Reptile Molting – A Natural Part of Reptile Growth

Reptile molting is a natural part of a reptile’s growth. It also provides an indication of their overall health.


Snakes typically shed skin from two to four times a year. Younger, faster growing snakes may shed more frequently.

Snakes rub themselves against cage furniture and crawl out of their old skin, a process known as ecdysis. With lizards, the skin typically falls off in pieces.


Reptiles shed their skin on a regular basis. This process is called molting or ecdysis. This is the body’s way of removing old, weathered layers and replacing them with new ones. Reptiles including snakes and lizards will often rub the most weathered outer layer of their integument against their cage furniture or hard objects in order to make it come off easily.

The most effective method for helping a reptile to shed its skin is to bathe them. Soaking in tepid or warm water will soften the old layer of skin and help it to slip off naturally. This can be done in a bowl, a tub or even using a spray bottle for exotic pets that cannot swim. Just make sure that the water is tepid or warm and do not allow your reptile to drown!

A good bathing product is Shed-Ease, which contains a natural formula to aid in the shedding process. A 20 minute bath in Shed-Ease will usually make the old skin loosen up enough to fall off easily as you gently rub it. Shed-Ease will also add a healthy sheen to the new skin.

When a reptile is in the process of molting it is important to not handle them as they will be very fragile and their vision may be impaired during this period. They will often be grumpy as well and should be left alone until the shed is complete.


While the shedding of skin and feathers may seem like an unusual event, it is actually very normal. Reptiles shed the old layers of skin to make room for growth. This process is called moulting and it also allows for the elimination of parasites and irritants that have built up. Depending on the species of animal and the environment, some animals shed completely while others shed in smaller pieces.

The first sign that your pet is about to start molting is the dullness of the skin and the eyes turning whitish. It is important not to handle your snake during this period because the new skin is very delicate.

As the shedding starts, the snake will rub it’s head against cage furniture or in-between two rocks to stretch the skin. Once the old skin is stretched the portion near the head will split open and the rest of the body peels off revealing the new skin underneath.

A snake that has not shed properly can have problems such as infections under bands of unshed skin, the loss of toes and tail, and even death. Your exotic veterinarian can advise you if baby oil is appropriate for your reptile’s species to help assist with a successful shed. It is important that you monitor your pet during the shedding process and make adjustments to their habitat and diet if needed to ensure a complete shedding.

Keeping Your Pet Warm

Reptiles need to shed regularly and if it doesn’t happen then they can develop illnesses. Shedding is a normal part of your pet’s growth but they can get cranky during this process and are prone to injuries because of the old skin that comes off with them. Shedding can also be a sign of illness so if your pet seems under the weather then it is best to consult an exotic veterinarian who can help.

The best way to help your reptile during a problem shed is to provide a humid retreat box for them. This can be a small plastic container that they can fit comfortably in or even a pillowcase that you put them in alongside a damp towel. The humidity retreat box will help to keep them warm and soften the old skin so it is easier for them to work off.

Another thing to do is to spritz your pet with water. It’s important not to bathe them because this can be harmful but a gentle spray of tepid water can be helpful for your pet. After the spritz, dry them off and place them under their heat lamp again.

When a reptile has a problem shed it is called Dysecdysis and you may notice that the skin around their eyes or feet doesn’t come off and that they have bands of old skin around the toes and tail. This can be dangerous as it acts as a tourniquet and can cause damage to the new skin.

Watching Your Pet

Shedding isn’t really fun for a reptile so they tend to get cranky and defensive during this period. They don’t want you touching them or reaching into their enclosure during the process. You can service their cage but they need to be left alone to shed. It’s kind of like puberty for a snake or lizard.

To shed their skin a reptile typically rubs its head, or any other part of its body close to the head, against hard objects such as a rock (or in-between two rocks), or cage furniture. This causes the already stretched skin to split and peel back on itself. Then the reptile crawls out of it, effectively turning it inside-out. Many snakes also defecate during the shedding process.

Some pet owners can get too impatient with a reptile during the shedding process and pull off pieces of their skin that are not ready to be removed. This is not a good idea because it could cause your reptile to inhale the mites that live inside the old shed which can make them sick.

To prevent this from happening to your pet, you should invest in a good quality pet cam. Look for one that has a two-way audio capability so you can talk to your pet and encourage them to respond. Some systems have ringtones you can use to call your pet to the camera and others allow you to dispense treats from the monitor.