Does It Hurt For Reptiles To Shed Skin? (Vet Tech Explains)

Does It Hurt For Reptiles To Shed Skin

One of the coolest things about reptiles is how they shed their skin. Just like humans reptiles continuously shed their skin throughout their life. The difference is that reptiles have scales and shed their entire skin all at once.

In an ideal world, a reptile shed is a quick and clean process with most of the skin coming off in one large piece. Sometimes, shad can get stuck to a reptile for days on end, and they might seem uncomfortable.

You might wonder, does it hurt for reptiles to shed skin?

Shedding is a natural process that can make reptiles irritable and uncomfortable. Shedding is often described as itchy, but doesn’t necessarily hurt. However, it does seem like reptiles can experience painful sheds when pieces of skin don’t shed easily. There are plenty of ways to help your reptile out and give them a pain-free shed.

Before we get into our shedding discussion, let’s talk about how reptiles experience pain.

Do Reptiles Experience Pain?

Sadly, some people still seem to believe that reptiles can’t feel pain. This is a total myth!

Reptiles have all the biological and physiological processes in place to feel pain. They’re vertebrates with pain receptors, and they can even be observed responding to painful stimuli.  There’s no doubt that reptiles feel pain, but the problem is that we don’t always understand when they are hurt.

Like many other wild animals, the tiles probably evolved to hide pain as a survival mechanism. You’ll notice that when dogs are sick, they often crawl up and hide away to protect themselves. Reptiles aren’t so different and will do just about anything they can to hide the fact that they’re sick from potential predators.

How Do Reptiles Show Pain?

If this is the case, how do we know when reptiles are in pain?

Close observation is needed to determine when a reptile is hurting. Some of the key signs of pain in reptiles are reluctance to move or difficulty moving and lameness. Reptiles will also tuck their abdomen in when they’re hurt just like dogs and cats do. Painful reptiles may become depressed and refuse to eat in captivity. And lastly, a reptile can show you they’re in pain by biting you when you touch a painful spot.

It’s important to keep in mind these signs of pain in reptiles. As a pet owner, you have a responsibility to take good care of your critter. Part of that is being able to recognize when they’re in physical distress.

Now, let’s talk about whether or not reptiles experience pain when they shed.

Does It Hurt For Reptiles To Shed Skin?

Shedding skin is a completely natural process for all reptiles.

When snakes shed, they share their entire skin at once in a long sheath of old skin. Turtles and lizards tend to shed in smaller pieces, but will usually shed their entire skin within one to two days. When reptiles shed, it’s obvious that their behavior changes slightly.

Reptiles can become irritable and lethargic. Some reptiles won’t hunt when they’re shedding, and others will retreat into their dens until the shed is complete.  Based on these behavioral changes, you can tell that shedding is not comfortable for reptiles. But, a normal shedding cycle should not hurt a reptile. So, most of the time it doesn’t hurt when a reptile sheds its skin.

What Does Shedding Skin Feel Like?

Even though it doesn’t hurt, shedding skin, and most likely feels itchy, and irritated. It’s hard to say exactly what it feels like since we’re not reptiles, and we don’t have the same sort of skin. But, you can kind of imagine it like a bad sunburn or a peeling cuticle. When the skin is ready to go, it’s dead and senseless.

However, if the skin isn’t ready to shed and is pulled off prematurely, then there might be a sensation of pain. If no skin is shed or pulled off too early shedding probably feels itchy and uncomfortable.

Are Reptiles Sensitive After Shedding?

Some reptile keepers report that their reptiles are slightly more sensitive 24 hours after shedding. This makes sense as the skin underneath is new and fresh, and may have more tactile sense than the old skin did. This sensitivity might vary from species to species.

If you regularly handle your pet you can do a little test to see whether their skin is sensitive after shedding or not. Try approaching your reptile right after they’ve shed their skin as you normally would.

If your reptile acts differently by shying away from your touch or is moving more quickly than normal, you can assume that its skin is feeling a little extra sensitive and you should wait on handling for at least a day.

Can I Touch My Gecko While It’s Shedding?

You can touch your pet gecko or pet reptile while they’re shedding but it’s not recommended.

Shedding is an irritating and vulnerable process. During the shedding process, your reptile’s eyes will be clouded over and milky and they’ll have trouble seeing clearly.  They’ll also be itchy and more likely to strike out if they don’t want to be handled. Plus, remember that in abnormal circumstances shedding can hurt and you don’t want to cause your pet reptile any additional stress during this time.

Ways To Help Your Reptile Shed More Comfortably

Even though a normal shed shouldn’t hurt your reptile, an abnormal shed might. Abnormal shedding is basically any situation where your reptile is having trouble getting its old skin off of them. There are plenty of causes for abnormal shedding in reptiles. The most common causes for abnormal shedding in reptiles are health problems, humidity problems, and poor diet.

