Do Reptiles Get Itchy?

itchy lizard after a shed

Do you ever notice your pet reptile doing weird things?  Well, of course, you do!  Reptiles are quirky pets!  But, did you know that most of these strange behaviors have some reason behind them?  You might see your pet rubbing against something and wonder what’s going on.  It could look like your scaly friend is trying to scratch an itch.

But, do reptiles get itchy?

Reptiles do get itchy.  Although reptile skin is tough and scaly, it’s still prone to irritation, inflammation, and itchiness.  Reptiles usually get itchy when they are shedding but can also get itchy from yeast or bacterial infections.  Providing your reptile with rough materials and assisting in the shedding process can ease its itchiness!

In this article, we’ll discuss some broader categories of reptiles and what makes them itchy.  We’ll also talk about ways to help your reptile shed and how each type of reptile will scratch itself.

Why Do Animals Get Itchy In The First Place?

So, why do animals get itchy at all?

Itching in most animals is usually caused by allergies, parasites, or skin infections.

Allergies can cause severe inflammation of soft tissues in the body, like the skin!  Animals are allergic to all sorts of things like carpets, grains, and even grass.  Allergies can be extremely difficult to diagnose but some animals are more prone to skin allergies than others.

External parasites cause itching because of bites.  Flea dermatitis is a condition caused by an extreme load of fleas that start biting one area.  The area becomes inflamed and infected to the point where the skin looks like a lesion. A situation like this would be very itchy!  And if you’re wondering how this is relevant to reptiles, geckos and other lizards can get fleas from their surroundings and suffer from flea bites!

Skin infections are usually caused by an irritating yeast or bacterial infection.  Yeast (fungal) infections especially can cause dry and itchy skin!  Bacterial and yeast infections can be diagnosed by a veterinarian with a simple culture.  They’re usually quick to treat.  Reptiles can contract both bacterial and fungal infections.  Reptiles are especially sensitive to these sorts of sicknesses, even mold can cause respiratory issues for your pet reptile!

While itching isn’t necessarily comfortable, it’s usually not a dangerous symptom on its own.  However, once you add scratching to the equation, your pet can actually injure themselves by over-scratching an itch.

Why Do We Scratch When We’re Itchy?

To “scratch the itch” is a saying for a reason.  There might not be a more satisfying feeling than scratching an itch you’ve had for a while!  But why do we do it if we know it’ll make things worse in the long run?

When you scratch an itch, you are essentially causing micro-injuries to your own skin.  These small injuries cause your brain to send a rush of oxytocin and serotonin to the affected area, which immediately relieves some of the pain and makes you feel better overall.  Unfortunately, the problem with this cycle is that scratching long-term causes more damage to the skin.  Scratching an itch is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

As human beings, we can use our logic and reason to understand this concept.  Sadly, our pets don’t have the same amount of logic.  Dogs, cats, and reptiles will scratch themselves until they’ve caused an actual injury.

Let’s discuss what makes some specific categories of reptiles itchy.

Why Do Snakes Get Itchy?

We’ve established to reptiles all get itchy!  If an animal has skin, it can get an itch.  But, reptiles are very different and get itchy for different reasons and lengths of time!

The biggest reason that snakes will become itchy is usually that they are shedding.  Snakes shed the entirety of their skin all at once to reveal a fresh set of scales.  If everything goes right, the shedding process should take no more than a day, and your snake’s old skin should all come off in one long piece.

No matter how smooth this process is, your snake will still become itchy and irritated during a shed.  And if your snake struggles with shedding, we’ll give you some tips to help with that below!

Snakes might also get skin irritation from external parasites like mites, although because of their tough scales, they’re not as sensitive as a lizard like a leopard gecko might be!

How Do Snakes Scratch Themselves?

It’s strange to think of a snake scratching itself!  Do they grow little hands to reach all of their itches?

Not exactly!  But snakes are master contortionists and can get into all sorts of crazy positions!  This is a benefit for snakes because they will often rub themselves against a rough object to relieve an itch!  So, if they have a scratch on their belly or back, it’s not a problem.

