Snakes don't exactly have eyelids. Instead, they have specially-adapted scales over their eyes called eye caps (or spectacles) that help with protection. During a normal shedding cycle, the eye caps usually come off. But sometimes they remain attached, resulting in a condition called retained eye caps that can impair vision and even cause infection if it persists through multiple sheds.
What Are Retained Eye Caps?
Retained eye caps are scales over a snake's eyes that do not fall off during shedding as they should. This problem can happen to any snake, but it is more likely to occur in malnourished or dehydrated snakes.
Symptoms of Retained Eye Caps in Snakes
When you examine your snake's shed skin, the eye caps should be intact, meaning there should be no holes where the eyes were. If there are eye holes, then it's possible they fell away separately from the rest of the skin or were retained on the snake.
- Empty eye holes in the shed skin
- Cloudy eyes on your snake
- Refusal of food
Inspect your snake's eyes to see if they are clear or cloudy. Clear eyes usually mean the eye caps have shed, whereas a cloudy appearance in one or both eyes can indicate retained eye caps. Other conditions can cause cloudy eyes though, so consult an exotics veterinarian who is experienced with reptiles.
Behavioral signs associated with retained eye caps are uncharacteristic nervousness and aggression when you approach your snake. Impaired vision can make snakes uncertain of their surroundings, prompting anxiety. Your snake may also refuse food because it is too nervous to eat. If infection or other health conditions are present, these may also affect your snake's behavior and appetite.
Causes of Retained Eye Caps
A common cause of retained eye caps is a lack of humidity in the snake's enclosure. Dehydration can affect your reptile's health in many ways and can contribute to other shedding problems as well.
- Dehydration, due to low humidity or an insufficient water source
- Bacterial infections
Your veterinarian may suggest a visit to remove retained eye caps so that they don't impair your snake's vision or set the stage for infection, especially if they have been retained through multiple sheds.
Another option your vet may recommend is soaking the snake in slightly warm water a couple of times a day. Make sure the water is just deep enough to cover your snake's body, and supervise it to prevent flailing or drowning. After a few days, the softening of the retained skin may help your snake shed its caps.
Some seasoned snake owners remove the eye caps with tape. If you feel comfortable performing this process, take a piece of clear tape and gently but firmly press it onto the snake's eye cap. Slowly peel it off, and the cap should stick to the tape. Proceed with caution, though, as this method can cause harm to your snake if the tape sticks to its scales or if you perform this process on an eye without a retained cap.
Infections or mites must be treated with medication prescribed by your veterinarian.
Prognosis for a Snake with Retained Eye Caps
Most snakes fare just fine, even if their eye caps are retained for a shed or two. If the caps require manual removal, carefully loosening or taping the caps will alleviate the problem and allow the snake to return to its normal routine.
The most significant predictors of snake health after removing its retained eye caps are its environment and diet. Appropriate humidity and temperature, adequate space, and a nutrient-rich diet tailored to your species of snake are all vital to its health and happiness,
Preventing Retained Eye Caps
To prevent incomplete shedding (or dysecdysis) in snakes, maintain proper humidity levels in your snake's enclosure. Most snakes thrive in an environment with 50 to 70 percent humidity. Misting your tropical snake regularly also helps it retain the moisture needed for proper shedding.
Make sure your enclosure is clean and free of blunt objects to prevent infection or harm to your snake's eye area.
Feed your snake a balanced diet, complete with ample water for hydration. Additionally, you can provide a "shedding box" for your snake by placing a damp paper towel into a well-ventilated box. The microclimate inside creates an optimal environment for shedding.
Abnormal Shed and Eye Cap Removal: Making Abnormal Shed Removal Appealing. Vetfolio.
Dysecdysis. Animal Veterinary Hospital of Orlando.