By addressing these three main causes, you’ll probably see a big improvement in your reptile’s shed cycle. We’ll talk below about how to address these problems and give your reptile a pain-free shed.

Make Sure Their Enclosure Is Humid Enough

Our pet reptiles often come from different areas of the world and we live in.   That means their enclosures need to be kept at different temperatures and humidity levels for them to thrive.  Oftentimes, reptiles need warmer and more human environments than we do.

Keeping humidity levels high in an enclosure, makes it easier for your reptile to shed their old skin. That’s because reptiles can absorb moisture through their skin, and when they’re hydrated, their skin is less dry and falls off easier.

To ensure that humidity levels are high enough for your pet, you’ll need to purchase a hygrometer. A hygrometer is a tool that is able to measure the relative humidity in the air.  Always check that your reptile’s humidity levels are appropriate for their species. When your reptile is shedding, you can consider upping the humidity just a bit.

One great way to increase humidity for a brief period of time is to mist your reptile’s enclosure. Your painful reptile will probably appreciate a cool misting anyways.

Feed A High-Quality Diet

Malnutrition affects your reptile in every way, but can definitely make their sheds hurt.

The quality of your reptile’s skin is affected by the quality of its food.  Just like humans, they are what they eat. Making sure your reptile has an ideal diet is just part of being a good keeper.

A high-quality diet basically means that your reptile is getting everything they need nutrition-wise. That means they’re getting whole foods, and potentially supplements to keep them healthy in captivity.

For reptiles that eat insects, you’ll want to try and get fresh bugs that have been gut loaded before feeding time. For reptiles that eat fruit and vegetables try to buy fresh and organic whenever possible. When feeding animal proteins out to your reptile make sure that there aren’t any harmful bacteria in the products that you’re purchasing.

If you’re unsure whether you’re feeding your reptile the right diet, you can always consult with your veterinarian to see if you’re on the right track.

Feeding your reptile a high-quality diet will not only prevent them from having a painful shed but will also deter other health problems like metabolic bone disease and pica.

Get Exfoliating Features For Their Enclosure

Another fun way to help your reptile get rid of painful pieces of skin is to let them exfoliate themselves.

Your reptile’s enclosure should always have a combination of smooth and rough surfaces inside. The texture of your reptile’s enclosure should closely mimic the texture of its natural environment. Obviously, this would include some rough surfaces like rocks or tree bark.

Not only are these natural features aesthetically pleasing, but they can also help your reptile scratch an itch. Rough surfaces can act as a sort of scratching post if your pet is having a difficult and painful shed.

The video below shows a great example of an iguana using grass and bricks to scratch its itchy belly.

Try A Warm Water Soak

The last way that you can help make your reptile more comfortable during a painful shed is to give them a warm water soak.

A warm water soak is basically a shallow bath for your pet reptile. The purpose of a soak is to help your reptile become more hydrated, soften its skin, and ease its shed. Soaks are controversial in the reptile world.

In ideal circumstances, you really shouldn’t need to give your pet reptile a soak. If the humidity in their enclosure is perfect, there’s no reason to provide extra moisture and warmth. However, we are humans and can’t perfectly control the environments our pets live in.

If your reptile is having trouble with shedding some stuck skin, a soak is a great way to help relieve some of her pain and get off the last of that pesky peel.

If the four methods we’ve mentioned above, you should be able to greatly improve the quality of your reptile’s skin, and avoid painful sheds in the future.

Is It Bad To Peel Reptile Skin?

As tempting as it may be, it’s not always recommended to peel your reptile’s skin for them.

Before you take off some of your reptile’s shed for them, ask yourself, is this for me or for my pet? The satisfaction of peeling off dead skin may be more beneficial for you than them. Peeling off skin that’s not ready to come off might be painful for reptiles. We can imagine that it’s not so different from peeling skin from a sunburn before it falls off on its own.

Does It Hurt Them?

Some reptiles seem to tolerate or even enjoy the process of having skin peeled off of them.  For others, it can be a painful experience and yes, even hurt them.  In our opinion, it’s better to not peel the shed that is stuck on your reptile and focus on improving the areas we mentioned above.

Final Thoughts

It doesn’t hurt for reptiles to shed skin normally. What’s more likely is that reptiles just fill itchy and irritable while they’re shedding. However, sheds can get painful when the skin stays stuck on for longer than usual. Remember that you can observe your reptile for signs that they’re hurting and not just assume that they’re doing fine because they’re not vocalizing or crying.

Increasing humidity, providing a scratching post, giving them a better diet, and giving them a warm water soak are great ways to help your reptile through a difficult shed without peeling the skin directly off of them. Hopefully, after some practice, your reptile won’t struggle with a shed ever again!