When you picture a snake, you think of a long slender body covered with tight-fitting scales glistening in the sun. So why does your snake’s skin look like a loose hanging garment rather than a part of its body?
Why would a snake’s skin look wrinkly, saggy, or loose?
Wrinkly, saggy, or loose snakeskin is most often either a sign of shedding or dehydration. While shedding is normal and of no concern, dehydration can lead to serious health issues, so it is important to identify the cause of your snake’s abnormal skin appearance.
Wrinkly, saggy, and loose may seem to describe the same condition of your snake’s skin, but you’ll be surprised to learn that they are very different. You’ll learn how to tell the difference as well as what causes each appearance and whether or not you should be concerned.
What Is the Difference Between Wrinkly, Saggy, and Loose Snake Skin?
All three of these terms – wrinkly, saggy, and loose – can be used to describe the abnormal appearance of a snake’s skin that differs from the typical tight-fitting scales.
Wrinkly skin will have many folds or creases in it, especially in areas where the snake is straightened out and creases aren’t naturally formed through the bending of the body.
Saggy skin describes snake skin that looks pulled or stretched. A helpful comparison is to observe the skin between your index finger and thumb. Notice how there is enough to make a perpendicular “L” shape with the two digits but when relaxed, the skin sags within the space between them.
Loose skin is the term used for a snake’s skin that seems to hang off the frame of the snake’s body. It almost looks like it is wearing a coat that is too big for it.
Why Is My Snake’s Skin Wrinkly?
There are a few reasons why your snake’s skin appears wrinkly and two of them are definitely concerning.
If you notice wrinkles only around the neck of your snake, there is no need to panic. This is often an indication that your reptilian friend is about to shed. Shedding starts at the head and works its way toward the tail. Wrinkles in the neck are one of the first signs that the old skin is starting to pull apart from the new skin underneath.
However, if wrinkles start to appear not just at the neck but all the way down your snake’s body, there may be a problem. If your snake has displayed other signs of shedding, but then you never see the shed and the wrinkles don’t go away, your snake could have a stuck shed. Also known as dysecdysis, a stuck shed is characterized by wrinkly skin with a ghostly appearance like dried glue.
You can help your snake shed its skin by gently soaking it in warm water. However, snakes are very vulnerable during the shedding process so it may be wiser to contact your vet about the appropriate steps to take. Additionally, dysecdysis make be an indication of an underlying condition that should be addressed, so consulting your vet is recommended either way.
In the absence of signs of shedding, wrinkled skin that is apparent down the sides of your snake’s body, especially when he bends, could be a sign of dehydration. Other symptoms to look for that would indicate dehydration include dry skin, sunken eyes, lethargic behavior, and difficulty shedding or dysecdysis.
Dehydration is a serious condition for snakes, so it is important to take action to rehydrate your snake right away and you should see the wrinkles disappear.
Is Wrinkled Skin a Sign of Old Age in Snakes?
Even though we get wrinkles as we age because our skin loses its elasticity, snakes do not have the same problem. A snake will never stop shedding despite its age so that it can keep growing for as long as it has the energy and ability to do so.
A snake’s skin may start to wrinkle when it is getting ready to shed, but then the new skin underneath will be taut to the snake’s body. If your snake still has wrinkly skin after it sheds, then it most likely wasn’t able to shed all of its old skin.
Keep an eye on your snake to see if he can get rid of the rest himself or if he may need your help. A stuck shed can cause serious health issues so it should be addressed as soon as possible.
Why Is My Snake’s Skin Saggy?
Saggy snake skin can also be an indication that something is out of the ordinary with your snake. If your snake’s skin looks saggy, especially around the neck, it may be in shed. Look for other signs of shedding to confirm your suspicions. If your snake starts to shed, the saggy appearance should go away once the process is complete.
If your snake’s saggy skin is localized to its underside, it may be eating food that is too large for it to process. Most often your snake will consume anything you give it to eat. “Challenge accepted” is the motto of most snakes, even if it tries to eat prey items that are too big for their guts to handle. As a result, the skin around its stomach and intestines will stretch as the food passes through.
When, eventually, the meal has been digested, your snake’s skin will shrink back to its normal size, but it may have a little extra sag in order to accommodate the next big entrée.
On the flip side, snakes that have saggy skin all over their entire bodies may not be getting enough to eat. If your snake experiences weight loss due to not eating, it may become drastically apparent in its appearance. Your snake’s skin may sag from its body like a skeleton with no meat on it.
For a visual comparison of a healthy, well-fed ball python and an emaciated ball python, check out this video:
Sometimes this happens due to a seasonal slowing of appetite. For example, ball pythons tend to eat less during the winter because of the drop in temperature which slows down their metabolism. However, severe anorexia in snakes may be a sign of an underlying disease which should be addressed by your vet immediately.
