Lizards shed in many different ways depending on their species, but generally all goes well. However, sometimes a lizard will have trouble completing its shed and some skin will remain. This can become bothersome to the creature and will sometime result in irritation and, very occasionally, infection.
Change of Behaviour
Their behaviour will probably change coming up to their shed, with rather snappier behaviour than normal. If your lizard is large, like an iguana, you may choose to keep children away at this time as the animal is likely to become rather unpredictable. An iguana, often an affectionate animal, will enjoy head rubs as the shed begins, as this is often the most difficult part to shed successfully and it begins the shedding process, so helping along at this point is useful. But it is vitally important with any lizard not to pull at shedding skin; this can damage the fragile skin underneath, resulting in sores and scarring, which will make the next shed more difficult.
How to Tell if Things are Going Wrong with a Shed
Sometimes when a lizard is growing fast, it will start the next shed when the last one is still in progress. This is not a problem, just a sign that you have a healthy animal, growing at optimum speed. In the winter, shedding may become less frequent or stop, but if only one animal in a group is not shedding, this is abnormal and should be looked into by a vet. Sometimes the skin does not shed well and the animal seems unable to get rid of the last pieces, sometimes on spiky bits or between the toes. Again, do not pull at these pieces, but try to help with increased hydration, either a warm soak, a damp towel or a spray.
For a small lizard an answer might be to provide a damp retreat box, where it can get away for a while and also, incidentally, have the inside surface to rub against and dislodge the recalcitrant skin. If none of these simple methods help, and the animal is distressed, it would be a good idea to call the vet.
Feet and Other Problem Areas
With some lizards, particularly medium sized ones with quite horny feet, skin can fail to shed properly around the toes. It is very important that the skin has all gone from these areas when the rest of the shed is complete, as if it isn’t removed, the skin can form a tourniquet and the toe can auto-amputate. This is also important for other features such as dewlaps and tails.
If the shed is very reluctant around these features and damp towels or soaks have not released it, it is beneficial to rub some mineral oil into the area and gently tease the skin away. If this does not work, the vet is the only answer, not only to remove the potentially damaging skin but also to see if there is an underlying problem which may be causing an incomplete shed.
Do Lizards Normally Eat their Shed Skin?
This is very dependent on species, but it is quite common for a lizard to eat its shed skin, so this is not a shedding problem. Looked at from a practical point of view, it is part of the food which the lizard has eaten and transformed into skin, so now that it is shed, it makes sense to re-ingest it rather than waste it. If you are not sure whether your particular lizard is a shed skin eater, give it a while and if it does not dispose of it itself, remove it from the environment as a hygiene measure.
Shedding Intervals in Health
A healthy animal which is growing normally will shed every 4-6 weeks as a general rule. A lizard which has been ill but has now recovered, especially if the illness is nutrition based, will shed even more often, as its growth speeds up as recovery is reached. Some owners worry that their lizards are still shedding having attained adult size. This is totally normal and is the equivalent of the human sloughing skin cells all day, every day.
It is just that the human shed is pretty much invisible and we don’t usually have too many problems with it; although humans suffer from conditions like ichthyosis, which is the equivalent of a problem shed. An adult lizard will shed when the skin underneath is ready, rather than because it has outgrown its old one.
Mites and the Problem Shed
Lizards do not get mites because they have had a difficult shed, nor can you ‘give’ your lizard mites by pulling at slowly shedding skin (although this is not a good idea – see above). Mites that are in the environment will not give problems if skin is sound and healthy. If a lizard accidentally scrapes itself in an over enthusiastic skin rubbing session, or if you accidentally expose some undeveloped new skin, the mite has a chance to infest the lizard, and this is why it appears that the skin injury has ‘caused’ the mites. Basically, the mites are there all along, but it is at the time of shedding that they get the opportunity to get under the lizard’s defences.
Foreseeing and Preventing Shedding Problems in Lizard
A properly housed and nourished lizard in good health is unlikely to have any problems shedding its skin. In a fast growing lizard it sometimes seems that it is doing nothing but shedding, but this is perfectly normal and if it seems a little out of sorts it is not really surprising. If the lizard has problems with every shed, it is perhaps time to have a look at its general environment.
A common problem is that it is too dry and that there are inadequate items around for the lizard to rub against. It needs to loosen the skin around its head for the shed to begin and a lack of unsuitable surfaces will stop the process before it has a chance to begin. If your lizard enjoys being handled, this is the chance for you to check its general health and also, by gentle stroking and rubbing, to ease the process along.