Snakes constantly grow new skin cells and must shed the old ones. Humans shed their old skin cells continuously in small quantities but snakes shed their old skins in a continuous sheet (a process called ecdysis). The timing between these sheds is dependent upon several factors including the age of the snake, their growth rate, and environmental factors. Young, growing snakes shed frequently (every few weeks) while adult snakes shed less often sometimes only a few times a year or less.
Signs a Snake Is About to Shed Its Skin
You can note these things to alert you to when your pet snake is about to shed:
- Your snake's eyes will turn a cloudy, bluish color. This is because the eye cap, a specially adapted scale which covers the eye, is loosened up in order to be shed along with the skin and causes this change. Just prior to shedding, the eyes will clear up again.
- The old skin on your snake becomes dull or hazy in appearance and sometimes the belly of your snake may appear a little pink at first.
- Your snake may hide more than usual.
- Your snake's appetite may decrease or it may not want to eat.
- Your snake may become more skittish or defensive because it can't see well due to the shedding process. Shedding is very stressful for the snake.
- When your snake is ready to shed, it will seek out rough surfaces in the enclosure to help rub the skin off. It may also look for water to soak in.
Caring for Your Shedding Snake
You can help your snake get through the shedding process with these tips:
- Provide cage accessories to help your snake rub off its old skin. Clean driftwood and rocks (which should be smooth, with no sharp edges) are common items used to aid the shedding process.
- Make sure your snake has enough humidity in its enclosure. Provide a shallow dish of water in which it can soak. You can also give your snake a humidity hide box, which is an enclosed plastic container containing damp sphagnum moss with an entry hole just big enough for the snake to fit in. Your snake may spend more time than usual in these places during a shed.
- Avoid handling your snake as much as possible while it is about to shed or is actively shedding. Gentle handling is okay if necessary but the process is stressful and the new skin is delicate and can be easily torn.
- If your snake goes off food, don't worry. A healthy snake can go a couple of weeks or more without eating and larger snakes can go even longer without food. However, if your snake wants to eat, it may also be best to feed a smaller meal than usual to minimize the effort your snake needs to digest a meal during the shedding process.
- When your snake has shed, examine the shed skin to make sure it was complete. Ideally, the whole skin will come off in one piece and the eye caps should be shed along with the skin (there should not be holes in the shed skin where the eyes were). If your snake has not shed the whole skin or the eye caps you may need to help remove the retained pieces. Therefore it is important to inspect the shed and then your snake.
Snake Shedding Problems
If your snake does not completely shed its skin (an incomplete shed is also called dysecdysis), it can be a signal to you that there are health concerns with your snake or problems with your husbandry (such as humidity levels or external parasites like mites or ticks). Retained eye caps (where the eye caps are not shed along with the skin) may occur with an incomplete shed but they may also occur even if the rest of the skin was shed intact. Be sure to follow safe skin and eye cap removal methods if you need to help your snake shed. Explore the reason for the incomplete shed so the next shed will go more smoothly.