong with the environment or reptile itself. Furthermore, if it is ignored, serious trauma can occur to your pet. Knowing the signs of dysecdysis, how to prevent it, and what to do if your reptile experiences it can help keep your reptile healthy and comfortable.

What is Dysecdysis?

Dysecdysis is the technical word for an abnormal shedding in a reptile and it may also be referred to as retained shed. Reptiles normally shed their dead skin on a regular basis but when dysecdysis occurs, part of the skin does not fall off like it should. The skin instead remains attached to the reptile and can build up in layers, cut off circulation in the toes and tail, restrict vision, impair movement, and more. Dysecdysis is never normal and indicates a problem that needs your attention.

Signs of Dysecdysis in Reptiles

Signs

  • Pale or dull skin
  • Loss of toes or the tail
  • Dried, built-up skin stuck to your reptile
  • Squinting or closed eyes

Dysecdysis may be harder to notice in some reptiles that are naturally lighter in color, like bearded dragons or leopard geckos. After your reptile sheds, a good inspection can help you spot the signs of retained skin. When a reptile sheds, the skin becomes less shiny and vibrant, so look for dull or pale shed remnants. If more than one layer of shed has not fallen off, several layers of dead skin may be built-up. This most commonly occurs in the armpits, feet, tail tips, eyes, and belly, but can happen anywhere on your reptile. If the skin builds up on the feet, individual toes, or the tail, blood circulation may become restricted or be cut off and cause these appendages to die and eventually fall off if the dead skin is not carefully removed. Build-up on the eyes can cause difficulty seeing and catching food and will lead to eye infections if left untreated.

Leopard gecko with retained shed.
Closed eyes and dull, pale skin remnants are often seen in reptiles experiencing dysecdysis.

Fernando Trabanco Fotografía / Getty Images

Causes of Dysecdysis

There are a number of reasons why a reptile may not have a complete shed. Some of the most common reasons for dysecdysis include:

  • Low humidity in the enclosure
  • Skin mites
  • Skin trauma
  • Nothing to rub on in the enclosure
  • Low vitamin A levels (Hypovitaminosis A)
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Septicemia
  • Inclusion body disease
  • Paramyxovirus
  • Internal abscesses

Other diseases and issues with your reptile can also result in dysecdysis, but a retained shed is an indication that your reptile probably needs your help.

Treatment

If you notice your reptile has retained shed, a warm water soak can help soften the dried skin and make it easier to remove. Be sure not to allow your reptile to get chilled while soaking, but after ten to thirty minutes, the skin should be easier to gently peel off of your reptile. Be careful not to damage the healthy skin underneath the dead skin when removing the shed. If it won't come off, repeat the soaking process or provide wet paper towels or a wet pillow case for your reptile to sit on or in, depending on the size and kind of reptile. Tweezers may be useful for peeling off small pieces of skin and cotton swabs can help gently remove dead skin from around the eyes or retained eye caps.

How to Prevent Dysecdysis

In order to prevent dysecdysis from occurring in your reptile, the best things you can do are to ensure the humidity levels are appropriate for your specific kind of reptile and that it has adequate surfaces to rub against. A humidity hide box may also aid in shedding if the humidity levels in the enclosure are difficult to manage. Finally, provide a proper diet and don't feed your pet wild-caught insects that may harbor parasites.

If your reptile has experienced dysecdysis in the past and you want to help prevent it from happening again, be sure to correct whatever caused it the first time. Uncorrected causes of dysecdysis will not correct themselves so dysecdysis will continue each time your reptile sheds until the reason that it is happening has been fixed.