Mouth rot, intestinal blockages, and parasites are all serious health problems that can cause your snake to stop eating and rapidly lose weight. Get your reptile friend help if you suspect any of these issues.
Why Is My Snake’s Skin Loose?
It can be disconcerting to see your snake’s skin hanging loosely from its frame but don’t panic just yet, not all of the reasons for this appearance are cause for concern.
If your snake is a yearling (between one and two years old) and you notice loose skin around its neck, this can be normal for most species. As your snake grows rapidly during its younger years, it starts to consume larger prey than when it was a hatchling. Your yearling snake’s loose neck skin helps give it extra room to stretch out when it eats a meal that may be bigger than it is used to.
Just make sure that you are feeding your snake appropriately sized food for its size and age so that extra loose skin doesn’t turn saggy and unable to tighten up during its later years.
Another common reason to note loose skin is when your snake is getting ready to shed. If you notice loose skin accompanied by a pink belly, blue eyes, dull coloration throughout the body, decreased appetite, and/or increased hiding, chances are your snake will shed within the next couple of weeks.
Shedding is a normal process to keep your snake healthy so that it can grow and eliminate any skin diseases, and its old skin needs to detach from the new skin in order to complete the process. As such the old skin will look loose until it has been completely shed. The new skin underneath should be tight to the snake’s body and look normal in appearance.
However, if your snake’s skin looks so loose that it is puckering or wrinkling and there are no telltale signs of an impending shed, your snake may be seriously dehydrated. Dehydration for a snake is not a matter to take lightly as it could lead to an inability to regulate body temperature, organ failure, shock, or death.
It is important that your snake gets adequate water not only through the availability of a water dish to drink from but also through the humidity of its environment. These will help keep your snake from displaying that loose skin and suffering from dehydration. Of course, keeping fresh water can sometimes be frustrating as some snakes like to use their water as a bathroom.
If you are unsure whether or not your snake’s loose skin is caused by dehydration or shedding, simply increase the humidity in its enclosure. This will ensure that it’s getting enough water and may also help the shedding process if it is that time.
It’s ill-advised to bathe your snake if you don’t know why it has loose skin because that could strip your snake’s skin of the natural oils it needs for a healthy shed. When in doubt, your veterinarian is always a great resource to contact to make sure your snake is as healthy as possible.
Are There Any Snake Species That Always Have Loose Skin?
While it is uncommon for a snake to have loose skin unless it is dehydrated or shedding, there are a few species of snakes that have naturally loose skin. For example, the Javan file snake which is native to Indonesia and invasive in Southern Florida has skin that does not fit tightly over its skeletal-muscular frame.
However, most snakes that you will typically encounter in the pet trade such as pythons, corn snakes, garter snakes, and many others should display taut skin most of the time.
Should I Be Worried If My Snake’s Skin Is Wrinkly, Saggy, or Loose?
Some instances of wrinkly, saggy, or loose snake skin are causes for concern, while others are merely indications of a healthy growing snake.
If the abnormal appearance of your snake’s skin is drastic and occurs along the entire body in the absence of other signs of shedding, then there is reason to be worried. Severe weight loss induced by disease, parasites, or gastrointestinal distress can be life-threatening to your snake and should be quickly addressed by a trained reptile physician.
Likewise, dehydration can have a notable impact on your snake’s health and should be rectified by ensuring that your snake has enough to drink, the proper level of humidity in its tank, and takes a bath if needs be.
A less worrisome reason for your snake’s appearance could be that the food it consumes is too large, so you may want to check that what you are feeding it is appropriate for your snake’s size, species, and age.
If your snake’s skin abnormality is confined to its neck, most likely it is still growing and trying to get used to the larger prey it will start to consume or it’s about to shed. If your snake has gone through the shedding phase but still has skin that looks strange, it may not have been able to shed completely which could lead to other problems.
Shedding and dehydration are the two most common reasons to note a wrinkly, saggy, or loose appearance of the skin in snakes, so it is important to be able to decipher between the two. While one is healthy and necessary, the other is dangerous to your snake’s health.
Snakes make excellent pets, but it is very important to keep an eye on their appearance in order to determine whether or not they are healthy. A snake that has loose, saggy, or wrinkly skin may be suffering from disease-induced anorexia or dehydration. These are serious problems that should be immediately addressed.
On the other hand, this appearance could also indicate the start of a shedding period, so it is vital to note any other signs indicating that a shed is imminent. If you are ever unsure if your snake’s condition is normal or life-threatening, contact your vet so that your reptilian friend has the best possible chance to stay or return to perfect health.