The best way to make sure your snake can scratch an itch if they need to is to provide rough objects in your snake’s terrarium.  Real rocks or synthetic hides will usually do the trick!  These rough objects will also be one thing that helps your snake shed quickly and efficiently.

Why Do Lizards Get Itchy?

Lizards definitely get itchy!  In fact, they probably itch and scratch way more than snakes do!  So, what causes the increased itching for lizards?

Lizards that are kept as pets usually have much more delicate skin than snakes do!  They’re still tough and scaly, but they have some soft and vulnerable spots like their eyelids, armpits, and bellies.

Lizards can get very itchy from parasites like mites and fleas that bite the soft skin in vulnerable places.  You’ll notice lizards itching parasites off, but you might not notice the actual parasites themselves!  Keep an eye out for small black dots in your lizard’s terrarium.

Lizards also get itchy during a shed.  Unlike snakes, lizards can’t usually shed all of their skin in one go. It will usually shed in bits and pieces and take a few days.  The pieces that get stuck to your pet lizard can cause itchiness.  We’ll talk about ways to help with that later!

How Do Lizards Scratch Themselves?

Lizards have a lot more scratching options than snakes do! Lizards can rub up against rough items.  Plus, they can use their claws to scratch difficult-to-reach places!

Let’s talk about bearded dragons in specific.  Bearded dragons have to be one of the most dog-like pet reptiles.  If you know, you know!  Not only are bearded dragons super affectionate (for a reptile) but they also scratch themselves as dogs do!  If you don’t believe me, check out this adorable short video.

In addition to this sort of scratching, bearded dragons also use rocks to rub and scratch their faces.  If you’d like to read more reasons why a bearded dragon does this, read our article here.

Why Do Turtles and Tortoises Get Itchy?

One of the coolest things about turtles and tortoises is that they can feel their shells.  Their shells are living parts of their bodies.  While the top layer is usually pretty tough, the layer below is soft and can get itchy.

One of the biggest reasons why turtles and tortoises get itchy is from skin infections.  Because they live in either very moist or dry environments, turtles and tortoises are sensitive to humidity levels.  In the wrong environment, they can quickly contract bad bacteria or fungi.

To help your turtle avoid these infections, always make sure its enclosure is kept in the right humidity!  If you’re not sure how to change humidity in an enclosure, we can help you.  Learn more about keeping humidity high here.  Find out how to lower humidity in this article.

How Do Turtles Scratch Themselves?

Turles scratch themselves against any rough objects they can find!

Turtles might rub against something like a rough concrete wall to get a good scratch.  A turtle might also try to walk underneath something to get a good scratch on its shell.  Tortoises have also been known to even enjoy a good shell scratch from their owners!

How To Help Your Reptile With A Shed

There are many ways to help your reptile with a shed!

The best way, in our opinion to help your reptile shed is to give them a warm water soak and to keep a more humid environment than usual.

When skin sheds, it gets very dry and itchy.  If your reptile’s environment is too dry, the skin that’s shedding will become flakier and harder to get off.  A moist environment will make your reptile more comfortable in their skin, literally!  Raising humidity levels a little bit during a shed will help the process along more than you might expect!

If raising the humidity isn’t enough, you can try giving your reptile a warm water soak!  I’ll be the first to warn you, not all reptiles enjoy soaking.  Many do, but many don’t.  Plus, your reptile is bound to be more irritable during a shedding period.   Try soaking your reptile in lukewarm water before a shed just to get them used to it.  When they’re shedding you can leave them in the warm water for around 30 minutes, as long as the water stays warm enough.

The warm water should help your pet with their shed and make them more comfortable overall.

Final Thoughts

Reptiles definitely do get itchy!  Because reptiles are all very different, they become itchy for very different reasons.  Shedding will make all reptiles itchy.  It’s always a good idea to provide your pet reptile with rough surfaces so they can scratch itches when they need to.  Plus, you can help them with dry itchy skin by keeping the humidity at a good level in their enclosure.

After reading this article, you might start to understand some of the strange behaviors of your reptile just a little bit more!